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2021 marked the 25th anniversary of the beatification of our beloved Founder, Blessed Edmund Rice. On October 6, 1996, the Church officially recognized the tremendous attributes of Edmund Rice and his virtuous life, as Pope John Paul II beatified him in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Sunday, October 6th, 1996, offered us a special window in Rome on the world of Blessed Edmund Rice. There were people gathered with the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers from far and wide joyfully united in the recognition by the universal Church of the Brother they loved. This anniversary year offers us another window on our world and our Church. We need the eyes to see what is emerging in the different perspectives which are offered to us.
We can reflect again on Edmund’s experience of what he saw as he gazed from the window with Mary Power on the city of Waterford. “There’s your Melleray [monastery]” she said. What he saw and what she said changed him and his responses to that world. He was particularly moved to consider what could be done to confer a new sense of dignity and liberation on the poor people of Waterford.
He allowed God to search his heart – his very soul – to show him a new and, for him, unexpected way of changing the world around him. In particular, it was the plight and disadvantage of poor people that moved him. He wanted to find a way, like the Presentation Sisters before him, of educating and empowering the children of poor people. This was integral to his pathway into God. He realised that the Church – that messenger of Christ in the world – could only be true to itself when it would welcome all people to its places of worship and community.
The business man turned educator. The man of financial means spent it all for others. The family man founded a new community of Brothers. The new enterprise and mission moved from commerce to education for faith and for life.
As the beatification banner unfurled in Rome twenty-five years ago, we were asked to look into the window of the life of Edmund Rice. We were asked to ponder the question, “who are you Edmund Rice?” Now in 2021, it is appropriate that we look into that window again and ask that same question. We are looking into the mystery of God, once manifested in him. Crucially we are also looking into that self-same mystery in ourselves through our connection with Blessed Edmund and with something of the gift of his perspective and vision.
Edmund’s mind was made up. “Everything was adverse; everywhere was difficulty; but in Edmund Rice there was that happy combination of those noble qualities which eminently fitted him for gigantic action, and made him less consider the magnitude of obstacle than the means of overcoming them. It was at this critical stage in his vocation that he showed the unbounded trust in Providence that became such a feature of his spirituality in later years. He sold his business and with a worldly imprudence, reproved by his brother, Father Rice, and with no group of disciples to assist him opened his first school in a stable in New Street.”
Three windows at different times now offer very different perspectives. If we are still seeing – or imagine that we are seeing – the same things, then there is something radically out of joint. Our world and our Church today can still be viewed through the eyes of Blessed Edmund. The responses we make with the spirit of Jesus and the vision of Edmund must now be attuned to the twenty-first century.
The need for education – a new education for new awareness – as a means to enhancing human dignity and potential is as important today as ever it was. The need for an education that opens possibilities to explore the mysteries of life as the pathways of God is more relevant than ever. This will be done as a new consciousness emerges in us from new and awakened awareness.
Our window on the world today opens up the vista of a pandemic world with all its frailty and fragility. The world is one increasingly characterised by climate change which introduces us as human beings to the awareness of ourselves as contributing to the destruction of our only home which we share with all that is alive.
Our world is still one of great inequality and one that seeks to resolve different senses of injustice with violence and destructiveness. Unfortunately, it is a world in which the most vulnerable can be exploited, dishonoured, and even disposed of.
However true, all of that may be too pessimistic and too dark for some. It is also true that many women and men are looking through the windows of life today and making a creative difference and offering positive contributions. They do so in the hope that the infinite potential which belongs to all of life can emerge and bring forth “life to the full” (John 10:10). Like Edmund Rice we, too, must look through our windows on life and respond to what we see.
Blessed Edmund Rice, in writing his earliest rule for and with his Brothers, was clear about the spirit that should guide them in their lives and in their work. In 1832 he wrote:
The spirit of this Institute is 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;
At all times entering into
The sentiments of holy Job
“The Lord gave” to me,
“the Lord hath taken away” from me:
“As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done:
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Today, as followers of Blessed Edmund, we are called to live in the wonder, the beauty and the mystery of life with the perspective and appreciation of the One we call God. We are living in a time which calls for great changes. It is also a time when nothing less than life itself – in all its forms and expressions – is at stake. This is why we recall twenty-five years ago and this is our window for today, and the view invites us to respond with energy, compassion and creativity.
Our mission today continues to be one of instilling hope into the lives of those we are privileged to serve. Let us do so with the same spirit and enthusiasm that led Blessed Edmund to begin his work some 219 years ago. Let us do so in faithfulness, believing that God is with us, as we carry out the mission begun by Blessed Edmund that has been passed down to each one of us.
Let us be bearers of hope in today’s world, as we continue this sacred mission entrusted to our care.
we thank you for the gift that Edmund Rice gave to the world in
his love and passion for the poor and unprivileged in his day.
Today, in our own time and place may we dedicate ourselves to
make a difference in our world and leave nothing undone to carry on
the wonderful vision of Edmund Rice.
As educators like him, may we bring Christ’s compassion,
presence, liberation and joy to those we teach and serve.
Lord God, make us more conscious of your presence in our lives
that we may have the courage and strength
to live out our vocation as educators of youth.
This prayer we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.