TCEO Staff Commissioning Mass 2014

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Pope Francis has made an extraordinary impact across the world, not only among Catholics but among many outside the Church. People are speaking about their admiration of him. Since he began his pontificate more than six million people have attended events with him in St Peter’s Square.

He was elected Pope on March 13 last year and from his opening words of “good evening” he has won the hearts of people across the world. His impact has been registered by the decision of Time Magazine to name him “Person of the Year”. Clearly it is his joy and compassion that has attracted people to him.

It is not without significance that his recent Apostolic Exhortation, based on the Synod of Bishops who met last year to discuss the subject of evangelisation, is entitled: The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium. This is what Pope Francis radiates and what he knows will be the drawing power of the Church: Joy.

However we should not see him as some smiling grandfather. He has steel in his soul and he intends to guide the Church.

In his Exhortation he addressed the importance of Catholic education in the light of the strong secularising forces in modern society. He is speaking to a situation that we know only too well and one that he is acquainted with. He said:

The process of secularisation tends to re¬duce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by com¬pletely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood which are so vulnerable to change. …We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data — all treated as being of equal importance — and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches crit¬ical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values. (n 64)

As you come together as TCEO staff at the commencement of a new school year I offer you the thought of Pope Francis. As a new year begins it is always useful to recall what our essential mission in Catholic education is all about. It is easy to become focused on our own particular area and lose sight of the overall purpose of what we are about. And as the year unfolds we become caught up in the day to day affairs. Now at the very beginning of the year is a good time to take a moment and consider what our purpose is and what our goals are.

I would like to offer you a simple proposal for why our Catholic schools exist. Yes, they set out to provide excellence in education; and we perform very well. Yes, we seek the formation of the whole person; again we are exemplary in this. However there is one purpose of Catholic education which is its very raision d’etre: that every student has the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ and to respond to him. Our schools exist because of the Catholic faith. At the heart of that faith is a person; the person of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are full of stories of people who have an individual encounter with Jesus Christ. Each encounter is unique. Consider for example the Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who secretly visited Jesus at night. He asked him questions. This man knew that Jesus was a holy man who could help him understand basic things about his life.

Think of the tax collector, Zaccheus, climbing a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus as he passed by. He was curious about this teacher. Jesus asked to join him for lunch. At the lunch he announced a radical change in his life. I will pay back fourfold those I have cheated and give away half my money.

Think of the woman Jesus met at the well. She just came along to fill her bucket and a conversation ensued. Jesus led her to question her life and the moral choices she had made. She was so taken with him that she invited other people from her village to come and meet Jesus.

Each of them had an encounter with Jesus which changed their lives. Now there would have been many people who ignored Jesus or who were too busy to take time to listen to him. Many were not touched by him and went on their way uninfluenced by him. But many had a personal encounter which changed them.

The Gospel that we have just read today is such an encounter. Jesus, trying to move about secretly, is confronted by a Syrophoenician woman burdened by the state of her daughter. She was a pagan, not a Jew. Jesus was not wanting to engage with people at this time. She was not about to be brushed off. Her daughter was in great peril. She knew that only Jesus could help and this was her one shot. Jesus marveled at her faith and determination. He healed her daughter.

Sometimes Jesus initiates the encounter – like the woman at the well – on other occasions people set out to encounter him – like the woman in today’s Gospel. These are people who have deep needs which they know only Jesus can resolve.

Our job in Catholic education is to provide opportunities when young people can encounter Jesus. This encounter, if it is really personal, will change their lives. Then, all that our schools have achieved will be multiplied in their effects. Water will be turned into wine.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, February 12, 2014