Feast of Blessed Edmund Rice
Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity
5 May 2017
Brother Edmund Garvey
European Province Leader
THE GOSPEL QUESTION AND EDMUND RICE
The question of the young man to Jesus, in the Gospel reading (Matt 19: 19-22) this evening, led Jesus immediately to another and even more searching question.
“What good deed must I do?” asked the young man. To which Jesus replied with another question, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” He quickly answered his own question. “There is one alone who is good.”
When the pilgrims gathered in Rome in the Paul VI Audience Hall on the eve of the beatification of Edmund Rice in October 1996, I recall inviting everybody to ask a question as they would watch the banner of Blessed Edmund being unfurled on the following day at St. Peter’s Basilica.
I invited them to ask: “who are you Edmund Rice?” We will find many historical facts to help us with the answers. Ultimately, the answer is to be found in the hearts of all of us who love him and are inspired by his life, his vision, his faith and his mission. The answer is in our hearts.
WATERFORD AND EDMUND RICE
That question, “who are you Edmund Rice?” may seem to be a strange question to ask here in Waterford, his adopted city. Let me tell you another small story. It tells of an experience that I will not forget. More importantly, it tells of the intimate connection that people in this city feel for Blessed Edmund.
I had come from Rome to Ireland in the month before the Beatification to deal with some matters concerning the upcoming events in Rome. I had no plans to visit Waterford. However, I was told that members of the Mount Sion Past Pupils Union wanted to have a meeting with me. I was not really told the purpose of the meeting. But I made my way to Waterford and I met a group of wonderful men at Mount Sion.
We talked about this and that and the other, and finally the men brought me to the point of my visit. They informed me that there was a strong rumour circulating that I had a plan to remove the mortal remains of The Founder from Waterford after the Beatification. In fact, I think they thought that it was a secret plan. Well, if it was, it was so secret that I had not heard about it and I told them so.
I will always remember the relief that those men showed when I assured them that there was no such plan, and that it had never been discussed by me with anybody else. So the chat continued and the tea and biscuits followed, and together we looked forward to the days of pilgrimage in Rome. One man in that group approached me before I left and said: “Brother, you know, even if there was any truth in the rumour, you would not have got across the bridge with the coffin.”
It was one of the most down to earth statements that I ever got of the appreciation of this city and its people for Blessed Edmund Rice.
Today we gather to celebrate his Feast Day and to reflect a little on his meaning and legacy. I firmly believe that his meaning and legacy is as relevant today as it was when he walked the streets of this city, first as a businessman and family man, and then as the Founder of two religious congregations of Brothers – the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers.
EDMUND RICE – HIS DRIVING VISION
Blessed Edmund was, in all dimensions of his life, first and foremost a man of God, a man who would write in his rule for the Brothers in 1832, that the spirit of the Institute was that spirit of faith “which inspires its members to view nothing but with the eyes of faith, to do nothing but with a view to God, and to ascribe all to God.”
Remember the words in the Gospel this evening, “There is one alone who is good.”
Blessed Edmund was a man of deepest compassion and concern, particularly for the poor and those who were downtrodden by the social and religious circumstances of the times in which they lived. It was this awareness that led him to open his heart to these people who, for him, were the special image and presence of Christ in the world. This presence of Christ was the focus of the mystery of his life and of his connection with the poor and disadvantaged.
Again remember the Gospel reading, “Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”
When considering the life of Edmund Rice, we must never under-estimate the importance and the value of education – for all of us, for all of our lives, and particularly for the young. Pope Francis has said a number of things about the importance of education.
The Pope has said that educating people in the faith isn’t just about giving catechesis or teaching religious knowledge but instead it is about helping young people to understand reality and discover transcendence. In the Pope’s own words: For me, the biggest crisis in education from the Christian perspective is this closing off transcendence. We have closed ourselves to transcendence. An interesting and profound observation from this Pope of the twenty-first century.
It is right that we would reflect in this day and age, and in our society, on the place of God in our lives, and in our openness to what Pope Francis calls transcendence, what Jesus would call the Kingdom of God – not as a reality belonging to another place or time, but as a reality here among us. Transcendence recognises that our true nature calls us always to go beyond what we only think we are to what we truly are in the mystery we call God.
EDMUND RICE THE POOR AND THE POWER OF EDUCATION
Edmund Rice was a man who could not live easily with the exclusion of the poor in society, and in some respects within the Church. He knew that change had to be brought about. He knew that all human beings possessed the same dignity and had the same destiny.
There are people in the world today following exactly that model and inspiration, and they are men and women who regard themselves as followers of Blessed Edmund Rice. I stress that they are not all Christian Brothers or Presentation Brothers.
Last October, I attended an educational congress in India of teachers from Edmund Rice Schools across the world. There were up to thirty teachers from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England gathered with almost two hundred others of their colleagues from twenty-two countries.
Two things stood out for me. Education is key and central to the development of people across the world. Secondly, I was deeply moved by the women and men who wanted to continue the tradition of what is being called Edmund Rice Education – at the Congress, it was referred to as Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders. These teachers wanted to emphasise the importance of a sound Christian values system as the basis of their work in the schools. So what began with Blessed Edmund Rice here in Waterford in 1802 continues and thrives across the globe today.
Let me share with you one particular experience from that Congress which was held in Kolkata. All of the delegates were invited to a Christian Brothers School – St. Joseph’s in Bow Bazaar Street, in the heart of the city. The staff and students there wanted to share with us some aspects of Indian culture as well as their wonderful Indian food. They gave us a wonderful Indian wlcome.
The Principal of the school is a woman who has worked with the Christian Brothers for all of her professional life. When she greeted us, she told us that her name was Mrs Banerjee. She told us that she was the school Principal, a woman, a Bengali and a Hindu. And she added that only in the world of Blessed Edmund Rice (and I think she added the Christian Brothers) could such a person lead a school like St. Joseph’s in India. In my view, her Edmund Rice credentials were and are impeccable.
THE FATHER OF THE POOR
I do believe that Edmund Rice was the father of the poor in this city of Waterford in the early years of the nineteenth century. I was sent in the early nineteen nineties by the Superior General to visit our Brothers in Sudan. We had a secondary school in the city of Port Sudan. Unfortunately, I had to bring the news that the Brothers could no longer stay in Port Sudan and we would be regretfully withdrawing our presence from the school.
It was a wonderful school where Christians and Muslims were educated together. It was impressive to see the Muslim boys and their teachers placing their prayer mats in the playground at times of prayer during the day. The Christians also prayed in their customary way. The tolerance and acceptance within the school was wonderful.
Anyway, I must cut a fairly long story much shorter. The Principal of the school warned me that many of the teachers wanted to meet me about the possible departure of the Brothers. Word had gone before me. I met all of the teachers who wanted to meet me. One of those teachers finally said with some exasperation that we could not take Brother Ambrose – Brother Ambrose Purcell was an Australian Brother and Principal of the school – that we could not take him from the school. To test the commitment of his plea, I simply asked, why not? Again, I will never forget his response. He said: “because Brother Ambrose is the father of the poor in Port Sudan.” That was quite a claim in a city dominated by Islamic law and control. It showed me that the spirit of Blessed Edmund was alive and obvious to a Muslim man who could appreciate the value of such a spiritual and down-to-earth practical presence in his country.
CONCLUSION – OUR TIMES
Now we recognise that we are living in our times, with its challenges, with its need for a new kind of education, and a new recognition of the needs, and indeed the rights, of those who are poor.
It is encouraging to visit Edmund Rice Schools today and find teachers and students with a huge commitment to the poor countries and sectors of the world. They no longer simply collect money. They actually go and live among the poor people and come back with what they describe as life-changing experiences.
In Ireland and England, as well as in other parts of the world, senior students in the schools organise holiday and recreational camps for young children who might otherwise not get a break from the day-to-day challenges of their lives.
I had the privilege recently of speaking to a young man, a former pupil of one of our schools in England and now a graduate in Astro-Physics, who wanted to take time out from his studies to train with our Brothers in Geneva in justice and advocacy procedures for the poor of the world. Needless to say, I encouraged him, but I also encouraged him not to let go of his growing expertise in Astro-Physics. We have to think of the whole of the world and of life, and not just human life.
What I want to say to you is that in my experience the world is filled with marvellous people, and many of them are be found among the younger generations. Unfortunately, they do not hit headline news, but their achievements are not less for that. Pope Francis has said with great insight in his recent TED talk that “the future does have a name and its name is hope.” This he describes as the basis for what he speaks of as “a revolution of tenderness” in the world.
I once heard an old Brother say that Edmund Rice would not have set out on the path of providing education for the poor if he did not see it as a way of bringing people to a deeper relationship with their faith and with the Church. This was the heart and soul of his educational project.
We are now living in an age when, as I have hinted already, we are in need of a new education with fresh approaches to experiential learning. I am thinking especially of religious and Christian education.
Today, our country and its people are experiencing significant changes. This applies to our experience of Church and the way in which we experience our religious faith and find meaning for our lives. I do not believe personally that it is a time to be pessimistic. But it is a time that demands a new awakening, a fresh awareness, and a willingness, as we heard in the Gospel this evening, to ask good questions.
Simply repeating our past will no longer be enough. We will need people, like Edmund Rice, who see what’s in front of them, who can ask the searching questions, and who can make a heartfelt response.
For people of faith, the meaning of life is “to manifest the glory of God as the human being fully alive.” To be fully human, to be fully alive, is to be who we truly are. Jesus of Nazareth expressed his purpose in many ways, but in one in particular when he said that “I am come that they may have life, life in its fullest measure.”
Today, as people who look to, and pray to Blessed Edmund, we are called:
- To live the gift and mystery of life to the full
- To live with an awakened consciousness
- To live in communion with each other in the whole human family
- To live in communion with the whole of created reality especially on this planet
“So that,” in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians, “Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until you are filled with the utter fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 18-19)
This is the transcendence of which Pope Francis speaks. It is the transcendence Blessed Edmund Rice aspired to in his life and mission.