18/09/09 150th Anniversary of Terenure College

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland

 18th September 2009


I am genuinely happy to be here this evening as Terenure College begins the celebrations of the one hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of its foundation.  I am delighted to be here with the Carmelite Community, with the teachers and other members of staff, and with parents, management, past pupils, local community and above all with the some of the pupils of this school which has a remarkable history in its own right and which has over the years played a significant on the development of what we would today call “modern Ireland”.

It is hard to imagine what Ireland was like one hundred and fifty years ago, as it is even harder to imagine what Ireland will be like in fifty, not to think of one hundred and fifty years from now.   What is certain is that Terenure College, if it remains true to its traditions and vocation, will continue through new generations of students to be protagonists of that future and the shape its takes.

The coming of the Carmelite charism here to Terenure took place in a less prosperous Ireland with less opportunity.  But back in 1859, one hundred and fifty years ago, things were happening.  From Google I learned that in 1859 the Irish Times began publication, that Darwin’s The Evolution of the Species was published and that Big Ben was inaugurated in the Palace of Westminster in London. 
Here in Ireland, 1859 was only 15 years after the Great Famine and one can only imagine the trauma which still dominated the country after such a dramatic event which brought with it so much death and mass emigration.    Catholic Emancipation had occurred in 1829, thirty years earlier, and 1859 was a time in which the first generation of post-Emancipation Catholics was beginning to take its place in public and academic life.   Education was at a premium.

It was a time in which a remarkable resurgence of Catholic life was underway in Ireland which also changed the map of Dublin.   Look at the 1850’s alone:  In 1852 the Mater Hospital was opened in Dublin.  1856 Mount Argus welcomed the Passionist community and the Oblate Fathers came to Inchicore.  Terenure College, Blackrock College and CUS began their histories at the close of the decade, all linked with the project of Newman’s University.   University Church was built along with many of the impressive Churches of the city centre and in rural towns.     Within a period of just ten years many of what are today the landmarks of Catholic Dublin – physically and also in what they signify – were built.

I might add that such renewal spread beyond the boundaries of Ireland.  Only last month I attended the 150th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Brisbane in Australia, where the first bishop was a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, a friend of Newman and his University and pioneer of Catholic education at the time.

This College was born in the midst of a renewal of Catholic life in Dublin and in Ireland.  Today the context in which the College carries out its work is different.   How do we face the challenge?  Let us look at the Gospel reading we have just heard and see how it can assist our reflection on the perennial values which should inspire Catholic education.

The Gospel is about vines.  The first thing to remember is that vines are very delicate and fragile plants.  It takes some years after planting before they begin to produce any fruit at all.  Damage done to a vine – even in a matter of a few hours – can set back the patient work of years.   A surprising hailstorm can in minutes destroy an entire year’s harvest.

Vines are delicate plants and require much patient attention.  It is not surprising then that the image of the vinedresser would be used by Jesus to explain to the hearers of his time the wat God cares for his people. Like the patient vinedresser, God is careful and attentive with his people and he wishes them to flourish with the best fruit. God cares for his people in all their fragility and precariousness, and wishes us to have a full and fulfilling life.  A first dimension of any programme of Catholic education is that of caring attentively that the young person in all of their fragility and vulnerability so that they can realise themselves to the fullest degree possible, each one with their unique and varied talents. Education is not about conformity, as it was in many ways in the past. Education is about enabling and flourishing.

Vines are delicate plants.  It is not just that they can be damaged easily; they require constant, vigilant attention as not all the branches will produce the same good quality fruit.  The grape and wine market is one where quality counts. The plant has to be pruned and watched to see that each branch produces the best fruit possible.
A person like myself who has grown up in the city does not really understand pruning.  We tend to look on the process of pruning a tree by looking at the end result.  The tree looks bare.  It is clear that much has been cut away and destroyed.  A city person like me does not quite realise that the purpose of pruning is not to cut back, but to allow what is best to receive the nourishment which will allow it to grow to its natural fullness. 

On the other hand, a branch which is cut off from life stream of the vine becomes totally useless.  It withers and is useful only to be burned.  The same applies to the Christian life.  Being a Christian means that we bear fruit.  There is no such thing as a passive Christian, just parked there not having any sense of direction or purpose. Our faith is not something static, something that we can park in the back of minds and only recall for special occasions or moments of crisis.  The branch which is not thoroughly alive quickly looses the natural sap which alone brings growth and fruitfulness.  

If we are not connected with the life-giving circulation which comes from the Father to Jesus and then on to us, then we may still like to call ourselves Christians, but all there is in us may be an empty, dry outward sign destined to wither.

The Catholic school must lead its pupils to discernment about what is essential and vital about life and allow what is best and truthful and caring and just to be nourished and to flourish in the lives of the students.   That true nourishment comes from the Word of God and from a relationship with God cultivated in prayer and the sacramental life of the Church.

There is no way in which we can call ourselves Christian and not live like Christians.  We can go through all the outward expressions of belonging to the Church, but unless we possess the life of Christ within us and unless we attend each day to see that that life of Christ cleanses us to produce higher quality fruit, then we will never attain Christian maturity and will be relegated to mediocrity or worse.

Catholic education is not just about imparting a bulk of knowledge; it is not about the vague ethos of a mission statement.  Catholic Education is about preparing people for life.  It is about the bond between faith and life, between faith and culture.
Catholic education has a unique contribution towards education and towards the betterment of society.  If a school is Catholic only in name it will not bring the contribution which is its only justification.

Let us come back to the image of the vine.  The life source of the entire vine is the same.  Each branch which sprouts is never an independent autonomous one, but one which belongs within the complex reality of the entire plant, with its good and its weaker branches, with its stronger and more fragile shoots.  Education is not just about releasing the talents of young people, but of ensure that those talents are not used just in a self-focussed way, but are placed at the service of what unites and concerns us all.

The vine is the image of the Church, through which the life-giving energy of Jesus is mediated to us in complex and intricate ways.  The life of Christ comes to us within the reality of the Church and that Church must also renew and purify itself so that it is clearly rooted in Jesus Christ himself. 

Terenure College was founded at a moment of remarkable growth in Catholic life.  Today we live in a different cultural climate. The relationship between young people and the Church is complex.  We have great young people: generous, caring idealistic, and indeed faith-filled.  But they seem so often, after leaving school and indeed today at an ever younger age, to loose contact with the Church as a worshipping community.  It is not that they become hostile to the Church, but indifferent. 

One might say that in today’s Ireland so much of our society lives as though God does not exist.  One of the problems is that we have at times inherited and preached a false God.  I remember at various stages of my religious formation when we were presented with what seemed a harsh judgmental God.  We were taught of about how God showed his power in miracles, almost as if to show off his power, whereas the miracles of Jesus are all about caring, liberating, freeing people from burdens.  We need to recover the true sense of a God who is love; a God who reveals his power not in tele-miracles, but in caring for each and every one of us.  Jesus never heals crowds; he places his hand on and encounters each one individually.

We pray that Terenure College will continue to flourish in the years to come; that it will continue play its vital role in preparing young people for the future: a hope-filled future, a society built on truthfulness, justice, integrity responsibility and solidarity with others.  We pray that encountering in Catholic education a God who loves and cares the young people who go out from this school into the future will bring their experience of the caring loving-kindness of God as a real factor into the manner in which through their professional and personal life they built the future of our country.