Vol 41 No 1
WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL?
THE VOCATIONS PROJECT IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Christianity's contribution to understanding the family and its role
Francine and Byron Pirola
MARRIAGE IN THE LIFE OF THE PARISH: He sent them out two by two ... Luke 10:1
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Marie Farrell RSM
ECUMENICAL CONSENSUS ON MARY
Desmond O'Donnell OMI
A LENTEN MEDITATION
lies ahead for the Catholic school?
IN A RECENT interview, Pope Benedict urged Catholics:
to witness to God in a world that has problems finding Him
to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people
access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses
its point of reference, to give joy as well because we are not alone in
this world (Benedict XVI, 2006).
The Catholic school is one of the chief means the Australian Church uses
to witness in this way. Like other Church institutions, however, Catholic
schools are facing new challenges, arguably as important and as far reaching
as those facing our schools in the late 1860s. Once again, the Church
is being called on to articulate its vision for Catholic schools. Achieving
some shared understanding of the challenges let alone attaining such a
shared vision will not be easy.
In Australia, many families are finding the cost of enrolling their children
in Catholic schools to be prohibitive. At the same time there is an increase
in the enrolment of students who are not Catholic. There is a growing
question for Catholic schools as to how best to engage other religious
traditions while being authentic to proclaiming the Catholic tradition.
There is a decline in religious commitment as we have traditionally understood
that to be, particularly it would seem, in parish adherence. There are
fewer clergy and religious. There is certainly a loss of autonomy, and
government funding is increasingly being tied to specified outcomes, some
of which challenge our tradition practice and, I suggest, our beliefs
and values. The recent Plain English Reporting requirements are certainly
a case in point. There is a problem, shared with all schools across the
nation, in recruiting and appropriately training new teachers equipped
to teach in a Catholic school. Teaching itself has become much more stressful
and fewer people are putting their hands up for senior leadership positions.
The ongoing challenges of adequate financial resources are becoming more
Yet our Catholic schools are not in crisisfacing new challenges,
certainly, but not in crisis. By far the toughest challenge is discovering
and articulating an operative educational philosophy (Congregation
for Catholic Education (CCE) 1988, par. 22) which addresses the expectations
of todays church and indeed, for the world in which we live. Catholic
schools are not immune from the societal effects of the growing
marginalization of the Christian faith as a reference point and a source
of light (CCE 1997, par. 1). Articulating the vision is perhaps
the most challenging work for schools. On the one hand they suffer from
criticism and entrenched opposition from those who appear firmly fixed
on the belief that Catholic schools still operate in a predominantly Christian
society and that they still exist in a milieu where there is an operative
Catholic culture as a clear point of reference. At the other end of the
spectrum some others who choose the Catholic school appear to be indifferent
and non-practicing, with a profound apathy where ethical and religious
formation is concerned (CCE 1997, par. 6).
The massive movement of peoples across the world, particularly since the
Second World War has increased the number and nature of multi-cultural
societies. This movement of peoples has certainly enriched Australia but
has brought with it new challenges. New cultures and new peoples have
also brought different religious beliefs and traditions. Prosperity has
also brought with it the rise of what is called secularism
and even indifference to religious truth and values. We now live in a
pluralist society. Thus the Churches represent but one feature
of this pluralistic society, and in fact, compete with different religious
and political viewpoints. Quite a diverse array lifestyles and attitudes
co-exist and compete with each other.
Thus the current context for the Catholic school is one of an increasing
divergence between Christianity and modern culture. The reality of a predominantly
Christian culture is disappearing. In addition, the culture
in which students coming to Catholic schools operate is one of pluralism
where elements of a multiplicity of belief systems are evident. Students
are familiar with Islamic, Buddhist beliefs and cultures etc. Many of
their parents acknowledge what has become known as something-ism
(I believe in something but Im not sure what it is).
For many students, the Christian story is now merged with other narratives.
In addition, the Catholic school today is also subject to the influences
of the major challenges of secularization, postmodernism, religious pluralism,
globalization, multi-culturalism, inculturation, reconciliation and inter-religious
In this environment, Catholic schools endeavour to promote particular
views of the nature and purpose of the human person, of knowledge itself,
and of the vision of the reign of God for our world. They endeavour to
enable students to meet Jesus Christ and to enter into a relationship
with God. They are called to present Christ in a way well adapted
to the younger generation and the rapidly changing culture in which they
live (John Paul II 2001, no. 14).
In order to do this effectively, Catholic schools and their communities
need to firstly understand and appreciate the major developments in the
Churchs understanding of her mission today and her relationships
to these social realities. In turn, Catholic schools should articulate
their own mission within that context.
Since Vatican II the Churchs understanding of herself in terms of
her nature, mission and relationship with the world have undergone a fundamental
change. The difference centres around the perception of the relationship
between the reign of God and the church. In the pre-Vatican II theology
of mission the church was equated with the kingdom, and hence mission
was very much concerned with bringing people into the church. This understanding
of mission was reflected in the purpose of the school which could be summarised
Saving immortal souls;
Teaching knowledge and understanding;
Increasing sacramental participation;
Building up the Church by promoting the Kingdom of God.
Today, however, there is a new sense of mission. Mission is understood
first and foremost as the work of the Holy Spirit calling forth all of
creation. As the late Pope John Paul II wrote:
The Spirits presence and activity affect not only individuals but
also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. Indeed, the
Spirit is at the origin of the noble ideals and undertakings which benefit
humanity on its journey through history (John Paul II 1991, no. 28).
Mission is no longer regarded as the work of the Church alone. It is no
longer regarded as being exercised and directed solely through the powers
and structures of the Church. In the words of Pope John Paul: The
Spirit is mysteriously present in the heart of every person, Christian
or otherwise (Address to the Roman Curia 24.1.2002).
The decree of the Church in the Modern World and more recently and perhaps
more cogently, Pope Paul VIs On Evangelization In The Modern
World (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Rome 1975) calls us as the community
of believers in Jesus the Christ to be Good News in the world today and
for our world today. But to whom and for what? If the mission of the Church
and its agencies is not for saving souls or building up the
church then what is it? What should the Catholic school do?
Theologian Peter Phan argues that prior to Vatican II, the theology of
mission within the Church was characterised by four priorities, namely:
Church, proclamation, mission and the reign of God (Phan n.d.: Proclamation
of the Reign of God as the Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom. By
Whom,With Whom, and How?). The Mission in that era was the product
of an institutional model of Church, regarding itself as unique, somewhat
exclusive and superior to other churchescertainly definitive, normative
and absolute (Outside the Church there is no salvation). The
Second Vatican Council and subsequent Church documents have described
the Church using very different images and have described its role as
being called to live out and proclaim Gods reign. Other Christian
traditions have also expanded on this understanding of mission and reign
in more depth. This change in orientation saw a theology of mission emerge
that, according to Phan now names the same priorities but in a different
order and with differing emphases. The order is now the reign of God,
mission, proclamation and Church. Such a view seems to be in accord with
John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, no.13 in which the pope states that
the proclamation and establishment of Gods kingdom are the purposes
of Jesus mission. So how should Catholic schools respond?
The following questions posed by Phan provide a good framework for Catholic
schools to consider and articulate a vision which addresses their circumstances
and the current theology of the Church.
· For what is their mission? If the Catholic school has an
ecclesial identity, it should reflect the priorities that the Church articulates
as her own mission. Today that is articulated as bearing witness to the
reign of God made known in Jesus. It is true that Catholic schools exist
to build up the Church as it were, but they are to do more
than that. If we accept that the mission of the Church is to proclaim
Gods reign, it is important to recognise that we proclaim in word
and in action. This includes providing a living experience of the reign
of God as well as proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Within such a pluralistic world, according to Cardinal Kasper (Kasper
2003, p.19), the role of the Church can best be described as diaconal
and dialogical. Firstly, diaconal does not mean adopting a merely
pastoral and therapeutic approach.
The church can never merely be a social emergency organisation. Its priority
pastoral task is witnessing and proclaiming the truth. This as true service:
no other institution can offer the truth of love, of forgiveness, of reconciliation,
of mercy which is the most intrinsic message of the Gospel. The Church
is called to a specific service to humanity. Especially in our troubled
times this message of absolute love and mercy is needed. (Kasper, op.
cit. p. 19)
Catholic schools, along with other Church agencies want to teach and give
witness to what we believe is the truth. The way to do that today is by
dialogue. The way that we promote or provoke that dialogue is by servicenot
simply providing good pastoral care, but such service that provokes basic
questions such as these:
Why are they like this?
Why do they live in this way?
What or who is it that inspires them?
Why are they in our midst? (Paul VI 1975, no. 21)
The aim of every Catholic school is to enable others to meet Jesus Christ
by, among other things, imitating the way Jesus bore witness to the truthhe
came like a servant, he did not come to rule but to give his life for
many. Our credibility in this pluralistic world comes in the way that,
like Jesus, we are of service. Jesus was compassion itself but he challenged,
he questioned, he criticized, he offered a vision of hope, he offered
a vision and an experience of what Gods reign might look like. Catholic
schools are called to do likewise.
In being of such service, Catholic schools are called to proclaim the
Good News by creating a community experience, an experience of the reign
of God. Christian faith, in fact, is born and grows inside community (cf.
CCE 1988, par. 53).
Faith grows only in a communityit is where we get our meaning in
life, it is where we endeavour to enable our students to experience the
reality and challenges of the reign of God. Such a community is where
our students come to know that God loves them because they experience
that love in the community of the school. It is where students experience
the justice of God because they are treated fairly and with compassion.
It is where they come to know that they have a God-given mission in life
because they have been able to discover their uniqueness, because their
talents and abilities have been affirmed and enhanced. It is where they
can test out their values and beliefsgive them a trialand
where we can experience and get meaning from the beliefs and living values
of that community.
This genuine community of faith seeks to address questions such as the
Do we seek to celebrate life as a gift from God and do we rejoice
in the gifts of the Spirit in each person?
Do we believe that God is present in our working and praying and
Is there a tangible belief that each person is capable of great
things, of reaching the full potential with which God has endowed them?
Is there teamwork and collaboration among all those involved (parents,
students, teachers, administrators, clergy)?
Do I feel welcome here? Do I feel safe? Is my own search for meaning
in life recognized, affirmed, supported?
What opportunities do I have to learn, to share, to celebrate,
to seek greater understanding?
Do parents feel that they are welcome here, that they are valued
as the first educators of their children?
Do our students have input into what sort of community we are trying
to create here?
Does this educating community share a common vision about the sort
of community we want our school to be, the sort of community experience
we want our students to have?
Is our school essentially characterised by an underlying belief
in the goodness of each person, in the potential of each person who is
deeply loved by God?
Is there a basic optimism about those we teach and about what we
are teaching them?
Is there a passionate belief that each person is capable of reconciliation,
that no student is beyond redemption?
The Catholic School participates in the evangelising mission of the Church
(CCE 1997, par. 11). In addition, a distinguishing feature of Catholic
education is that it is open to all, especially to the poor and weakest
in society (John Paul II 2001, no. 33). That distinguishing feature poses
challenges in regard to enrolments, policies and practices, whom we welcome
into our communities and how we respond. For the Catholic school to be
such an agent of evangelization, it needs to be comfortable with a generous,
open and inclusive enrolment policy. It is true that Catholic schools
are called to teach a specifically Catholic theology, a specifically Catholic
way of looking at humans, human destiny and dignity, but the mission of
the Church has always been and remains to enable all people to meet Jesus
Christ. Mission is outward lookingit is not for Christians only,
it is not only about saving souls or building up the church, but it is
also about the transformation of society, it is also about recognising
where the Spirit may be working in other people, in other faith traditions,
in other ways in our world. Cardinal Kasper, for example, advocates an
approach in which the Church is seen to embrace and defend plurality,
but also seeks to be in solidarity with all those who search for truth.
The Church today is, in his view, provided with an opportunity to:
radically realize her fundamental nature as a community of believers
in a more original, and authentic wayto become a sign for the world.
(Kasper 2003, p.39.)
Proclaiming the Good News, promoting the reign of God is the duty of all
Christians. The scandal of Christian disunity, whether that be among the
various faith traditions or even within a particular faith tradition,
is at its most poignant in this area. All Christians are called to witness
to God in a world that has problems finding Him, to make God visible in
the human face of Jesus Christ. Christian unity requires all Christians
to work together to give common witness to the Good News. Such working
together is also important in Catholic schoolsit is imperative that
Catholic school communities work to achieve some understanding of the
history of each Christian tradition, the various points of contact and
division and provide opportunities to work together to proclaim and promote
the Reign of God.
In the words of Pope John Paul II, the Holy Spirit is the principal agent
of mission. The Holy Spirit is said to direct the mission of the
church, to make the whole church missionary, and to
be present and active in every time and place (John Paul II
1991, no. 28).
If Catholic schools as agents of the Church are to respond appropriately,
then Christian mission has to find a new priority. Mission and evangelisation
can no longer be regarded as it once was: a one-way proclamation of a
message of salvation to a pagan world. Rather, mission first
of all is a search for and recognition of the presence and activities
of the Holy Spirit among the peoples to be evangelized, and in this humble
and attentive process of listening, the evangelizers become the evangelized,
and the evangelized become the evangelizers (Phan, loc. cit. p.
8). Once again, such an understanding challenges traditional practices
in our schools.
It is perhaps in this area that we are confronted with a fundamental shift
in approach. The Church has been consistent over many years in its call
to dialogue. Pope John Paul issued the challenge to all Christians to
enter firstly into dialogue with Jesus and then to embrace the world dialogically
as his followers (John Paul II 1991, no. 10). He was echoing the
words of his predecessor Pope Paul VI:
Dialogue calls us, like God, to take the initiative, to be inspired by
love, to set no limits, to apply no coercive pressure, to reach out to
all, to be accessible to all, to be persevering and ready to seize the
appropriate moment. (Paul VI 1964, no.71)
Pope John Paul II argued that given the complexity of our world the
method of dialogue is becoming the way to bring the Lords comforting
message of salvation everywhere. Cardinal Kasper further elaborated:
The attitude of the Church today is to be one of dialogue. As human beings
we do not only carry on dialogue, we are dialogue, we are by nature dialogical
beings. This is even more true for our Christian existence, for biblical
Revelation is Gods dialogue with human beings (Kasper, op. cit.
For Catholic schools the personal relationships between student and teacher
assume an enormous responsibility and are not limited to giving
and taking (CCE 1997, par.19) but a personal relationship
is always a dialogue rather than a monologue, and the teacher must be
convinced that the enrichment in the relationship is mutual (CCE
1982, par. 38).
So what is meant by dialogue? Firstly it is a recognition and a living
acknowledgement of the presence and activities of the Holy Spirit in every
time and place. Purnell (1985, p 15) expresses it well when he writes:
I believe that God is present in the whole of creation; deep down in every
human being God is there not simply keeping each one in existence but
lovingly at work helping each reach that fullness of being which is Gods
destiny for her/him. When, there, I venture to share my faith with another,
I have to realize that God is already present in the other in ways, perhaps,
which may be foreign to my own understanding of God. I came then to realize
that faith-sharing required first of all discernment, a sensitivity to
My task was not to give God to anybody but to help people discover God
within themselves as the life-giving and love-giving source of their existence.
Secondly, dialogue is between people who are on a genuine search for truth.
Being in dialogue does not mean that we are indifferentneither is
the person we dialogue with. In the words of Cardinal Kasper, two indistinct
fogbanks cannot have an encounter, they become blurred in each other.
In our search for truth students in Catholic schools need to be engaged
in a challenging and relevant study of Religious Education. In addition,
however, Phan refers to four activities associated with genuine dialogue
which were originally outlined by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious
Dialogue (1991, no.42; Phan, op. cit. p.9).
Firstly, there is the dialogue of life which involves the sharing of joys
and sorrows. The search for truth and meaning cannot be disassociated
from the realities of lifea purely academic study of religion serves
a limited purpose. The challenge to make God visible in the human face
of Jesus calls those engaged in dialogue to actively look for the signs
of Gods presence, so that, like Jesus we can enable people to recognize
Gods amazing plans and to be amazed by Gods activity
(John Paul II 1991, no. 48). It draws its inspiration from how repeatedly
in the gospels we see Jesus opening the conversation with a request or
a question (Jn 4:7, Mk 8:23). It also draws on the Churchs continuing
call for us to be able to read the signs of the times and interpret them
in the light of the Gospel - that is the signs of Gods active presence
and purpose in the world.
Secondly, the dialogue of action which calls on us to collaborate in furthering
liberation and human development. Being diaconal, or of service,
is also about enabling our students to come to know their dignity as human
beings, their eternal value, their mission. Service also means that we
are at the service of the society in which we live. That is a profound
Spiritual leadership has something to do with critiquing the present,
envisioning a better future and asking the right questions as we go (Chittister
2001). We are not simply preparing our students to be able to function
in this worldthe gospel calls on us to enable our students to critique
this world and to proclaim a better way!
Thirdly, there is the dialogue of theological exchange which seeks a deeper
understanding of the religious heritages of others and a better appreciation
of their spiritual values. It is imperative in such a pluralistic environment
to develop some understanding and appreciation of others beliefs
and practices. Cardinal Kasper urges a relationship with other religions
in which Christianity acknowledges and respects their giftedness, prophetically
criticizes, and invites to encounter with Jesus Christ. (Kasper, op. cit.
p. 12). John Paul lists the following qualities as authentic
listening to one another,
refraining from hasty judgements, and
the ability to avoid subordinating the faith which unites to the
opinions, fashions and ideological choices which divide (John Paul II
1984, nos. 25.4; 25.8).
Finally, dialogue of religious experience or the sharing of spiritual
riches through common prayer and other religious practices is another
source of dialogue and encounter (Phan, loc. cit. par. 8). Genuine faith
communities have prayer and worship at their core. Being in awe and wonder
of the Creator and the created is at the heart of our faith. Obviously
such dialogue can facilitate a clearer understanding and appreciation
of each others beliefs and traditions but it can also enable a much
greater understanding of who I am and what I believe and value. Common
worship and prayer is perhaps the deepest form of dialogue if it emerges
from profound respect for each other and it is indeed a very potent means
of witnessing to God in a world that has problems finding Him, giving
joy as well because we are not alone in this world (Benedict XVI 9.09.2006).
Catholic schools find themselves in a new situation. They not only exist
in such a pluralistic world but are called on to discern the signs of
the times in this new environment and engage with all its positive influences.
And there are many. But the great challenge for the Catholic school today
is to present the Christian message in an appropriate and convincing way.
But Catholic schools are agencies of the local church. Catholic schools
cannot be left on their ownlocal churches wherever they may be are
called and challenged in the same way. They too are called to answer the
Churchs challenge to develop ways to become an effective instrument
of Jesus Christ who now wants to meet the people of Oceania in new ways
(Ecclesia in Oceania, no. 4). But in discovering these new ways there
are also hopes and possibilities. The Churchs mission is to proclaim
Jesus as the Living Truthto do that effectively Catholic schools
need to engage with todays world, to discover the ways in which
God is already present, to engage with the Spirit who inspires the hearts
of Christians and non-Christians alike. Articulating a vision is never
easy, particularly where differing beliefs, values and priorities are
involved. If Catholic schools are to witness to the human face of Christ,
the starting point is to discover in our culture what we shareour
common groundand to enter into dialogue to discover what is and
what is not of Christ.
Jim Quillinan works in the area of spirituality
and faith formation. He has given seminars on Catholic identity in various
states of Australia and overseas.
Chittister, Joan (2001), Leading the Way to go where there is no road
and leave a path. Catholic School Studies.
Congregation for Catholic Education (1997), Catholic School on the Threshold
of the Third Millenium.
Congregation for Catholic Education (1988), Religious Dimensions of Education
in a Catholic School.
Congregation for Catholic Education (1982), Lay Catholics in Schools.
Paul VI, (1975), Evangelii Nuntiandi.
John Paul II (1984), Reconciliatio et Paenitentia.
John Paul II (1991), Redemptoris Missio. St. Pauls Publications,
John Paul II (2001), Ecclesia in Oceania. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
St. Pauls Publications, Homebush.
John Paul II, Address to the Roman Curia after the World Day of Prayer
for Peace in Assisi, 24.1.2002.
Kasper, W (2003), The Future of Christianity: A Meditation on the Church
and Contemporary Pluralism in the Post Modern Era. Available: www.maristmelb.org.au
Benedict XVI, Interview for German Television, 9.09.2006.
Phan, P. (n.d.). Proclamation of the Reign of God as the Mission
of the Church: What for, To Whom, By Whom, With Whom and How? Available:
Purnell, A (1985), Our Faith Story. Collins.