Homily for Education Sunday
16th February 2014
On this Education Sunday the Bishops of England and Wales are asking us to celebrate and give thanks to God for the work of Catholic Schools.
I want to first of all thank Catholic parents who send their children to Catholic schools. You have taken seriously your responsibility to pass on the faith to your children. You know that our Catholic schools offer something quite distinctive – that particular Catholic and Christian ethos that is so often commented on by people outside the Church who have the opportunity to visit our schools.
Catholic schools are deeply rooted in the Catholic community and they aim to instil in their pupils the truths of the Catholic faith and the moral values that it entails.
I want to say a very big thank you to our Catholic teachers (active and retired) for their commitment and hard work that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. On behalf of us all here at St Robert’s, I say thank you for the enormous contribution you make to the education of our children in the faith. The Lord has called you to a very demanding but most noble and fulfilling vocation. We pray today that the Lord will bless you in everything you do.
I want to say thank you to all the support staff in our schools. You too are witnesses to the Gospel. Many thanks also to our school governors. We are particularly blest here at St Robert’s to have very committed governors and all of them practicing Catholics.
Returning to parent’s – especially those with young children – it cannot always be easy for you to get your family sorted out and ready for 9.00am Mass. I just want to say thank you for making the effort. It is a joy to have you here. Thank you for your commitment. It’s it always delightful to see children at Mass. They are always welcome. Please never worry about noise from your children. What is important is that you are here. This is your home. It’s your Church and your children’s Church.
Many thanks to those who lead and support the Children’s Liturgy. It is a most important ministry to open up God’s Word to the children. You are witnessing to the Gospel and we appreciate everything you are doing.
Turning to parents with older children. It must be particularly difficult to rouse a teenager out of bed on a Sunday morning. Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t always succeed. You are trying your best and that’s all you can do.
A special word of thanks to our teenagers and young people who attend Mass regularly. I know that I speak for us all when I say that we are delighted to see you here at Mass. Always, remember that you are always welcome. This is your Church. Your home.
As we celebrate Catholic Education and our Catholic Schools I want to express a particular concern of Fr Jim and myself. That is the fact that some Catholic parents withdraw their children from Catholic schools at the end of First School. As a Catholic parent your first responsibility is to pass on the faith to your child. Catholic schools are there to help you to do that. If you are not sending your child to a Catholic school I can only presume that you have an exceptionally good reason and that you are giving them instruction in the Catholic faith yourself. You cannot expect your child to live the rest of their Catholic lives on the religious education they received in first school. What about the specific Catholic doctrine and morals that they would receive by participating in the whole Catholic system? Again, I can only presume you are doing it yourself.
I want to thank most sincerely our Catholic parents who continue to send their children to Catholic schools after first school. Thank you for recognising the distinctive contribution that Catholic education gives to your children.
Please understand that I am not judging or condemning any parent for sending their child to a non-Catholic school. It is your right and choice. I presume that you have an exceptionally good reason why you have chosen to do so.
Let me emphasis again what I have already said – your first duty as a Catholic parent is to pass on the faith to your child. This is true if you send your children through the whole Catholic system or not. Sending your child to a Catholic school does not absolve you from forming your child in the faith yourself. What they get in Catholic schools is not enough.
To be a Catholic parent is a most privileged, blessed and awesome vocation. The responsibility it entails is truly enormous. I can think of no greater vocation or responsibility. In the Rite of Marriage in the Catholic Church you were asked “will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”. You (bride and groom) had to respond individually before Almighty God and in public have to make the declaration “I will”.
Then at Baptism you were reminded of this solemn promise when the priest said “on your part you must make it your constant care to bring him/her up in the practise of the faith. See that the divine life that God gives him/her is kept save from the poison of sin to grow always stronger in his/her heart “. When the priest blest and prayed over the Father he said “he and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith”.
“The first teachers in the ways of faith”
Let me repeat it again, it is primarily the parents responsibility to pass on the faith to the child.
However, I want to say that you cannot possibly do it by yourself. You are the first and most important teachers but not the only teachers. The Catholic Education system is there to help you but I believe that you need even more help.
When I said that what you are doing as Catholic parents isn’t enough (whether you send your child to a Catholic School or not) what I mean is that I believe you are not getting all the help you need from the Church.
There is an African saying “ it takes a whole village to bring up a child” and I would say “it takes a whole parish to bring up a child in the faith”
I am sorry, but I don’t believe that we are doing enough as a parish to support parents in bringing up their children in the faith. In a wider context – as a Church – I don’t believe that we are doing enough.
I want to say sorry.
It’s something I have felt for a long time. We are not “family friendly” enough. We are not “child friendly enough”. We are not “youth friendly” enough.
This is something I want to address in our forthcoming Mission which will have a big emphasis on “faith in the family”. One of the sessions is “How to pass on the faith to our children” and another is entitled “ how to keep our children safe.”
One of the ways we are addressing the issue of passing on the faith to young people is our “post Confirmation youth group”. We had an excellent Confirmation programme last year and we got an excellent response from the young people who were enormously supported and encouraged by their parents. I cannot thank parents enough for everything they did to ensure that their children attended the sessions and especially the weekend away.
We are very blest in the parish to have Andrew O’Neil, our own Catholic Youth Worker. I am very grateful to him for his hard work and dedication. I am also immensely grateful to Gerry Nelson for his continued commitment to the youth of the parish. I am grateful also for our youth leaders who give so much of their time to working with our young people.
In mid-January we invited all the Confirmation candidates to continue their journey in faith with regular meetings on a Thursday evening. To be quite honest I was disappointed. I was particularly disappointed to see the lack of response from young people from what I thought were solid committed Catholic families. I want to appeal to parents who have had their children Confirmed to do everything they possibly can to encourage these children to attend these post Confirmation sessions.
Again, I want to emphasis to parents that their first responsibility is to pass on the faith to their children. This is the most important duty you have. It comes before everything else because it is the foundation of everything else in their lives. It is infinitely more important than academics, homework, revision, sports, hobbies or any other activity.
Let me underline it again. If your child is not in a Catholic school – what educational formation in the faith are they getting? Here in our post Confirmation sessions they have the opportunity to get some real and relevant formation in the Catholic faith. Also, if your children are in Catholic school they also need this type of formation as well. It is very different from a class room situation. Young people need support from their peers who also have faith. This is about building up their faith within the context of the parish community.
Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in Brazil last year, “ What is the best tool to catechise young people? Another young person.” That is why we have some great events lined up for our young people by members of the Youth Ministry Team and other young speakers. This week we are off to North Shields where the young Franciscan Friars and Sisters are inviting young people to engage with them. On the first Wednesday of each month we go to St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle for the “Source” event led by the Youth Ministry Team were over 200 young people from the diocese take part. Our young people need every encouragement and support they can get in the faith. For me, as parish priest, my weekly session with our young people is the highlight of the week.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Young People (YouCat) which all our young people have a copy of, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI says to young people :
“The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth.”
This is my passion for our young people – that they may come to know and love Jesus in a real and personal way – that they may become joyful disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.
This is why what I am saying today is so important. We have to introduce our children and young people to the person of Jesus Christ. Doctrine and morals follow on from this.
Parents have the first responsibility of passing of the faith to their children (at the core of which is a real and personal relationship with Jesus of Nazareth) but they cannot do it alone. They need the support of a parish – a Christian Community – behind them. It is all our responsibility.
Here at St Robert’s we have a long way to go and grow but I have great hope because we are very blest to have in this parish a solid core of very committed and solid Catholic families.
The passing on of the faith to our children and young people is the most essential mission and duty of this parish – of any parish. The Church has no future otherwise.
I remember this weekend that it would have been the 75th birthday of my mother (who died 4 years ago). One of my earliest memories of my mother is that she came and knelt with me at my bedside every night and she taught me how to pray. I thank God that my mother passed on to me the greatest treasure that I could possibly have – the “pearl of great price”. It has brought meaning and purpose to my life. It has sustained me and brought me the fullness of life and joy. I thank God also for my grandmother who did the same when I stayed at her home and I thank God for her mother and her mother… They passed on the faith so simply and naturally. It is because of them that I have faith today. I would not be speaking to you now if they had not passed on to me “the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8)
Fr Lawrence Jones