Opening of the academic year Masses and Services are a wonderful gathering of the whole school community. For many reasons, an energy pulsates through the environment when so many students gather with their teachers in the church. The daily and Sunday congregations tend to spread out, each person keeping a healthy gap from the person at the other end of the pew. The young people pack so many into each bench that there is always one practically falling off the end. For the young, their strength is in closeness, being together, doing something in common. Of course, being Catholics, even at their young age, they have learnt that in church we never sing out loud in praise of God, nor do we offer responses with all the umph of which they are able. Our church is still far too solemn. Yet they do bring talented singers, accomplished musicians and with the guidance of talented teachers their choir makes great music which all enjoy.
I love the opportunity to gather, pray and talk to the whole school community, but I don’t find it easy. I admit to being perplexed at times as to why the message of Jesus Christ that has given my own life meaning, excitement, joy and many challenges just doesn’t seem to land in the youth culture of today. Queen Elizabeth spoke of Jesus as her role model giving her inspiration and being her anchor, seeing him as someone who stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing taught her to seek out and respect and value all people. That is a wisdom that comes late in life looking back and appreciating how faith has helped. For the young growing into life, meeting endless new challenges, coming to know themselves and others, embracing life with passion it might not be so easy to embrace an anchor!
Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian died in a drowning accident in Derry just as the school year began. These two typical 16 year olds were taken out of life just as they were beginning to live. The loss, grief and shock rippled through the community where they lived, the faith community to which they belonged and they were buried in the uniforms of their school community. Each of these communities of life loved them, celebrated their gifts and mourned their passing. Their classmates cried, prayed and stood in silence. When I watched that response to loss it renewed my conviction that young people are innately religious, need ritual and a message of hope, and they get it.