True North in Mission

I would like to name three markers of ‘true north’ in Edmund Rice education and for me, they are all in clear alignment. These markers suggest to me that the core focus for mission in the tradition of Edmund Rice is the call to be as inclusive as we can be.

I would like to name three markers of ‘true north’ in Edmund Rice education and for me, they are all in clear alignment. These markers suggest to me that the core focus for mission in the tradition of Edmund Rice is the call to be as inclusive as we can be.

The first marker is the life and ministry of Jesus, particularly his call to fullness of human life and his radical inclusion of the marginalized.

In our quest to educate for full humanity and liberation, we introduce the young to Jesus:

so fully alive with the life of God;
so totally loving with the love of God;
and through these things,
revealing the very ground of being that we call God.

The entire ministry of Jesus was rendering visibility, tangibility and concrete-ness to divine love.

Jesus is the fulfilment of humanity’s deepest aspirations and possibilities. Not only who Jesus was, but also what he did, point to how humans are to live a full human life with all its glory, possibility and dignity.

Jesus invited his hearers into a new relationship with God and with neighbour shaped by love and compassion.

Jesus preached not a religion, nor an institution, not even himself but the Kingdom of God, a concept that is essentially about the righting of humanity. Jesus had a vision for a world that arose from his heightened insight into the loving kindness of God. Jesus called his vision the ‘Kingdom’ or the ‘Reign of God’.

The Reign of God that Jesus proclaimed ushered in a new world order characterised by relationships based on justice, inclusion, love and peace.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Shalom refers not so much to an absence of violence but to a ‘right order’ of things; it implies a sense of equity and fairness in our dealings with each other. There is not shalom if children go hungry; if human rights are ignored and people are excluded there is no shalom – there is no shalom in a world indifferent to the common good.

At the core of Jesus’ vision was inclusion of the excluded. He touched the untouchables; he stood against systemic injustice, more so of the religious institutions. He showed that God was not pleased by the blind following of laws of rituals and ritual purity, but by entering into the lives of the victims of these laws, whom he characterised as the ‘little ones’: the blind, the lame, the leprosy affected, the elderly, those who knew nothing of the law, the poor, those who mourn, hunger, the persecuted, widows... the list of those included goes on.  

The second marker of true north is the charism and legacy of Edmund Rice.

Signaling ‘true north’ or the core focus for mission, is one of the key functions of any charism.

The vision of Edmund Rice and the foundations upon which we stand, clearly direct our mission to the ‘margins’, to the excluded to the poor, the disadvantaged, to those who lack hope.

The charism statement of the Christian Brothers is quite clear in the way in articulates what motivated Edmund:

Deeply aware of the Father’s providential presence in his life, Edmund Rice was moved by the Holy Spirit to open his whole heart to Christ present and appealing to him in the poor.

A practical application of this vision was articulated by Br Ambrose Treacy our forebear in Catholic education in the ER tradition in 1882:

The school is open to all who wish to avail themselves of it and its values without distinction of creed, colour or nationality. No child can be refused admission on the score of religion, social standing or of capacity to pay.

The commitment called for by the charism isn’t only to include the marginalised, but to ‘centre’ them as Jesus and Edmund did. To make our response to their plight the core of our mission.

So do we embrace an ‘option for the poor’ in our schools from our excess, or from the core of who we are? Do we offer entrance to our schools, fee discounts and support for foreign missions and for local projects from our excess, or does our support for these priorities ‘hurt’ at some level so that it becomes a genuine ‘option for the marginalised’ that we embrace? I use the word ‘hurt’ to describe something that makes a real call on our finite resources. We can all give easily from our excess. Put simply, do we centre the poor? Do we practise justice instead of charity?

Perhaps we could reimagine our enrolment processes and attempt to truly identify those people who need us, who crave what we can offer and whose identity will be changed by the formation can give them. How can we ensure that these people get an opportunity for an Edmund Rice education?

The third marker of true north for us is the Church we belong to.

Edmund Rice Education is a work of and for our Church; a Church that our new Pope describes as a ‘Church of and for the poor’:

  • A generous and inclusive Church that shows deep love for the poor and marginalised;
  • A Church that strives to usher in the Reign of God: the promise of fullness of life and true freedom for all in our troubled world;
  • A Church that proclaims inclusion to be at the heart of the Gospel and exclusion in its many forms, its greatest betrayal;
  • A Church focussed on getting the Kingdom of God and its message of justice and truth into the world, rather than people into its ranks;
  • A Church not so worried about how the world might change it but rather, how it might strive to change the world; and,
  • A Church strives ceaselessly to tell the poor and excluded that God loves them and that the Gospel is good news for them as well.

The church we serve teaches that God has a special love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation is contrary to God’s will.

It is clear that Pope Francis is leading our church with an agenda of radical inclusion. At the Global Congress on Catholic education in 2015, he proposed that:

Education has become too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education. This is shameful. It is a reality which takes us in a direction of human selectivity. Instead of bridging the gap between people, it widens it. It creates a barrier between poor and rich.

The greatest failure for an education is to educate within the walls: the walls of selective culture, the walls of a culture of security, the walls of a social class.

We cannot go on like this with a selective type of education. No one should be denied. We must leave the places where we are as educators and go to the outskirts, to the poor…

And so to conclude…

Clearly some significant markers of true north in our mission are challenging us to embrace a vision for inclusion as advocated by Jesus, Edmund Rice, Ambrose Treacy and Pope Francis.

I think that EREA through fidelity to our Charter and Touchstones, is in a good position to respond. Our time together this evening will contribute to our response.

Catholic education in the ER tradition, through words, deeds and witness, is called make bold claims about the way in which human beings should engage in our world. We must speak for the voiceless and those who are excluded. Bold statements must also be made about the future of our world, about justice, about the way in which we are expected to relate to one another, about the dignity of every human life.

On behalf of the thousands of people you do and will influence through your service with EREA, I thank you for having the courage to have these discussions on how we can grow into deeper authenticity through responding to the call to be as inclusive as our charism, our Charter and the Gospel demand.