Margaret Barton (RE Advisor for Secondary Schools, Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh)
We are journeying through the desert during Lent. Prior to the first lockdown, by the third week of Lent last year, amongst other things, students would have received their ashes in school or their local parish, Lenten lessons would be taught, Lenten pledges made, classes would have received their SCIAF Wee Boxes and be planning fundraising activities, and the school Chaplain would have been offering additional Masses during Lent for pupils and staff to attend.
Casey Mullaney (Theology PhD Candidate, University of Notre Dame)
In the United States, we just finished celebrating Black History month. Here in Indiana, we can feel that the days are lengthening and the rays of the sun are getting stronger. We can feel spring coming, and even in the cold of February and early March, there have been glimpses of light and warmth. Black History month feels like that, too. For our Sunday school class, Black History month was a chance to recommit to honoring the courage, creativity, and perseverance of Black people, who as individuals and within their communities have preserved and nurtured the Divine light within themselves throughout centuries of racism. Our young students of all races need and deserve examples of Black excellence, which though abundant, have often been overlooked by majority-white communities, even within the Church.
In this series, 4th year primary Catholic Teaching Certificate students share the findings of their studies on a new elective course entitled Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues
Erin McLaughlan, MEduc4 student
A challenge of significant prevalence, especially in the past year, has been the impact of mental health within Scottish schools, with few issues given greater importance than the mental health of our children and young people. Recent statistics conducted by the NHS Scotland, suggested that the proportion of children currently experiencing a mental health problem has increased over the past three years, from one in nine in 2017, to one in six in July 2020. Scottish Action for Mental Health’s 2020 report Supporting Our Young People highlights that there are numerous societal and health impacts that can be responsible for fluctuations in a person’s mental health and no one solution exists that can provide an adequate response to improving the mental health of all children, across all social backgrounds.
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.
Dr Leonardo Franchi (Lecturer, School of Education, University of Glasgow)
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret (Matthew 6:6).
Catholic educators will appreciate that to know Jesus involves both study and prayer. The Compendium recognises this by its inclusion of an Appendix containing common prayers and doctrinal formulae.
The phrase ‘prayerful study’ encapsulates neatly the modus operandi of the Catholic scholar. Authentic Catholic Education will draw heavily on the faith of the teacher who has ‘known’ Jesus in prayerful study in his/her own formation and, consequently, teaches in a prayerful yet scholarly way.
A second point to note here is the structure of this section. The prayers are also presented in Latin as well as English. Some may regard this as a hankering after an alleged pre-Conciliar spirituality yet the Second Vatican Council itself recommended that Latin remain in use in the Latin Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 54). The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI Sacramentum caritatis, goes further, asking that ‘the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin’ (62). The use of Latin is a clear reminder of one of the roots of Catholicism. It is a common heritage which binds us together.
There are also prayers from the Byzantine, Coptic and Syro-Maronite traditions, reminding us that the Church can accommodate within its intrinsic unity a legitimate diversity of liturgical expression. This is a message which is needed in a fractured society which often looks upon difference with some suspicion.
Practical Exercise: Catholic educators may wish to consider including a short daily reading from the Compendium as part of their prayer life. The 598 short questions and answers are, in many cases, excellent points for meditation although they should not replace Scripture in meditative prayer (see Compendium, 570). This is a practice which could be recommended to students: perhaps some could be encouraged to come together informally for such a purpose – with their tutors there too.
Catholic education is a gift to live, celebrate and hand on to others. We ask Mary, the Help of all Christians and Sedes sapientiae, to intercede for us.
A version of this paper was published in The Sower, July-September, 2007.
James McDevitt (Head Teacher, Holy Cross Primary School, Edinburgh)
The damaging effects of school closures from March to June 2020 have been well documented. Chief among these have been concerns about the disruption to children’s education, the impact on general attainment levels and especially on those of the most disadvantaged, and the damage to overall health and wellbeing. For Catholic schools, there is an added negative impact: the devastating effect on the spiritual life of our learners.
Nicolete Burbach (Consultant researcher in the Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, and Lecturer in postmodern theology at the University of Durham).
It has become a truism in Catholic circles that online forms of communion are not really communion; that the presence it offers is a false, ‘virtual’ one; and that however much closer it may seem to bring us lonely individuals, bound to our houses, the physical gulf between us is an alienation that can never be overcome in a purely digital medium.
Dr Joseph M Bradley (Experienced University Lecturer & Secondary School Teacher)
The world tells us to seek success, power and money:
God tells us to seek humility, service and love (Pope Francis).
Western societies are dominated by ideological practices and philosophies characterised by consumption, competition, and achievement. This is reflected in personal, group and national aspirations governed by passions, incentives and actions regarding the production and acquisition of wealth, status, power and material advancement. Partly in this context, directly and indirectly, a conventional school education in Scotland plays a significant role in preparing pupils to ‘fit in’ with society.