“Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are”. ~ Robert Macfee Brown
During the mid-year term break I was fortunate to study at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Rome, Italy. The three week ACU course titled Catholic Education: Mission, Culture & Spirituality took my spiritual growth and learning to the next level. Below I share with you my learning reflection throughout the third week.
The final week of the course really challenged all present, as Catholic leaders and educators, through the lens of purpose and like the quote above, perspective. Guest lecturer Sr Mary Babic NDS from the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion commenced the third week with this most poignant question, Why are you a teacher in a Catholic school? A question all in Catholic education are called to ponder when unpacking our purpose to teach. Then ask ourselves why we have chosen, from our perspective, to teach in a faith learning community.
We know that religion is suffering, it’s clearly on the nose. One only has to look at the 2016 Australian Census data to see we are on a secular slide with 29.6% of people saying they have ‘no religion’. With Australia’s rapidly-changing population more godless perhaps the broader question for Catholic educators should be, Is Catholicism worth staying in? Because teaching about Catholicism and living our faith is not just the domain of schooling, but the responsibility of all Christians in word and deed, in and outside the classroom.
With each presenter throughout the week I was challenged by the ongoing purpose of Catholicism and Catholic education through the perspective of their examples and lived experiences. Excursions to significant sites in Rome throughout the week further questioned the relevance of this rich faith history for today’s world, my world. A world that all are anxious in its uncertainty, particularly the young, whom are often paralysed by their own sense of entitlement and individualism. Is this the real conscious challenge of our time?
We are the change we seek. And perhaps our perspective needs to be intentional. We have got to start living like we [Catholics] participate in a church that belongs to the people of God. For I know we are all called to the same holiness. And yes, we all have our own personal faith journey. Nonetheless you can’t be a Christian on your own - we are a community church. My challenge to you all is who are you in it?
It might not surprise you that I still believe Catholicism is worth staying in. I believe in what the Gospel inherently proclaims and Jesus’ unwavering mission of love, compassion and forgiveness. I believe I’m called to help young people understand what it ultimately means to stand in the brokenness at the foot of the cross. As a Catholic and educational leader I’m called to help the other in this search. As vulnerability is the surest marker of our courage. Our courage on this self-journey inward.
The responsibility of this call does not sit within the paradigm of yesterday’s church. We are called as leaders in Catholic education to bring a different perspective, a harmonious witness to today’s schooling for tomorrow’s world. We are called to see love, learning and life through the lens of the other, especially the young. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis wrote “Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world” (107). And in Laudato Sí Pope Francis asked “What kind of a world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160). This is precisely our horizon today as Catholic leaders in education and in community. Remembering that our quest is not just to do it for them, but more importantly with them.
The reason why Pope Francis continues to make many anxious, including myself, is that he represents the sign of the times, a disruption to the norm by being a faith leader we have never encountered, but always yearned for. His pontification is one of invitation to a way of becoming for self, with place and the other. He speaks, connects and writes for the now. Francis’ radical mission of mercy binds up people’s wounds through a culture of dialogue, which opens their hearts to receiving something from the encounters with self, their God, place and the other. We, all Catholics, need to rediscover the church, Pope Francis’ way or version of church, as a mother that welcomes all.
On the 17 May 2009 President Barack Obama delivered a commencement address to the graduation class and stated, “Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and our world - a rare inflection point in history where size and scope of the challenge before us require that we remake our world to renew its promise; that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of our new age. It is a privilege and a responsibility afforded few generations - a task you are now called to fulfil”. This challenge to all present is one we should encourage all young people in our care to aspire. A selflessness for the other.
In the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2013 paper - Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools. Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love we find this: “In this educational process, the search for peaceful and enriching co-existence must be anchored in the broadest understanding of the human being. This must be marked by a continual search for self-transcendence, seen not just as a psychological and cultural effort to supersede all forms of egocentricism and ethnocentricism, but also as spiritual and religious fervour, in harmony with an understanding of integral and transcendent development, of both the individual and society” (45). An encounter that celebrates the beauty of difference, with the knowledge that faith and reason are meant to work together, for the primary objective of building a better world.
I know my purpose. This call, for the other, is why I’m a teacher in a Catholic school.