A couple of weeks before Christmas, I was walking round in the deserted Derry city centre. There I met one of our local teachers and her nine-year-old niece. They had gone to one local charity shop that supports children – and they were so disappointed because they had found it closed. Why, I wondered to myself, had they gone there? The answer was simple. The child had asked to go there, not to seek help, but to hand over all her ‘First Communion money’.
That, I thought, was one little girl who had understood what Jesus’ gift to us in Holy Communion was all about! She had really grasped Jesus’ way of looking at things. Jesus feeds us with generosity so that we can nourish others.
The last ten months of Covid have put all organisations under tremendous pressure. Staff, principals and governors as well as families have had to cope with constant change – and circumstances for which they had no preparation. But any group really shows its strength when it has to face a crisis. I have been very proud of how our schools have responded with resilience, precisely because of their faith commitment. The grace-filled gesture of that little girl was just the tip of a great generous iceberg.
This level of thoughtfulness and resilience comes from two sources that are parts of our Catholic worldview.
Firstly, we emphasise the school as community where there is room for everybody, whatever their perceived talents and needs. It is important that the school is putting into practice what it teaches about Jesus in the classroom. A Gospel-fed heart will be generous. The ethos of the school is part of the hidden curriculum. It says, yes, it is possible to make the beautiful teaching of Jesus a reality in corridors and in the classroom.
Secondly, a healthy school is resilient because it is not preoccupied with itself. Every urban and rural school is part of a much wider community. So many schools retain a great link with their parish or with sporting and cultural organisations in the wider community. Each school serves the Common Good and not just its own limited constituency. Faith tells us not to be too defensive and protective of our own narrow interests.
Recently I heard a wise phrase. It said, “Do not ignore Covid the teacher.” These are time that we would not have chosen. But God’s people don’t ask where God has vanished to but where God is hidden in the mystery, doing great things. Thus, Calvary seemed awful. But God had a bigger plan that nobody could see on Good Friday. Flowers will return and people of faith will bounce back stronger. And we will look back on these difficult times with stories of amazing human generosity and great solidarity. And when the warm sun shines, we will remember God’s love that is at work even in the winter. And we will bear fruit in God’s own good time.
Most Reverend Donal McKeown DD is Bishop of the Diocese of Derry