Archbishop Vincent Nichols' Message to Secondary School Children September 2011 from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster’s message to Secondary School Children in Diocese of Westminster
5 September 2011
Today I want to speak to you, to each student in our secondary schools, as you begin this new school year.
I hope you have had a good summer. Some of you may have been on a family holiday. Some of you will have got your exam results. Some of you may have had a difficult time. It’s not always easy being a teenager, knowing what to do or who to follow. All of you will have known about the riots in our capital city.
Now you come back to the patterns of school and college life with the demands they make and the opportunities they carry.
Here you learn again about being part of a community that is far wider than your family. Central to what you learn is the need to show respect for each other and have some responsibility for each other if you are going to make the best of the opportunities given to you here.
These lessons of mutual respect and responsibility went out of the window for those few days of rioting and looting. I know that many of you were upset at what you saw.
Since then much has been said about young people today. But I am confident that you do understand the issues involved: that we owe respect to others in every circumstance; that theft is wrong; that we are easily tempted in the spur of a moment; that the actions we take always have their consequences.
But it is a deeper truth that I want to stress, one that underlines all these other points. It is this: the respect we have for each other is rooted in the respect we have for ourselves. Your respect for yourself is so important. Self-respect is what helps to set the standards by which you live.
That might sound simple. But profound and true self-respect is difficult to achieve. So many influences can sway you this way and that making you feel confused about who you really are and what you really want.
Self-respect is something you grow into gradually, as you come to accept and appreciate the abilities and character you have been given. You learn of it through those who love you. You can lose sight of it when you feel dejected or misunderstood.
When you truly respect yourself then you set yourself high standards of behaviour especially in the company of your own age group. You are not afraid to be different. When you truly respect yourself you also have high achievement targets. You want to do your best and be your best.
As you get older, you come to understand for yourself the differences between right and wrong. You learn how to be generous with what is right and how to say ‘no’ to what is wrong. Gradually you seek and find true and lasting values, not just those promoted by fashion or celebrity. Gradually you acquire the habits and routines of good behaviour, so that you know how to behave even when no-one is watching.
But what is the deepest foundation of this self-respect?
When you look at yourself in a mirror who do you really see? A child of your parents, certainly. A person liked by their friends. And a face anxious about its appearance. But you see someone more.
What you see is someone expressed in this truth, on which you can rely: ‘Before you were born God called you. From your mother’s womb God pronounced your name.’ (Jer.49.1)
There it is. You are a child of God. That is who you see each morning in the mirror. It is God’s life that is within you, the supreme gift that you have received. When you understand this, everything changes. This is why you have such respect for yourself, in every aspect of your being, and in your future. This is also why you have respect for your family and for every other human being for they too have the same dignity as you, as sons and daughters of one heavenly Father. We share one life together.
This truth lies at the heart of the life of your school community. I trust that in this coming year you will continue to learn more about the greatness of human living and achievement, about your faith in God made visible in Jesus Christ who is your friend and companion, about your own abilities and true potential. I hope that as you grow and learn you will see the importance of giving good leadership to others around you and the importance of contributing to your local community to build a just and compassionate society. What you give, the service you offer, helps others around you, but it really helps you to grow in self-respect as well.
Thank you for listening to me. I ask that you take a copy of this message home to your parents and talk about it with them, too.
One last thought. All your actions are carried out in the presence of God. You can be sure that God never lets you out of sight because God loves you so much that He can never take His eyes off you. God wants to watch as you prosper and truly flourish. You are loved so much. Please remember this in the term ahead.
God bless you all.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
2 September 2011