Good afternoon. It is very encouraging to see you all coming together as a Presentation family and to be part of this experience and to witness the richness with which your faith graces the work that you do. I have known of the Presentation sisters for many years and of the wonderful work which you do here in Ireland and across the world, and of course your foundress, Honora “Nano” Nagle, who worked incessantly and against all the odds, was declared venerable on 31 October 2013 by Pope Francis. I am sure that that was moment of great rejoicing for you, and an extraordinary affirmation not only of Nano Nagle, but also of her legacy and all of you and the work which you do are part of her legacy.
You asked me to talk today about ‘Living the Christian call: prophecy and witness’. I found this slightly challenging. So I went away and read about prophecy and witness. It was confusing. Then I found this statement about a man I admire very much. His name is Jean Vanier and I met him one day in Derry when he came to speak to about a thousand 16/17 year olds in the Millennium Forum. His theme was very simple “Jesus loves you.” Have you seen him? He is very tall and very thin, and a bit dishevelled!
Then he began to talk and he talked for about 50 minutes on the theme ‘Jesus loves you’, and you could have heard a pin drop.
He ambled on to an empty stage and sat on the only piece of furniture on it - a tall bar stool. Then he explained that he was so old that he needed to sit down. Then he began to talk and he talked for about 50 minutes on the theme ‘Jesus loves you’, and you could have heard a pin drop. None of the normal shuffling and whispering and texting etc! Just absolute silence. It was extraordinary. Until, having told his life story and explained who he was and what his life had been, he asked the question, “who could love me?” and a little voice piped up “I love you”. It was little girl of 15 or so who has Downs Syndrome. She articulated what everyone thought. For he had described a life of many challenges and ultimately great heroism and incredible gentleness.
I am sure that you all know his story. For Jean Vanier was the man who established the L’Arche community which now provides homes for people with learning and physical disabilities where they live with able bodied people who live with them and facilitate their lives, whatever it takes. And some of them are so profoundly disabled that it takes an awful lot. But those who work with them learn what Jean Vanier learned early on in his life.
Dr James D Conley, speaking in Nebraska 2013 said:
“Through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, God has given us the ability to see all people through his eyes.”
And, I would submit to you that this new way of seeing is the beginning of the Christian vocation to prophecy. A prophet sees the world as God does — sees the world in truth — and then proclaims Christ’s Kingdom. For fifty years, Jean Vanier has seen the world in truth; and in the witness of L’Arche communities, has demonstrated the goodness of the Lord’s enduring love in a profoundly prophetic way.
So maybe it is much more helpful to ditch all the definitions and say that we just have to look at people like Jean Vanier to see Christ’s call to holiness, which is what prophecy and witness are about?
Pope Francis in his text on the opening of the Holy Year of Consecrated Life, last November, said this:
“I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women. I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church. Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.”
And I think that that is what we are doing today. We are celebrating with the Presentation Sisters their achievements and their charism which could well be described as prophecy and witness, for the way in which they have chosen to lead their lives has been inspired by Christ.
Just think about it. In 1754 a woman of 36 began a school for 30 poor children, secretly, in defiance of the Penal Laws. Within a year she had 200 students. Within 15 years, 7 schools here in Cork. They were a way fighting the root causes of poverty and the systemic injustice of the Penal Laws. She knew that children needed to learn that they were loved and valued, and that they needed skills and talents to earn their living, and in all that she did, she told them about Jesus, about his blessed Mother Mary, about God and about the power of the Holy Spirit. And, if that were not enough she visited the sick, the elderly, the imprisoned and the destitute – often at night, walking through the dark and dangerous streets of Cork by the light of a flickering lantern. Then in 1783 she built a home for aged and destitute women.
a male-dominated society in which what she was doing in establishing schools was against the law
What an achievement in 18th century Ireland, an Ireland of immense poverty and deprivation, an Ireland in which there was little in the way of policing and protection for the poor and those who sought to help them, a male-dominated society in which what she was doing in establishing schools was against the law. But she knew it was morally right. Prophetically she led people to understand what needed to be done, she witnessed by doing it and she did it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. So that was prophecy and witness.
I have learned over the years that life can be very challenging, and that we can underestimate our capacity for prophecy and witness. We can misunderstand the effects of what we do and say. I have learned too that this life of mine is, in many ways, not mine. I do not know when I will die. I only know that I will, and I have learned that this time here on earth is very precious and that it was given to us so that we could try to live in love for others and through them for Christ.
But I still have my L plates, and I am conscious that I am in the presence of those who know so much more and have given so much more than I can ever hope to do. Being a Christian is really very simple though, and as Pope Francis said two years ago on Pentecost Sunday:
“We have to let ourselves be flooded by the Holy Spirit’s light, because He introduces us to the Truth of God, who is the only Lord of our life.”
He went on:
“You cannot be a ‘part time’ Christian, [a Christian] in some moments, under some circumstances, for certain decisions. You are a Christian in every moment! The truth of Christ, which the Holy Spirit teaches and gives us, involves, for always and entirely, our daily life.” We believe that, some perhaps more than others, some of us at some times and some at others. We believe that we are on a journey in faith, that God did make us, that he has a plan for each of us, some special calling which he has not given to another, as Cardinal Newman told us, and that our lives here are to be lived not, in Francis’ words, as part-time Christians, but rather in love for the God who made us, and in love for each other and the magnificent world in which we live.
This is not a theoretical vague love, rather living in love will inevitably take us to places to which we would rather not go, will present us with challenges we would rather not have, and will demand of us that we give without limit as Christ gave himself for us. Fr Robert Barron said in his book ‘The Strangest Way’ said that our faith is
“a form of life, a path that one walks. It is a way of seeing, a frame of mind, an attitude, but more than this, it is a manner of moving and acting, standing and relating. It is not simply a matter of the mind but of the body as well. In fact, one could say that Christianity is not real until it has insinuated itself into the blood and the bones, until it becomes an instinct, as much physical as spiritual. Perhaps, the most direct description is this: Christianity, the way of Jesus Christ, is a culture, a style of life supported by a unique set of convictions, assumptions, hopes, and practices.””
I like this description of faith, because in some ways it manages to encompass not only what can seem the illogicalities of our faith, which, in my good times, I know as simply the limitations of my understanding, but also the magnificence and the profound and inexplicable comfort that I know in the sheer fact that God is.
Your role in delivering Catholic Education in the modern world is a work of both prophecy and witness. You do it in a world in which many of those whom you teach are disconnected from faith as many of us understand it, in which families inhabit a different world you face many challenges and as the Pope said:
“Every educator – and the Church as a whole is an educating mother – is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”
He said they must be:
“the living presence of the Gospel in the field of education, science and culture”__ and must “know how to enter, with courage, into the Areopagus of contemporary cultures and to initiate dialogue, aware of the gift they are able to offer to all.”
Francis addressed the challenges you face, saying, “Catholic schools and universities are attended by many students who are not Christian or do not believe. Catholic educational institutions offer to all an approach to education that has as its aim the full development of the person, which responds to the right of every person to access to knowledge. However, they are also called upon to offer, with full respect for the freedom of each person and using the methods appropriate to the scholastic environment, the Christian belief, that is, to present Jesus Christ as the meaning of life, the cosmos and history.
“Jesus began to proclaim the good news of the ‘Galilee of the people’, a crossroads of people, diverse in terms of race, culture and religion. This context resembles today’s world, in certain respects. The profound changes that have led to the ever wider diffusion of multicultural societies require those who work in the school or university sector to be involved in educational itineraries involving comparison and dialogue, with a courageous and innovative fidelity that enables Catholic identity to encounter the various ‘souls’ of multicultural society.”
We do live in such a different world - you must educate children who live in a virtual world, who are subject to massive pressures, many of whose parents have moved on from traditional values, where children may have three parents, or two parents of the same sex, where siblings may not have a common father, where people may be unable work for generations, where they may have lost their homes to the recession, or live in fear of losing them.
We also live in a world in which the Catholic people of Ireland can be very proud of their Catholic past. So much was given by so many in so many different places by Irish Catholics. And today the people of Ireland are among the most generous in the world. The World Giving Index was published a few months ago. It reports that in 2013, when Ireland was in such a difficult place its people still managed to be ranked 4th in the world in giving behaviours.
Just behind Myanmar and the US which were joint first and Canada which was third. A very significant achievement for the people of Ireland. It measured helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering time. The UK came 7th! That is real witness, and whilst many people claim that we live in post Catholic Ireland I know that so much of the volunteering, the giving and the helping is still done because people believe and can see the value of witness, even when they don’t volunteer themselves, they may give to organisations like the SVP which does so much good for people across the world, and it is a Catholic organisation.
The Church has much to do in this world, and Catholic education must accept the many challenges its pupils face and help them, never forgetting what it is really all about. Pope Francis on the first day of his Papacy said:
“We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO and not a Church which is the bride of Christ.”
So this business of prophecy and witness, part of our call to holiness, requires of us the effort to grow our relationship with Jesus and through him with God. So our schools - they must be more than just professional educational institutions. They have to be places in which Jesus Christ is both proclaimed and encountered through the daily interactions between staff and pupils. That is quite a challenging thought, isn’t it?
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis talked at length about the problems of the impact of the secular world which relive. He identifies education as a solution to secularization:
“The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood which are so vulnerable to change…
“We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data — all treated as being of equal importance — and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.”
He praises Catholic schools and colleges for their contributions around the world, yet acknowledges that those contributions are often not appreciated when they are counter-cultural, as is often necessary to remain faithful to Catholic teaching.
He wonders that:
“Again and again, the Church has acted as a mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, the land, the defence of life, human and civil rights, and so forth. And how much good has been done by Catholic schools and universities around the world! This is a good thing. Yet, we find it difficult to make people see that when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion, we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good.”
You really do have such an important job to do. But I think we always have to remember what really makes Catholic education different from other forms of education, and wonder is it really different?
Sometimes we do not know it but it is true that the most important thing for each of us is our relationship with Jesus and through him with God. His presence in our lives is a blessing which enables, enlightens, comforts, consoles and encourages, which makes all right things possible, and which gives purpose to all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do. This is true of the children you educate too.
As you face the demands of curriculum, of paperwork and inevitable beaurocracy, of planning, marking, and all the other things you have to do, it can seem almost that remembering that the children need to see the face of Christ in you each day is just too much to ask. But they spend so many hours of their young lives in your company, exposed to your ways of doing things, learning from your behaviour. That may well be the greatest challenge of working in a Catholic school!
St Paul wrote that:
“When I was a child I spoke like a child, thought like a child, understood like a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things”
That should be true of all of us. Those of my generation who grew up as Catholics were taught our faith in a very structured, way using very particular language - rosaries, benediction, lighting candles, placing all our trust in the Lord..
But those days can seem perhaps rosier than they were. Everything had a structure, a place, a time, a process, but of course it did not always mean that we were able to understand or even to accept what we had learned. The process of growing in faith to which we have been committed over the past year can be a very difficult one, not least because life throws at us that which we do not expect, that which does not fit neatly within the confines of that very disciplined, structured religion. The answers given to me in my early days to the problems of death and poverty and social injustice were very limited - they had the essence of truth, but they did not answer my questions.
And one of the problems, or perhaps one of the blessings, is that we go on needing answers to inexplicable problems. So do the children whom you teach. Do you, like me, find yourself often asking questions and trying to find answers, trying to rationalise what you believe and to understand better? The psalmist knew this thousands of years ago when he wrote,“Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me,” And so we search.
And as we do so it has seemed to me that we are faced with even more questions. They are not easy questions. A child dies of hunger every 5 seconds in our world. 12 a minute. 540 in the 45 minutes during which I will speak to you. Starvation is a very hard way to die. Why can’t we get it right as a world? Finding some sort of answer or some way of living with those inexplicable tragedies takes time, and I think it takes a process of maturity in each of us. It takes a process of listening and thinking and talking about it and praying about it, and even fighting with God. Not a pleasant thought but maybe if we are honest we will acknowledge that just once or twice we may have engaged the Almighty in a spirit of anger and despair.
And I think for children and young people life is in some ways more heightened than for those who have more years, and so the responses and the decisions can be more immediate and less tempered. So in the middle of all that teaching and educating and forming young minds, you and they may be caught in the middle of some drama or tragedy, either within your own life or those of the children whom you teach.
it was as if we were held by their prayer One of my experiences has been that at times I have felt literally incapable of dealing with what has happened - things like death, or the savage attack which left our third son lying unconscious on a road in Belfast, broken and terribly injured. It was just too horrendous, too terrible. and at that time so many people got in touch with us telephoning, writing, calling, coming to the hospital, stopping us in the street and it was as if we were held by their prayer, and as if our son, who was so hurt, was cradled by those prayers, just as he was surrounded by the Mass Cards which I put all around his bedroom, so that when he wakened from his sleep through the weeks and months of his recovery he would see them.
We meet Christ in so many people who come into our lives, sometimes for a very short period, even for minutes, sometimes for years, and walk the journey with us, relations, friends, teachers, medical professionals. There are so many ways and so many occasions on which we meet the Lord, through the loving witness of others.
Pope Benedict said in his final address that:
“The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and light breezes, days when the fishing was plentiful, but also times when the water was rough and the winds against us, just as throughout the whole history of the Church, when the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I always knew that the Lord is in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but is His. And the Lord will not let it sink. He is the one who steers her, of course also through those He has chosen because that is how He wanted it. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. And that is why my heart today is filled with gratitude to God, because He never left—the whole Church or me—without His consolation, His light, or His love.”
And for me somehow, even when things have seemed pretty grim, I have always known that at the heart of my life, at the core of my being, is the love that God has for me, inexplicable as that seems to me when I contemplate myself. Jean Vanier asked that question too. Who could love me? Maybe we all ask it at some time in our lives. Yet we are loved.
You know, you are called to a very special vocation, teaching. It has to be a vocation. I cannot comprehend how one individual can spend all their days looking after 30 or so children, especially as you do, during their teenage years, when the battle to work out who they are and why they are here is probably at its strongest, when they may feel compelled to test everything and everyone! I can think of nothing harder. I could not do it. You do.
And in the doing of it you may be the person who makes a child’s life possible that day, who shows a child that they are lovable, despite the fact that everything seems to tell them they are not, who leads them to understand that they can do things which they just don’t believe they can do, who listens when they need to talk about things that they can to to nobody else about.
your hands are the hands by which he blesses these his little ones
You may indeed be the face of Christ of them. Perhaps when you feel tired and possibly a bit dispirited or demotivated later in the year, you may remember this fact, that for some little child you may be the face, the hands, the eyes, the ears of Christ, and that your hands are the hands by which he blesses these his little ones, for he has no hands here on earth, as St Theresa of Avila told us. I have seen much blessedness in Catholic schools, much care and compassion leading the children forward into a future in which there is hope. One of the things our young people need to know is that they are called, and that how they do things, and the reasons why they do them, in this complex modern world are very important. We live in a world of instant communication - a world in which in seconds a message can travel across the world on Facebook and Twitter… that is a very powerful situation. We can use it. We have much greater access to visuals - to pictures, scenes, they can all inform our thinking and the ay in which we develop.
I was thinking about Pope Francis and some of the things he has done:
The shower blocks for the homeless, inviting them for dinner, taking them into the Sistine chapel and talking to each one of them, burying the one who died in the Square in the basilica, honoured in life as he had not been honoured in death. These things make people think. they make them uncomfortable too on occasion. They challenge us all to move out of our comfort zone.
He has done it too in reversing the merciless decision to exclude people for so many reasons telling priests to baptise children when the mother asks for baptism even if her circumstances do not meet church requirements, demonstrating humility on so many occasions. things of which we as a church can be proud, and things which we must, in our turn, emulate.
In a way parents can hope that you will be able to do something they cannot.
Sometimes parents want their children to learn about and grow in faith, even though they no longer engage with religious practice. It is not easy to explain all this. In a way parents can hope that you will be able to do something they cannot. Maybe like St Augustine, and like me, they are saying , “Lord make me holy but not just yet.” Yet still they want their children to have the benefits of being in the presence of those who commit their lives to Christ, possibly falteringly, but in faith.
Pope Benedict XVI speaking to young people in Scotland in 2010 said:
“What God wants for each of you is that you should become holy. He loves you more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing is to grow in holiness…”
There are few people who have not in the course of their lives met truly good people, holy people whose lives are lived in and for Christ, informed by the presence of the Holy Spirit and who know that they are on the way home to the Father who made them. They will probably not talk of these things. People generally don’t.
However it is their constant references to the things of God, to thanking God for good things, for happy moments, for those whom he sends into our lives, for the world in which we spend our lives, their prayer when things are difficult or when we face moments of grief and tragedy, their ability to live through the most difficult and challenging moments in faith, knowing that even when God seems not be there, he really is there, and it is just that we can not, for that moment, that time, hear his voice, which mark them as people of God.
They live their lives in witness and prophecy. For me, those people who have walked into my life, and there have been many of them, have enriched my life, helped me to come to some understanding of what may on occasion be apparently inexplicable, and have given me the sense and the knowledge of the presence of God’s love in my life and of the impact of his grace on me. It was not just their kindness, their humanity, their goodness. It was their faith which is so much more profound than that goodness,which helps me to comprehend the presence of God and which has helped me in the journey to try to know God, to love him and to serve him in all that I do and with all whom I meet, which is the essence of my existence.
It may all sound a little garbled but I think it is the essence of faith and it gives a whole different meaning to life. It calls for a life of prophecy and witness. If a child is to grow in faith then they need as much exposure as possible and as many opportunities as possible to be with people who share that belief. Those opportunities will be greater in a school dedicated to God, in which children learn every day about the fact that God loves them.
Pope Francis once said that:
“school is the first society to integrate with the family. The school and the family are not in opposition to one another. They are complementary, and therefore it is important that they collaborate between themselves with mutual respect.”
He recalled the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” He said:
“Developing a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful, is the mission of schools.”
“If something is true, it is good and beautiful; if it is beautiful, it is good and true; if it is good, it is true and it is beautiful. And together, these elements enable us to grow and help us to love life, even when we are not well, even in the midst of many problems. True education enables us to love life and opens us to the fullness of life,”
I know that this is not always the case. Children and parents, and of course many teachers are also parents, are acutely sensitive to the behaviour of those in authority or with responsibility in their school. They will see ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ as an example of hypocrisy at best, and of lack of lived faith at worst. They will see it where a child in difficulties is excluded or expelled because they are too much trouble, and no-one is prepared to work out how to make it possible for them to stay in school. There can be no effective communication of faith where children are taught to love one another, but do not themselves experience love.
Of course children are like older people. Some of them are very easy to love, very engaged in school, and very cooperative. Others, for a myriad of reasons, may be hostile, negative and uncooperative.
the essence of Catholic spirituality for each of them is their individual relationship with God
Working in your schools you are uniquely placed to ensure that there is a connectedness between the spirituality which the school seeks to promote and the daily life of the school, between life in school and the greater world around the children. You can help children to understand that the essence of Catholic spirituality for each of them is their individual relationship with God.
They will learn that best by being in the company of those who themselves believe in God and believe that he loves them and holds them in the palm of his hand, like the little old man who sat in a French church for long hours each day, and who, when asked why he did so, is said to have replied ‘I am watching God watching me’. If children are in places where they meet those who truly believe they will come to know that tenderness. I know that it can be very difficult, but you are the blessing which God has sent them today!
You can show the children too that they may be a blessing to others. You offer children throughout their schooldays the opportunity to engage in the work of justice, to be fundraiser for the poor, to help those less privileged than they are, to know that there are children in the world who are always hungry but that they can do something to help, to see all the children of the world as their brothers and sisters.
As they grow older they may become aware of opportunities, through school and church to go and work with others in need, building houses, working in orphanages, doing all in the name of the Lord, experiences through which they may become better people and through which they will understand that they too can make a difference in the world. And in so doing they witness to what they believe.
This is the work which you do, it is great work. You have great opportunities, though I know that they will not always seem like opportunities! My guess is that each of you will at some stage have met a teacher who inspired you. I remember when I was 17, doing my A levels. My father had died four years previously, my mother had struggled with ill health and grief over those years, two of my brothers were very ill and life just seemed impossible. I was a boarder at school, and there came a day when I just felt A levels and life at school was irrelevant and that there was no hope for the future.
As I stood on the platform waiting for the train, she appeared with a packed lunch for me
And so I went to a good nun who had kept me going over the four years, and told her I was leaving. I would not do my A levels. I had had enough. And she tried to dissuade me, pointing out that hope lay through A levels and education into the future. But I left anyway, catching the bus down to the railway station, and as I stood on the platform waiting for the train, she appeared with a packed lunch for me.
I went home that day, wondering in a slightly bemused way at the packed lunch. When I got home I realised that this was not going to solve anything, and so after a few hours I went back to school and the rest is history. It was her kindness, but above all that simple act that said if you must do this thing that I don’t want you to do, then go with my blessing and some food for the journey, that gave me a different understanding of where I was in the world.
My guess is that you too will make such a difference for a child whom you encounter in the course of your working day. And you know something, you may never even know what it is that you have done. But you will have made such a difference because you care and because you want to do more than teach a subject. You want to educate a child and to help to prepare them to take their place in the world, filled with hope, and with the gift of prophecy and the courage to witness.
Pope Francis said that:
“Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.”
He is right but it is not easy in this world to challenge, to discern and to denounce sin and injustice. The reality is that those whom you might challenge are likely to be much more comfortable in their current state than in the place in which you want them to be. They may fight, they may try to marginalise you, they may comment dismissively on what you have said because you are Catholic or Christian.
They may try to use the forces of the law against you - when I think back to some of the things I have seen in places where I have had the privilege to work for justice and peace - in Timor Leste, in Liberia, in South America, in Africa, I am only too aware that those who witness and who challenge may face the ultimate challenge and may end up paying the ultimate price - think of Archbishop Romero.
On 14 March 1977 he preached at the funeral Mass for his friend Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ who was shot along with a young boy and an old man travelling from Aguilares to celebrate the Eucharist in El Paisnal. He must have known, having seen what he had seen, what danger he himself was in. Yet, speaking in the language of liberation theology, so important across South America, so challenging to the Church, yet so true in its post Vatican II demands that we really become a church for the poor, he said this:
“My sisters and brothers, The liberation that Father Grande preached is inspired by faith, a faith that speaks to us about eternal life, a faith that he, with his face raised toward heaven and accompanied by two campesinos, offered up in its totality and perfection: liberation which culminates with happiness with God; liberation which brings about a repentance for sin, liberation based on Christ, the only saving power. This is the liberation that Father Rutilio Grande preached and therefore, he has lived the Church’s message.”
Three years later Archbishop Romero was murdered as he said Mass in his Cathedral.
So this business of giving witness and of being prophetic can be very challenging. And when that happens Pope Francis has some words for us:
“In this period of crisis, today, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but, rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others. … Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals of service that make your talents fruitful. Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn.” – Audience, April 24
So you see, this business of witness and prophecy is to going to be easy, but I have learned that it can be, even in my very limited experience, so very fulfilling, for we are enriched as we give to others so much more than we can ever anticipate, and so much more than we are enriched by just living for ourselves to make a comfortable unchallenged life. I hope that through this coming together you will know one another better, and be better placed to help each other, to inspire each other and to be the face of Christ for each other and for the children. Then you will, as Pope Francis said, be happy for you will know God.
I want to close with some words words attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo:
“God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory.”