The Courage to Love
Posted: Thu, 05 Nov 2020 14:43
In this week's Catholic Teacher Article, Mike explores the need for courage when teaching the poor and marginalised.
The Franciscan Priest and spiritual master, Fr. Richard Rohr, refers to "falling in love" as counterintuitive. Love, he says, is something we "fall" into as no one would willingly go there, in the knowledge that to love is to open oneself up to vulnerability and the real possibility that one could be hurt. The life-affirming energy that love brings, flows from such vulnerability and the ego does not go there willingly. To love is to see the soul of another in real time. Pope Francis, in his new encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti", declares: "The spiritual stature of a person's life is measured by love." Wow! Let's try and unpick this insight and wisdom in the context of our vocation to the ministry of education.
In my twenty-three years, I have practised the art of teaching predominantly in areas of socio-economic need. The level of challenge poverty brings is often overwhelming. The "thrashings" that most schools in such areas take from Ofsted are humiliating. The hardship many students face is heart-breaking. And the injustice of a system that views those on the margins as "less" is infuriating. A Catholic Headteacher once told me schools in such areas should be shut and replaced with prisons! I silently wondered which Gospel he had been reading! The challenges many people face when serving the needs of those on the margins are very real. I get angry when those in the Catholic sector look down on the staff and schools who serve the poor. I get frustrated when I hear people imply that those who teach in areas of deprivation cannot teach well, because the schools are below floor targets for Progress 8, English and Maths combined grade 4 and above. And sadly I have heard this! Moreover, I often hear PGCE students being told, "Get yourself in to a 'Good' school!" What does this mean? Is it that schools who are not Ofsted 'Good' are not good in reality? Does this mean that schools who serve the disadvantaged are not worthy of young talent? To me, a school is good because it has children in it and staff who love them!
The Catholic community established its mission to education by providing schools for the poor. At its heart Catholic education must maintain its core vocation to serve the needs of those who are limited in the material goods of the world. If we lose sight of this, we have lost sight of our mission. We have, in effect, thrown the baby out with the bath water. In saying that "The spiritual stature of a person's life is measured by love", Pope Francis is asking all of us to look deep within and reflect: do we manifest the love of God in our daily lives? Those of us in education must ask ourselves if we are prepared to go to the margins of society and love those who we find there. Authentic Catholic education must always seek to build the Kingdom of God and must offer the poorest in society the best. This takes courage.
The courage to love is the courage to lay yourself bare and be vulnerable. The courage to love children who have many obstacles and barriers to learning in their way, is a courage that comes from the Holy Spirit. If you don't believe me, read the life stories of St John Bosco, St John Baptise De La Salle and St Julie Billart. They had the courage to roll up their sleeves, dig deep and get their holy hands dirty. They embraced the poor, did not laugh at them and did not judge their worth by a number or a grade. These prophetic, ethical superheroes show us what it means to have the courage to love. If we, as a Catholic community of educators, can let the scales fall from our eyes and support the schools who face the challenges that disadvantage and poverty bring, then we can truly say we have that courage.
George Herbert's beautiful poem, "Love", offers us many insights as teachers:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
As Catholic teachers, we must not turn away from the call to love, but sit down and eat with love. This we can do when we break bread with the most disadvantaged in our society. Please Lord, may we always have the courage to love, serve and teach the poor.