The Courage to Hope
Posted: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 13:32
In this week's Catholic Teacher Article, Mike explores the courage it requires to follow the vocational path of education, particularly in these trying times.
I cycle to school most days. It can be tough when the weather is poor. Yet, after prayer and poached eggs, it is a great way to start the day. I must admit, I prefer to cycle in the dark mornings. A significant part of the route is on the Liverpool Loop Line path, which is a disused railway line converted into a cycle path. It's dark; in fact, it is very dark. As I make my way to school, I am guided by the rear lights of the many cyclists ahead of me. Their light is a sign of hope for me as I enter the darkness.
On my journey this morning, I passed a window that had a single candle flame next to a hand-painted sign that said, 'For the NHS'. This single glimmer of light in a dark street was a ray of hope. And it took me back to my childhood and my love of candles. There is something about the flicker of a candle flame that I have always loved. The light of a candle calms me and helps me focus my attention during prayer; candles help to soothe my soul.
As a child I used to visit St Joseph the Worker Church in Kirkby. In the early 1980s, the church was always open during the day, something which many churches are no longer able to do. It was always the candles in front of the Blessed Mother that drew my attention; with the devoted old ladies in their headscarves kneeling in silent prayer, one could almost feel the prayers and there was a definite spiritual energy being radiated from those elderly souls whose devotion to Our Holy Mother was tangible. I must confess that on occasion, my friends and I would visit the church on a 'candle gathering expedition' to find candles for our dens! For even at that young age of seven or eight, the light of a candle attracted our attention and made us feel at peace.
Light has always been a powerful symbol in our Christian tradition; the opening lines of the Bible remind us that God's first creative action was to bring light forth from darkness:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
Again, the great prophet Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that to them a child will be born who will bring peace to all people:
A voice cried in the wilderness:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
It seems to me that, by giving a cursory glance at the times we are currently living through, we too are walking in darkness. Yet I am reminded of a wise saying: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Far from letting the current darkness consume us, we need to take heart from the message of the Gospels and be sources of light. The pupils of De La Salle Academy, Croxteth, who are performing generous acts of charity for the many worthy causes they support, are bringing much needed light into the world of darkness, illness and pain that overshadows them, and lighting their own candle of hope. Our school choir, who are singing in the local business district, are bringing the light of Christ to those who might not seek it out.
It is no coincidence that all the great living religions have festivals of light, for all are reaffirming the same truth that the Lord God our Creator brought light from darkness and gave us hope. In our Catholic Christian tradition, Christ is our light. He is the light of the world and we need not curse the darkness. When we allow the light of Christ to shine through us and within us, we bring light into the world.
At this dark time of the year, we must have the courage to hope in our own light. As educators, our role is to illuminate the world of learning, so that we can support the youngsters in our care on their journey towards a brighter future. The very word 'education' means to draw out, to bring forward. Education is the great bringer of light. An Ofsted inspector once referred to education as the 'great enabler'; how true. Don Bosco knew this, as did De La Salle; and they were committed to bringing the light of knowledge of Christ to their students. They lived by the maxim that education was the enabler of the many and not just the few. How countercultural it must have seemed at the time, to consider the poor worthy of such light. In my darkest moments in education, when I think I will 'pack it in and find a nice easy job', if such a thing exists, I look straight into the eyes of Don Bosco and De La Salle and see the light of love that shines forth, and pray that I may be worthy of the vocation I have been blessed with.
The vocation to the ministry of education is tough! There is no doubt about it. At this time of the year, and in our current situation, things may not get any easier. Please, I pray, take heart, have courage and hope. Hope and faith are what will see us through. When times get tough, pause, breathe, cry if you must—it helps me—then remember the faces of the children you serve and say the prayer of St Teresa of Ávila:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
And have the courage to hope.
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash