We are here to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving for the service given by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to the cause of Catholic education over the last so many years,

It began with the praise of wisdom taken from the Scriptures.  We all like to think of ourselves as wise people.  Nobody really likes to be thought of as a fool.  In Scripture the word ‘wisdom’ is used to speak of God himself – eternal wisdom and more specifically for the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God. The Son of God as the word is the total and adequate expression of the wisdom of God and is, by becoming one of us, brought that wisdom to dwell among us.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, claim as the teachers par excellence of wisdom.  Of course wisdom is also personified as a woman, born of God, before all ages, and active with God in the work of creation.  That is how wisdom is depicted in the Scriptures but in the Liturgy, Christ is called the Wisdom of God.  Mary is called the ‘Seat of Wisdom’.  Mary is the one whom God to collaborate in bringing the divine wisdom into this world and hence Mary is a great model for so many teachers, especially so many women teachers.

In Catholic Theology wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.   Each one of us was raised up by Baptism of water to become a sharer of the divine nature and life.  In order for us to function at this higher level God gives, to the baptised, a new set a faculties called:  ‘The Gifts of the Holy Spirit’.  They are gifts because they are freely given to all at Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be able to act in our Christian lives.

The goal of Christian life is to attempt to understand who we truly are as men and women who have been baptised in Christ.  So we try to grow in wisdom by listening to the Scriptures.  We also foster the growth of wisdom by opening ourselves to the activities of the Holy Spirit.

Recently we had a big debate going in this diocese about what the aim of the diocese is to be.  After a lot of discussion we decided that the aim of the diocese is to co-operate with the Holy Spirit in order for us to become the Body of Christ.  We have come to the idea that, as a diocese, we are called, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to become the body of Christ so that we may live like Christ and share his compassion with others.  Through these gifts the Holy Spirit lets us see and taste how good the Lord is – to have a taste of the things of God – to recognise the presence of God in all things – to experience God’s presence in our lives. 

The Catholic Schools are held however by Trustees in the name of the Catholic People of Northern Ireland.  Schools are vitally important because they are the principal means of helping parents to fulfil their role in education

CCMS supported the Trustees in the provision of school buildings.  I congratulate the Council on the excellent work that they have done in this regard.  Schools are not much use unless they are effectively managed and controlled. That fact that the Catholic Sector is so much admired is due to this excellent management system.  Here I salute Governors and Principals for their generous commitment.

Of course school, Governors and even Principals won’t achieve much without the teacher.  I here and now applaud the 8,500 teachers selected, appointed and supported.  The Council saw its objective as raising standards through the provision of an outstanding tier of management.

I notice that CCMS describes itself as an Advocate on its website.  It was, and is, an Advocate on behalf of Catholic Maintained Schools in Northern Ireland. 

You may remember that the Advocate or Paraclete – was one of the names given by Jesus to the Holy Spirit whom he promised to send to his beleagued apostles after his ascension.  The Holy Spirit came to empower the Infant Church to get on with the task entrusted to it by Jesus – The Advocate came to help it ‘Go make disciples of all nations’.  So today we thank God for those who, aided by the Holy Spirit all those years ago, came up with the idea of getting an Advocate to support the management of Catholic schools through the Boards of Management.  We thank God for those who enacted the legislation and for those who, down through the years, worked in various CCMS offices; went to CCMS Committees; and sat on Boards of Management.  We see that as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in Northern Ireland over the years.

I recently picked up a book called Meetings Matter – Spirituality and Skill for Meetings.  The focus of this book is, as it says, on the often ignored faith dimension of meetings.  When viewed through the light of faith, elements of an ordinary meeting are transformed. 

The thesis of this book is that God is involved with a group that uses our help there to achieve the common good.  It argues that the Spirit works in every group and that as Christian participants at meetings we must go beyond passivity and so we thank God in that understanding of our meetings.

We thank God for the many meetings sponsored, facilitated, prepared and implemented by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.  We thank God for the Agendas of all the meetings.  God has an agenda too because God’s divine agenda preserves the vines with partnership to bring about the lasting good of humankind. 

In Ireland itself we can list many lay people who responded to the call of the Spirit.  We think of Nano Nagle, Edmund Rice, Catherine McAuley and Margaret Haywood.  I suppose we could add in Frank Duff who left an enduring mark.  But today this book is on say Bono; Bob Geldof; John O’Shea; Neill Mellon and Addie Roache and many others carry the torch in our day and in turn inspire others with their dreams.  I once heard it said that you won’t miss the shelter until the tree falls. I suspect that that is especially true of the CCMS, we won’t miss the shelter which is provided and supported until it no longer exists.

So, in this Mass of Thanksgiving we praise God for the service rendered by the Council.  We begin our praise from the Book of Wisdom in the First Reading.  We already think of ourselves as wise people.  Wisdom is a word with many rich meanings.  In the Bible, wisdom is presented as a quality of God; the splendour of eternal life; the image of God’s goodness.  In the liturgy Christ is called ‘Wisdom of God’.