I always look forward to this part of the year especially when we, as Catholic educators start thinking about how we can implement or incorporate the year’s school theme. In previous years, the school theme has always called us to DO something: “I can DO all things through Christ”, or, “WALK with Jesus, our Living Hope”. This year’s school theme, however, is somewhat different. Instead of calling us to DO some specific action, the theme instead, states a quality that we all should collectively possess: ONE family, ONE hope in Christ.
This theme is borne out of Pope Francis’s 2016 Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). In this letter, not only did the Pope re-affirm the Church’s teaching on marriage and family but he also highlighted the importance of the family in the education of children, particularly in their ethical formation as the family is a training ground for relating with others.
In the beginning of last year’s pandemic-induced lockdown, all of us were forced to spend time at home. Many spent time alone at home but most of us spent it with our family. Indeed, one of the more favourable outcomes of the pandemic is that many of us truly realized how important our immediate and extended families are and how necessary it is to spend time with them. While many of us were able to do so, still many couldn’t. I know of individuals who can’t even visit their loved ones which made them desire all the more for companionship and togetherness.
Why then the emphasis on family?
Perhaps the Pope’s exhortation that he wrote in 2016 is nothing short of prophecy. A letter about the joy of love in the family written four years before the start of a pandemic that forced many of us to see how important it is to be a part of, and be cherished by a loving family is perhaps coincidental. Providential? Maybe.
How then does this apply to our schools?
One of our students in our recent assembly replied when asked what this theme meant: “We are members of God’s family”. It was a simple, yet profound truth that many of us often overlook and therefore undervalue. We are, of course, members of our own immediate families. From personal experience, however, I seldom reflect on what it means to be a part of a greater family.
What is this “greater family” that we are ALL supposed to be a part of?
Perhaps one way to look at it is through the shared identity that we, as members, of a greater family, all have. For instance, we all baptized share a common call to “holiness”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life.” This includes parents and children, married and unmarried from ALL walks of life, including teachers, and yes, even students. Indeed, Catholic Schools are unique in that sense: each school is supposed to share in the missionary mandate of the Church imparted to her by her saviour: “Go and make disciples of all nations…(Matthew 18:20). Therefore, we as members of St. Catherine’s family and the greater Catholic family are called to do the same: to spread the good news of Jesus. In a recent video of Pope Francis in August, he said that the “specific vocation…and identity of the Church is evangelization”, and as members of God’s family, we too share in this vocation, we too share in this identity.
ONE HOPE IN CHRIST
As members of God’s family, we also have a shared inheritance. This inheritance won by Christ on the cross is the “hope in the glory of heaven”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in every circumstance, “each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ (paragraph 1821). St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Be patient in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12). Pope Francis warns us, however, that this hope in Christ is not “mere optimism, nor a “pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, uttered with an empty smile.” Truly, our hope, hinges on our relationship with Christ because he gives us the “conviction that God can make all things unto well.”
(We belong to) One family, (therefore we have) One hope in Christ
While this pandemic has revealed our desire for connectedness, it has also revealed how divided we all are. For example, some of the issues surrounding this pandemic has polarized many of our intermediate families. I have heard of instances where families or friends are no longer speaking to each other because of the differences in health choices or opinions regarding the pandemic.
But the pandemic is not the only divisive force that we need to be concerned about. The recent events surrounding the residential schools has caused further divisions amongst many of us. Some rightly questioned the decisions made by the then-senior members of the Catholic family, while others downplayed its deleterious effect on our indigenous brothers and sisters.
To be sure, if we are not careful of the vitriolic effects of these current societal issues, our One family will continue to be polarized, splintered, and divided.
In his recent book, “Let us Dream”, Pope Francis offers this solution: “To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.” Although this might be in the context of the current pandemic, the same can be said within the context of the recent events surrounding the residential schools. Pope Francis, in his August intention said that the Church (our greater family) “always has difficulties because she’s alive….only the dead don’t have crises. We should, therefore, resist the urge to be divided and focus instead on our shared identity, and mission, and inheritance to keep ourselves united.
We belong, after all to one family, and therefore we have one hope in Christ. Let us keep it that way.
In the thirteen years of my teaching career, I have come believe that children need to be taught holistically where there is a balance between the spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual development of the student.