Homily from Archbishop Martin at Mass to celebrate Graduation Day 2012 in Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin.
We gather in prayer to congratulate the 2012 graduates of Mater Dei Institute on the completion of their courses. We share in the joy of their families and friends. We share in their hopes for the future. I congratulate the graduates whose hopes are to work in the field of education. Teaching is a calling.
I am constantly impressed in schools around the Archdiocese to meet with teachers like yourselves, recently graduated, who as a matter of choice opt to teach in areas or schools which are deprived. I had two aunts who were teachers and like so many teachers they somehow had teaching built into their genetic make up – something that they did not transmit to me. They had a love of children and a passion for communicating with children. When they retired they became special aunts to their grand nieces and nephews bringing to them two scarce commodities available to parents: time and patience. For more than a decade after retirement they continued in that talent of educating. The good teacher has to have teaching somehow inserted into their genetic make-up and into what is most profound in them.
I wish you the graduates every success as you enter the field of education at a particularly challenging and hopeful moment in the history of education in Ireland. Education by its very nature is marked by continuous change. Change is connatural to education. There are however some special moments in that process of change, when there is a sort of qualitative leap into a new vision about education: we are in the midst of one such a leap today. This gives many reasons for hope, but also reasons for anxiety. We have the opportunity to get it right this time and it may be the only opportunity we will have to get it right for another generation. If we get it wrong, then we will affect the lives of a generation of our young people.
The challenge is more complex in that we have to get it right within the context in which we live and especially in the very difficult economic climate within which choices have to be made and decisions taken. We have to accept that austerity is the order of the day, but we can discuss the definition of austerity and the allocations of resources. For that discussion to be fruitful we need in Irish society a “new ethics of austerity”. Such ethics would produce a focussed reflection in addressing factors which have long-term positive outcomes; it would identify the most vulnerable and see that they do not become the long term-excluded; it would foster a sense of common purpose rather than focusing only on sectoral interests; it would ensure a forward-looking policy and not be trapped into the conformity of the past. Ireland can be a leader in education. Ireland can truly invest creatively in its future generations. The generation of young graduates we see here today is an indication of that creativity and commitment.
You are graduates of a Catholic institute of education. Many of you will be involved in your future career in religious education. Your formation in the Christian faith and in the social tradition of the Church will have given you some inspiration and motivation towards that special care for the poor and disadvantaged which must be a mark of Catholic education and the belief that every young boy or girl is a child of God who must be helped realise the unique God-given talents they possess and place those talents at the service of the common good.
In the future in a more pluralistic educational system which we see evolving (if perhaps too slowly) the place of religious education and of Catholic schools has to be a place shaped, not by ideological turf fighting, but one in which the particular excellence of the Catholic tradition earns recognition by what it does. There is sense in which the Catholic identity of a school is always called to witness how it enhances the education it sets out to provide.
The Gospel reading that we have just heard is a very profound reflection of Jesus as he prepares his disciples for that moment which would shock and surprise them, his death and resurrection. It is a discourse in which Jesus speaks about his own mission, about his own relationship with his Father and the unity he wishes to be a distinctive mark of his followers. Jesus tells his disciples that they are never fully at home in this world. He does not tell them, however, that they ignore the world in which they live or flee from the day to day challenges they face alongside others. Christians do not form a sect which is cut off from the realities of the world. Quite the opposite! As sharers in a faith rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, Christians are called to be witnesses, in the realities of this world, to something of the new world which is achievable in the present.
The Gospel reading is complex and profound. Jesus speaks to us of his relationship with his Father and yet he is talking about us. He is telling us, as we seek meaning and hope in our lives, that true humanity must be a reflection of God, of that internal that relationship of the Trinity. Building true humanity is a life-long search to be filled with that same self-giving love which is the mark of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. This understanding of God is far from the versions of God that we create for ourselves and which only reflect ourselves: our own complexes, anxieties and compulsions. The images of God we create are images which reflect our fears and our inability to face the real challenges. The gods of our creation are gods that entrap us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is one who frees and empowers.
Catholic education is called to be at the service of true freedom, a freedom from the many ways our self-seeking entraps us; freedom which opens our hearts and flourishes within a new path of love. It is when Catholic education opens the hearts of young people to the knowledge of Jesus as the one who reveals what love means, that it brings its unique contribution to the good of society, especially to society so often trapped in greed, exploitation and superficiality. The task of Catholic education is to enable us to know the face of God and to share what that experience means in our lives.
Catholic education must also reflect the unity that should be the characteristic of believers in Jesus Christ. The Catholic school – which has the right to protect its specific ethos and to provide education within the fullness of that ethos – should never become a factor of division or exclusion within society. The Catholic school, within the pluralist educational system which is evolving in our society, must be desirous and indeed be a driving force for meeting and dialogue and interaction with other schools. Healthy rivalry is one thing. A further fragmentation is another and could easily be utilised by those who use the sophisticated term pluralist to mean building glass walls of division.
These are great times to be a teacher. These are great times for us to build a renewed educational framework. We pray that the Lord will protect and accompany these new teachers as they embark on their role and as they pledge to bring the commitment of their lives and of their faith to the building of our common future. ENDS