Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Homily at the Diocesan Primary Head Teachers’ Conference, 2nd March 2017

A week ago, I was driving westwards on the M56 in the face of Storm Doris. Rocked by sudden squalls and with visibility obscured, I had to trust the road I was following and the vehicle in which I was driving. Today, I want to suggest the same is true for our Catholic schools, which I am privileged to visit around the Diocese on a weekly basis. We are aware in other western countries the Church’s health and welfare services have been threatened by ideologies which demand total conformity to their worldview. It was similarly such ideological agendas that, in the false name of equality forced the closure of Catholic adoption services across this land. I am conscious that our schools now find themselves increasingly a focus of ideological groups demanding the acceptance of their agenda: an agenda contrary to Catholic teaching. Again, this might be done seemingly in the name of noble goals: respect for each other and the prevention of unjust discrimination. I want to encourage you, as Catholic leaders in education, to be confident that, amid all the squalls and storms you face, we can always trust the road we are following and the vehicle of a truly Catholic education.

Long ago, the children of Israel were shown that we have a choice to make. We heard how Moses told the people, ‘See today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster” (Dt. 30:15). As you and I must do, he urged the people he was leading to “choose life … so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him; for in this your life consists …” (Dt. 30:20). In the Gospel of this second day of Lent, we hear Jesus set a remarkable condition for following Him: we must ‘take up the cross every day’ and be ready to lose our lives for his sake so as to truly live (Lk. 9: 22-25). Saint Jerome gave this advice to the Christians of the first centuries which is helpful for us today, “Not only in time of persecution,” he wrote “or when we have the chance of martyrdom, but in all circumstances, in everything we do and think, in everything we say, let us deny what we used to be and let us confess what we now are, reborn as we have been in Christ” (Letter 121, 3). This is surely the task of a Catholic school: to confess in all things we are reborn in our thinking and acting in Christ.

The Christian inheritance of faith and virtue lived in our schools far surpasses any ambiguous or arbitrary formulation of ‘British values.’  We have received the command of perfect love from Christ and this forms the basis by which we reject every form of bullying and unjust discrimination. We know from God’s Word that man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God, having the same dignity and destiny (Gen. 1:26-27). We therefore have no need of false notions of equality which can insist that right and wrong, truth and error are cultural constructs, and that being male or female are interchangeable personal choices. We cannot fail to note that we are living in a society which does not accept human equality when it comes to the right to life itself, legally sanctioning as it does the killing of millions of the unborn.

Christ has given us something infinitely greater than a flawed, secular, theory of equality. He has taught us the value and dignity of every human life, every human being. The Christian faith gives us a wonderful, clear vision of our human worth and destiny which far surpasses all that threatens to obscure or undermine it. In the light of Christ we can appreciate the soundly-based insights of human learning and in His light we are able to differentiate the elements of truth and goodness in the often contradictory religious and ideological claims made around us (cf. Nostra Aetate n.2). This teaching of the Second Vatican Council helps us to avoid falling into a religious indifferentism which suggests that all beliefs and theories are equally valid and true. Christ said: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6); and Christians have responded in every generation with the Apostle Peter who declared: “To whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life” (Jn. 6: 68). This is the totally unique claim which has guided this nation from its earliest years and guides us still in the work and witness of our schools.

The Second Vatican Council declared that Catholic education has the obligation: “to promote the welfare of the whole life of man, including his life in this world insofar as it is related to our heavenly vocation” (Preface to Gravissimum Educationis). In the face of passing squalls and storms, which may increasingly assail schools in this Diocese and beyond, I want to encourage you to a renewed and ever-growing confidence in the road we follow and in the vehicle of a truly Catholic education.