The mystery of our religion - Australian Primary Principals Association Conference Mass

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St Paul’s letters to Timothy have particular relevance for us as teachers of the faith. Paul to writing to his young protégé to encourage him in his leadership and teaching role in the fledge wing Christian community in Ephesus. Paul had been instrumental in forming this community and had entrusted its pastoral care to Timothy. It seems that the young episcopos has had to struggle against the spread of speculative ideas from members of his community which were taking people away from the essentials of the faith. Various ideas were being floated which were unsettling the minds of the community. People were moving away from the fundamentals of the faith.

Paul urges Timothy in the beginning of his letter to “fan into a flame’ the faith he received when baptised. In the reading we heard this evening St Paul reminds Timothy of the pillars upon which the faith is built. Paul is reminding him that the faith has some solid foundations. The formula that follows suggests a teaching structure or perhaps is taken from an ancient doctrinal hymn.

In the text we can notice key creedal elements:
• Manifested in the flesh – the incarnation
• Vindicated in the Spirit – the Resurrection
• Seen by angels – worshipped in heaven
• Preached among the nations – the mission of the Church
• Believed on in the world – the Community of believers
• Taken up in glory – the Ascension

In the face of speculative ideas St Paul urges Timothy to concentrate on the basics. St Paul says that the “mystery of our religion” is based on key foundational beliefs.

Christianity is not just a morality or even a spirituality. It is fundamentally founded on a set of beliefs. It is for this reason that at Sunday Mass we profess the Nicean or Apostles Creed. These creedal statements help ground the faith and prevent idle speculation. Creeds provide an intellectual structure – or backbone - to the faith.

It is for this reason that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is such an important tool in the Church. I strongly recommend that every teacher have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a resource and guide on matters of faith. It can be a ready source of expressing exactly what the Church believes and teaches.

St Paul urges Timothy to ground his teaching on these central creedal beliefs. So too our first role as teachers is to teach the foundational beliefs of the Church. We need to ensure that the grounding is laid for future building. This is most important for children in their primary years.

We can be tempted to pass over these elements to move to the more seemingly relevant teachings on how we should to live. We can teach about Christian attitudes or values. This is good but should not replace teaching the basic beliefs of the faith. The Creed offers us the essential source for these teachings.

St Paul can cause us to pause for a moment: do my students know the fundamentals of the faith? Yes, they probably know the liturgical seasons and their significance. This is most important because Catholics live the mystery of salvation through the liturgical year. But have they an understanding of the elements of the creed?

It is worth noting that when the children come to be confirmed they will be asked to answer the questions of the baptismal promises. These questions contain the basic teachings of the creed. This is a concise summary of what we believe as Catholics. These are the elements that form the structure to our faith.

The primary years are years of great importance in the formation in faith of our students. There is in children a natural spirit of wonder and awe. They are ready to believe in things supernatural. Is it a surprise then that the Lord said that his disciples must become like little children – in other words, to have a childlike faith? Children are attracted to spiritual things which they readily embrace. We can nourish this openness to the Divine.

We know that we are often deeply touched by their prayers. We know that they desire to know about God and the things of God. These are golden opportunities to nourish and inspire their faith.

Thus we can readily teach them about the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. It is beautiful to watch young children worship the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. They know he is there present in the consecrated host. We don’t need complex arguments to explain this. They know, they believe.

Children are open to identify the movement of God within them. They speak easily about what God has revealed to them. It is not a surprise to me that our Lady has chosen to appear to children at Lourdes and Fatima, and other apparitions. Children have an openness to the spiritual world and have a capacity to receive divine revelation.

Jesus said, “let the little children come to me”. This is our role as teachers – to let the little children come to Jesus.

As primary teachers we know that we are in the most privileged of positions. We know that we can have a major influence on the children entrusted to us.

Today, let us allow the admonition of St Paul to his young protégé, Timothy, to encourage us in our mission as Catholic teachers – we will help the children to discover the “mystery of our religion”.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 15 September 2015