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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Recently, I took a course in learning how to administer CPR and how to use a defibrillator machine. In the light of what happened to Christian Ericksen at the Euros, it seemed an important thing to do. Apart from learning how to save the life of someone else, I found what I learned to be life giving for me. I went home with a great sense of fulfilment having learned something new and grateful to those who taught us.

We are never done learning. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new that we didn’t know before. Education opens up the mind and keeps us young. Nelson Mandela once said that ‘education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world’. But for people to learn, others are needed to teach which highlights the importance of teachers and leaders in Church and society. It also reminds us that one of the greatest acts of charity and service towards others is to teach them wisdom and skills that they will have for life.

Today’s Gospel contains a fascinating detail. Jesus is in the boat and sees a large crowd before him on the shore. Mark tells us that he felt sorry for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. This means that the people Jesus saw were disunited and drifting without purpose with no one to lead them. How did Jesus respond? ‘He set himself to teach them at some length’. Jesus took responsibility and the time to teach them the Gospel of life, of wisdom and teach them about the amazing offer of friendship with his Father through him. What effect did his teaching have on the people? Elsewhere we are told that ‘his teaching made a deep impression on them’. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples said: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’

It saddens me that for so many people, this life-giving experience of Christ’s teaching has not translated into their experience of Catholic education in schools and parishes. But I believe that when the full spiritual power and vision of the Gospel is shared with conviction and compassion, lives can change. The teachings of the Catholic Church are often caricatured as being oppressive but the sad reality is that most Catholics don’t know the full story behind where those teachings come from and why they are taught. Often the teachings of the Church are perceived as rules to be obeyed rather than a vision of life to be followed.

But when you dive a little deeper, you discover that the faith is more than about what to do or not to do. It is about a vision of life that gives meaning and hope. It is about a God who loves us, knows us and has a plan for us; it is about a wisdom that helps us how to discern and decide; it is about unity and family in homes and in the Church; it is a blueprint for a deep peace in the soul that nothing can replace; it is about knowing ourselves, knowing God and knowing we have a future to look forward to.

Friends, these are but some of the ways that Jesus changed the lives of those he taught. The same vision with the same power is much needed today for sadly, many have no vision of what life is about with no direction or meaning. In the words of the book of Proverbs: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (29:18). This is what happens when we lose faith. We lose our vision and become like sheep without a shepherd.

Today we pray for all Christians charged with the responsibility of teaching the faith to others. We think especially of parents, teachers and priests. Nano Nagle once said that ‘to teach is to touch a life forever’. She was a person who acted like Jesus did that day by the lake. She took on herself to teach others at some length. May we do the same in a way that inspires courage, hope and enthusiasm with hearts burning and with the spirits soaring!


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