Mass for at Start of the New School Year

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin , Archbishop of Dublin

DCU at Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra  Tuesday 17th September 2019

    “The beginning of the new School Year offers us a moment to look beyond the many day-to-day concerns that we encounter and struggle with and reflect more deeply on the basic role of education within our changing Ireland.


Pope Francis last week, speaking of the African proverb, “it takes a whole village to educate a child”, noted that today in many parts of the world “we have to create such a village before we can educate”.


Education cannot separate itself from the cultural situation in which it takes place.  Pope Francis was speaking about the global challenge and an idea of his to form “an alliance that generates peace, justice and hospitality among all people in the human family as well as dialogue between religions”.


Whereas this idea of Pope Francis is about an alliance on a global scale, in today’s fractured society we also have to construct a renewed culture of peace and justice, of hospitality and welcome, of purpose and hope.


When I speak of a fractured culture, I am not thinking of an abstraction. I am thinking concretely of where so many young men and women find themselves during their demanding formative years. Education takes place within a community culture and education must train young people to find their place within the community and to take their place in the community through offering themselves in service.


Education can at times be caught up in a closed culture of the purely pragmatic and shy away from the larger vision. Often I find mission statements in schools that talk only about excellence within the activities of the school but fail to stress that if that idea of excellence does not challenge young people to move above and beyond their own world then it has failed.  Young people must be accompanied on a path of formation that permits each one, especially those who are troubled and marginalised, to find their true gifts and flourish as who they are.


It would be wrong to make blanket statements of criticism about our Irish educational system.  We have achieved much and we have much to be proud of.  All of us gathered here today are committed to ensuring that all the children of Ireland today and tomorrow may belong to an educational community that respects them and offers them what they need to flourish.


However, our educational village is still very much a village marked by inequality.  We have wonderful schools but we also have schools which are under resourced and in poor condition.  As Archbishop, going around this diocese, I encounter both. The best schools are those really rooted in their community.  I am especially concerned when I find schools in poorer communities with poor facilities.  I am concerned about certain groups who experience educational disadvantage. I think of the situation of children with autism. Their educational needs require an injection of new resources.   Traveller children are still at a disadvantage.


I have to say immediately that going around the most deprived areas of this diocese I am also really inspired by the number of young teachers – many of them graduates of this College – who on graduation opt as their first choice to go to schools in deprived areas. They have understood what education in a fractured and an unequal culture is about.


Schools and students live within a fractured culture. Schools cannot do everything.  However, schools are aware of the difficulties their children experience.  I was shocked to hear from our Crosscare Food Banks how they are regularly called by schools to help children who come back after school holidays visibly thinner and clearly in need of additional nourishment. The school cannot do everything but the school is a vital part of the educational village and is very often the barometer of the physical and emotional needs and deficiencies of children and their challenges.


I am particularly concerned at the growing problem of drug and substance abuse among young people, even very young people.  Our society is alarmed at the horror of shootings among those involved in drug feuds. It is truly a horror story of violence and retaliation.   Too rarely, however, do we stress that the business of drug dealers itself is a repulsive business of death.  It is a business that kills and destroys lives and has no respect for the fragility of young people and particularly of fragile children.  We tend to use nice phrases such as “recreational drugs” as if drug use by some was a harmless sector, unlinked with that revolting trade in death.  We talk about “bad doses” which have taken the lives of young people as if, as one parent noted, there were good doses.  We have to do more to help our young people to be drug free full stop.  The presence of drug pushers near schools is not something we can sit back and overlook. We have to offer cooperation to An Garda Siochana in our communities.


As Christians who work in the area of education, we are not there to teach just abstract doctrine or a cold ideology or to be campaigners for our own narrow interests alone.  We are called to be witnesses to the Spirit.  Our first reading this evening spoke of the Spirit helping us in our weakness and enabling us to understand how we can work together for the good.   It is the Spirit who builds up and guarantees community.


The Catholic school must be a place where the presence of the Spirit can be sensed.   As our Gospel reading notes, the Spirit is sensed where hearts are no longer troubled and people are not afraid and where a deep personal peace is experienced.  The Catholic school must be a community that witnesses to the power of the Spirit to overcome anxiety and fear and accompany those entrusted to our care on a passage to true hope and peace.


Catholic education will find true recognition in society not just by campaigning for a privileged place but when it really becomes a beacon in society of the Spirit who cares.   We live in a world where many young people are troubled and at times so troubled as to abandon hope.


The culture of our educational village must be one that embraces and loves and offers an atmosphere of peace that is distinctive.  That is what Jesus means when he talks about a peace different to that which the world gives.  A fractured world requires a culture that integrates, which welcomes each individual to find a critical path of peace and serenity and hope for himself or herself within all the diversity of our world


A Catholic school is not just an archive of baptismal certificates and admission certs, but above all one that should reflect what the wonderful reality of baptism means.  Through baptism, all are recognised as children of the one God, with the same opportunities and aspirations and hopes to realise the unique dignity that belongs to each of them.


That is what education is about and for a Catholic school to do less would be a betrayal of the work of the Spirit.” ENDS