Launch of Catholic Schools Week (2013)
Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire a rá cé chomh sásta atá mé gur anseo i Ros Comáin in Iarthar ne hEireann atá an ócáid seo ag tarlú i mbliana. Agus is mór an ní é sibh ar fad a bheith bailithe anseo, agus go bhfuil tús a chur leis an láinseáil san áras seo, Teach an Phobail agus Teach Dé.
I’m delighted to see so many young people here today. You’re so welcome! This Mass is for you. And this church in which we are gathered is your house. It is God’s house, but it is your house too, Teach an Phobail. This whole day is for you. You are the reason why we’re all gathered. Because we care about you and cherish you. We see you as Jesus sees you: children of God, each one beautiful and precious in his eyes, unique and irreplaceable. Each one of you is made in the image of God. You are capable like Jesus in the Gospel today of being a revelation of God’s presence, letting the glory of God shine out in you.
And we adults, parents, teachers, priests, want to help you to grow up to be good people, to be the very best you can be, with the help of God.
With this Mass, we are launching Catholic Schools Week 2013. The Theme of the week this year is
‘Catholic Schools in the Community of Faith: Sharing the Good News’
The theme emphasises in the first place the fact that we see our schools not as isolated in any way but as living and thriving within the wider context of the local community, specifically within the local church and parish. This means that the school is enriched by the parish, and the parish enriched by the school. A child cannot become a person who reveals the glory of God unless surrounded by and nurtured by caring community, in family, parish, and school.
A couple of weeks ago I happened to hear a programme on the radio that was a tribute to the late great fiddle player from Dublin, Tommy Potts. Tommy is recognised as one of the great masters of the art of traditional fiddle playing. One of his nieces said “when Tommy said his prayers and when he played his music, he was in the same space.” Contributor after contributor to the programme spoke of the fact that he always gave thanks to God for the gift of the music and that he played it always to honour and give glory to Him. It was also said that he was uncomfortable receiving any payment for his playing.
This gifted musician knew his gift and the source of it. And every person is gifted. A faith school, a Catholic school, will provide the community within which young people discover their gifts and the source of them. Even what we call “disability” can, within a truly caring community or school, be discovered as gift by both the person with the disability and the community gathered around him or her.
In the post-modern times in which we live, with its strong tendency towards a radical individualism, there is a great danger that people can fall into isolation, in spite of all the communications technology. We need to be newly-conscious of ourselves as belonging: to our family in the first place, but also part of a wider community, and we all need to be actively engaged in building that community, in building that community as church, as family of God.
For our schools, this is an internal task in the first place, but it equally demands that we build up bonds with the families and the wider parish of which the school part. Many developments of recent times in governance and other areas of school life move us in this direction. I’m talking of such things as the fact that there must now be two community representatives, as well as parent and teacher representatives on the Board of Management, and that schools must be open to welcoming not just able students, but equally students with disability. Our Catholic schools have welcomed these developments, and have often taken a lead in them.
There is also a growing consciousness for some time now that the parish community must become involved in new ways with the school, and specifically in the whole area of faith itself. Expecting schools, for example, to take on all responsibility for catechesis and faith development is neither feasible nor fair, to the schools, to children or to the precious, dynamic and life-giving treasure that is the faith itself. Sharing the good news is a responsibility we all take on at Baptism, and we embrace it again at Confirmation, and every time we receive a sacrament of the church.
In other words, we are all, people as well as priests, parents as well as teachers involved by reason of our bearing the name Catholic, in the vital and critical mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with our children and our young people.
Our theme this year says it all: It tells us that Catholic Schools are in the community of faith, intimately involved with that community in sharing the good news. And God knows, we ourselves and our world need to hear good news today… perhaps even more than at any time in history.
We have just been listening to the Gospel. The word means ‘Good News’ as you know. And what a powerful story we have in today’s Gospel. A story so many young couples want to hear on that most important and lovliest day of their lives, their wedding day. I suspect many parents who are here today had it read on your own wedding day.
I’d like to reflect briefly with you now on the last few lines of the story, which are St. John’s brief but profound comment on the event he has just narrated.
‘This was the first of the signs given by Jesus…
It was given at Cana in Galilee….
He let his glory be seen…
And his disciples believed in him…’
The sign was given in a small local place, Cana in Galilee. We all live in local places, our lives are small, our families too, and our communities. And that’s where the signs of God’s presence can be discerned today, when we exercise our good gifts and in the events I experience and you experience.
The first thing the Beloved Disciple says is ‘This was the first of the signs given by Jesus.’
Signs are very important. We can see this powerfully in the events in Belfast triggered in recent times by the raising or not of a flag over the City Hall. What’s going on can be entirely unintelligible to anyone who doesn’t know the significance of the Flag in that particular context.
The sign at the wedding feast at Cana was in what happened to the water at the word of Jesus. ‘The steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine’. That’s the sign: the extraordinary fact that the water was now wine, and not any old wine, but the very best wine, and on top of that, where they had just run out of wine, there is now a super-abundance of it! Upwards of 180 gallons, according to the story. That must be nearly a thousand bottles! But that’s not the point. The point is that the one responsible for this unprecedented, miraculous turnabout was Jesus. His presence made all the difference….and in the process he reveals himself as much more than a simple carpenter: much more to him than any other human person, a ‘much-more’ that is described as ‘glory’: ‘He let his glory be seen’. That’s a word that’s positive but also mysterious, and it indicates a presence of divinity…for glory is a word with which we try to describe who God is.
For the young couple faced with disastrous embarrassment and their families and guests, the presence of Jesus and his word transformed everything. That is what he does for us too when we invite him into our lives, into every day of our lives, and especially the most important days, as the young couple of Cana did.
And that’s what it means to believe in Him, to be a person of faith: to take him into our lives everyday. The last word of this story today is just that: ‘His disciples believed in him’. And they stayed with him every day after that, and never left him.
That’s where we take our stand too, as men and women of Faith.
Mary: the disciple.
And the one who knew Jesus would transform everything for the young couple at Cana was the woman of faithpar excellence: Mary…who is always a representation of the Church, the community of Jesus’ disciples.
So this is a story of the power of faith, the effectiveness of the person of faith speaking to Jesus trustfully: the power of prayer, prayer which makes faith real. And prayer is even more powerful when we pray together, when we are a community, a church, as we are here this morning.
In this year of Faith this story is telling us that there is no faith without putting a word in Jesus’ ear. There is no faith without prayer and there is no prayer without faith.
Our schools are full of people who have no problem with prayer.
I’m looking down now at all the smaller pupils who are up here in the front. You are those people who love to pray. Our schools are full of people of faith: little children have no difficulty talking to God, taking Jesus as their friend, and loving Mary as Mother. It would be a terrible travesty to them if this natural part of who they are was not acknowledged and nurtured in our schools as it is in their homes. For what good is a school unless it is an extension of all that is best in a child’s home. It is for us adults – parents, teachers, parishioners to learn again from the little children what it is to be believers and what it is to pray. Like Mary. Like Jesus himself, who addressed the Father always in the most intimate, childlike way as ‘Abba’.
So our Gospel story today is about a Wedding, yes. It is also, we can say, about a miracle, yes. But in the end, St John is very clear. It is a story about faith and about believing. About a whole way of reading the world around us, the events and happenings, as signs revealing the presence of God. This is a powerful, consoling way of reading our world and it is central to the education our Catholic schools must provide.
So, this Gospel is a story for you and me. A story that confirms our faith and calls us to faith, and to joy in that faith and in the knowledge that like that young couple, Jesus with us and we with him will save the day for us too… every day, whatever it brings, transforming whatever darkness befalls us most surely in God’s good time, to light.
That’s the Good News we want for our children. At home, at school, in the parish or community. For we do not want them ever to be alone, or lost. We want them to know they belong, that their dreams can come true. That’s the gift of faith in Jesus, of hearing his word… of being believers.
May we, in our homes, our parishes and our schools be child-like enough to invite Jesus every day into our lives, and may our children learn from us to do the same.