From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 24 March 2017 | Fr Ross Jones SJ
Boats are a means to an end
It was hard to tell who was the wetter last Saturday at the Head of The River – the crews on the water or the Blue and White band of supporters drenched on the land. But the rain did little to inhibit either the rowing or the cheering. It seems to me that rowing can be something of a metaphor for life – preparation and planning, head and heart, art and science, the individual and the team, successes and failures, solitude and fanfare, the human spirit and nature, the grit and the grace.
We recently celebrated the Jesuit feast day of Our Lady of the Way at the Nostalgia Mass for graduates of the College of more than half a century and their partners.
The image of Santa Maria della Strada, Our Lady of the Way, in the small parish church by that name, in the heart of Rome and at a crossroads along the ceremonial route of the popes, is first documented in the 16th century. Ignatius probably first encountered it in 1540, when he preached day after day on an adjacent street corner. Within a year, the pope had approved his small band of priests as a religious order and given them Santa Maria della Strada as their pastoral home base, effectively making Ignatius caretaker of the painting within. History tells us that the former parish priest of that unpresupposing church joined the Jesuits, becoming the first Italian to do so.
Yesterday, we received a letter which certainly warmed my heart. It was a letter that spoke to the heart of who we are when at our best, about core values. A letter which described some of our young men who were, as we say, large-hearted. It came from Joey’s, from the Director of AFL at St Joseph’s. There, they are very much beginners in AFL. Their Open team were inexperienced and unsure. To compete against ‘View, with so many years and successes behind us, was to be quite daunting. We could have easily steam-rollered them. But we didn’t. Our coach and players discerned the real spirit of the game. What would we have gained from so easy a victory? What would the opposing team have learned? So the heart ruled. We shared players. And we shared our best players. We even shared our captain, Ed Swan. We switched jumpers. In the last quarter, we even shared our entire mid-field. Generous hearts, indeed. In Australia, we call it giving someone a fair go. It is having a heart for the battler.
In watching an episode of the BBC series, The Story of China, on SBS earlier in the week I was following the rise of the Ming Dynasty. As part of that story the presenter, Michael Wood, began to explore the impact of Italian Jesuit missionary and humanist, Fr Matteo Ricci, in that period of Chinese history. On arriving in Portuguese Macao, Ricci first spent fifteen years learning the language until he spoke it like a native. He devised what he called a “memory palace”, a sophisticated word-association technique in the mind to remember the thousands of Chinese characters.
In my Jesuit training, we had to take two years of philosophy. Alas, much of it I have forgotten, but I do remember learning about a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. He believed that everything changed – the world was in a continuous state of flux. Heraclitus used to say, "You can’t step into the same river twice." That is to say, the river may still be there, it’s still made of water, it’s still this geographical feature between two banks, but it’s never quite the same river it was an instant ago. And we can live with that understanding.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has released his long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, entitled Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love”. It is written in response to the recent Synod of Bishops on the family, held over the last two years in Rome.
Not surprisingly, it has had a mixed reception – overwhelmingly positive, though a few commentators have expressed feelings that it did not go far enough. I can understand reasons for the latter. Doctrinal change is slow. And I think we need to bear in mind that Francis has to bring the whole Church community with him, not to alienate the more conservative, but “to hasten slowly”, as we might say.
One of the Gospel readings for Easter Sunday recalled the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33). They were devastated and disheartened, maybe even depressed, after the crucifixion of their Lord and hoped-for-redeemer. Their dearest expectations had not come to pass. So they had turned their backs. They were walking away. Understandably. Then the risen Jesus joins their company, but they do not recognise him. This seems very strange indeed, for they had kept his company until only a few days past. And it flies in the face of the common experience of people longing to see (and oft-times mistakenly seeing) the face in the crowd of one they have recently lost.
A conversation begins which is a classic model of pastoral care and catechesis. “What is troubling you?” “Where are you now?” “What’s going on in your life?” The mode of the listener. The starting point, really, for all good teaching and parenting. Only then are the two lost disciples ready for a response and for enlightenment. As the story unfolds, they want this mysterious companion to stay, so they invite him to join their meal. And, as the scriptures tell us, when he begins to bless the meal, “they recognise him at the breaking of the bread”. But then he vanishes from their sight.
We are reminded in Ecclesiastes that ‘to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’. Perhaps the relevance of that maxim is no more applicable than at the present time as we move into the Easter story; the theology of the passion, the crucifixion of Christ and the resurrection that signals new life beyond death. This will be symbolically celebrated on Sunday with the eggs that have become synonymous with this time of the year, those that have the potential to subjugate the Christian significance during this period of renewal and growth through the challenges and rewards that the Lenten period provides. And, there will be some days of respite and rest over the break prior to the latter stages of the term, which will no doubt be filled with its own intensity and momentum. May it be a time where families can share in the gift of each other, the joy and hope of the season and a spirit of optimism, as we move ahead into the final days of the term.
The week leading to Easter begins with the account of Palm Sunday where Jesus is caught up in that rather triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowd, first ecstatic with joy and hope, then has a mood swing. It is a story that has long fascinated me.
Those who are given to remark that the Gospels (or indeed the Bible) have little to say to us today – to these times and our issues – have most likely read or reflected little upon the texts. This Palm Sunday story paints an aspect of human nature that has changed little over the millennia.
Welcome back to another school year, one that holds so many opportunities for growth and development for each and every young man. We particularly welcome the 255 new boys and 175 new families, the majority of whom join the Regis campus in Year 5 and the Senior campus in Year 7. These are exciting times for the young men as they enter the College and settle into the culture at St Ignatius, one that will see them experience exponential growth over the coming years. It is not without significance that these boys and their contemporaries, will graduate in 2023 and 2021, respectively, and in the process traverse the great divide from boy to man. At the other end of the spectrum, the young men who are entering Year 12 will increasingly look back over recent years with the profound insights that are the corollary of life experience when viewed through an Ignatian lens of reflection and discernment. How quickly those years are passing for our seniors, as surely as those will be for the boys who take up their enrolment at Riverview in these seminal weeks. To all members of the College community, I extend my very best wishes for all that lies ahead in 2016.
The events of 2015 came to a crescendo in the Ramsay Hall this morning with Speech Day formalities, which facilitated the perennial distribution of prizes and acknowledgement of those boys whose performance in a variety of fields has been particularly meritorious. Julian McMahon (OR 81), who among many local and international honours was recently awarded Victorian Australian of the Year for his work in human rights law, flew up from Melbourne specifically to deliver the Occasional Address. Always compelling and insightful, Julian encouraged the boys to reflect deeply and respond with integrity to the school motto – Qantum potes, tantum aude (Whatever you can do, so much dare to do). He encouraged them to pursue truth in their personal lives and in their studies, and, to respond to the great Ignatian ideal of making the world a better place. In the case of the latter, Julian encouraged the boys to seek out and support the lonely, this disadvantaged and the marginalised. If the riveting looks of the boys was any indication, Julian’s message and its impact was both immediate and profound. I extend a sincere statement of thanks to Julian for taking the time to be with the boys and give them the benefit of his wisdom and insights.
With our desire for novelty we can become tired of the Christmas story, year in and year out. But it should always come as a shock. A challenge to our sometimes all-too-comfortable ways of thinking and being.
Jesus’ beginning starts as a scandal. An unmarried and expectant mother, whose fiancé, Joseph, was at one time (as we are told) thinking of divorcing her. Best outcome, gossip and exclusion; at worst, a stoning. She and Joseph share the complexity of so many human relationships. As that pregnancy follows its course, we see a couple forced onto the road at the whim of a foreign occupier. Just another census statistic. Like so much of humankind today now living under the heel of an oppressor. And then no comfortable home birth, but a delivery room strewn with straw and animal dung. No warmth but the steaming sides of beasts. Nothing sterile here. No Mater Private. Nothing of the cuteness of Christmas cards. Simply sharing a universal human condition. Soon, as victims of one who lusted for power and every other vice, they will flee, to be dislocated as refugees, to spend lonely years in a foreign land. As so many millions do today. Can you see? This is how God comes among us. How God begins to share our life. With understanding and empathy. The common touch. A oneness with us. God knows us.
Last year when we prepared the document to outline the College’s strategic plan, the style of the formation we offer was described as an “almost five-century Jesuit educational tradition, forming students in a spirit of Christian humanism”.
One reader of that description was at first a little unsettled by it. Would that sit well with the Church’s tradition? It was an understandable anxiety because the humanism we are often accustomed to hear of these days is “secular humanism” – a humanism that is grounded in irreligion or atheism, where the human person is the reference point and an end in itself. But this is a more recent evolution and shares little in common with the Christian humanism of our tradition.
The early Jesuit companions of Ignatius were swept along in the rising tide of Renaissance humanism after their formation at the University of Paris. This humanism began as a literary movement – a deepening appreciation of classical literature – which lead to what we now know as the studia humanitatis, the humanities of today. It was a cultural and educational programme. Eventually these practitioners, these umanisti, began to despise the dry, medieval way of scholasticism in education and theology.
Not a School of Privilege, but a School of Obligation
At the last General Congregation of Jesuits held in Rome, Pope Benedict addressed the delegates. Benedict knew the universal, inclusive mind of Ignatius. He knew Ignatius’ particular concern for those on the margins, those who had no one to defend their rights or advance their cause. So the Holy Father affirmed the special mission of the Society of Jesus in the Church today to be “at the frontiers,” as he said. He charged us to reach “those geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach, or find it difficult to reach.”
Welcome back one and all!! I trust that the break provided some space to reinvigorate the spirits after the demands of Term 3 and that there is a sense of anticipation and expectation about the opportunities that lie in store over the coming nine weeks.
The final week of term was a significant one for the boys in the graduating class and their families. Each of the formalities of Valete and Graduation were undertaken in an atmosphere that dignified the boys and the exemplary contribution that they have made to the College across their schooling years. Not without expectation, there was a mixture of elation and sadness – the former being a response to the achievement that has been registered in all manner of endeavours and the frontiers that beckon beyond the HSC, and the latter, a consequence of the departure from a community that has been so very important in shaping young men of competence, conscience, compassion and commitment. And while those mixed emotions prevailed through the various graduation events, they are ultimately the moment that we prepare these young men for as they leave with gainful futures ready to take their place in, and make a meaningful contribution to, the society that they enter over the years ahead. Special thanks are extended to all who made these important rites of passage so enjoyable and so memorable.
I am glad to see that Greek is alive and well at the College. So much so that the student body has returned to the classical writings of Homer to find a theme for the coming year: Strength in Unity.
It is a motto that has been adopted by a number of nations over the years – mostly those that had forged themselves from a number of Provinces or States. That makes a great deal of sense and a good choice.
In a school like ours, especially a boys’ school, such a rallying cry would seem to have easy application in the various contests that pitch one class or team or school against another. I am sure most of our young men have almost “felt” it when a group welded together is competing at its best, or cheering forcefully in unison from a grandstand, or moving as one, focussed on the task to tackle. Strength in unity.
The media has made a feast these last weeks of what was seen as indulgent travels of the Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop. Extravagant flights in choppers or planes to Party fundraisers or social events had the press hounds baying for blood. More recently they have turned their attention to former Labor minister, Tony Burke, for similar indulgences.
The ever-measured Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, often a source of wise analysis of vexed questions, made a good distinction this week. Referring to the exorbitant flights of Ms Bishop, and whether or not such so-called “entitlements” could be justified, he said he did not like the word “entitlements” because “we are not entitled to anything”. He said entitlements were expenses that should be spent with caution and be accounted for. Accountability in leadership.