Governance Conference Address - Launceston 2015

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Today has two parts;
1. Discussion on the question of Identity and Mission in our Catholic schools
2. Discussion on matters of governance.

Both are very important matters.

The morning discussion has arisen as I proposed that governing councils should include the subject of identity and mission as part of their brief. This led to Br Bill Wilding writing a paper on the question. He will speak to his paper shortly.

I would like to briefly introduce the day by reflecting on the question of the identity and mission of our Catholic schools.

This issue has become a very important one at this moment in the Church. In times past the identity and mission of schools was caught up in the charism of the founding religious community. Consecrated religious devoted to Catholic education had an acute awareness of the spiritual and moral dimensions to their role as educators. These were channelled through their own sense of religious vocation. They were nurtured by their years of formation in religious life and by the ongoing spiritual dimension to their life – daily Mass and prayers, reflection days, retreats and the explicit mission of their order, often inspired by a remarkable saint.

Catholic lay men and women continue this tradition and have been dedicated to preserving the founding charism.

However, it is inevitable with the passage of time the founding vision can become less clear. Schools will, with time, become more distant from the founding spirit. Thus, it is necessary to articulate and then develop strategies whereby the truly Catholic character of our schools can be maintained and indeed enriched.

Now when we speak of the identity and mission of our schools, while respecting the founding charism, we need to consider how our schools advance the more general mission of the Church. This mission of the Church as given to it by Christ at his Ascension is essentially one of evangelisation. Pope Paul VI said in his great document on evangelisation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, “the Church exists in order to evangelise” (#14).

There is no doubt that the great challenge before us today is how do we help the young people in our schools come to know Christ in a real and personal way so that their lives are shaped and inspired by him. The culture of Catholic faith is far weaker today than it was even twenty years ago. The challenge today is greater than in the past, but the possibilities are there.

Schools are challenged to be places where not only is the Catholic faith acknowledged, but where the Catholic faith becomes a truly formative influence. Young people attending our schools should emerge from them as young men and women alive in their faith and giving expression to it by an active participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

While we have to admit that we are far from this goal, we should ensure that this remains our goal. We must not abandon our ultimate purpose and settle for something less because it seems too far beyond us. Jesus established very high standards for his disciples and did not flinch in presenting what he expected of them, so should we for our young people. Indeed to settle for less is to sell our young people short.

What is important is that we recognise that it is not only goodness that is necessary to be a Christian. We want our young people to be good people but this is not the final goal. Consider the story of the rich young man. He was evidently of good character, but Jesus was not satisfied with this and said to him that there was one thing he lacked. He then he said to him, “Go sell all you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me”. Jesus invites young people to give their hearts and lives to him. We should not settle for less than what Jesus would want our schools to be doing.

Is this possible? I would say without any hesitation – yes. I have seen it and I have known it.

Our identity as a Catholic school is focused on Jesus Christ, and our mission is to enable every student to come into a living relationship with him. It is necessary that every Catholic school here in Tasmania embrace this goal. It will mean introducing new elements into our work with young people. For example, school retreats need to be means of presenting the essential gospel message to young people.

This will require some rethinking. For example, we should see our goal not so much as formation in values as formation in faith. We need to move away from a preoccupation with the horizontal (or human formation level) and become more focussed on the vertical (or relationship with God level). While not abandoning many of the things we do and do well, we need to ensure that we focus our efforts on fostering the inner life of faith and not simply be content with moral encouragement.

We cannot back away from this out of fear: fear that some young people may not like what we do. Yes, we need to be prudent, but caution must not lead to paralysis. Fear of not being acceptable or popular must not result in the evasion of our responsibility to evangelise.

Pope St John Paul II had a remarkable ability to communicate with young people. There is now a whole generation of people in the Church who proudly call themselves the JPII generation of young Catholics. He appealed to them by presenting a call to them to be firmly centred on Christ and to be heroic in their faith. He unashamedly called them to be saints of the new millennium.

Allow me to give a few quotes of what he said to young people at different World Youth Days: 

"You young people have in a special way the task of witnessing today to the faith; the commitment to bring the Gospel of Christ - the Way, the Truth and the Life - into the third Christian Millennium, to build a new civilisation - a civilisation of love, of justice and of peace." - Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 1989

"It is always Christ who sends. But whom does he send? You, young people, are the ones he looks upon with love. Christ, who says: ‘Follow me,’ wants you to live your lives with a sense of vocation. He wants your lives to have a precise meaning and dignity." - Manila, Philippines, 1995

"Dear friends, to believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first Apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the past, that we take a stand for him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the divine Master, to follow 'the Lamb wherever he goes' (Rev 14:4)." – Rome, Italy, 2000

"People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory." - Toronto, Canada, 2002

The call to discipleship is something young people can respond to. We can ask young people to give themselves over wholly to him and they will respond.

I salute the great work done in our schools and commend all who have given such dedicated service to our schools in all sorts of ways. We have wonderful schools. Today I say that where we are today is the foundation upon which we can build to make our schools not just good but great places of Catholic faith. I believe that we are capable of so much more than what we have achieved so far.

I want to work with schools and their leadership to achieve more to the glory of God and the upbuilding of the Church.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 25 August 2015