Vibrant Spirit. Strong Character. Tailored Learning
To the friends and families of the St Edmund’s community,
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading gives us a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We have a presentation on the Christian ethic of personal relationships: love your neighbours and forgive your enemies. Jesus tells his audience to turn the other cheek and to give more than is demanded of you, “ … and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you”. Jesus subverts the old Jewish beliefs and laws and tells his audience that they should “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This Gospel reading tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others with loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve it. Matthew emphasises that love of God and love of neighbour are the fundamental commands on which all else depend. Because God’s love is unconditional, we are to strive to love as God does – a very challenging concept. Is it even possible? I was privileged to hear Archbishop Christopher Prowse give his homily on this reading at last Sunday’s 8am Mass at the Cathedral. The Archbishop reflected that it is not really in our human nature to love our enemies – it is not a natural action or emotion for us, and it is actually quite a difficult thing to do. But he reminded us that it is not completely up to us. The path to loving our enemy is not a solo path – it is a path we take with God. We don’t grow to love our enemy on our own, we do this through our love of God. God’s love becomes a lens through which we see and love others. The Archbishop summed this up in a simple and powerful manner: “I cannot. You can. Yes”. We cannot love our enemies on our own – it is a difficult and almost impossible task. We cannot, but God can – so we say Yes to God (as Mary did) and put our trust and faith in God to give us the strength to join him on the path to loving our enemies. We can only do our best – let God do the rest.
The message of Jesus in this Gospel extract is so relevant to the environment of a boys’ school. We deal with boys who are at an age where retaliation seems quite natural – revenge is a gut instinct that seemingly leads to justice. We know this is not the case, and that it takes a great strength of character to turn the other cheek, to let things go and continue to “love” the person who has carried out the original hurt. This is not an easy task in a school but is one of our core tasks. We will continue to value and teach the concept of forgiveness, of the strength of walking away and of the significance of positive relationships. This is quite a countercultural concept but one which is at the very foundation of who we are as a Catholic school.
Camps and Retreats
We had an extremely successful camp and retreat program last week. Our boys came back having immersed themselves in a number of activities, learning new skills and establishing new relationships. Year 7 had a wonderful time with activities such as raft-making, kayaking, surfing and archery, all leading towards the group becoming an Eddies group of boys rather than a disparate group from various primary schools. Year 10 students faced the great skill of having to organise themselves for a true outdoor camp experience along with the thrill of abseiling and canoeing, and our Year 12 students engaged in a retreat experience of self-reflection, focusing on their place in the world and their relationships. As this edition of Vortex is published, Year 6 students should have already returned from their camp experience at The Pines, Tuross Heads and I am sure that they also returned with new found skills and a better sense of themselves and their fellow students.
It is very important for a boys’ school to offer a staged camp and retreat program, as research tells us that these experiences are integral to the positive development of young males. This becomes more relevant as we move further along our contemporary age and we tend to lose more of our experiences of rites of passage. Our young men are increasingly engaging in dangerous risk-taking behaviours, often feel unseen and lost and are increasing relying on the internet to make their transition during adolescence. A strong camp and retreat program allows our boys the opportunities to see themselves as belonging to part of a tangible community, allows them to share experiences that they would otherwise not experience in their lives and allows them to discern their relationships with each other. The Year 12 retreat broadens this further by asking our young men to discern their place in the world, with their families and with their sense of spirituality. The camp and retreat programs mark a journey of personal and communal growth and allows our students to experience a sense of rites of passage. When we add to this the range of other pastoral and co-curricular experiences offered by the College throughout the year, we end up with a rich program of rituals and experiences which should work to having our young men transition from one stage of awareness to a more enlightened state of self-consciousness and spiritual consciousness so as to achieve their full potential.
I would like to thank all of our students who attended these camp and retreat experiences – this is an essential part of our program at St Edmund’s where we work towards developing young men of vibrant spirit and strong character. Many thanks also to our members of staff who gave of their time to supervise and care for our students.
Formation Program / Service
Last week we had some of our Year 8 classes involved in service opportunities. One class visited the Mountain View Aged Care Centre at Narrabundah to interact with its elderly residents. Dr Katrina Cubit, the Centre Manager of Mountain View Aged Care Centre wrote, “We have just had the most delightful visit from your students. They were handsomely presented, very well behaved and demonstrated an unanticipated level of maturity when engaging with our residents. They had a wonderful ability to introduce themselves and start conversations with even the most introverted of our residents. Their youth and good humour brought delight to both our staff and residents. The boys are an absolute credit to the school, their teachers and their parents, and we look forward to further visits across the year.”
On the same day, Therese Canty, the Youth Liaison Officer from St Vincent de Paul Society – Canberra/Goulburn facilitated a session on Service at the College and she commented on how “beautifully behaved and engaged the boys were, they are a credit to the College!”
Congratulations to our Year 8 students for their mature and engaging manner with both of the opportunities where the concept of serving others and being an active part of the local community was met with a serious and perceptive outlook.
Ash Wednesday and Lent
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. Ashes were distributed today during our liturgy’ led by our senior leaders. Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice, a spirit that allows us to enter the Lenten season with an appropriate state of mind and state of heart. Often we talk about giving something up for Lent, but this can be quite a superficial thing to do, as it often does not accompany a change in our behaviour and thinking. Many of us use Lent as a kick-starter for a diet or new exercise regimen – almost like a new year’s resolution. Lent is much more than this. Lent is a preparation for Easter leading to the Passion of Christ, so a simple focus on giving up coffee or chocolate or whatever it may be does not prepare us appropriately for this. This kind of sacrifice is misguided. The following is adapted from a beautiful Lenten commentary by the writer Alex Basile.
“Lent should be about living the Gospel every day. The Gospels are defined as the life, teachings, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To get to the heart of its message, we must examine how Jesus lived. We may be surprised that the actions of Jesus were consistently simple. He spent every moment pulling the lost and forgotten back into the fold. In other words, Lent should initiate our awareness of those who need the most attention. There are many people who live in our shadow that require our immediate care. The lonely need to hear the voice of compassion. The sick demand our companionship. The alienated call out for friendship. Our broken relationships need the assistance that only the love of Christ can repair. We need the sacrifice our pride and out time to live this out.
Lent requires a redefinition of the word “sacrifice.” We assume that the word “sacrifice” means giving something away or denying ourselves of something. Lent should raise our awareness of the things we take for granted. Our Lenten sacrifice highlights our free will. Since creation, God has left us to our own devices to choose our own path. During this season, we must reflect on what we have and what we need to change. We hear of how Christians are persecuted in other countries for their faith. In a country where we say and do as we please, are we giving Jesus and those around us all that we truly can?
Lent is time for spiritual “spring cleaning.” What are the unwanted habits that you want to eliminate from your life? What are the certain behavioural patterns that make you less than the perfect Christian does? The way to answer these questions is through reflection and prayer. Older Catholics speak of a type of Lent where music and television were put on hold for the season. Although this practice has faded, we must discover our own peace and quiet during Lent. The only way to reveal the interior life is through silence. Separate from the chaos and surrender to prayer. Put yourself in the presence of God and just talk to Him.
Conversion requires a complete turn in a different direction. Leave the old you behind. We need to make Lent our new beginning. Follow the advice from Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst… ‘Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor – He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”
Lord, you have said that to truly love you
then we must also love our neighbour,
which can be difficult when we disagree or lifestyles clash.
Yet in overcoming those difficulties
it is possible to see the miracle that you
love someone like me.
Teach us to love, Lord, as you have loved us
that this world might be a better neighbourhood
in which to live and share.
Blessed Edmund Rice, pray for us.
Live Jesus in our Hearts, forever.