In this season of Advent, as we embark on a spiritual journey of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, I find myself shining a light on my journey as a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school.
I take comfort in recalling the difficulties and challenges encountered by the Holy Family and the Three Wise Men on their respective journeys, as I know that the difficulties and challenges of my own journey this Advent will lead me, as it did them, to our ultimate destination—Christ.
Given the focus of my reflective journey, it should be a fairly safe assumption that the journey of a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school should be relatively plain sailing, as they are synonymous with one another—that is, they are harmonious bedfellows, so to speak.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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However, the paradox of the modern age is that Catholic schools are becoming increasingly hostile and oppressive environments for teachers and pupils who—to coin the modern-day adage—identify as faithful Catholics. As such, they feel there is most definitely “no room at the inn” for them. It would appear that Catholic schools today are closing their doors to those who identify as faithful Catholics—teacher and pupil alike—just as the innkeeper did to the Holy Family in Bethlehem.
Surely not, I hear you say! How did this happen? And more importantly, why is this happening?
Well, for those not au fait with the education system, there is a well-known (or worn) cliché in the world of educational reform that speaks of the need “to reinvent the wheel.” And despite the seriousness of the situation, I can’t help but smile wryly as I apply this concept to the buzz words that permeate the landscape of all educational institutions today, religious and secular. Words such as: Inclusion. Respect. Tolerance. Equality.
Arguably, this is perhaps the most obvious and unnecessary example of the “reinvention of the wheel” from a Catholic perspective, given that these buzz words have formed—and continue to form—the basis of Christ’s teaching on love (agape) when He walked this earth more than 2,000 years ago: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
And given His earthly trade as a carpenter, and Divine Incarnation, I can’t find a more redundant and pointless reinvention of this metaphorical wheel, as each of these buzz words (and many more yet to be “birthed” by some innocuous educationalist!) are inherent within His greatest Commandment. So, to coin another well-known cliché, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!”
However, I have some shocking news for you: as with every reinvention, there is often something lost in translation, and with regard to the adoption of these buzz words and the Catholic school, this is no exception. Tragically, in this instance it is Christ who has been lost in the translation, as this reinvention has ignored the latter clause of His commandment “…as I have loved you.”
These buzz words, isolated from the teachings of Christ, have lost their anchor and are cast adrift on the sea of secularism; the same sea that is attempting to drown out the life-affirming, salvific message of Christ and His teachings, not just within wider society, but also within the institutions that are meant to uphold it.
Permit me to elaborate.
Would you believe it if I told you that just last week a leading Roman Catholic Grammar School in Mid Ulster in my country of Ireland deemed it a fitting solution to suggest a pupil from their Year 10 cohort should absent themselves from Period 1 Form lesson on Monday morning to avoid a workshop that was being delivered to Year 10 by the external agency “LGBTQ+” organization Cara Friend.
This was the solution the leadership of said Catholic School proffered in response to parental concerns and objections raised in relation to the school’s communication to parents about the delivery of a workshop entitled: Cara Friend ‘Shout Out’ Anti-Bullying Programme. What follows below is copied directly from the school’s correspondence to parents:
Cara Friend is a Northern Ireland-based support organisation for LGBTQ+ young people and their families. It also includes LGBTQ+ awareness training for professionals and volunteers working in a variety of areas including schools.
The workshop will be delivered in Form Class groups and will last 50 minutes. The aim of the workshop is to improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people in schools by raising awareness among their peers of what it means to be LGBTQ+ and the issues that LGBTQ+ young people face on a day-to-day basis. The workshop also aims to eliminate bullying and stigma faced by LGBTQ+ youth by challenging negative attitudes and derogatory language. Each workshop is delivered in a non-political, non-judgmental way which is respectful of differences of opinion. There is no cost for the workshop.
Surely, the promotion of Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” addresses all anti-bullying issues in a truly inclusive manner and, as such, negates the need to invite into Catholic schools such external agencies whose agenda, as outlined on their own website, contravenes and conflicts with Catholic doctrine?
And so, as I continue to contemplate (and question) my place as a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school, it is my experience—no, strike that—it is my testimony that there is another powerful agenda at play within the corridors of our schools; an agenda that seeks to colonize the landscape of Catholic schools; an agenda that can only be described as an affront to the inclusivity attested to by Christ in His Greatest commandment.
Indeed, this is something that Pope Francis recently warned the World Union of Catholic Teachers of when he stated: “Beware of ideological colonization. It is one thing to be with the culture of the moment, to speak the language of the moment, and another thing to allow oneself to be ideologically colonized…”
It is extremely alarming that the colonization Pope Francis warns of has already successfully infiltrated Catholic classrooms in an insidious manner. This infiltration, that is, the “ideological colonization,” has created a dangerous vacuum for faithful Catholic teachers who have neither the platform nor mechanism to address issues of morality at the “chalk front” because Christ has been excluded by this rebranding of inclusivity. A tragic and terrible irony!
Indeed, as this invisible but tangible takeover of the landscape of the Catholic school grows in stature and strength, it succeeds not only in extinguishing the oxygen of faith from the fabric of our schools, but it also eliminates the right for teachers and pupils to openly identify as people of faith. And having observed this from the sidelines, addressed it with school management, and experienced the oppressive force of its toxic reach, I can no longer remain silent or turn a blind eye.
Since embarking on this journey of self-reflection as a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school, I have developed a profound understanding of the nature of fear experienced by the twelve apostles in the Upper Room at Pentecost. And, just like them, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, I have rediscovered that faith and fear are incompatible! And so, here I am, “coming out,” so to speak, in a professional capacity as a follower of Christ!
In finding my tongue (as opposed to speaking in tongues!) I will no longer be silenced or afraid to challenge or call out Catholic Schools for partaking and assisting in this “ideological colonization.”
And so, I call upon all bishops, particularly those here in Ireland, to establish steering groups for faithful Catholic teachers that will provide guidance and leadership to illuminate the path for Catholic educators today so that they may navigate this unchartered landscape and territory in the same way the Three Wise men followed the unfamiliar landscape illuminated by the light of the Star of Bethlehem to find the Christ Child.