Emergence

Tom Shields (Vicar Episcopal Education, Dunkeld Diocese)

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“All these things entered you

As if they were both the door and what came

through it.” 

‘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.

Using the Compendium in Catholic Education 3: Prayer

Dr Leonardo Franchi (Lecturer, School of Education, University of Glasgow)

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Prayer

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.

Concluding Remarks

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.

Pedagogies of the Pandemic Blog 4: “Mass Appeal”

James McDevitt (Head Teacher, Holy Cross Primary School, Edinburgh)

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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.

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Catholic Education: Not only good for Scotland but good for the World

Dr Joseph M Bradley (Experienced University Lecturer & Secondary School Teacher)

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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.

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Pedagogies of the Pandemic Blog 2: Still Together: Finding Hidden Blessings in Distance Learning

Marie McCoy (Religious Education teacher at St Ninian’s High in Giffnock)

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Here we go again. Not so long ago my classroom was a hive of Advent activity as my pupils listened to ‘O’ antiphons and designed Jesse tree decorations. Now, like classrooms up and down the country, it lies empty and deserted and we must return instead to the soulless world of online learning.

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Missing the Music

Dr Maureen A Farrell (Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader MEd Children’s Literature and Literacies, UoG)

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Descriptions of Christmas 2020 usually seem to include words like unusual, challenging or unprecedented. One I would add is absence. The absence of contact, the absence of touch, the absence of gathering – social and religious. And for me one of the biggest absences is the absence of singing, particularly choral singing and even more specifically singing at weekly mass and the annual carol concert.

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Taking Down the Tinsel: Finding Christ in Christmastide

Anna Blackman and Fr Stephen Reilly

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As the Christmas holiday draws to a close, and the festivities die down, often it can feel like a disappointment. We return back to ‘normal’, to work, or to school, albeit this year somewhat differently. As our Christmas holiday ends and we enter into the last few months of winter, it can seem quite bleak. There is no holiday to look forward to, no star to follow. However, within the Church’s liturgical calendar Christmas is very much still with us. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the hopefulness and promise that is found within the Incarnation. This is the message of hope and light that Christmas celebrates, and it is also the message that is at the heart of the teaching mission of the Church. This is also a message that we live out and witness to in our daily lives as Christians the whole year round.

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The Problem with Christmas Jumper Days!

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As a mother of two girls aged seven and nine, the build up to Christmas at home is magical. Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of Christmas has been quite something. Don’t get me wrong, we always ensure that we observe Advent in our house and contextualise the waiting for Christmas in the Advent narrative. While we cannot escape—nor do we entirely want to—the Christmas music; the premature decorations; the early gift exchanging; chocolate money and mince pie eating; and all of the usual associated Christmas activities, I’m pretty confident that my girls know that Advent is a very special season marking the start of the new Church year and that this important time has its own liturgical focus, colours, feel, message, scriptural figures and so on. The girls are fortunate that their grandparents ensured that Advent was appropriately observed, and that this tradition has passed from generation to generation—a testimony to the faith commitment of the girls’ ancestors (although I can’t imagine that dancing around the house singing Gaudete’ at full volume on the third Sunday of Advent is part of that legacy—yes, that does actually happen!) December is a particularly special time in our household, and we are thankful for that.  

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