ACSTA Annual General Meeting
[Proverbs 31: 10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31; Psalm 128; 1Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30]
The theme we have explored throughout our annual general meeting has been “Courage to Lead”. This has woven its way through our presentations, table discussions, environmental scans, and business deliberations. Throughout, I have noticed that attention has come back often to the term “courage”. Understandably enough. Governance of Catholic education is a beautiful task and responsibility, certainly, yet one that involves a seemingly endless variety of challenges, often rather daunting. In our day, courage is necessary to exercise governance well in order to ensure the preservation, strengthening, and growth of authentically Catholic education.
And as we focused upon the challenging task that is ours, our hearts and minds turned instinctively to the One from whom we receive the courage we need to fulfill it. All is God’s gift, and we conclude our AGM in the reassuring confidence that the Lord is always with us to supply the courage we need as we need it.
Now, as we ponder the Word of God in this closing mass, we find that the Lord Jesus himself is directing our focus not only upon the term “courage” but also the word “lead”. In the parable, Jesus unveils the nature of Christian leadership and how he expects it to be exercised.
To put it succinctly, we learn from the parable that the courage to lead means the courage to invest. Now, anyone who has been following the stock market over the last few years knows well that investing in that arena does, in fact, call for a great deal of courage. Yet, even more fortitude is required for the investments the Lord Jesus is calling us to make.
To explore this, let’s focus on the term “talent” as used by Jesus. This can have a variety of meanings. To begin with, at the time of Jesus, this was a monetary unity, one denoting a considerable amount. Over time, it was also interpreted to refer to the gifts and capabilities that disciples receive from the Lord. And, I must say, from what I am witnessing it is clear that you all have been richly gifted with great talents, and are certainly investing them wholeheartedly in Catholic education. This was strongly underscored last evening as we listened to testimonies offered in honour of colleagues whose contributions over many years have been remarkable. You know as well that many of our teachers have been richly blessed with wonderful gifts, and that they, too, are seeking to invest their capacities in service to our students. For this we cannot fail to thank and praise God.
At the same time, there is yet another meaning of “talent” that we need to consider carefully as we prepare to leave this convention. It speaks directly to us who govern and teach in Catholic education.
The parable follows others in which Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about the kingdom of God. In his teaching, he reveals to his disciples what the kingdom is like, as he unveils the love and mercy of the Father and calls us to surrender, by repentance and faith, to the Father’s will. In this context, the “talents” entrusted to his disciples for investment are, precisely, the mysteries of the kingdom.
At its heart, Catholic education is the handing on to the children entrusted to our care the mysteries we have received from the Lord through the teaching of his Church. The “market”, if you will, where we make the investment of the treasures we have received is the hearts and minds of our children. Education is investment, a placing with our students the truth of God’s love, mercy, and call, and so curating that investment that it yields as large a return as possible not for our ourselves, but for the Lord. And the yield he seeks in the hearts of our children is the life of faith and discipleship.
Here we are brought back to the question of courage. In the parable, two managers went forth courageously to take risks and invest what they had been given, and the risk paid off. The third, though, lacked courage and chose instead, out of fear, to bury the talent. This is a constant temptation for us, and for Christians generally. Rather than invest the mysteries of the kingdom, rather than speak openly and joyfully about our faith, we can sometimes prefer to bury what we know for fear of a negative reaction. Indeed, we know only too well that the teaching of the Church is not always received with unalloyed joy.
Today the Lord is summoning us to be courageous as we invest the mysteries. It may well feel like taking a risk, but we know that there is an unshakeable certainty at the heart of our investing, namely, that the Lord is with us. After all, the students we serve are God’s beloved children. What Jesus has taught is for their good as well as ours. He is asking us to invest the treasures of knowledge we have received by placing it in their hearts, so that their lives will bear the return he wills for them, a yield we can be confident he will bring about by the power of his grace.
Ultimately, our courage to lead by investing comes from the fact that Jesus has invested himself fully in us, even to the point of giving his life. What he once did for us on the Cross becomes present now in the mass. As we receive once again the grace of communion with our Crucified and Risen Lord, may we draw from him the strength and courage we need to lead as he calls us to do, for the sake of the students entrusted to our care.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Edmonton, November 19th, 2023