This year's Mary Ward characteristic - 'following in Christ's footsteps'
This academic year we are focusing on only one of the characteristics of a Mary Ward school, rather than our usual two.
Following in Christ’s Footsteps is, it might be argued, fundamental to all of the twelve characteristics. All Christian teaching, models and methods of spirituality, and even saints, are mediating Christ. With Venerable Mary Ward and St Teresa of Avila, on whose feast day I am writing, the point is not their own message but that they are a glass through which to view the message of the Gospel of Jesus – the saints are prisms mediating that message.
The characteristic Following in Christ’s Footsteps is very broad and so, for ease of reference, we suggested five areas that this might encompass; in these, the relevance of this characteristic to our school, our communities and our world is immediately clear – Welcoming All, Forgiveness, Healing, Prayer, Gratitude.
Following in someone’s footsteps can lead to different symbolic resonances for reflection.
Firstly, one might think of having the journey made easier, or safer, manageable or bearable – the steps in the lead mark the safe ground and the pitfalls; they make the difficult terrain navigable – I am reminded of the page, who is told to step through the snow boldly in the footsteps of good King Wenceslas, in the Christmas carol.
Following in footsteps can encourage and energise. When my children were flagging (and complaining) on a long walk, we used to tell them that if they stepped on our footprints it would give them an energy boost, and it seemed to work. In the Christian life and vocabulary, receiving such a boost is called ‘grace’.
To follow in someone’s footsteps can also mean to emulate them – to become the person whose model you are following. The calling of a baptised Christian, or of a Christian community, is not just to become good or nice, but to become Christ for others – to embody Christ to the world. In her well-known reflection, St Teresa of Avila wrote; Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on all people.
We hear it also in the start of our school prayer, which talks about becoming a community of love and truth, where the weak are strengthened and the strong are humble – themes central to the gospel message. These should not be just idle sentiment but aims which (should) make us more Christ-like in our concern for and service of others, both in the relationships in our community and our interaction with the world outside – to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God (to borrow from the prophet Micah).
To become more Christ-like through service of others – welcoming, forgiving, healing, praying, thanksgiving – is also part of a journey of self-discovery. It is a process through which we too are all called to be saints – the means through which others encounter Christ.
Director of Christian Life