“Shining the Light of Christ” is the theme for Catholic Education Week this year and is intended to encourage us all to think about how we can make best use of our own particular talents, experience, learning and skills to “shine out” as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In schools and parishes, the common message to be offered, in particular to our young people, is: “When you commit your time, energy and resources to help others, when you pray, when you are active in your parish and in the Church, when you participate faithfully in Mass and in other liturgical celebrations, when you speak out against injustice in society, when you are faithful and loving to your family, when you take care of your neighbour, you are indeed shining light of Christ in your life”.
In a world which can appear at times to be darkened by confused thinking and behaviour, even the simplest words and actions can be seen to shine brightly, can proclaim a message of hope, can light a path which will help others towards goodness, happiness and salvation. These words and actions can also help others to recognise God’s presence in the world.
There is no shortage of evidence to demonstrate the various ways in which Catholic schools already help young people to become “shining lights” as Christ’s disciples. We all know of Catholic schools where young people are active in local communities, working with the most vulnerable individuals and groups, supporting others who have special needs, countering addiction, bullying, racism, sectarianism and showing that they can live out their beliefs and values.
In recent years, in particular, there has been a growing commitment to ‘Eco School’ initiatives where young people demonstrate their appreciation of, and care for, the beauty of Creation and they learn to take seriously their responsibilities as stewards of our created world. God willing, this will lead to a commitment in tomorrow’s citizens to sustainable development and the protection of the Earth’s natural resources.
In every school we see an increased awareness of the global dimension of the world and of the needs of people in developing countries. Schools actively support the work of agencies such as SCIAF, Mary’s Meals, Missio, Aid to the Church in Need and many others who work in countries where people need our support. Some young Scots have had the life-changing experience of visiting Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and other countries where they have worked voluntarily to support local projects – often the building of schools – which they and the wider Catholic community have funded.
Such tremendous work must be life-changing for young people when they see the impact of their own relatively small sacrifice on the lives of so many people. The challenge today for the Catholic school – particularly our secondary schools – is to make sense of such experiences by helping young people to understand the Gospel foundations of their actions. In the Catholic school, such activities should be organised because we understand as Christians that our lives should give public witness to the way of Christ and to his transforming love. We recognise the innate dignity and worth of each human being and we accept our responsibility to show solidarity with those most in need. Teachers in Catholic schools face the significant challenge of helping not only students to understand the Christian basis of their actions but to promote this same understanding to the general public.
It is not a coincidence, then, that this time also sees the publication by the Scottish Catholic Education Service of a new resource for schools. ‘Shining the Light of Christ in the Catholic School’ is our guide to school evaluation which takes particular account of the distinctive mission of the Catholic school. It has been designed to help schools to evaluate their practices and to plan for improvements across their key activities: their vision, values and leadership, the quality of their teaching, and specifically how they help children and young people to know, pray, celebrate and live the Catholic faith. It will provide a common language which Catholic schools can use to communicate their mission, values and identity.
We hope that this resource – which is unique in the world of Catholic education – will help teachers and school leaders to respond to the call of the Holy Father for Catholic schools to become “places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognised and in which every young person