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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Catholic Education: a kind of loving

Updated: Oct 30, 2023


Education as a call to love

If we love one another God lives in us. 1 John 4. 12.

Love

St Augustine preached a famous homily on love. In his text he said, “love and do what you want”. This was an ethical basis for living all of life in God and in the spirit of the Gospel. He was talking about love as God loves, a love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Here is part of Paul’s words.


Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.


This is the kind of loving that Catholic education aspires to for its community life and for the individual holiness of both pupils and staff. This love embraces the quality of our care for others, the ethics of our professional and personal relationships as well as the common good of the local and wider community. In this sense outstanding educational teaching and learning is a kind of loving, just as important as some of the ‘softer’ personal aspects of expressing love within the school community.

The love to which we are called is modelled for us by a God who made us, male and female, in God’s own image. In the light of that, simply to be human is to reveal the image of a loving God who wanted to get close to us. So, no one is excluded from God’s love, and neither should they be excluded from our loving kindness. One possible definition of love is:


The desire to be close to another and the readiness to make sacrifices to maintain that closeness.


I like this anonymous definition because it takes us deep into the Easter mystery. Not only does God come close to us, to ‘abide’ in us, but God also is prepared to suffer to maintain that relationship in Jesus. The need to come close to others can mean many things and in education it has some specific implications:


• To know the people we teach, to know them by name.

• To understand their world, the pressures they face.

• To recognise and nurture the gifts of students and colleagues.

• To recognise the burdens being carried and, through active compassion, ease them.


These are all the kinds of loving that open people up to the fullness of life, to the possibility that God is love within their lives and the truth that they are not alone. When that love is a felt experience in pupils and staff hearts are laid open, needs made known and addressed and the obstacles to academic and extracurricular learning are removed.

In a Catholic school the language of this kind of loving is expressed through the story of Jesus and the sacraments. The Gospel stories of Jesus going about doing good, easing hearts and minds, teaching, healing, celebrating and challenging others all become patterns of loving kindness for the whole school community. Love is not presented as a fluffy emotional or romantic experience but rather as a desire to bring others to life and to respect one’s own dignity as child of a loving God. This Gospel is offered to pupils of all faiths and no faith as a language to open up the deeper meaning of human life and the school’s ethos and to invite everyone to be the best that they can be within their own tradition.


The sacraments express that loving kindness balanced with self-sacrifice and offer an inner experience of an intimate encounter with Jesus made visible in liturgy and in prayer. Every liturgy is an invitation into the dynamic patterns of the Easter mystery, the Paschal Mystery.

The pattern of Jesus’ life: growing, letting go and suffering in order to reach a deeper and fuller life, is at the heart of our Christian story. But it is also at the heart of the life of the Holy Trinity. The Father gives up his Son to come close to creation and his suffering releases the Holy Spirit to draw us back to the Father. The life experience of every person, viewed through the pattern of Jesus’ life and the Easter mystery, becomes a journey into the life of God in every moment of our story. It's not just when we die, it's every day in our school community that we die to ourselves and learn to live a life of loving kindness. It's through generating the energy of loving kindness that we call each pupil and colleague into the mystery of God and the eternal life of the Trinity.


Every part of our school life needs to be an invitation, a call to love. In the liturgy we hope to help young people to knowingly, consciously participate in the Paschal Mystery. They do this not by a superficial piety but by recognising that the patterns of Jesus’ life are happening in their lives too. They are dying to the childishness that keeps them self-centered, they are rising to the challenge of new relationships and to a growing responsibility for their world. The experience of prayer, liturgy and the Catholic Life of the school provide occasions when these patterns come into focus and the intimate presence of Jesus is experienced within. It is a strong relationship with Jesus as an inner companion in life that Catholic education aims for in more or less explicit ways with people of all faiths.

That is why chaplaincy in Catholic schools is more and more essential and why the new church inspection sees it as central to the school life.


The Calling to Love

For too long we have confused vocation with a state in life but it is much wider and more personal than simply marriage, priesthood and so on. It is a personal call that may resolve into marriage or religious life but at the beginning it is experienced as a resonance, an energy that attracts and draws people in a general direction. Here is a definition from a theologian in the USA.


Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.

Frederick Buechner


You will notice that God is not specifically mentioned here. Buechner wants to remind us that all human beings have a vocation. They are called to life and to be for others. The call always comes in a context and is heard best in a community. At some stage the call may resolve into a recognition that the call to love comes from God, but many people do not make that connection. They need help just as Samuel needed help from his mentor, Levi, who recognised Samuel’s call and advised the young Samuel to say:


Speak Lord, your servant is listening”.

Samuel 3. 10


Samuel’s mentor introduced the young Samuel to a direct conversational relationship with God. It was through listening to that inner conversation that Samuel found his unique path in life. In school we may be like Levi, seeing more in the young people than they see in themselves. Through encouragement, correction, through offering a wide range of experiences, young people reveal more of themselves to the encouragement and guidance of their teachers. We may feel that we can see how God might be at work in them well before they do. But they are the main actors in their story, not us adults and we as educators have to step back from this holy ground and give them the freedom to explore their own world and experience.


Where these two call meet we find our vocation, our personal path of loving and following the way of the cross to resurrection.


To be a little clearer, we are all called through our gifts, through our deficits in life and also called to make a difference to our human community. It could be that a long difficult spell in hospital as a child draws a young person to work in the medical field. It could be that a young person has a wonderful gift for science and gets wrapped up in the study they are doing. Still others place so much positive emphasis on family that they feel called to recreate that experience for others in the future. We are called through the things that energise us on behalf of others. That could be a music career, working with our hands or simply administering the needs of many people.


So, as adults in school we are called to liberate the gifts of young people, to raise awareness of their gifts in the academic curriculum and extracurricular activities. We are called to look on them with loving kindness and nurture their talents, ease their hurts, give them safe boundaries, and raise their aspirations. It's all part of the call to love. The prayer and liturgy of the school need to support this sense of inner dignity in young people and to challenge them to claim their gifts and harness their compassion and justice for a better world.


A classroom teacher who believes that they are simply imparting knowledge is not yet a Catholic teacher. They are an instructor.


When that teacher looks at the class and sees the scattering of gifts and needs in young lives and sets out to prepare them for life, to develop their talents and to guide them into being their best selves, then they are a Catholic teacher, even if they are not baptised. That is because Catholic means to literally “embrace the whole” and not to take a narrow view. Seeing your class just through the prism of your mark scheme is never enough. We need a broader view of the people in our school. Yet the mark scheme may well reveal needs, talents and frustrations that may be crucial in a pupils future. All it needs is a simple conversation, now and again, to create that safe space where those needs and dreams can be revealed. Then, occasionally, the teacher might become aware of a particular depth to a conversation and in faith say quietly to themselves, “it is The Lord.” It is this mysterious call to love we need to cultivate in the heart of every pupil and Catholic teacher.





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