Tom Shields (Vicar Episcopal Education, Dunkeld Diocese)
“All these things entered you
As if they were both the door and what came
‘Markings’, Seamus Heaney
As younger pupils return to school, and the process of resuming face to face learning begins, we may experience that dazzled feeling of stepping into the light from a period of darkness. No doubt, there will be a mixture of babbling and strained silences as friends and colleagues meet face to face and try to articulate both what they have experienced and how to move forward. Many will ask if this is really happening and could we all once again be herded into our homes and tethered to our computer screens. There is precedent.
Many, of course, will be desperate to get back to traditional routine, seeing it as a sign that all is well again, and declare (with a little of that sensation of ‘hope triumphing over experience’), ‘never again’; some will not. There is genuine fear that we will lose some of the insights that we have gained over this last year, and that a combination of economic necessity and fear of failing a generation will propel us into hectic activity for which we have neither the energy nor the insight. In recent days, several writers and journalists have drawn attention to feelings and thoughts familiar perhaps to retreatants as they end a period of prayer and reflection, hoping that what they have learned about God, themselves, and others, will not be lost in the hubbub of daily life.
Emerging from another ‘lockdown’, the first disciples were indeed driven out with enthusiasm at Pentecost, but they neither forgot their own experiences and failures nor the beliefs and aspirations of their people. They borrowed from both as they preached and lived the gospel. Growth in Church membership, as it were, mirrored the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Conversion, rejoicing, persecution, and internal wrangling, were all there in almost equal measure, as they prayed, reflected, and stumbled their way to a conclusion about what it all meant and where they were to go.
Christ, his power, presence, and person, came more and more into focus. As each new stage of their journey brought a needfor realignment, Christians realised that the name they bore was for a reason: it was Christ who had to be front and centre of their lives. Incarnate of the Virgin Mary, the challenge has always been to incarnate him spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically into our lives.
This is the paradigm, I would suggest, for Catholic education. Catholic academic and spiritual traditions provide us with indispensable tools to assist our young people and ourselves in our desire not to waste time either in the ‘paralysis of analysis’ or a headlong rush to get things done in a ‘can-do’ attitude. The Spirit inspires us to examine our lives in such a way as to glimpse how God brings resurrection out of death – not simply a matter of taking the ‘rough with the smooth’.
It is fortuitous perhaps that the process of emergence will start during Lent, a period of journeying with Christ in the desert in order to be reminded of what is essential. Perhaps the fasting and abstinence has already been imposed by the lockdowns and restrictions. These have brought into sharp relief in our lives the simple but important things we may have taken for granted. It is our prayerful reflection on events, and the buffeting open of our hearts to others that might take a more central role this Lent.
Throughout our discussion, study, prayer, art, poetry and music, while letting our young people run in the open air, babble, and fall silent, we gently invite them to regard Christ, the Lord and Master, Son and Servant. We invite them to ‘incarnate’ Christ in their own lives using the tried and tested methods that have brought the Church through more crises than we have had TV box sets.
It has often been said that a crisis makes us forget who we are. Remembering who we are, enables us to resolve it. Who are we? People who mirror the pattern of the death and resurrection of Christ, that we might focus on him and become him to the world. This ‘comes to be’ in conversation, prayer, and charity, with a special emphasis this time around on charity towards each other (as Pope Francis has reminded us).
Christ is the door through which we enter and exit, and he is also what we bring through that door.