In recent weeks and months some of us may felt disturbed by some of the things we have read and heard being said about our faith and about the Church. On occasions we may have felt bewildered by claims and accusations, by negative and hostile voices and by prophecies of doom.
In such a climate, it is good to recall that, at the heart of our faith, lies our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour who invites us to put aside our fears and anxieties and follow Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. At its simplest, this is what the Year of Faith is about. Our personal relationship with Jesus is also what underpins the theme of this year’s Catholic Education Week.
In establishing the Year of Faith, the Holy Father recognised the difficulties which we can face in being faithful today, in living our faith not only in Church but in our homes, schools and workplaces. He knows that many of us nowadays are reluctant to wear our faith on our sleeves, fearing ridicule or suspicion or even persecution. This is why we wrote in ‘Porta Fidei’, his letter which introduced the Year of Faith:
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.” (Porta Fidei, #15)
So, the Pope’s invitation to each of us is firstly to be a “credible witness”, someone whose words and actions reflect Christian attitudes, values and commitments, someone who is known to be honest, kind, compassionate, conscientious and prayerful. As Christians, we should not fear being criticised as being unthinking, irrational or out of touch with reality. Because we know that our minds have been enlightened – i.e., opened up to the powerful truth of God’s Word. We can make sense of the world’s challenges precisely because of our faith in a loving God who offers us eternal life. Our hearts have been opened too, and we recognise the need to love all God’s creatures, despite any hostility or ridicule which we might encounter and also despite any irrational fears or suspicions which we might have of others.
Our faith in Jesus Christ also calls us to “open the hearts and minds” of others to faith in Him. We are obliged not to keep our faith to ourselves, not to pray and worship in isolation, not to hide away in a quiet room. Rather, the Holy Spirit empowers us, through the Sacrament of Confirmation, to go out into the world and to help others to hear of Jesus, to come to know Him and to believe in Him.
This is how we can all be educators in faith. “Opening Hearts and Minds to God” is the raison d’être of Catholic Education. Our purpose is to develop the whole person – in mind, heart, body and spirit – and so help each person to achieve his or her full potential for life. At home, in the parish and in school, adults share the responsibility of nurturing young people in faith. We can prepare the ‘soil’ which will allow the seed of faith to grow and take root in the hearts and minds of children and we can nurture that growing faith until young people are mature enough to sustain their own personal faith commitment.
In this way we are opening minds, not closing them, as some critics of Catholic schools like to argue. We are offering them a vision of God’s transforming love. We are opening the door of faith for them but they have to freely choose to walk through that door. Thereafter we can only pray that they do so.
So, for Scotland’s Catholic Education Week, we have developed resources for school, parishes and parents which will help adults to open hearts and minds to God. We hope that, through the Year of Faith, young people will be helped to focus on what our faith is and on how it can be professed, celebrated, prayed and lived. The starting point for this learning and reflection is the Nicene Creed, the prayer of the Church which we profess each Sunday.
All the materials we have provided to schools, including 60,000 laminated cards, relate to learning and teaching about the Nicene Creed, enabling young people to come to know and understand what these words mean, so that they may proclaim them not only in Church but in the whole of their lives. Our intention is that, throughout this Year of Faith, teachers and chaplains can use these learning resources to help children and young people to examine the Creed in depth over a period of some time. Indeed, we hope that they will find creative ways of explaining to their parents and other adults what they have learned and what they believe. In such ways they will show that they are becoming credible witnesses who are “capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”
Michael McGrath, Director, Scottish Catholic Education Service