Posted: Thu, 11 Feb 2021 09:01
Catholic teacher and deacon, Mike Bennett, explores the 'beautiful vision' of Catholic education. (Photo: Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash)
I am a recently ordained permeant deacon, and I am still finding my feet. Thank the Lord for the amazing people I have around me: family, parish, Salesian Community, De La Salle Academy Croxteth and my spiritual director. My ministry is exciting, varied and allows me to journey with people and families towards baptism, marriage and funerals. The ministry of a deacon is a ministry of service; the very word diakonia literally means 'servant'. Within the Liturgy of the Mass, the deacon performs a number functions, such as lector, reading and preaching the Gospel, ministry of the altar, the kiss of peace and the dismissal. Each function is a form of service; the latter is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the role of the servant minister—to invite the people of God to "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
Love and service lie at the heart of what it means to be a teacher. Teaching is by its very nature an act of love that serves young people. For me, the most authentic expression of my vocation as deacon is to love and serve the children in my care. God has been good to me in this. It is a vocation I do not deserve, yet the holy Sacred Spirit has given me the joy of this and has entrusted to me, and to my colleagues, a beautiful vision.
Education is a beautiful vision—to walk with young people out of darkness into the light of knowledge is indeed a sacred act. Catholic education is a sacramental act, as through the act of teaching—and I refer to teaching in its fullness, formal and informal education—all who touch the heart of children are teachers. Children can discover their inner dignity and experience the grace of God at the deepest level of their being. Education is a sacramental experience as it allows the educator (minister) and student to experience God in so many ways. Faith, if that is our aim in Catholic education, is not 'taught', it is 'caught'. Faith is developed through the witness of those whose job it is to 'form' the students. Thus, an expression of the beautiful vision of Catholic education is formation. Formation lies at the heart of the relationship between student and educator. Formation means enabling the young person to experience the universal Christ, and in doing so, opening their heart, mind, body and soul to the truth that they, too, are an expression of the Christ who exists within them. This is true also of staff, as the leader's role is to form the staff at every level in the school. Formation lies at the heart of the mission and vison of our Catholic schools. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), n. 34, states:
Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school. His revelation gives new meaning to life and helps man to direct his thought, action and will according to the Gospel, making the beatitudes his norm of life. The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school "Catholic"; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.
To form our students and staff in truth of the Gospels will reveal to them the reality of the universal and living Christ. Without such formation, the Gospels will be little more than books on a shelf. We can only love and serve the Lord if we are formed to do so. Love and service are 'part of the deal' for us as Christians. Catholic education has a duty to form its students and staff in the art of loving kindness to be at the service of humanity. It is a well-used quote by Pope Paul VI who said that:
Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 6641 (1974), p. 568.
What wisdom! What challenge! Truth indeed. The beautiful vision that we have been handed requires so much: formation, witness, love and service. And at the heart of all that Catholic education has to offer, the core of this beautiful vision is service to the poor. In 1997 the Catholic Education Service published the 'Common Good in Education', in which it was proclaimed:
Education is a service provided by society for the benefit of all its young people, in particular for the benefit of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged—those we have a sacred duty to serve.
CES, 'The common good in education: a commentary on the implications of the Church's social teaching for the work of Catholic schools and colleges', (London: CES, 1997).
To truly love and serve is to love and serve those who are most deprived of the means of the world. It is this truth that a young priest and younger head of RE—Fr Nick Wilde and Miss Gerry Walsh—taught me in 1990, that formed my conviction that an authentic vision of Catholic education is to serve the poor. Poverty is a big word and there are a multitude of ways that it can be expressed: Christ himself outlines many in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 5:1–12):
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When we reflect on the life of St John Bosco and St John Baptist de la Salle, to name but two, we can see in them a zeal to form hearts and minds in the spirit of the Gospel and love and serve the poor in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Their vision of an inclusive education for all was, and is, a beautiful vision of what can be achieved when we love and serve the Lord through the vocation and ministry of education.
The world of education can be so difficult at times, yet it is my prayer that we all embrace the beautiful vision gifted to us by Christ to love and serve him as teachers. I pray also that as a Catholic community, we support each other and place our best resources in the poorest areas, so that we can enable those who are deprived in so many ways to share in the beautiful vision of Catholic education.