Following an all-school Mass in the abbey church on the first day of term, 6th January, the feast of the Epiphany, our new Head and Principal, Mr Marius Carney, addressed students and staff for the first time.
Thanks to everyone for your welcome to Glenstal at Assembly this morning which was most encouraging and for the prayerful blessing.
As I have begun to meet you and hear about your successes and aspirations, I am struck that one of the features of a Glenstal education is that it is an education in leadership. Leadership for today and for the future in Irish and European society and beyond.
Today we have listened to the familiar story of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the Three Magi. Their story is a fine tale, somewhat romantic even, and because it’s a familiar one, perhaps often we don’t think very much about it. But I believe, on closer inspection, the Magi’s actions have a lot to teach us in Glenstal, today. These Magi were highly educated men; they were astrologers from Persia. They were committed to seeking for the light of truth, and they used their academic prowess to seek for the truth, they also had to use their great wealth to search for the infant Christ. Despite having a top education, they recognised their need of God and they set out, as we heard in the gospel, to seek the infant Messiah and to do him homage. By their actions these leaders drew the world’s attention to God-made-man. They made the Messiah evident to all: they showed him forth – that’s what ‘Epiphany’ means.
What does their example teach us today, this term, about our leadership?
- Firstly, their story reminds us that our academic talents and our material goods come from God and will lead us to God, if we allow that to happen.
- Secondly, we see that we must use the curiosity and gifts we possess to find fulfilment. They used their training in astrology and their wealth to follow the star. In our lives the ‘star’ is your wonder and accomplishment in perhaps Mathematics or Science, Classics, Art, Agriculture, German or French, Business, Sport or Music.
- Thirdly they show us that we need tenacity. They have to work hard to get to Bethlehem. These wise men had to travel in the depth of winter. It cost a lot and they risked the trickery and treachery of wily King Herod. If you like poetry do read TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, which so evocatively describes this journey.
The Magi showed
- Reverence for God: They came all that way to do him homage.
- Respect for themselves: Using their own talents to bring them the highest reward
- Responsibility to their unique calling: To show God to the world.
Christina Rosetti in her poem In the Bleak Mid-Winter describes Jesus’ birth in the depth of winter and the worship of the angels. The final stanza reads:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Each of us, as a student of Glenstal Abbey School is called to ‘do my part’ this new year by living positive leadership. And there is plenty of leadership example among you. I have heard about your good leadership in class and in study, and there are some great Christmas exam marks. Today we have had excellent leadership in the liturgy from our choir, following from their excellent Advent Carol Services. Many of you are great leaders on the sports field in a number of sports and I am aware of the recent Rugby success in the McCarthy Plate. And you all show great leadership in these Covid times, with the many restrictions and deprivations we have to face. Well done.
This term the challenge is to show that leadership in Reverence, Respect, and Responsibility through everything that we do in school life.
We believe that each of us is created in the image of God. And so our leadership in Reverence of God in our school starts with reverence for other people. Accordingly we need to be careful to put their feelings and needs first, and never deliberately say or do something which causes another discomfort.
Respect of one another: Our school was beautifully clean this morning, thanks to a lot of hard work by maintenance and housekeeping staff earlier this week. The shiny floors said: ‘you are welcome’. Our leadership in Respect means that we tidy up as we go along, we leave classrooms and dorms in a fit and proper state for all, we behave sensibly in our building. Leadership means that we all pitch in to sort things out, and get on the case of anyone who doesn’t.
Responsibility means that we find and cherish the gifts and talents that we have. We are all different. That can be hard work. Each man here is responsible for achieving his personal best, but the more so, in humility, he is responsible for looking out for the one who sits behind or in front or to his left or right, so that he too can prosper and flourish in lessons, in clubs, on the sports pitch, in rehearsals, in study and in dorms.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I am merely reminding you of the leadership challenge we embark on together in this new year. From the little time I have spent with you already, I know you are up for the challenge and will make our school a place where God’s light and love permeate our lives. I wish you every success in this coming year, and I hope to be very proud of the leadership each of you will show.