As the term and the year gain momentum, there arises a desire to achieve a point of equilibrium that balances schedules (that often dictate and, at times, burden already busy lives) and the reflective space that gives life meaning. Ash Wednesday was commemorated at the College during the week with stage-based liturgies that saw the distribution of ashes under modified form to ensure safety associated with COVID requirements. Ashes formally begin Lent and they are a reminder of the frailty and the fragility of life: the miraculous dust that we are in human form, yet the ephemerism to which we are ultimately consigned on earth. Lent is a time to go inward: to dwell more deeply on those matters that lie at the heartland of the Christian story that culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a time to step back and reflect deeply on the big questions, the challenges and the conundrums associated with faith, family, friendships and futures.
Traditional practices associated with Lent include a more dedicated approach to prayer, abstinence from luxuries, a renewed commitment to service and contemplation of the interior life. It is particularly a time to respond to the lost, the least and the lonely, as outlined in that bedrock teaching of Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 25) “whatever you do to the least of my brothers (and sisters) you do unto me”.
Finding depth and space can have its own challenges amid the crush of daily routines. The Examen is a particularly Ignatian opportunity to step back and engage in reflection in order for meaning to surface through internalised life experience. It is practised every day at the College at noon, enabling each boy to appropriate some dedicated time to withdraw from mathematics and sport training, bus rides and homework. It is ‘enabling space’ for proportion to be established, for life experience to be interrogated and – not without importance – for gratitude to be forthcoming. Despite the travails of our world, there are many blessing and graces that we are indeed fortunate to receive – none the least of which is quality education in a country where civil freedoms and rule of law prevail. Millions across the world are not so favoured.
In the spirit of Lent, the boys in Year 11 held their Reflection Day during the week. They removed themselves from the crush and the routines of school life and gathered at Peter Canisius House at Pymble. Assisted by the team in the Ignatian Centre, the boys were asked to reflect on a TEDx Talk by Kent Hoffman – one that is recommended for all who take social justice and the message of the gospel seriously. The essence of the message is summarised as follows: Every person you will ever meet has infinite worth. It speaks to the centrality of human dignity, which is the first and foremost teaching in catholic social justice. It is one which features prominently during Lent and invites the boys into the space of the other as well as themselves. These are moments that call upon a deeper interiority, one fully consistent with Ignatian spirituality during the liturgical season that asks more of us all.
On another level, the College was recently asked by the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus to provide information about the response that was made to social justice causes last year. By any standards, it was a difficult time as the outreach service programs had to close down due to the risk of community infection and fundraising activities were made extremely difficult due to community restrictions associated with COVID. That accepted, the College raised significant funds (in excess of $100,000) to support all manner of causes, from immersion projects across Asia to charity works across Sydney and New South Wales. Through the campaign to support the homeless in winter and relief agencies, over 15,000 packs were distributed in the form of meals, hampers, grocery bags, winter kits and like, while long standing relationships involving Redfern Jarjum College, Jesuit Mission, the Cana Community and St Vincent De Paul were all intensified. Boys at the Regis campus entered aged care facilities through letter writing and Zoom technology, providing some extra life and vitality for residents who were denied visitors over many months. Despite the impediments of COVID, the call to respond to the marginalised remained strong, as it should have.
Creative efforts were also made to recycle textbooks, furniture and computers to schools and agencies who reached out and expressed needs as the year progressed. While these items are replacement stock for the College, they can be of enormous assistance to social service and welfare agencies that are in need of such resources. Other small, but nonetheless important consciousness-raising exercises in the form of Earn and Return bins that recycle cans and bottles with deposits going to House charities, ensured the saturation of the school environment with service-related activities. Small efforts can produce very significant outcomes, for those who commit to such action as much as for those who receive it.
Lent is a time for renewal and conversion, a time for contemplation and prayerful introspection. May it also be a time for gratitude and hope for the liturgical season ahead.