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Catholic Teacher blog: Who is my mate?

Nathan Ahearne  |  12 September 2018

Service learning and social justice programs have become a hallmark of many Catholic schools in Australia and contributed to instilling a faith that does justice. Our hope is that Catholic students will be inspired to action, that they take a step towards an audacious life, to make a personal sacrifice of their time, money and creativity to support other people. Pope Francis says ‘service cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial. Service is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages. For true service is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous.’

What does it mean to be a mate to those in need? For Christians, service is motivated by Jesus’ call to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ and this central theme of the Gospel is unpacked in Romans 12:9-13, ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.’ In this reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul describes what it means to be a good mate. He says we should be honest, do the right thing, and think about other people. But more than that, Paul continues with a description of what it means to be mates.

MATES is an acronym borrowed from Marist College Ashgrove and stands for ‘Marists Are Taking Everyone Seriously’. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, look after you friends and family or just give a little bit of your time and money here and there to help others. Rather, Paul and the MATES program calls students to give generously, live hopefully, share themselves with everyone in need and do it out of love.

Our students do great things quietly, unnoticed and sometimes unappreciated, and programs such as MATES recognise these valuable contributions that young people make. For instance, in one week at Marist College Canberra, the Community Meals Year 12 team prepared 150 lasagnes to be donated to local families doing it tough, 15 Year 10 boys helped support Malkara special school with their model railway expo and also supported the Woden senior citizens with their Bookfair. The Marist Justice & Solidarity group advocated for the poorest in the world by running Rice Day, the Offcuts Year 8 boys continued to produce wooden toys for children living in poverty and the Vinnies group helped to support hundreds of people through the Winter Appeal. There is no shortage of opportunities, no excuses and no reason to not do service. It’s time that we challenge our students to step up and be a mate for our neighbours.

Many ex-students from Catholic schools say that they would not be in their chosen career if it weren’t for their involvement in service at school and psychologists have identified the importance of looking beyond oneself and contributing to society in maintaining strong mental health. Programs such as the MATES award promote and recognise significant contributions to service and yet, according to Jesus, none of these are the primary reason to be involved in service. They are simply by-products of doing good and loving one another.

Being a mate is more than giving a hand up, service builds community. Some would say that Australian mateship was forged some 100 years ago, on the shores of Gallipoli, but more than likely, the raw materials of mateship were uncovered much earlier in Australia. Paul’s words encourage Christian communities to be ‘devoted to one another’ and not just in our friendship circles, or on the sporting field, but at all times, we must look out for those who need our loving actions.


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