At a gathering last week, a Christian Brother asked me if I could identify what I thought was the most important factor in EREA’s success to date. With no hesitation, I was able to say that for me, the development of the original Charter and Touchstones, has been the most galvanising and unifying accomplishment in our 10-year history. I believe it to be an inspired and inspiring document. Our polestar in mission, our source of vision.
The significance of the Charter and our 4 Touchstones was clearly demonstrated during the significant consultation process related to any changes that were made prior to today, the re-launch of our Charter. Our community spoke very clearly: Don’t change the Touchstones! There was a clear message not to change the essence of our nominated priorities and the language that we have chosen to help us articulate our mission and focus in Catholic education.
The genius of our Charter lies in the questions it poses; questions that can’t be ignored if we want to be truly authentic in our mission.
These questions, highlighted under each Touchstone in our revised Charter, relate to our hope and vision for the world, what it means for our young people to experience liberation in their lives, the ways in which we should relate with each other and witness to forgiveness and compassion, whom we include and exclude and how we stand for the marginalised and disenfranchised.
We recognise that our Charter must never be a comfortable document inspiring a tame and domesticated mission; hence, we re-launch it today with renewed commitment to be faithful to our Touchstones. The true success of our renewed Charter will never be measured by the new arrangement of words that we hope enhance the document, but rather, by the way it further inspires our community to give witness to the priorities of the Gospel in the education and formation we offer to the young.
Some of our Charter language has changed. However, it’s not the change of words that will make the difference, but rather, the difference in our world will be made by the change of hearts the words of our Charter inspire.
Our renewed Charter challenges us to re-read the signs of our times and respond in ways that are sometimes counter to our dominant culture. It demands that we seek fresh insights into these questions and help each other come to deeper understanding of what it means to be authentic; as a community in mission and in our own hearts.
It must continue to make bold claims about the way in which human beings should engage in our world. It demands that we speak for the voiceless and those who are excluded. It makes clear statements about justice, about the way in which we are expected to relate to one another, about the dignity of every human life.
Our renewed Charter re-emphasises our mission to the ‘margins’, to the excluded, the disadvantaged, to those who lack hope and to embrace the wounded-ness of our planet. It promotes inclusion, service and compassionate engagement with the world as indispensable to the way Christians worship a loving and expansive God. It demands that our commitment must be to ‘centre’ the poor, make our response to their plight the core of our mission. Our Charter states that our openness to inclusion and embracing responsibility for ‘the other’ determines our capacity to be authentically Catholic schools.
Our mission in education is motivated by our deep belief in the young and their potential to create a better world.
Someone wise once said that: ‘Teaching people skills, without giving them a vision for a better future a vision based on common values, is only training.’ For good reason, we are not Edmund Rice Training Australia!
What do we hope that an education inspired by our renewed Charter and Touchstones for Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition will mean for you, the young people from our schools represented today and the students of all our schools around Australia?
We want you to experience life in its fullness. We want you to know how to love, how to be curious, how to contribute, how to transform your inner and external worlds, how to live honestly, thoughtfully and compassionately.
We want you to acquire the capacity to question, the knowledge of how to use your time on Earth wisely, and the determination to leave the world a better place for you having been in it. We want you to learn to critique our culture and its version of what constitutes a good, a well lived, an important and a meaningful life. We want you to be free to react, choose and engage with the world on your own terms; free to love, to choose truth, to do good, to create the beautiful. But also, free to reject the ugly, the false, the mean spirited and the shallow.
We want you to learn that the liberty you enjoy through the good fortune of your birth, is not license to do whatever you want. Rather, it is freedom to do what you must do for the making of a fairer and more just society. We want you to know that freedom and service are inextricably linked and with privilege comes social responsibility. In a world of emerging walls and closing borders, we hope that you will be free from narrowness and intolerance.
We want you to be happy. We want you to learn, however, that happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Rather, it will emerge from the experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude; lives of decency, kindness and service and authenticity consistent with their inner moral compass.
We pray that you will be spared the great tragedy of only living ‘half-lives’; wasting the one opportunity that you have. We want you to engage life as active participants, not passive observers. We hope that you will not wait until faced with a dangerous health prognosis or the passing of family members and friends before reflecting on your limited time on earth and the need to make the best of it.
We hope to awaken in you the desire to experience the Divine in your life. We don't want you to cast off your religious formation when you leave school, in the same way that you will cast off your school uniforms.
As a Christian community, we hope that you will find great inspiration and guidance from the experience of Jesus in the Gospels and respond to His invitation to a relationship with God and with neighbour dictated by compassion, love, justice, solidarity and inclusion.
We want you to know that God is bigger than the words we use to talk about God; that our search for the Divine can take us beyond the God that society or even our religion talks about. We want you to learn that, besides Jesus, there are others who have made the search for God their life’s preoccupation and have left a roadmap for us to follow. We hope you learn that faith is an opening of the mind to the truth; whenever and wherever it is found.
As we re-launch our Charter and Touchstones today, let us pray that we will all grow stronger in our commitment to live lives of integrity and authenticity.
Let us recommit ourselves to a future for our young people based on those precious values reflected in our Charter.
Let us pray that the new insights that come from our refreshed understanding of the Charter will inspire us to seek new ways to be that inclusive, compassionate face of Christ in our world.
And let us pray, that through fidelity to our Charter, our lives can become a ‘touchstone for the touchstones’, that is, may the values we proclaim ring true in the fabric of our own hearts and our actions.
I thank the faith-filled and talented people who have worked so hard re-vitalise our Charter and lead us in our celebration today. You are ornaments to the vision of Edmund Rice.
I thank God for the Christian Brothers whose charism, legacy and enduring commitment to our young continue to inspire us in Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition.
I thank God for you, and for all who and all who labour so tirelessly to bring to fruition the promises of our Gospel and the aspirations of our renewed Charter.
With best wishes