Address of Archbishop William Goh at CEC2021 – Part 4: A Gift from God
Following a successful Catholic Education Conference 2021, we are proud to present a five-part series based on Archbishop William Goh’s address at the conference. In part 4, we focus on how Catholic schools can provide a space for encountering the Divine.
How can we create this God experience? Actually, “creating” this God experience is a fallacy – we cannot create a God experience, because if we do, then we are artificially creating an experience through a program or technique. It becomes something psychological, as if we can condition a person to encounter Jesus.
If it is through techniques alone that we make God appear and disappear, that cannot be God. God is ultimately free.
A God experience is primarily a gift from God: it is God’s prerogative for Him to reveal Himself or not. It is like in a relationship, it’s up to the person to reveal himself. That is why in the relationship we are not in control; it depends on the person who wants to reveal himself.
What we mean, according to our theme, “to create this God experience” – to create this God experience is really to provide the ambience for people to encounter Jesus, to encounter God in a very concrete way.
Facilitating Encounters with the Divine
To create a God experience is to provide first and foremost, a sacred presence in our schools, that when you enter a Catholic school, immediately you must feel a big difference than when you enter a secular school. When you enter a Catholic school, do you feel there is something different? The atmosphere.
That is why in creating a sacred presence in school, it is certainly appropriate and necessary to have a chapel. Of course, we know that it is very costly to construct a chapel – those schools that have them, praise God for your benefactors.
Even if we cannot provide a chapel, a prayer space, a prayer room is necessary, because students have many issues in their life, they have lots of struggles and sometimes you need to have a sacred space to be alone. Not just to be alone, but alone with God.
God’s Comforting Presence
I’m sure many of you who came from Catholic schools, you all know that. In those times, even in my own life, when I was sad, when I was discouraged, when I was bullied in school, when I failed my exams – sometimes no human words can console you. You go to the church; you just sit there and the Lord speaks to us.
So, don’t ever think that having a prayer room is a waste of money, it is not, but you need to make sure it has a sacred presence. That is why in our Catholic churches we always have the Blessed Sacrament, because somehow when the Blessed Sacrament is present, we feel very different, we know that God is there.
Of course, supplementing the chapel or the prayer room, we should have statues, prayer cards, prayer books. Do you know that when I visited one mosque, even the imam provided a Bible for Christians who need that space to pray!
My dear brothers and sisters, sometimes when we are looking for something, we go to a prayer room and there is a card, there is a prayer book, there is a Bible, and we are inspired.
God comes to us in very different ways – sometimes it’s the placement of inspiring scripture texts in school. These are all important catechesis to Catholics and to those who wish to know Christ. Try to get all the students, and parents especially, to be more involved in the work of catechesis, because it is a win-win situation. The best way we can increase our faith is to impart it.
It is not just all external. When we talk about the incarnational presence of Christ, it is more than all these statues, images and scripture texts. What is more important, is that this must be translated into daily life, and so, for me the mark of a Catholic school, is whether it is a loving community, a community that embraces every human person.
- Teachers – what are little ways in which you can help your students and colleagues build a relationship with God? Are you able to take time out of your day for prayer to deepen your own spiritual life?
- Students – do you have habits or sacramentals which help you grow closer to God during your studies? Are there particular saints whose example helps you in your faith journey?
- Parents – how do you inculcate habits of faith in your children? Is there a prayer space or family altar where your children can spend time with God? Do they have access to the Bible and the lives of the saints?