Edmund Rice Feast Day

Re-Dedication of the Refurbished School Oratory
of  St. Mary’s CBGS 


Mass for the Feast Day of Blessed Edmund Rice

May  2011

Homily by the celebrant Bishop Donal McKeown



  Schools are very pressurised places – pressure on students and on staff. But a key element in making good schools into great places is when staff and students have some sense of agreement on what the purpose and aim of the school are. If you don’t know what you are trying to do, you probably won’t get it done. Today’s celebration is one key way in which this school community can reflect on who it is and what it values. So what we are doing here today is not just paying an annual one-off tribute to one human being and admiring the oratory as a nominal element in your being called a Catholic school. In the midst of all sorts of agendas that others put before school – priorities such as raising standards, creating a shared future in this society – you pause to celebrate the feast of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice and to rededicate of the school’s oratory in order to help you clarify what you consider important. Only when you have tried to be clear about those will you be in a position to be masters of your own future, creators of your own dream and not just slaves of someone else’s passing priorities.

In that context I asked myself what motivated Edmund Ignatius Rice, a forty year old reasonably comfortable and successful business man, widowed and father of a disabled child and someone with no particular background in education? Why did he give up what little comfort he had in life to dedicate the next four or five decades to educating those who did not just have little money but who also had few dreams as to how they could get out of the poverty in which they found themselves? Why did he set himself to teach young children who were thought of as being unreachable, unteachable and not worth anything but condemnation?

Could I suggest a couple of words from our scripture readings that might help us focus on very specific elements in what you are trying to do this school which is so proud of its deep roots in the Edmund Ignatius Rice tradition of Christian Brothers schools and of its solidarity with the whole Catholic education family?

The words and phrases that jumped out at me from the readings were true justice, love, faith and bear fruit.

Let’s take the first word there from the prophet, ‘justice’. Edmund Ignatius Rice didn’t do what he did because it was the easy thing to do or would gain him popularity. He did it because he believed that it was the right thing to do. He saw a tough job that needed to be done and he set himself to doing it. He didn’t say “What would be hard”, but “how do we think differently and find a new way of doing the hard thing.” Working for true justice is rarely a simple or a popular choice – here or abroad. People will criticise your motives and your intentions. People will tell you to be realistic. I suppose that one of the signs that you are getting it right is when people criticise, not your ideas but you. Edmund Rice might ask you, not to do what he did – because circumstances are different in 2011 in Belfast. But he would ask you whether your education in all of your subjects had helped you to leave school with a passion for doing the right thing, especially when it isn’t easy and may very well be seen as not in the interests of your interest group. He would ask whether you prefer to be unhappy with the right questions rather than happy with the wrong answers. He would ask you whether are prepared to take the risk of being prophets rather than just keen to sell your soul for the sake of making profit. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Ask how you can make things better for others and not just how to make things better for yourself. That is a big ask. But only the right thing is worth doing.

The second word is ‘love’. That may sound a nice mushy word. But loving is a tough reality. Many people don’t know how to love because they have never experienced it. Others think that love is just a feeling. But real love often has to be a decision. And love is not just a woman’s thing, a girl’s problem. We all want to be loved for who we are and despite who we are. There are male ways of loving. Edmund Rice knew married love and the pain of losing the love of his life – and he knew the cost of having to love his disabled daughter as a single parent. And it was love that drove him to give all that he had to the street children of Waterford. He was successful in helping children and in inspiring others, not just because he had developed new teaching techniques and had the 18th century equivalent of interactive whiteboards. He was successful because he was a man of compassion and love. The best teachers teach the whole person, not just the head. The best teachers go beyond information and even beyond formation. They get to a stage where they help young people to believe in transformation, the conviction that we are not merely prisoners of the past but potential architects of our individual and communal future. Teaching without love and compassion is empty. It is those who speak to the heart, those who can see beyond the surface, those who can see the hurting child behind the angry adolescent, who exemplify the Edmund Rice qualities. Has your education taught you how to be young men who dream of loving and being loved even when it hurts? Or have you only heard the hollow macho message of doing unto others before they do unto you?

The third word is ‘faith’. Faith doesn’t just mean believing in a God up there somewhere. It most certainly does not mean some childish picture of the old grey haired man with a heavenly hearing aid. The Jesus of the Cross was the revelation of a God who believed in people and in what they could do. The Jesus of Good Friday was not a poor carpenter sacrificed to satisfy an angry God. In a world that loves to find the guilty ones and destroy them, a world that can rejoice that the death of Obama Bin Laden is some great day of joy for the world, Jesus was the one who said, “Stop needing to blame, punish and create new victims to satisfy your hunger for healing by revenge. Load all your anger and desire for vengeance on me. I can take it. And learn to love and not to hate.” Faith means believing that, with Jesus, we can break that myth of redemptive violence which does not solve my pain but merely creates pain in others and continues the cycle of violence that has gone from Cain and Abel through the heart of Irish history right up to Iraq and Libya. That is the faith that Edmund Rice had. It was that compassion for broken human beings that urged him on. Thus faith does not mean believing in the magician in the sky. In a world of so much anger, war and destruction, it means believing that love is never a waste of time and that only things done in love are worthwhile. Maybe that is a much harder thing to believe in than a super Sugar Daddy in the heavens.

My final scriptural phrase is bear fruit. It was because Edmund Rice learned the tough lessons of loving that he was able to bear fruit. As with Jesus’ disciples, some of Edmund Rice’s followers down through the years did not grasp what that love meant. But that does not diminish the value of his invitation to create something beautiful that will last and inspire people. The dream of a Christian Brothers’ education is to develop people who have idealism and courage. The purpose of the great link that this school and other CB schools have with Zambia is not just to widen your experience and help you with your geography or politics studies. The key outcome of any contact with people in developing countries is to expand your heart and not just your repertoire of countries visited. It is an invitation to meet people and not just problem situations. It is invitation, not just to satisfy your curiosity by seeing children in need and appreciating what you have here. It is a question of meeting people as brothers and sisters and letting them give to you at least as much as you think you give to them. It is an act of solidarity and not just a trip of a lifetime. Any serious engagement with people in need will touch your heart and not just your parents’ wallets. If those who are involved with developing countries have only memories of great crack and wonderful views, then Edmund Rice would say that you will not bear any fruit. Edmund Ignatius Rice discovered that those who want to better themselves and their community deserve to be treated with respect as fellow human beings, and not to be patronised as quaint individuals who shouldn’t be allowed to intrude on my comfort zone. Bearing fruit doesn’t come cheap.

So today we celebrate a great man who changed the lives of so many by his determination, compassion and big heartedness. And we have dedicated this oratory where we can come to reflect on God’s dream for the world as revealed in the scriptures, and then celebrate Jesus’ victory over human brutality and sin through his love on the Cross. In a world of fickle relationships, Jesus tells us that we are capable of faithfulness; in a world of frail role models, he invites you to look for what will last; in a world that finds it hard to believe that love is possible, he speaks of loving till it hurts, even to the extent to laying down your life for others; in a world that values only what we have, Jesus speaks of who we are and what we can become.

And that, he says, is the only way for your joy to be complete.