BOOK LAUNCH FOR EDUCATING IN CHRIST BY GERARD O'SHEA - University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
20 Jun 2018

Book Launch for Educating in Christ by Gerard O'Shea
University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney, 20 June 2018,204,203,200_.jpg

A mouthful
When I was a young 'seminarian' and then priest in Melbourne Gerard was a rising star in the educational scene. When I was director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family he was one of the first students, eventually 'doctored' and one of the lecturers there. When I came back home to Sydney and got involved with UNDA, he was soon contributing here too, now as Associate Professor of Religious Education. When I went to Parramatta as bishop, Gerard became the consultant for our project to renew R.E. pædagogy and curriculum there. I'm not sure who is stalking whom here... But I'm very pleased to be launching tonight the fruit of such rich educational experience in what is destined to be regarded as one of the most important books in Catholic education in Australia.

This year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of a very important event. You might think immediately of the assassination of Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy. Or of John Gorton replacing the disappeared Prime Minister Harold Holt; or Richard Nixon's election as U.S. President. Or of the Paris student riots; or the Prague Spring that turned winter. Or of the Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre in Vietnam; or the beginning of 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland. Or of the movie premieres of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes; or TV debuts of Dad's Army and 60 Minutes. Or of the first manned Apollo missions. Or of Paul VI's Humanae vitae… Important as all those events were, they were all eclipsed by the launch of the Big Mac, with its "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun". Created by franchisee Jim Delligatti to compete with a rival chain's 'Big Boy Burger', it's estimated that 550 million Big Macs are sold each year in the U.S. alone. But there's a lot of competition and complaints that the Big Mac isn't so big anymore - either because it has shrunk or our stomachs have grown. So now they've introduced the Grand Big Mac: the same burger, only bigger, and therefore better.

Well, the title alone of Professor Gerard O'Shea's new book - Educating in Christ: A Practical Handbook for Developing the Catholic Faith from Childhood to Adolescence for Parents, Teachers, Catechists and School Administrators - is a Grand Big Mac mouthful! Educationalists like acronyms, and so it will no doubt be known as EiX-PH4DCFC2A(4PTCSA) for short. Having read out the title I have now used up my allotted time!

Catholic Education for the Whole Person
Like the Big Mac, Catholic education has undergone changes since 1968, some good, some not so good. It has educated many, at low fees, and raised the Catholic community from the bottom of the social pile. It has transmitted faith and values to many, which partly explains why Australia is not as thoroughly secularised as Britain and northern Europe. The scale and infrastructure makes our school system the envy of much of the Catholic world. But with such scale come challenges if we aspire to high standards of learning and catechesis. It occasions envy and resentment, making our school system the target of anti-Catholic politics. And where do we find and how do we form and support the people we need to lead and staff so many schools? How do we avoid over-risks bureaucratised systems, increasing disconnection from the local church, and apostacy at the peripheries? How do we ensure Catholic schools stayed focused on their mission?

Challenges like these might incline us to roll up into a ball, turning inwards to avoid further trouble. Such defensive strategies risk long-term depression and paralysis. Antidotes include: returning to the sources of our faith and receiving again the Holy Spirit, i.e. re-sourcing and re-inspiring; stepping outside ourselves towards others, not just our current friends, and sharing the Gospel with them - evangelising and catechising; working with others, sharing gifts and challenges with them, i.e. collaborating and communing; and pondering strategies for action, with great confidence we have a future under divine grace - planning and acting.

Educating in Christ is a guide to such re-sourcing and re-inspiring, evangelising and catechising, collaborating and communing, planning and acting. It avoids the trap of thinking religious education is simply what takes place in R.E. classes. My research assistant says this would be akin to ordering a Big Mac on its own, without the french-fries and frozen Coke that make up the real meal deal. The child R.E. is for is so much more than an enrolment: he/she is a soul making its way to heaven, a whole person, in a network of relationships, inhabiting multiple 'worlds'. Catholic faith is for that whole person full-time, not just for the 7/24 hours spent at school, for 200/365 days (i.e. 15% of the child's year), let alone for the 30 minutes formally dedicated to R.E. each day (1% of the year). To further reduce religious education to facts learnt in such classes, like knowing that Paris is the capital of France, is to do justice neither to the child nor to the faith - important as religious 'knowledge' is.

The goal of Catholic religious education is Education in Christ, an holistic and lived-out education in relating to the eternal Word. Which is why Professor O'Shea begins his book, as any good Thomist would, by considering the ultimate goal of human life and of Catholic education. Next come chapters on human and faith development, and on moral formation of the body, mind, heart and will. Chapters on liturgy, scripture, prayer and family, and their place in R.E., precede a comprehensive survey of the magisterium on these matters that I am pleased to say I commissioned when Gerard was working for Parramatta!

Thus thirteen of our eighteen chapters and appendices address the 'grand big mac' picture of religious education, before we come to considering contemporary learning theory and teaching practice, and are offered the author's 'liturgical spiral curriculum' with its 'mystagogical catechesis methodology'. Lest you fear the obscurity of a theologian mixed with the intransience of a liturgist, let me assure you O'Shea the teacher dominates, no JP2 doctorate is required, and talk of 'Mr and Mrs Gogy' and the like only appears where it is truly illuminating.

Mystagogical Catechesis
But the Second Vatican Council did indeed describe the sacred liturgy, especially the Mass, as the source and summit of the Christian life.1 Thus St. John Paul II insisted that "catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of people."2 This emphasis on catechesis through unpacking liturgical experience has been favoured by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and by the world's bishops gathered for the 2008 Synod on the Word and 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, says that in addition to being moments of sanctifying grace, the sacraments are "a special means for passing down this fullness [of the faith], a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others."3

So the particular genius of this book is to offer practical illustrations of how such a mystagogical catechesis might form and inform the whole approach to R.E. Professor O'Shea recalls his 'conversion' to this approach when he was asked to speak - at no notice - to a group of eight-year-olds preparing for First Communion. Instead of lecturing them, Gerard greeted them and then wandered around the room laying out a model altar from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, some liturgical vessels and linens. Then he set up biblical dioramas of the Annunciation, Last Supper, Empty Tomb, and True Vine. He asked the children to have a good look at what he'd done, and work out what it was all about. After ten minutes' investigation and pondering, he asked them what they'd discovered. He recounts that:

One child began by saying, as I had expected, that each article in the altar corner reminded her of something in the scripture dioramas; but after that, for the next forty-five minutes, I listened, dumbfounded, to specific examples they had discovered. One child after another told me almost every connection that had taken a lifetime for me to find for myself. Once they understood what was being asked of them, there was no stopping them. Only the insistent ringing of the recess bell could end the session.4

This encounter changed O'Shea's catechetical approach for good, he says. "I understood in that moment why the Church considers mystagogy to be the most effective of catechetical strategies."

Catechesis for real children
J.M. Barrie's famous novel Peter Pan or The Boy Who Never Grew Up presents a child who never ages or changes, and who cannot abide change: he retains the innocence, naïveté and egocentricity of a young child. Cute as this may be, it's no recipe for child-raising. Likewise, a religious education that assumes the child will always be five or fifteen will fail to attract, convert and teach. (The same might be said of liturgies.) Thus O'Shea gives us chapters on the ages and stages of human development, and appropriate educational responses, as identified by great theorists and practitioners such as Montessori and Caveletti. Young people progress from gathering data to constructing 'big pictures', from criticizing faith to appropriating it for themselves and, ultimately we hope, to synthesizing faith and reason. So the book proposes a pattern for religious education of Wendy, The Girl Who Grew Up, rather than for Peter Pan.

Of course, only 15% of a Catholic school child's year is spent in school and 1% in R.E. classes; the fortunate child who is brought to weekly Mass by their parents gets an extra ½ per cent of liturgical catechesis. But five sixths of the child's life takes place elsewhere. Hence the importance of ch. 12 on the role of the family. O'Shea highlights the need to help parents as leaders and educators in the domestic Church. He draws upon interesting research on the distinctive roles of mothers and fathers. And he argues that Catholic schools are yet to take as seriously as they should "their role as communities [of faith], rather than mere functional organisations". The Catholic school must not just teach things but direct itself towards "building communio. All aspects of its life - its teaching, pastoral care, promotion of beauty, worship - contribute something indispensable to this project. The task will never be finished: neither can it be pursued separately from any other aspect of school life."5

In a culture scandalised by the failures exposed by the Royal Commission, further inoculated to religion by media, law and academy, and swept along by a longer-term secularising tide; in the face of sometimes unsupportive parents, the complicated personalities and experiences of our young people, and the rival sources of meaning and moral authority in their lives; in the face of our own disappointments with the Church at times or with ourselves - we might be tempted to give up on evangelisation, catechesis and formation. Never, I say, never give up on God or our young people: they are just too important!

Which is why I am so pleased tonight to launch Educating in Christ or EiX-PH4DCFC2A (4PTCSA). It's an excellent way forward for the mission of religious education in Australia and beyond. I wholeheartedly commend it to all those involved.

1 Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10

2 St John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, 23

3 Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 40

4 Gerard O'Shea, Educating in Christ, p. 113

5 Gerard O'Shea, Educating in Christ, p. 137