JUBILEE CELEBRATION FOR TEACHERS
St John The Baptist Church, Moy, and
Franciscan Missionary Sisters For Africa, Mount Oliver
21 & 22 NOVEMBER, 2000
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
You have only one teacher, the Christ. In this evening of celebration for teachers we give thanks to God for the way, you teachers have been chosen by God to carry out Christ’s command and are in fact, carrying it out. I am talking about the last command which Christ gave to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. He said, “Go, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe what I have commanded you, and baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. We know that the disciples didn’t do very much about that until Pentecost came. Then the Holy Spirit gave them new courage and new strength. Then they went out and began to preach and teach and baptise. Gradually they realised that they couldn’t do it all on their own. They also realised that they did not have to do it all on their own because the Sacrament of Baptism made those who were baptised sharers in the teaching office of Christ. And so this evening we praise God for the generations of teachers who over the last 2000 years, 1500 years, I suppose, in this case, handed on to the children entrusted to their care what they themselves had received.
We thank God for parents, the first and often the best of teachers, for Boards of Management, for Boards of Governors, for Trustees and for all who play a part in what, I like to call, the Glorious Enterprise that is Christian education.
Last week the priests of the diocese were gathered in Bundoran. We were thinking about last Sunday’s gospel. You may remember that it talks about tribulations and trials of this world and then it spoke of the signs of hope, symbolised by the fig tree with its new leaves, new buds. Among the trials which one priest mentioned was the number of modern homes where the parents have never bothered to put up any sign of their Christian faith to inspire or excite the interest of the child. And among the signs of the hope mentioned was the wonderful band of countless enthusiastic hard working teachers. I can identify with that sentiment from my own visits to classrooms which are busy places and lively places and very spiritual and religious places. I am thinking of the lovely decorations, religious symbols, the prayer life, the preparation for the Sacraments, First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation. Tonight we celebrate all of that and much more, your constant efforts to hand on all that is best to your pupils.
What a lovely icon you have chosen for this evening’s celebration, the Icon of the Most Blessed Trinity. An empty space at the table of the Trinity is reserved for you and for me. It is a place where each one of us can sit, as Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to his words. I suppose that icon is a reminder to all of us who preach or teach, that before we do so we must sit and be ourselves a disciple. We must listen and learn. We have only one teacher – The Christ.
The poet says: Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
God has a dream for you and for me. God’s dream for us calls us to discover the true faith, that is the true face of God. Our teachers help us to interpret the dream.
God’s dream is a prayer that we will discover the true face of God in Jesus. “When the fullness of time came God sent His Son, born of a woman”, to reveal to us His true face. This face looks lovingly at us no matter what mistakes we make. It is a face reflected in the face of all who look at us with love. It is a face that calls us beyond rivalry and jealousy into community and to everlasting friendship. Tonight we give thanks for all those teachers who have helped their pupils discover God’s dream for them, who helped to discover the depths of goodness that lie, like buried treasure, in their hearts. For in so doing they help them to discover their God. We thank God for all those creative and imaginative teachers who helped their pupils wake up to the miracle and beauty, that is life. We give thanks for those teachers who help their pupils prepare for the sometimes painful and heart-breaking contradictions of life by telling them clearly that there is more to human life, than comfort, entertainment and the avoidance of suffering.
There was another verse in the first reading of last Sunday’s Mass. It goes as follows:
“The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity”. What a wonderful promise is contained in that vision from the book of the prophet Daniel. In that vision there was revealed for the first time the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead when it says: “Of those sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace”. Tonight we think of the many past teachers of this Archdiocese who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth of the graveyards in Louth and Derry, Armagh and Tyrone. There they await the call to arise in glory and shine as bright as stars for all eternity. For those who have instructed many in virtue will shine as brightly as stars for all eternity. And so I hope our celebration this evening will send us out determined to continue to instruct people in virtue. Pope John Paul II decided that this Jubilee Year would be filled with celebrations of different categories of people.
Last Sunday, for example, was the Jubilee of the Police and the Armed Services. The previous Sunday it was the Jubilee of farmers. Tonight we are celebrating the Jubilee of teachers. Really what we are doing is celebrating the part which different professions of people play as followers of Christ in building up the Kingdom. When he came he said: “The Kingdom of God is near”. As teachers you have a very important part to play in building up that Kingdom.
At present a very important debate and consultation are taking place here in Northern Ireland about our system of education. You teachers have a very important contribution to make to that debate. The Catholic Church has a long history in education. As Catholic educators I know that it is your primary concern to care for your pupils in such a way that all their physical, moral and intellectual talents may develop. I know that you are concerned about the formation of the whole person, so that your pupils may reach their eternal destiny and at the same time promote the common good of the society to which they belong. I hope this Jubilee celebration will, once again, renew the joy of all teachers. I hope it will arouse in all of us a sense of gratitude for the outstanding teachers who know that they have been called by God to do a very special task, preparing citizens for this life and for the next.
We are drawing near to the end of this year 2000, the year of the Great Jubilee. This evening as teachers we come together to celebrate 2000 years of our faith history, 2000 years of telling and teaching, retelling and learning the story of that history. This is a holy year, a sacred space.
It is a space in which to pause at the threshold of the future. It is a time to look back, to look back and celebrate the story of our own people, of what we are. In that story the local school and its teachers always have a treasured and special place. We need to look back in order to understand where we now stand. As someone looks back in a climb up a hill or up a mountain to review the progress made and the distance travelled. We need to draw breath, the breath of the Holy Spirit, so as to understand where God is calling us, where God wants us to go for the future.
We face the future with confidence. We rely not on our own wisdom but on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We face the future with the Words of Christ ringing out loudly in our ear. “Heaven and Earth will pass away. My Words will not pass away”. I was a teacher myself for 13 years. I was always very conscious of the huge act of trust which parents place in those to whom they entrust the education of their children. It falls to the lot of the teacher to help their pupils open their hearts to the gift that is our Church and our Sacraments. To help them open their eyes to see in the Church and the Sacraments – the healing touch and the Human Face of the Risen Christ for our time.
It is your wonderful calling to help children open their ears to hear the voice of God as He speaks His dream for His people, in the Sacred Scriptures.
This dream nestles in the heart of each one of us, longing to fly free and live life to the full. “Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly”.
You have only one teacher – The Christ. As the words of our opening hymn said:
Longing for the light we wait in darkness,
Longing for truth we turn to him.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.