Vol 42 No 2
THIS ISSUE OF Compass is mainly about the challenge of communicating the Good News, the opportunities that we have and the means that we devise for doing it. We open on a high note with Gerald O’Collins’ reflection on Pope Benedict’s Easter proclamation in St Peter’s Square to the faithful there assembled and to the many millions throughout the world who see it on television. Tony Doherty writes of the task of proclaiming the Good News in everyday contexts and reminds us that there are many ways of telling the story of Jesus. Geoffrey Plant explores the possibility of effective story-telling using contemporary means of communication, including evangelization in cyberspace. Leslee Sniatynskyj clarifies the theme of discipleship-as-a-journey in Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. Chris Fleming and John O’Carroll provide a context for all the preceding with their essay on meaning: in the modern desacralised, ‘disenchanted’ world we risk living with a sense of meaninglessness…the antithesis of the pope’s ecstatic Easter proclamation in the first article.
It is significant that Jesus did not tell us to go out and make instant converts…rather, he told us to ‘make disciples of all the nations’. Discipleship is a process, a journey, a very subtle journey with many twists and turns, a journey that is very personal and particular to each individual. Making disciples, likewise, is a very subtle and relational task, more like education as contrasted with teaching pure and simple.
On the twenty-first of January last Pope Benedict addressed a letter to the faithful of the diocese of Rome concerning the urgent task of educating young people. The letter is a gem, and I recommend that readers download it for themselves from the Vatican website. To do this, go to http://www.vatican.va then click on The Holy See English, then click on Benedict XVI, then click on Letters, then click on 2008, then click on Letter to the Faithful of the Diocese of the City of Rome…January 21, 2008.
Benedict writes in this letter of ‘the problem of education’. We have at heart, he notes, the good of the people we love, especially our children, adolescents and young people. We are concerned about their formation, ‘about their ability to give their lives a direction and to discern good from evil’. We are concerned about their health, not only physical health but also moral health.
The task of education, Benedict writes, seems to be becoming more difficult. Some speak of an ‘educational emergency’. He cautions against laying blame on any group, not on the young, nor on the adults—though adults are strongly tempted to give up. Adults and young people have responsibilities that need to be recognized.
The pope rather lays the blame on a prevailing atmosphere in the culture, a ‘mind-set’ which is potentially corrosive of faith in the value of the human person and the meaning of truth and goodness. This ‘atmosphere’ makes it difficult to pass on ‘something that is valid and certain, rules of conduct, credible objectives around which to build life itself’.
Benedict invites his brothers and sisters of Rome not to be afraid—none of these difficulties, he assures them, is insurmountable. The difficulties, actually, are the other side of the coin of the gift of freedom. With freedom comes responsibilities. Every person is free, every person must make their own options:
Not even the greatest values of the past can be simply inherited; they must be claimed by us and renewed through an often anguishing personal option.
Today, Benedict goes on, ‘the foundations are shaken’, and as the challenges from the surrounding culture make themselves felt, the call for a good education is coming from parents, teachers and society as a whole, while children and young people are ‘asking for it in their inmost being’.
We are blessed because we have our faith in God and Christ to support us and reassure us—‘his love reaches us wherever we are and just as we are, in our wretchedness and weakness, in order to offer us a new possibility of good’.
The pope then goes on to list several requirements for an authentic education:
• closeness and trust born of love, first of parents, then of teachers;
• truth that can be a guide in life;
• experience of suffering;
• and, most delicate of all, finding the right balance between freedom and discipline.
In striving for this balance teachers must not abdicate their authority in educating the young to accept the risk of freedom, while being constantly attentive in order to help them correct wrong ideas and choices.
Possibly the one requirement in the list that might surprise us is ‘the experience of suffering’. Do educators need to burden the young with awareness of suffering in our world? Benedict explains himself:
Suffering is also part of the truth of our life. So, by seeking to shield the youngest from every difficulty and experience of suffering, we risk raising brittle and ungenerous people, despite our good intentions: indeed, the capacity for loving corresponds to the capacity for suffering and for suffering together.
Pope Benedict returns to make further reflections on how a sense of responsibility is crucial in education—responsibility of educators and of those being educated. It is a personal and shared responsibility. Society is not an abstraction, he writes, we are all in it and must contribute.
The pope concludes his letter with a paragraph from his recent encyclical Spe Salvi, on Christian hope:
The soul of education, as of the whole of life, can only be a dependable hope. Today, our hope is threatened on many sides and we even risk becoming, like the ancient pagans, people ‘having no hope and without God in the world’, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph. 2:12). What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life.
—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor