Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address at the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta System Leadership Day 2020 at Rosehill Racecourse, Rosehill
“From Curiosity to Clarity: Catholic Education for an Age of Uncertainty”
24 January 2020
We live in an age of doubt, when many people seem to thrive on conflict and negativity. It can get you down. One of the worst features of our 24/7 media cycle and the information and opinion overload that we all experience is the insidious way it dulls our sensitivity to faith in God and others. It can’t be answered by old-fashioned apologetics; but we must use new ways to help people understand and live the mystery of faith.
Jaroslav Pelikan, the famous Christian scholar and great teacher, suggested another way for Catholic educators when he commented: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.”
We are people of the living tradition. We have a duty not simply to reiterate what was done in the past but to re-engage the living tradition in the way the prophets showed us. In the exile, for instance, without familiar symbols like the temple, the temple-based priesthood, the festivals, the land, they learned to re-engage their faith tradition critically and imagine their new alien world differently. They taught us the art of prophetic imagination that can re-energise and enliven us with new possibilities.
What a task for the years ahead! That is why Cardinal Carlo Martini SJ, a fellow Jesuit with Pope Francis, used to recommend that believers must take risks. So must Catholic education! For faith is the great risk of life. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but the one who loses his life for my sake will save it” (Matthew 16:25). Everything has to be given up for Christ and His Gospel.
Many of us, like the Jews facing the exile, are fearful of the unknown and uncertain future ahead. We yearn for the certainty and security of the past. Yet, the call of authentic discipleship is the call to walk into deeper waters.
Anthony the Hermit went into the wilderness of Egypt not to seek peace and quiet but to live the unfettered spirit of the Gospel against the backdrop of the emerging imperial Christianity. Mary MacKillop ventured into the colonial backwater of Penola to do something about the injustices and sufferings of the people. We are called to rise to the occasion, to let loose the spirit, to rouse the comfortable, to radically embody the Gospel of justice, love and mercy.
Jesus invited people to “come and see”. So do we Catholic educators…
What are we inviting them to “see”? What is the “clarity” we offer? It is not a clarity where we have all the “answers”? It is the clarity of vision of human flourishing and transformation that Catholic education can offer?
No! Finally, Catholic educators offer a Gospel community of hospitality.
Let me conclude with a story I love about St Pope John XXIII. It’s not his witty remark when asked how many actually worked in the Vatican. “About half” he quipped.
Stout Papa Roncalli had a long and quite varied life before he became Pope. One of his lengthy assignments as a younger man was in Serbia, where there are many Orthodox but few Roman Catholics. He so endeared himself to the Serbs by his disarming warmth and friendliness that, when he left for a new assignment after many years there, people came in great numbers to say goodbye. On that occasion he told them: “Anywhere I go in the world, if someone in need passes by my house at night, he will find a lighted lamp in the window. Knock. I will not ask if you are a Catholic. Two brotherly arms will embrace you and the warm heart of a friend will make a feast for you.”
No wonder, that this holy man opened the “windows” of the Church at Vatican II and let “fresh air” in. For Pope John XXIII was a Catholic educator, not a humourless ideologue who alienated and frightened people away from Christ, the Merciful One.
May our Catholic schools in Parramatta continue to flourish into a new century with such a Gospel vision!
Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta
To read Part 2 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.
To read the full text of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.