Some 600 years ago, Piero della Franseco painted “The Resurrection”, a fresco that for centuries has challenged men to choose between the spiritual and material spheres of life. The style he chose for execution was to enhance his message: “Don’t have any doubt that this event REALLY happened!” It was based on a firm belief in the essential truths of our Faith, in God who is beauty and truth, the One who Is and who cannot deceive nor be deceived!
The result was so engaging that the author of the novel “A Brave New Wold”, Aldous Huxley were to describe it as “The best painting in the world” in a travel book he was writing during the 1920’s. Little could he have imagined that a young British soldier would read this description shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, some twenty years later and as a result, spare the little town of Sansepulchro and its inhabitants from destruction. (The soldier refusing to shell the city out of fear of destroying a work of such magnitude.) A small example of how that which is beautiful and true, can influence individuals that come in contact with it and through those individuals impact positively on a greater sector of society, in ways that the original creator of the work, could never have imagined or anticipated!
The great work of education as is undertaken at St Thomas Aquinas College and the living of Religious life in the newly established Novitiate is somehow similar in that, although small and seemingly insignificant, the impact of their labours can never be fully foreseen or predicted. The degree to which they remain faithful to the guiding principles as set forth by mother Church, will determine the degree to which they can be useful instruments for God to work on individuals and through those individuals have a positive impact on greater society.
What are some of these important principles that we as a parish, school and convent must remember and cling to in order to be useful instruments? In general St Pius X sets the main principle and reminds all men that “even in things of earth, (man) may not overlook the supernatural…” There truly are no aspects of our lives which we can separate from God; all of our actions must be undertaken with our ultimate end in mind. The consequence for education then is clear, in the word of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical DIVINI ILLIUS MAGISTRI, “The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian...” The Pope continues to point out that in order to achieve this; the school must offer more than just a class on religion. To be a truly Catholic school “… it is necessary that all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus and text-books in every branch, be regulated by the Christian spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church; so that Religion may be in very truth the foundation and crown of the youth's entire training; and this in every grade of school, not only the elementary, but the intermediate and the higher institutions of learning as well.”
To use the words of Leo XIII: “It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence.” This is no small task.
The Sisters in turn must stay faithful to their Rule and Constitutions approved by the Church. The special end for which the Dominican Order has been brought into being, by the Providence of God, within the bosom of the Church is the salvation of souls by the ministry of teaching and preaching. The special means which it employs to achieve this end are:
• the solemn Choral Office, (Prayer: we say the full Divine Office) and
• the maintenance of observances designed at once to support regular life and to render the members of the Order efficient preachers of the Gospel. (Penance: silence, fast, early rise etc.)
This is the significance of its traditional formula: “Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere.” The particular work of this congregation is the education of youth. When we consider the importance and magnitude of the task of education the benefit of co-operation between the Sisters and the School becomes clear. The Sisters not only help to teach, but keep each and every one of their pupils, past and present, in their prayers, and in this, more so than in class preparation and teaching helps to prepare the students to be able and ready to co-operate with the grace that God offers them through their School environment.
Some may argue that we find ourselves, small and isolated in a World immersed in a slumber as deep as the guards that watch over the tomb of Christ in our painting. A world unaware of the basic truths/principles necessary to restore the problems faced in society and particularly education which stems from the removal and purposeful exclusion of the One who IS TRUTH and by denying Him, and His Church her basic rights as mentioned above. This is true, all around us we see fulfilled the words of Pope Leo XIII that without proper religious and moral instruction "every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything, they will easily be incited to disturb the public order." Religious life too has suffered through deviation from the ancient rule and constitutions, the neglect of prayer and recollection in favour of ceaseless activity, without the protection of habit and community life. We are not too surprised to find new vocations to most orders almost nonexistent. Yet, the blind refusal to admit their errors, the continued search for solutions that excludes God, the mocking of those who hold to the true path, continues. Both Christian Education and Religious Orders as we knew them in the glorious days of old, seems to lay buried dead and deep.
This rejection of truth and beauty is also illustrated in our painting, which was soon forgotten after the artist’s death. Appreciation for the very quality that draws us to reflection, its stillness and quietness, the lack of special effects in order to seduce the viewer, lead to a decline in its appreciation by later generations. In fact it was buried under plaster and whitewash during the 18th Century! ... but in time the plaster started to peel away and the painting returned from the dead, fully resurrected and restored during the 19th Century.
Thus hope remains. Let us never “doubt that this event REALLY happened”, that just as Our Lord suffered on the cross, He rose victorious, and with the promise that with his help, we too can rise victorious. And so both Christian Education and Religious life does have a chance of resurrection, with the help of God we can work for that very purpose! Let us then not slumber, but share that sense of gratitude that we are fortunate (as any viewer of this picture clearly senses) to witness this event, to know the answer to the problem. Let us remain true to the principles, that no education is “neutral”, let us not deny the Church her maternal role to safeguard all aspects of school life and curriculum. Let us not be taken in by Pedagogic naturalism, which weakens the supernatural formation in the teaching of youth, relying on human powers alone, promising a false freedom to the child. Let us become parents/teachers who possess both the intellectual and moral qualifications required, to teach by our good example. Let us never be ashamed to adhere to principles, despised and mocked by the modern world. As Religious let us continue to pray and do penance, accept the vocations God sends us, and train them as best we can to remain true to their fathers’ ideal for their sanctification and the salvation of souls through the apostolate of teaching.
Together let us then continue with great courage and hope in the work of building sanctuaries for the true education of youth, keeping our eyes fixed on the truth of Our Lord’s victory on the Cross. However small we may appear in a larger world, may St Thomas Aquinas College and Rosary Convent, like this painting stand as visible proofs and reminders of the power and beauty of Truth.
The Paschal Candle as a visible reminder of Our Lord's victory over death.
Surrexit Dominus vere ~ Alleluia, alleluia