My dear friends, in this Triduum in honour of St Anthony, we have been focusing largely on our young people, especially as they’re in the midst of their exams. We continue to think of them and pray that the Lord, through the intercession of Saint Anthony, will help them to do their best.
And we’ve also been looking at wider issues about education and this is something we need to think about and to pray about because the education of our young people is really terribly important, isn’t it? We want them to pass their exams with flying colours, but education is more than simply passing exams. Since Anthony was this great teacher and also a great student, then it seems logical that we should entrust not only our students but also our educational system to him, asking him to bring it to certain healing. I think everyone – teachers, students, and parents, recognise that our educational system is at fault in in many ways. For instance, we tend to think of education as a way of helping our students to develop their intelligence, but we’ve had in the past and still have to some extent too, a rather narrow view of intelligence, as seen in the curriculum
The list of subjects that you can do in many schools is actually quite narrow and is very often focused on academic subjects. Subjects like science or arts are really geared towards sending people onto to university and so there has been very little emphasis on more and technical subjects. And that’s a pity, because it seems as if students are there for the sake of the system. We don’t have students at school to give employment to teachers. The system is there for the pupils; pupils are not there for the system.
A certain amount of change needs to come about. We need to recognise different kinds of intelligence not just the academic kind, which very often is what the exams focus on, but maybe artistic or musical intelligence, or technical intelligence. We live in a world now where we are not able to build houses in this country because there aren’t enough builders, or plumbers, or electricians, and everyone is going to the university! It seems a bit crazy that so many of our students are pushed through a system that doesn’t suit them, doesn’t suit their talents or skills. We need to pray to St Anthony that we will come to our senses and make our education system more truly student centred, one for their good.
You probably heard that in recent years we’ve come across another kind of intelligence. It is called emotional intelligence, and that too is very important for our young people. We want our young people to come out of school with a certain kind of maturity that involves their emotional life, channelling it in the best way possible. And emotional intelligence is very much involved in the teaching of moral values.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom [in the Mass tonight] the writer says that prudence was given to him by God. Now prudence is a very important virtue in the Christian life, indeed, in human life in general, and very often it’s got a very bad name. When you think of a prudent person you think of a person who is very cautious, very careful, doesn’t take any risks.
But in fact, prudence is a technical word in theology and philosophy and in ancient Greek philosophy. The Book of Wisdom was influenced by this. Prudence was one of the four cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. The virtues of justice, temperance, and fortitude or courage, they all depend on prudence because prudence is really a practical intelligence that helps you to know what the right thing to do is, and more importantly, how to do it.
Prudence helps you to know in a particular situation how to be just or how to be courageous or how to be moderate. In much of his preaching, St Anthony was preaching simply about this. Much of his teaching and preaching was about morality, it was about prudence, even though he didn’t mention it – calling people back to God through repentance, calling people to change from a bad life to a good life -and that’s why prudence is something that we need and something that we need to teach our children specially in Catholic schools. We need to teach those moral values we want our children have, to come out from school not just experts in computer studies but experts in how to care for other people, how to be sensitive, to have that emotional maturity as well as other intellectual gifts.
That’s what’s Anthony had as we know from his life of prayer and from his constant immersing himself in the holy scriptures and then sharing that wisdom, that knowledge of God, with all those to whom he preached. In our Catholic schools, we want our students, our young people, to come out not just with the knowledge about God but a knowledge of God. You often hear it said that one of the great scandals of Christian education is that students finish off with great results, they go on to college, become PhDs in science and yet, their knowledge of God and the knowledge of religion is literally infantile.
That is a failure of Christian education, and this is what we need to entrust to St Anthony and to God that our education system will be broadened out, that it will especially focus on these values, these Christian values. St Anthony is a wonderful example of that
I just like to finish off by talking a little about this lovely prayer that we say in honour of Saint Anthony I don’t know who composed it, but it really is one of the nicest prayers you can have. I find myself constantly touched by it and I think it’s because of the words that I used right at the very beginning: “O holy St Anthony, gentlest of Saints.” We love said Anthony because we feel that he is gentle! It almost radiates from the face. His love for God and charity for his neighbour made him worthy then to possess miraculous powers. And because he was full of love for God and others, he was able to perform those miracles and still do them today. And then at the very end isn’t it lovely what we have here: “Oh gentle and loving St Anthony whose heart was ever full of human sympathy intercede for me now.” That is the definition of emotional intelligence if ever there was one
We want our young people to have hearts ever full of human sympathy like Saint Anthony and that’s why we need to train them not just with exams. We need to send them out sometimes to homeless shelters and for Carol singing at Christmas time, to experience the sufferings of people, so that they will develop in their hearts that human sympathy which is about humanity and especially Christianity.
And so today in this celebration of Saint Anthony, his wonderful wisdom and prudence, his gentle love, we pray for our education system, we pray for our schools, our Catholic schools – the Principals, the teachers, parents, boards of management and especially, our students, that they will get a fully rounded education a fully integrated education and so become truly moral and spiritual people.