Friday 2 March 2018

Appropriating Space

We are rapidly approaching the halfway mark of the term. As the term and the year gain momentum there is a common desire to reach a point of equilibrium that will produce a sense of balance to the schedules that can dictate and, at times burden, already busy lives. There is much on the go, for all of the right reasons, but sometimes the quest to develop a discerning sense of proportion about competing priorities can be elusive. Lent is a season in the liturgical calendar that enables us, indeed encourages us, to take a reflective step backwards. To go inward and authentically search for where the spiritual life can find its place amid the sensory bombardment of activity that is the corollary of living in one of Australia’s busiest cities. Each day, the boys stop and participate in the Examen: a five-minute period of downtime to appropriate the space where they can reflect and find meaning through life experience and consider their faith in context of the big influences – family, friendships and futures. In an Ignatian context, it is also a time to be grateful for the many blessings and endowments that life provides – the grace to live in a country where the rule of law and democratic freedoms prevail, a peaceful and just society that honours individual and collective rights, the liberty to pursue education and the opportunities that arise from it, not to mention those daily gifts of food, clean water and shelter. In so many countries of the world – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Guatemala, El Salvador and the like, different realities prevail. It is indeed timely to step back from the daily regimen and appropriate the space to appreciate this.

Over recent weeks, the boys who were involved in Immersions over the summer have gathered with their families to process the richness of the experience. India, Cambodia and Nepal have been the object of considerable attention as the boys take meaning from the service experiences that, in many instances, have changed their lives. Seeing the world through the prism of institutional disadvantage, poverty, disease, disability and deprivation is a humbling experience; one that the boys have clearly taken to heart. In Jesuit parlance, this is a process of conscientisation – where one becomes aware of the political, social and cultural contradictions that interact in a hegemonic way to diminish lives. It is about being exposed to and developing an appreciation of political and social contradictions, which by their very nature, can be disconcerting and confronting. And, this realisation is forged in the classroom of the world, where our boys still of tender age witness the gritty reality of life for countless millions who do not have the favour or fortune that we do in Australia. That Immersion Reflection Evenings take place during the time of Lent adds special significance for the boys and their families who make extra efforts to attend these important gatherings. The following sentiment was one reflection among many that was shared during the week:

“I came to the realisation that in years to come, when I am laying on my deathbed, I don’t want to be thinking about how cool it might have been to go to the Himalayas, or regretting not making decisions… I want to lead a life of adventure, of positive influence, of service and accomplishment; not to settle for mediocrity.”

Powerful stuff indeed.

Prominent also in the early weeks of the year are the House Masses. In quick succession, Fernando, Xavier, Owen, Ricci and More House have celebrated their respective liturgies and in the case of many, have presented students in Year 12 with candles as a gesture of appreciation for all they have contributed to the House over the years. It is also an opportunity to join in prayerful support for the boys in their Graduation year, particularly in context of the pressures provided by the HSC and the demands of considering university and other post-schooling options as the year progresses. I extend a sincere statement of thanks to those who make special efforts to attend these Masses. One such was the parent of a boy in Year 12 who came from Hong Kong to be with his son for his final House Mass after being a boarder at the College for the last six years. Similar efforts are made from country boarders who drive many hours to join in these important liturgical celebrations.

On the academic front, Elevate Education held workshops with the senior students during the week on developing study skills and on explaining techniques that promote efficacy in learning and academic performance. Elevate comprises a group of high performing undergraduates who recently excelled in their HSC, and they have unique traction with our senior students because of their youth and the insights that they provide. Over the last three years, the College has increased the frequency of these visits and it is no surprise that the performance profile of the boys has lifted significantly. We will continue to work with consortiums like Elevate and measure the impact of their engagement, both through student satisfaction surveys (which reached 98% during the week!) and through assessment data – both internal and external.

Best wishes for the week ahead.

Dr Paul Hine