The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried!

G K Chesterton

Judge not your success by your numbers or the quality of your buildings… judge your success by the quality of your hearts and your efforts to live the call of the Gospel.’

Oscar Romero

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Jesus did not mandate that we go forward and make Catholics, or make Lutherans, or Anglicans. He said go and make disciples, witnesses to Gospel living; inspiring people to embrace the model of Jesus’ lifestyle and see with the eyes of God.

Mission is not about getting people to believe the right things in order to get to some special place. It is about inspiring people to embrace the model of Jesus lifestyle and the Kingdom of God. Transformation must happen within people so that they will see with the eyes of God and live lives inspired by that vision.

The voice of the Church must never bother people by guilt, worry or inadequacy. It will only ever make a difference when the church can witness and challenge people to fulfil their roles as heralds of the Kingdom.

There should be less emphasis on moralism and rule keeping and more emphasis on embracing the values of the Kingdom of God and modelling the Jesus’ lifestyle. Jesus’s intention was to bring the reign of God, a new world order, characterised by justice, equity and possibility.

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A middle class, tame, non-engaged Christianity doesn’t make sense; it is a contradiction in terms!

In a speech to new Cardinals into 2016, Pope Francis warned that:

The Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed.

It is our response to the marginalised that will determine our authenticity and credibility. Our voice must amplify the voice of the disenfranchised, those who have little control over their lives and those who need to be heard. Our authenticity must surely be defined by the love and compassion we show, and by whom we dare to include.

The greatest risk for Catholic schools is to soften or drift from the core imperatives of their mission as mandated by fidelity to the Gospel and simply become another ‘fine’ school, embracing a tame and domesticated mission.

Many Catholic schools have become schools of choice for those people who aspire to a version of exclusive, private education. In a world that increasingly sees education as a commodity that can be bought, we must resist the temptation to have our schools being used principally as vehicles for social advancement and elitism. As Carmel Leavey once said: ‘Some people seek our fruits but not our roots.” Where does this leave us when the Gospel tells us that our mission should focus on serving the materially poor?

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It is easy to become discouraged when we look at the challenges of embodying an authentic option for the poor and spirit of inclusion, as reflected in the Gospels.

Let’s be clear! We must all do more. We are never off the hook! We are all on a journey and must be chastised by the ideals of our Gospel. There is no totally authentic Catholic school, but we must all strive towards the goal of authenticity.

We must consistently ask ourselves the difficult questions related to inclusion and exclusion. We only truly fail when we deny the questions and accept complacency. As human institutions, we can only struggle to live up to our own vision, to reform our lives continually, so as to be consistent with our vision. Faithfulness to the Gospel demands that we do so.

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In Church and Catholic education circles, we increasingly hear the question: ‘What must we do to maintain our schools as authentically Catholic?’ One response to this question has traditionally been to limit the numbers of non-Catholics who can gain entry to the schools so that a ‘critical mass’ of Catholics can be maintained and thus we can say that we have truly Catholic schools.

It strikes me as sad that we would have to focus on excluding people in order to maintain our authenticity, when our Gospel says with great clarity that authenticity in Christianity demands inclusion of the marginalized. Authenticity for Catholic schools will not be enhanced by excluding non-Catholics but rather by our inclusion of the poor and those at the margins. Our openness to inclusion and embracing responsibility for ‘the other’ determines our capacity to be authentically Catholic schools. They must be schools for all who seek the values of our Gospel, regardless of religious affiliation or financial capacity.

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Worship is not only a matter of a date with God, but also an experience of equipping oneself to make the will of God or Godly values, such as justice, truth and compassion, prevail in the world…The flow towards the temple or church must be complemented by the flow from the temple into society, to impact and transform societies.

Swami Agnivesh

Our service to the poor, the excluded and the suffering, is the surest way we honour and serve the God of love and compassion.

Some years ago, I had the great privilege of spending time with the Christian Brothers’ community on the island of Negros in the Philippines.

One evening during our visit a colleague and I were asked by the Brothers to lead the community in evening prayer.  We put considerable time into this preparing this prayer experience and planned each step carefully so that the prayer could run as smoothly as possible.

However, in the middle of this prayer time, at a reflective stage, there was an interruption; and one of the Brothers left the chapel and returned a couple of minutes later with a family of mother, father and a little baby, together with a lady who worked closely with the Brothers.  I must admit that my first reaction was one of annoyance that this reflective experience that we had worked hard to orchestrate, was being interrupted. Why couldn’t this family have waited outside until we were finished?

At the end of our prayer time, I heard the full story and was ashamed of my reaction.  The little girl, Sophia was three years old and had recently undergone an operation to remove a tumor from her stomach.  When I got a close look at little Sophia, I could see that the reason the family had returned that evening was that the tumor had emerged again and her stomach on her small frame was as if she had a basketball inside.  Clearly, desperation had brought them to the Brothers’ house that evening.

Her mum and dad were very poor and they had eight other children and lived some hours away. The Brothers had supported the family through Sophia’s illness and provided the resources for the initial operation. They had also undertaken to support the family during the potentially expensive subsequent therapies that little Sophia would need.  However, it appeared that things were much more dire than originally thought and Sophia was gravely ill.

What did I learn that evening?  Even the most eloquent lip-service to spiritual values will not do. I am sure that without doubt, the most pleasing thing to God that happened in that chapel that evening was not our well-planned prayers, but the openness of the Brothers’ community to receive the poor family and to serve them as best they could.

We worship a God who sides with the poor and those at the margins of life.  We authentically worship this God by serving and doing all we can for others.  Service is worship! It doesn’t matter how eloquent and how wonderful our planned prayers and liturgies might be – without a commitment to serve and stand with the poor, our worship will always be empty.

Sophia died peacefully 3 days later; surrounded by her family and those who loved her.  I will never forget the little angel who interrupted our prayer that evening.  She taught me an invaluable lesson. Sophia taught me that service to and care for those in need is the most complete way we worship our God who stand with and for those at the margins.

 

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