To encounter the living Christ - Mass and Commissioning of Tasmanian Catholic Education Office staff

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > To encounter the living Christ - Mass and Commissioning of Tasmanian Catholic Education Office staff

In the Mass today we have listened to two readings that offer much for reflection and we have the commemoration of a saint – St Peter Damian - whose life and teaching are a further source of spiritual nourishment.

We constantly need spiritual nourishment. Just as our bodies need daily food and drink so that we do not fail in strength, so too our souls need daily nourishment, lest our spirits wither away within us.

Our souls are fed when we pray, or when we read the Sacred Scriptures. Our souls are fed particularly when we receive the Lord of Life in Holy Communion.

Spiritual nourishment expands the soul. We are raised up from material concerns, and from a focus on ourselves. We are invited to move to a transcendent place. We are drawn into the realm of the spirit. The Lord said today in the Gospel: “As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

Our business in Catholic education is the nourishment of faith. It is the enkindling of faith in the students entrusted to us. Without this goal Catholic education simply becomes providing education. We are the same as the school down the road.

We have a treasure to offer our students. Pope Francis expressed it in the quote offered in the front of the booklet: “What happens in our schools should lead to an encounter with the living Christ.”

Here the Pope touches upon an important understanding of what Catholic schools are meant to do. They are not only to talk about Christ and his teaching, but to enable the students to have – and I use the Pope’s word – an encounter with the (and again, note his words) living Christ. Not just the Christ of history, but the Christ who lives now.

The notion of “encounter” is worth pursuing for a moment. An encounter is a direct meeting between two persons. It is a profoundly human experience. An encounter is such that two persons interact with one another so that a relationship is formed. There is a flow of personal engagement of one with the other. A dynamic is set up whereby two individuals enter into a mutual engagement.

The focus on the notion of encounter presents us with the goal of our schools. It may seem daunting, but it is indeed very possible. The other day I was speaking Tomasz Juszczak about the experience of our World Youth Day pilgrims. He recounted how a number went through extraordinary transformations in their faith. This he attributed more to the pre-WYD experience in Costa Rica. There our small Australian contingent was embraced by some 1,000 Brazilians from the Shalom Community. It was their contagious faith and joy that drew our pilgrims into new levels of faith and prayer. 

It has often been said that faith is not taught but caught. It is transmitted more by an exposure to a person alive in faith. This is clearly what happened to our Aussie pilgrims.
They encountered the Lord. In particular they met the Lord during times of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Several of them commented on this. Simply, they met the living Christ, present in the Blessed Sacrament.

This is what we are being asked to do in our schools. The key to achieve this is twofold. One: we, as educators, need to be living witnesses to the faith, alive in faith ourselves. Secondly, it involves providing opportunities for the students to meet the living Christ.

So for us, we need to ask for the grace of growing in our own faith. Here may I refer to a saying of St Peter Damian whose feast we are celebrating today (and information about him has been provided in this booklet). He wrote extensively on the Christian life and is honoured as a Doctor of the Church – a relatively rare honour only given to a few over Christian history. He said, God “pours light into our minds, arouses our desire and gives us strength… As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls”.

We should never doubt that God constantly wants to draw us deeper into life with Him. The image of vine and branches from the Gospel today describes how life – in this case, divine life – flows to us as sap flows in the vine. It is as we desire to know God more, as we give time and attention to the search for God, as we dispose ourselves to God, that God sends His grace upon us. As St Peter Damian says, life comes to our soul and that life is the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, we need to be constantly seeking ways in which our students can encounter the living Christ. It is as though we are longing for them to meet someone who means so much to us. We just keep trying to find a way, to find an opportunity. And the opportunities will emerge, like the WYD.

We as Catholic educators have as our goal that our students will encounter the living Christ.

As we heard in the first reading, St Paul urged Timothy never to tire in his efforts to enable people to come to know Christ. He said, “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.” And he urges Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.”

With these words, one senses Paul’s own dedicated purpose. Having met Christ – dramatically, on the road to Damascus – Paul has one single purpose driving his life: he wants as many as possible to come to know the living Christ that he encountered.

As this New Year commences and as we commit ourselves to the mission of Catholic education in Tasmania, let us see this as our goal. No matter what role we may have in the office, even if we are not on the front line in the classroom, if I am working for Catholic education I can say that my work is to in one way or another advance this sublime goal: that students in our schools will encounter the living Christ.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, February 20, 2019