The Protestant scholar, Karl Barth, used to good naturedly complain to his Catholic friends that Catholic answers never seemed to be simple… they always seemed to have many parts! The same problem confronts us whenever we try to reduce what we do in Catholic schools to simple answers.
Even though God is big enough to comprehend all things in one glance, that’s not the way human beings have been made. It is in our nature to understand things bit by bit… to quote St Thomas Aquinas “by analysis and synthesis”. We have to divide things into their parts and then put them back together again.
Can we really specify only one thing that every Catholic Primary School should know, one thing they should be, on thing they should do? Remarkably, yes – so long as we understand that it cannot be the final word on the subject! One of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council – the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (“Gaudium et Spes”) – provides us with a significant insight in paragraph 22…
“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate word does the mystery of man take on light… Christ… fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising then that in him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.”
We all realise that there are many things that a Catholic school must know, must be and must do. Yet it is also clear that Christ must remain at the heart of all these things. He is the reference point that makes everything concrete. Many young people returning from World Youth Day in recent years have distinguished themselves by repeating a formula which can sound simplistic – but it contains everything: “What Would Jesus Do?” This remains the central question to be posed in Catholic primary schools.
Unfortunately, this simple formula can be applied in unhelpful ways – as a kind of justification for our own pet theories. Some years ago, I was present when a group of Catholic primary school principals was addressed by a regional bishop. The bishop drew our attention to the words of Jesus to Saul of Tarsus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He then pointed out that Saul had never met Jesus, so how could it be said that Saul was persecuting Him? Of course, it was the Church that Saul was persecuting, and Christ himself took this quite personally!
The Bishop went on to make a serious point. “Some of you,” he said, “might tell me that you can follow Jesus without taking account of the Church. If this passage of scripture is any indication, Jesus doesn’t think so!” The Bishop then surveyed his audience for their reaction, and continued to press the point home… “What is more,” he said, “if ever you do try to follow Jesus without the Church, the Jesus that you are following will start to look a lot like you!”
This is perhaps the central mission of Catholic Primary Schools – to live in the presence of Christ in the heart of the Church; to ensure that the full truth of Christ is passed on in our community. If we want to simplify the task to its component parts, it doesn’t get any more basic than this. We need to know who Christ is according to the mind of the Church; we need to be His collaborators wherever we are and – to use the words of Mary to the wine stewards of Cana – we need to do whatever he tells us.