This article first appeared in the Scottish Catholic Observer on 21st February 2014 to mark the start of Catholic Education Week.
Education is all about shedding light on things that we don’t know or understand, making clear and obvious what, until now, has been hidden from our understanding. When we teach children to “see” a new idea or to understand a difficult concept which had seemed dim and uncertain, then we can see the light of understanding switching on in their minds, helping other things to become clearer. There is no more rewarding experience for a parent or a teacher.
Faith in Jesus Christ can be a source of great light for each of us. Having a clear sense of what Jesus is saying to us, of how he offers us direction and guidance, can help us to “see” our way in life. This is the great value of children and young people being educated in faith – learning from Jesus, from what he said and how he treated people.
When we are blessed with the light of understanding Jesus, we see that the values which He proclaims are different from those which most people live by today. We come to realise that the “happiness” which Jesus offers when He preaches “Happy are the poor in spirit” (and the other Beatitudes) conflicts with the prevailing values of our world.
The “perfection” towards which Jesus exhorts us in this Sunday’s Gospel must not be measured by the standards of the 21st century and our obsession with wealth, social status and celebrity. The excellence which should be at the heart of the Catholic school’s activities must not be reflected in academic achievement only but in the extent to which children are encouraged to develop all their God-given talents and are helped to use these talents for the good of others.
It is in this very difference in outlook that is to be found the “light” of our faith. This light shines out in the Gospel and points us on our life’s journey to the happiness and fulfilment which we are invited to find in loving God and loving others and in our destiny which is eternal happiness with God who created us.
Of course we have to acknowledge that, for some people today, Faith is not light but darkness. They regard all religion as irrational, out of date and misleading. Today, we hear their voices ever more loudly as they cry for religion to be kept private – in the margins, a relic of the ‘dark’ times of superstition and, moreover, a danger to a modern tolerant society.
Yet, in the midst of this hostile climate, we have Pope Francis who seems to have caught the imagination of people all over the world by offering fresh insights into our faith in Jesus Christ. Through his words and actions, he is reminding us of where the light of truth is to be found in what we believe. His focus on serving the poor and the needy, in keeping the love of Christ in our hearts at all times, has touched a nerve.
He has also challenged us to practise what we preach, to let the light of our faith shine out in our own words and actions: “Let us ask our Lord to help us bear shining witness to his mercy and his love in every area of our Christian lives.” He reminds us that faith is not something we possess but something we share.
He has encouraged young people to be “missionaries of the Gospel”, to aim high in their ambitions for life and to be generous in sharing God’s love with the world. In Scotland the introduction of the CARITAS AWARD for senior school pupils has been providing opportunities for young people to respond to the Gospel by showing love and faith in practical ways and by becoming active members of local parishes.
Similarly, the imminent introduction of the Pope Francis FAITH AWARD, in over 50 Primary schools across the country, will involve young people at the Primary 6 & 7 stages in using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in practical ways which will bear fruit in their own lives, in their families and in their parishes.
Such initiatives – and many others which can be found in schools and parishes across the country – enable young people to live as “children of light”, in the words of St Paul (Eph. 5:8) and to be “light for the world” (Matthew 5:14).
Such initiatives are necessary today because we need to find new ways of expressing our commitment to the Gospel, new ways of attracting young people towards the Gospel, towards friendship with Jesus. The New Evangelisation – a term which was introduced by Pope John Paul II – calls for such initiatives as a response to the culture of today and to the needs of people living in a society which has become suspicious of faith.
Some of us might be suspicious of all things “new”, fearing that they not be faithful to what is “traditional” and true. However, we should understand that the New Evangelisation does not refer to a new Gospel, but to new ways of communicating and proclaiming the Gospel. In today’s world, which at times might appear to be dark and confusing, we must all play our part in shining the light of faith so that we can find our way in life and our path to God.