Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

Mass for the Headteachers of the Province of Westminster

Westminster Cathedral

24 September 2013

Walsingham is a place of pilgrimage. So too is a Catholic school.

And a pilgrimage is an image, a practice run, for life itself. So too, in many ways, is the project of a Catholic school.

Many of you will have been to Walsingham. It is not the easiest place to find, far away from modern super highways and high speed train links. As you get closer to the shrine, the roads become narrower and more easily missed.

This too has similarities with the work of Catholic education, because here we try to reach the precious holy places of life, of every life, indeed of every aspect of life itself. These are paths less trod. To find and follow them requires sensitivity and attentiveness. They are not particularly recognised by the main highways of modern life which speed us on, with great glitter and wonderful achievements, to an uncertain future

To find these ways less travelled we have to know our destination and always be attentive to its call. St Paul teaches us the name of that destination: Abba, Father, and he teaches us that its pathway is deeply rooted in the longings of our hearts.

"The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries out 'Abba, Father'."

Only by attentiveness to this presence of the mystery of God will we come to, and serve, all the good things of the Lord. And that is indeed the true purpose of Catholic education.

To have eyes for the good things of the Lord is to live by faith, to see life with the eyes of faith. In Catholic education we strive to see the good things of the Lord in every human being, from the first moment of conception to their natural death. We see the good things of the Lord in every child who stands before us; in every venture into the realms of science, of beauty in art and music, in the wonders of our environment and in the depth of the struggle in every human heart to find and follow all that is good.

In his recent and remarkable interview, Pope Francis said these words: "God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

This horizon of the activity and invitation of God in every moment, and in our ultimate purpose, is the horizon of true life. The aim of every Catholic school is to reach out for that horizon of God, in every person, in every enterprise, in every subject in the curriculum. The commitment of Catholic education, of this school, is to learn to respect and reverence the truth and love of God in all things, going beyond expediency to something more enduring, more far-reaching which truly shapes a human person for their eternal destiny.

The truth and love and beauty of God is expressed in our flesh: in the person of Jesus Christ. He, therefore, is always at the centre of our faith and of our school. That is the challenge of Catholic education: to keep Christ at the centre. And I know it is a challenge to which you are all dedicated.

Today we renew our enthusiasm for this task. We know that it is a great contribution to our society, through the foundations for life that we give to future adults and through the diversity we help to provide within the educational systems of this country. This diversity is rooted in respect for parental choice and for their role as the first and essential educators of their own children.

Today, on this Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, we commit our efforts to the protection of her mantle and to the power of her intercession. As we learn at the foot of the cross, at that dramatic and pivotal moment of our humanity, Mary is given to be mother to us all. So we can turn to her at every moment, rely on her help when we are in need, shelter in her embrace when we are weary and rejoice with her when are exultant. Jesus says to us today 'Behold your Mother'. Let us take his words to heart and share their richness with all who are in our care.


+Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
23 September 2013

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