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Paths of hope in religious education

By Professor Anthony Maher, 27 December 2020
The word HOPE is lit up in front of the tabernacle at Our Lady of the Nativity Parish, Lawson. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta/Supplied

 

While Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta continues to review religious education in our schools, Theologian Professor Anthony Maher explains the Catholic theological vision behind the draft of the New Religious Education Curriculum which was recently released for the community to view.

‘A New Page of History, A Page Full of Hope.’ (Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti)

During this time of Advent, our schools look forward with hope and joy to Christmas.

Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli tutti provides a graced opportunity for teaching hope and joy through religious education in the Diocese of Parramatta.

Reaching out to us in the midst of the COVID pandemic, when many families are doing it tough, the Pope invites all of God’s people to join him in writing “a new page of history, a page full of hope.”

As we continue to develop religious education for our young people, we’ve looked at how faith in Jesus takes its inspiration from hope… faith depends upon hope for its life.

The Draft New Religious Education Curriculum we released in October this year, begins with a Theology of Hope, to build a kingdom of hope “on earth as it is in heaven” (The Lord’s Prayer.)

A HSC Prayer Space at St John Paul II Catholic College, Quakers Hill. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta/Supplied

Hope is Born and Nourished in Prayer (Lex Orandi).

Central to his own pastoral ministry and relevant to our new curriculum, Pope Francis calls for “new paths of hope” (FT 54). He “opens the way to a shared hope,” and speaks of education combining hope and love for human flourishing. Francis teaches us that it is “truly noble to place our hope in the seeds of goodness that we sow,” (FT 196) whose fruits will be reaped by others.

Ultimately hope propels us into love. Hope sustains love. Hope is also an attribute of faith with a mystical and transcendent nature. Hope brings us more fully into God’s plan.

St Thomas Aquinas taught that hope is ultimately a gift from God. In daily life, hope is a conscious or unconscious awareness of God drawing nearer to us.

Hope draws us into a conversation with a friend or a book. Hope gets us out of bed in the morning or to reach eagerly for our mobile phone during the day. Hope cooks the meal for a tired family at the end of each day.

Hope is an awareness of God, especially in moments of crisis or despair. Hope is the second lingering glance in the hospital isolation ward, as we say ‘au revoir’ (see you later), resisting goodbye. Hope brings the third or fourth chance in life.

The Jesuit theologian Joh Sobrino discovered, “It is not easy to know how to keep on hoping, and we must all answer this question in our own way. At times it seems that everything is against hope. But for me at least, where I see there has been a great love, I see hope being born again. This is not a rationale conclusion. Perhaps it is not even theological. It is simply true: love produces hope, and great hope produces great love.”

In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis reminds all Christians to educate our hearts so that:

The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts (FT 56).

At this Christmastime, the Pope invites everyone to renewed hope, “For hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love…

“Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (FT 55).

Through the new RE Curriculum, our Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) schools are responding to Pope Francis’ invitation, to “write a new page of history” (FT 31), a page of hope for 2021.

A window display at St Joseph’s Primary School, Schofields. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta/Supplied

Below are a few examples from the pages of Advent Hope by the students of Sacred Heart Primary, Westmead.

“The time of Advent is a time to be hopeful knowing that one day soon someone special will come to enlighten us with the glory of God. We were put on earth with an everlasting spirit of hope and joy.” – Suzanna

“Well first of all what does Advent mean? It means the arrival of a notable person. Jesus is that notable person. Advent is the time we wait… for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” – Azrin

“My family makes me smile and laugh; they give me hope and joy at Christmas. The ultimate thing that gives me hope and happiness is God and Jesus! They are everything to me and they satisfy me by giving me all the things that make my life, they are my HOPE.” – Evelin

“I think about connection, knowing I’m getting closer to Jesus every single second of my life… for instance, you see Christmas would be a normal day if it wasn’t for Jesus. I know I’m connected with Jesus because He will never and I say never stop loving us all. For 2000 years that love is still going strong, He showed TRUE love.” – Charlie

“Advent is a time of prayer, a time of patience and a time of hope. Christmas give us joy! What do we do with that joy? Well, we keep some to help us and the rest is to be shared with the world. When you believe this your faith grows, and when your faith grows then you flourish.” – Azrin

 

Today we recognise that society is unbalanced with what we know of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Injustice too often prevails in our world and we are drawn in hope, often out of our despair, to the movements of the Spirit animated in the social relationships of the current time. Such moments of hope we experience on the ‘street,’ where Pope Francis learned his theology of hope.

In our Diocese this Christmastime, let us be the people who take to the street; to welcome the stranger; to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless, in the hope that things will get better – that people will get better and ‘move towards the good’ (Aquinas), ‘to flourish’ (Aristotle).

In this renewed hope, that comes from the birth of Jesus, as the people of God, we live and work.

Prof Anthony Maher is Consultant Theologian to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta. The Draft of the New Religious Education Curriculum for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Parramatta was publicly released in October 2020. It has been built on a number of key theological concepts which will be featured in future editions of Catholic Outlook.

 

This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.

 

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