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Mass for School Principals

Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
at Flemington Racecourse,
on Thursday, 15th November, 2001

Homily

My dear Friends,

The Gospel passage we have just heard focuses our attention on the Holy Spirit, breathed out by Jesus on the infant Church and worshipped by us tonight at Mass. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a particularly solemn occasion. As we heard in the Gospel-itself a beautiful piece of liturgy-Christ begins by wishing peace upon his friends in the same formula used by bishops everywhere at the start of Mass. The disciples feel great joy as they recognise their Risen Lord. But this is not just a joyful reunion between friends: Jesus goes on to commission them; they are to be sent out, given the tasks of working for God's people, and judging their sins. This is highly appropriate for us to recall here tonight: we meet the Lord joyfully around this altar but the story does not end there. We are to be sent out, commissioned by him to serve his Church and his people in a particular way.

For the leaders of schools in the contemporary world this is a demanding task. The pressures to move from our Catholic tradition and to embrace purely secular forms of thought and action are strong. I wish tonight to thank you for staying loyal to Christ and to the teachings of his Church; to pay tribute to your remarkable efforts to retain distinctively Catholic values in the materialist and consumerist environment in which we find ourselves; and to encourage you to continue making our schools places where young people meet Jesus Christ and learn about the kind of life he wants his people to lead.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne is proud of its fine education system. Parents and priests know of the professionalism you develop in your schools and staffs. But high professional standards are not enough for a Catholic school. When we pray to the Holy Spirit as we do tonight, we ask for a number of gifts, and in particular for the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is not simply smartness: smart people do not always live good lives; wise people are those who strive always for goodness in their lives. Wise educators know their responsibilities to their students: we all want them to learn about our world, to achieve good results and to prepare to take their places in society; but more than that, we also want them to be educated in the Catholic faith.

Our efforts to make Catholic schools places of high achievement begin right from Preparatory class and continue because of the skill of teachers, their love of knowledge and of their pupils. Naturally, this requires good catechesis, high quality education in Christian faith and morality, and a sound example of Christian witness from teachers and staff. But it also requires us to place all our students' studies in the context of living the good Christian life. Many people today would like to compartmentalise religion, to treat it as simply one add-on extra after the 'real' stuff-science, literature, languages, history-has been studied; perhaps a little more important than drama, but less important than sport. This is what our Catholic tradition will never stand for. Religion is not an optional extra in the curriculum but the item which unites every other subject, directing all our studies towards what really matters, and offering the students guidance about how to think and how to make moral choices.

I thank you for your use of "To Know, Worship & Love", our series of Religious Education Texts, which are required in every school in the Melbourne Archdiocese. The remaining books to Year 10 will be ready for 2002 and the Years 11 and 12 for 2003. Thank you for your dedication and skill in implementing their use. It is essential to our mission. We are proud of our education system because it is not just a separate system created by men and women: it is a fully integrated part of the life of the Church; guided by the Church's teachings on faith and morality; and the partner with parents and the rest of the Church in passing these teachings on to the next generation.

If our school principals and teachers are to fulfil this role, they will be helped by regularly re-committing themselves to the faith, and to a life lived with the sort of joy and awe in Jesus's presence which the disciples feel in our Gospel passage. We do not encounter the Lord in the way they did; but, like them, we have his Church, with its power to forgive sins, to comfort, and to teach in his name. Our priests have a key role here in helping principals discharge their responsibilities as Catholic educators. Our priests introduce our students to Christ's Real Presence, with us still in the Blessed Sacrament and in all the Sacraments, particularly Reconciliation. They work too to evangelise-to communicate the teaching of the Church in a way which helps young people find peace and joy in their Catholic identity, as did the first Christians.

In this Mass we pray to the Holy Spirit to preserve us from being downhearted and over-burdened at the task before us. In an age of conformity and group-pressure, if we recall what is distinctive about our tradition-what makes the Catholic education system special, different from all around it-we will remain proud of it and committed to its values. We are never alone: we have the wisdom God himself breathed out upon us; it exists still in the Tradition of our Church and is always available to us through prayer, reflection, and study.

I am deeply grateful for all that you do for our young people, the future Catholic Church of Australia. I pray with you that God continues to pour out the Gifts of the Holy Spirit upon our education system-wisdom certainly, but also courage, knowledge, understanding, good counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord. These Gifts, given to us by God at Baptism, are our inheritance from heaven, the birthright which our schools must strive to develop in our students.

 

+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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