PASSION: Thoughts from Polly Witter, Lay Chaplain of McAuley Catholic High School
You know it’s a funny thing passion, we hear the word and think about what we are passionate about. A hobby, a person, a football team, our job perhaps. We spend so much time on finding our own passion yet how often do we stop and think about the passion that other people have for us? I often get asked, “Why do you do your job?” Perhaps this is as so many see it as different, something unusual, out of the “norm”, or, they presume I’m a nun.
I never planned on being a school chaplain. In fact at the age of seventeen I was offered the opportunity to apply to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, something which I thought was my dream. Turns out that someone else’s passion for me had a very different plan. Growing up in an Irish Catholic family church was something we just did on a Sunday not really knowing why, and certainly not asking the question why.
It was a Holy Week retreat for young people where I was told “Jesus died for me”, a phrase I’d heard many times but yet at that point was so powerful I couldn’t ignore it. These simple words enabled me to realise that there was something more to just going to church every week.
As we approach the end of our Lenten journey and begin Holy Week, we are given opportunity to look back over what we have done and reflect on the passion that Jesus has for each and every one of us. In a world that often seems so unforgiving we often forget the good news of the gospel in Jesus Christ. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That’s the point of the cross, after all. Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity. This is why even our problems, difficulties and even illnesses can become lighter, more bearable, when we unite them to the cross.
Jesus story didn’t end with the cross. It was only through the cross that he rose from the dead. It is through the cross that we can also rise up and find meaning in our lives. One evening after a staff meeting, staff took part in the Stations of the Cross using the school site as the stations. In the last two days of term, our students have also been able to encounter this journey of Jesus in reflective liturgies prepared and led by the staff liturgy team and over 50 student volunteers against a moving backdrop of silhouette representations of the Way of the Cross.
Let’s allow his generous sacrifice to move us as we begin Holy Week. Let’s try to understand the greatness of his love for each one of us. He wants to help us in our lives but we have to let him in.
Let’s try to understand the passion he has for each one of us and try to respond in our lives with the same generosity.
An Abundance of Blessings – John Rooney, Headteacher, McAuley Catholic High School
All Christians know the story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection by heart. They know, as well, the incomparable blessing bestowed by those events, succinctly expressed in the words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The first blessing is the gift of empathy. As we read about and reflect on the events culminating in Christ’s death on the cross, we experience with him the degradation, humiliation and pain he was subjected to and thereby become more sensitive first to the sufferings of those close to us, and then to the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, the abused and those denied their human dignity in this country and around the world. As a school community raising money for the Good Shepherd is central to this.
The second blessing is appreciation of Christ’s humility. Reflecting on Christ’s passion requires us to put aside our thoughts of self for a time and in those moments, no matter how brief, we can grasp the vast difference between Christ’s example and the example recommended by our culture. This is best described when we marked the beginning of Lent and our Lenten Journey with simple Ash Wednesday services for every single member of our school community.
Fr James said Mass for us when the ashes were blessed. The message to the staff and the students in our services, not only that he was not giving anything up for Lent but that Lent is a time of abundance; a time of plenty, a time when blessings are there for all.
That is certainly not the traditional way some people see Lent. When we give up something for Lent we can’t help but tell people. “Sorry,” we say, “I can’t have chocolate/crisps/alcohol because I’ve given it up for Lent” (smug look).
So in Lent we can look outwards as well as inwards for the beauty and the blessings which surround us. We can see a blessing in the time for a spiritual Spring clean and we can then truly rejoice in the resurrection on Easter Sunday. One of our delightful Y9 students was proud to show me that her ashes had stayed on her forehead until lunchtime. A great blessing to meet students like this.
In the same way we were blessed in abundance, as a senior team, to meet every Year 8 student as part of their option process. It was a real joy to have positive conversations with well-supported students who are clearly well brought up young people.
I was overwhelmed to help serve breakfast with Mr Smith last week to over 50 Y7 students who have just been brilliant this term.
Sixty students attended the very popular retreats to Savio House near Macclesfield; a unique and contemplative experience which no other secondary school in the Doncaster region offers. We expect that our students ‘buy into’ the whole McAuley package and, as such, we expect all students to attend our whole school Holy Week Liturgies.