Homily at Mass in St. Anne’s Church, Sligo (launch of Pastoral Letter, “A Future Full of Hope”)

Homily of Bishop Kevin at Mass in St. Anne’s Church, Sligo
Solemnity of Christ the King, 
Sunday 23rd November 2014
(Pastoral Letter, “A Future Full of Hope”)

As you probably know, the whole calendar of the Church is based on the life of Jesus and on his ministry. It begins in Advent as Mary prepares for his birth. It ends (today) with the Solemnity of Christ the King, which looks forward to the gathering of all God’s people in the Kingdom of God at the end of time. We don’t have much experience of kings in Ireland these days. We have had some very bad experiences with royalty in the past, though things have improved in recent years. The important thing is to recognise that the feast of Christ the King is not about castles and crowns; it is about leadership and care.

You will notice that the shepherd appears in most of our readings today. In the first reading, God decides that he himself will be the shepherd of his people and he will look after them himself. In the Hebrew tradition the King was like a Shepherd. In fact the best know King of Israle, King David, was actually a shepherd and was taken from among the sheep to be anointed as King. Like the shepherd, the responsibility of the king was to care for the people, to protect them from danger and to provide for their material needs (see Psalm). A particular focus for the King was the care of those who were vulnerable, such as the widows and orphans (and remember that there was no social welfare in those days). When we speak of Christ the King, this is the kind of king we mean.

Our Gospel today suggests to us that there are two important considerations for anyone who would see himself or herself as a follower of Christ the King:
• How we live here on earth, especially in terms of our care for one another (following the example of Jesus the Shepherd King); feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit those who are sick and in prison
• Our hope of eternal happiness. “Come you blessed of my Father, enter the Kingdom that has been prepared for you since the beginning of time.”

During the past week, I published my first Pastoral Letter as bishop of Elphin. It is about the Church’s understanding of education and especially education in faith. It is called “A Future Full of Hope”, because I believe that the whole purpose of education is to help us become the people God has called us to be and, when our life here on earth is ended, to find happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven, with God and with all our friends. It is true of course that education helps to prepare children for the world of work, but it is about much more than that. Our children are not just for the economy, so their education cannot be just for the economy either.

As Catholics, we have always regarded education in faith as an essential part of the overall project of education. This is especially true at primary level, where the whole curriculum is integrated and where each subject feeds into and draws from all the others. Education in faith helps our children:
• to come to an understanding of themselves as the sons and daughters of God who loves them; as citizens of the kingdom of God
• to live their lives here on earth according to the example of Christ the King / the Good Shepherd (which, of course, includes being good citizens of the earthly kingdom as well)
• to be sustained throughout their lives with the hope of eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven

I am delighted that we have with us this morning some of the boys and girls who will be preparing over the next few months to celebrate their confirmation. A lot of people think that this is something that happens at school, but what I am suggesting in my pastoral letter is that sharing faith with our children is like a three-legged stool. One leg is the schools, another is the family and the third is the parish community. If the legs are well connected then the faith education of our children will be good, but if the one falls short, or if they are not in some way joined up, then we are risk of falling over. My reason for writing the pastoral letter was to encourage all three partners and to invite people to reflect a little on how we can work more effectively together for the sake of our children.

We have a great gift in so many teachers who not only love their teaching but who care deeply for the children. In a Catholic school, a teacher who has a mature faith can be a great witness to young people. I want to encourage our Catholic teachers and to support them in their own faith journey.
There is nothing more important to parents than the happiness of their children. In sending them to school, you place trust in the teachers. But, as we are reminded in the ceremony of Baptism, you are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. You can’t leave everything to the teachers. At Baptism, you invite them into your relationship with Jesus. As they grow up, you may feel unsure about how you can share your faith with them. But children are not looking for lectures in theology. Some years ago, I chatted individually with each of the children preparing for confirmation in my parish. I asked them, among other things, what they would like their parents to do to help them prepare. The answers were very interesting. There were three things that kept coming up again and again. My parents could help me by “teaching me my prayers”, by “bringing me to Mass” and by “telling me about their own Confirmation”. It seems so little, and yet it would mean so much.

By this stage, some of you may be saying to yourselves: “this has nothing to do with me. My children are all finished in school” OR “I’m a single person and I don’t have any children”. But I want to say this to you: the whole parish community has a responsibility for the formation in faith of our children. Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are called the “Sacraments of Initiation” In other words, through these Sacraments, we become members of a community of faith. You can teach children from books, but like all of us, they learn a lot more through their lived experience. Their education in faith will only really be complete when they can live and celebrate their faith in a vibrant Christian community. That depends on you.
I’m not going to say any more now, because there is a copy of the pastoral letter for everybody. Some of you may already have received a copy through the school. I hope you might take time to read it and that it might even be the beginning of a conversation between families, schools and parishes about how we can all play our part in offering to are children, in God’s name, a “a future full of hope”.