Start the academic year with joy

Fr Michael Barnes SJ spoke at two masses last week to open the academic year at Wimbledon College.  It is a tradition, all over the world, in Jesuit educational institutions to open the year with a Mass of the Holy Spirit. It marks the Ascensio Scholarum (the promotion of students from one year group or class to the next), a characteristic feature of Jesuit schools from the beginning, now universal in education systems of all kinds.

Speaking to the boys of Grammar, Syntax, Rhetoric and Poetry (the older year groups),  Fr Michael said ' So much emphasis now put on what can be measured: where the school is in the league tables, how particular pupils are improving, even honours at rugby and cricket.  All have a place, but joy is more important: by which I mean not a sort of ebullient enthusiasm but genuine contentment, feeling good about yourself: such a quality of life cannot be measured but it’s the very purpose of life in school like this.'

Jesuit schools have a strong tradition of producing 'Men and Women for others'.  Fr Michael stressed that this joy would lead to service.  ' If you really understand what it means to be at home with yourself – then something grows that is far more important than personal success: the ability to help others to be happy, to be OK with themselves.  You live out a Jesuit motto: AMDG - Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam - To the Greater Glory of God. '  He continued 'This translates every day as ‘men for others’: the self-possession/sense of well-being and confidence that knows how to build other’s sense of people of worth.'

This message is very timely, as there is a growing concern about the mental health of many young people in Britain.  Similar messages will have been delivered all over the world from Boston to Bangalore, from primary school to University level. In Jesuit schools, it is also traditional to have the solemn prayer of Dedication of Studies at the Academic Mass (or alternatively on a feast of Our Lady in the first term).