Homily: Archdiocesan Schools Staff Mass: December 2018
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Catholic schools in Scotland are noticeably different from Catholic schools here in Melbourne. All Catholic schools in Scotland are fully funded and operated by the State; all the staff, teaching and administrative, are employed by the state; and curricula are all state-approved. Yet, Catholic schools in Scotland are noticeably different from other schools.
This is a good reminder of what is core to making a Catholic school catholic. It is not where the money comes from; it is not who does the employing; it is not even who the approving authority is. All of these things can be different in different circumstances. Yet, they can all be noticeably and distinctly Catholic. In other words, it is something else what makes a Catholic school Catholic. As we come to the conclusion of the school year, and looking towards the next, it might be worth our while to briefly reflect on what that difference is.
There are very many ways in which we learn as human beings, and just as many ways in which this learning is taught. Parent and child; master and disciple; coach and player; instructor and apprentice. Each of these is a particular kind of relationship in teaching and learning, offering differing ways in which knowledge is passed on and people are formed. Schooling has at its basic relationship that of teacher and student, offering an education as the path to knowledge. Schools educate; they exist to lead students somewhere.
But where are we leading them? Our way of schooling comes with an adjective: Catholic. Catholic schools offer a specific form of schooling that has its own particular relationship between teacher and student. A catholic education is not meant to be like other kinds of teaching and learning; it is not meant to be the same as what’s offered at the school down the road.
But what is this difference? The word itself gives us a hint. ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’ - not is the sense of being a world-wide phenomenon, but in the sense of being ‘complete’ or ‘entire’. For something to be catholic is for it to be able to offer a complete way of understanding and living in the world.
Science cannot be ‘catholic’ because it cannot offer a complete knowledge of the world. Neither can literature, nor technology, nor the humanities, nor even the purity of mathematics. All of these offer only a part of the whole. Something that is Catholic lays claim to offering a way of drawing all these together into an integrated whole that gives a comprehensive meaning to the world in which we live. To be catholic is to be a partner in a relationship that seeks to bring an integrated meaning and purpose to our lives.
Jesus did not just educate his disciples about God; he offered a catholic education to them, that is, a way of being with and in God. Hence, his prayer to the Holy Spirit from today’s gospel: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
That’s what makes a Catholic school different from other schools. It’s not the programs offered or the co-curricular activities; its not the pedagogical skills or the effectiveness of the curriculum. Yes, these are all essential and critical, but on their own, and even as a sum, they are not what makes for a complete education.
You have the privilege of being Catholic educators. What makes you a Catholic educator is not the various parts you each have to offer, but the relationships you are each called to develop – relationships that reveal a complete knowledge of the world, and an integrated way of living in the Lord.
Thank you for being Catholic educators; and in thanking you, may I invite you to become the best Catholic educator you can be. As Pope St Paul VI put it more than 40 years ago: People listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (EN 41) May these words be your guide in building a catholic way of educating.