On Tuesday morning, 29 January 2013, I celebrated Mass with the staff of Saint Bernardine’s School, Regents Park.
The following is my homily:
If I were to do a little survey and ask you what you remember most about your own school days, I’m quite sure the answers would not be: we had a great curriculum; we had the best designed classrooms and school buildings; the timetable was really well organized. I’m sure that your memories of your own schooling would most probably be about people: maybe your classmates, but probably too about teachers. I remember Mrs so-and-so. We probably don’t remember the classes, but we remember those people from our own schooling who made a personal impact on us. “We remember the teacher who recognised us as individuals who acknowledged our talents, who transmitted to us that we were capable, capable of doing more than we had imagined, teachers who helped and encouraged us when things were not going well, and teachers who quietly rejoiced in our small successes.” (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, 23 September 2010: http://www.dublindiocese.ie/content/2392010-schools-mass-homily).
You don’t need me to tell you that children today are very aware of what’s going on in our world: its good things, and its problems. It’s impossible for them not to be. From an early age children are witness to social discourse in ways that not so long ago we had no idea about. Moreover, children grow up in families where all the successes and failures of our western culture are lived and breathed from day to day.
Despite the difference in context, young people still need and look for models – anchors – that they can use as they chart their course in life. The young people who come to St Bernardine’s will be looking at you. Just as the people were watching Jesus closely to see what kind of person he was. The students of St Bernardine’s – whether they acknowledge it or not – will be noticing what type of person you are: do you care about them? is this just a job for you? are you truthful? They’ll pick up on your values – even your morals!
This is a challenge! It’s a call to conversion. Who do we want to be for the young people of Saint Bernardine’s? What do we want them to remember about us?
As we hear the familiar first reading, describing the diversity of gifts given by the one Holy Spirit, on one level we could apply it to ourselves as the staff of St Bernardine’s. All of us here have to find creative ways of working with each other, mindful that we all have differing abilities, differing gifts. We have to bring forth our own abilities, and be respectful of others as they do the same. We have to confront jealousy in ourselves which is one of the great destroyers of team work.
But on another level too, we could apply the first reading to our students. They too have been gifted by the same Holy Spirit with a diversity of gifts. And it’s our task as educators – as people charged with the formation of the young – to help those gifts emerge and grow. The teachers who did that for us are truly the ones we remember. The ones who could see something in us, and who encouraged us, who challenged us.
Today as we offer this Mass, let’s ask God to pour all his graces upon us as begin a new year of working together. Let’s pray for schools everywhere, and particularly those schools in our own region who may have a difficult beginning of the year with the floods. Let’s pray that God will help each of us to be people of authenticity, people who truly want to make a difference in the lives of the young people entrusted to our care.