The 5 wounds of Christ and the 5 marks of Catholic schools by Michelle Tan

This June, the Church gives us two great feasts celebrating the amazing love of Christ for all of us: theSolemnities of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi on June 2, and the Solemnity of the Most SacredHeart of Jesus on June 7.

During this June school holidays, 13th century Franciscan St. Bonaventure invites us to contemplate on howthese two feasts are connected:

You who have been redeemed, consider who it is who hangs on the cross for you, whose death gives life tothe dead. Consider how great He is; consider what He is.

In order that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as He slept on the cross, in order that thatWord of scripture might be fulfilled – ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’ (Zechariah 12:10) – God’sprovidence decreed that one of the soldiers should open His sacred side with a spear, so that blood, with water,might flow out to pay the price of our salvation. This blood, which flowed from the recesses of His heart, gavethe Sacraments of the Church power to confer the life of grace, and for those who already live in Christ, was adraught of living water welling up to eternal life.” (Second reading of the Liturgy of the Hours’ Office of Readings forthe Solemnity of the Sacred Heart)

We heard in the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Ascension how Christ promised, before He returned toheaven, that He would be with us until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) This promise is fulfilled in theSacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where His real Presence fillsall the places wherever Mass is celebrated.

In the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word, whichbecame flesh 2,000 years ago, is present today in the Eucharist.”

I was struck by St. Bonaventure’s call to contemplate Christ on the cross, His identity, and His greatness. Whatmight this mean for Catholic educators?

The 5 essential marks of Christ’s schools

Christ on the cross was pierced in 5 places – His two hands and two feet which were nailed to the cross, andHis side, which was lanced by a spear.

These reminded me that, like Christ, Catholic schools bear their own stigmata. In 2006, American Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB summarised the Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools (HST), which declared that all Catholic schools should have the 5 following essential marks (I have further synthesised and illustrated themwith quotes from Pope Francis):

1.        Inspired by a supernatural vision

“The Church sees education as a process that in the light of man’s transcendent destiny, forms the whole child,and seeks to fix his or her eyes on heaven.” Why? Because their destiny is “to become saints” (HST).

The first man and woman were saints, with clean hearts and clean hands, living in perfect communion with Godand the rest of creation in Paradise. But they fell into sin, taking all mankind with them. To restore all humanityto heaven, God sent Jesus.

Fully God and fully Man, Jesus shows us the Way home to Paradise. With His passion, death and Resurrection, and then “with theAscension, something new and beautiful happened: Jesus brought our humanity, our flesh, into heaven – the risen Jesus was not aspirit – He had His human body, flesh and bones, everything. Suchis His love for us that He bears our humanity in Himself to the place that awaits us, our destiny.” (Pope Francis, Regina Caeli, May 21,2023)

If the vision of Catholic schools is to help our students attain their heavenly destiny, then our mission must be toproclaim and lead others to Christ, the Way.

In a 2022 message to the Secretary-General of the International Office of Catholic Education (IOCE), PopeFrancis wrote, “When we approach education, we cannot do so thinking of something merely human, focusingthe question on programmes, training, resources, areas of reception; the Christian vocation asks us to give voiceto a Word that is not ours, that surpasses us, that transcends us.”


2.        Founded on a Christian anthropology

The Merrian-Webster online dictionary defines ‘anthropology’ as the study of the origin, nature and destinyof human beings.

The Church sees man as the only creature God created – out of love, tolove and be loved – in His own image and likeness clothed with humandignity, and with the intellect, free will and hearts capable of seeking and understanding the Truth, Wisdom and Love that is God Himself.

Although God creates men and women in His image from natural, physical elements, our souls carry within us the spark of divinity, because the Spirit of God is breathed into us at conception, upon which we became living beings (Genesis 1:27; 22:7).

But we have since lost the likeness of God our Father and Jesus our Brother, having chosen to disfigure ourselves through sin, and masking our natural, God-given beauty with what Pope Francis calls worldly make-up and cosmetic surgery.

Our calling as Catholic educators, whether as parents, catechists, teachers, is to restore the likeness of God, asrevealed in the person of Jesus, to our young charges. To do this, we “should have a sound understanding of the human person that addresses the requirements of both the natural and supernatural perfection of thechildren entrusted to [our] care.” (HST)

“Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives ofothers… In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of His living presence, the one genuine Teacher, and theperfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection.” (HST) Yet schools have fallen into the “trap ofa secular academic success culture”, “fitting Christ in” rather than making Him their “vital principle”. (HST)


3.        Animated by communion and community

“All men are called to the same end: God Himself. There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons (the communion of the Holy Trinity) and the fraternity that men are to establish amongthemselves in truth and love. Love of neighbour is inseparable from love for God.” (CCC 1878)

Hence HST proposes that “a spirituality of communion should be the guiding principle of Catholic education” andCatholic schools be “communities of faith” where administrators, teachers, students, parents, school-boardmembers, religious and clergy engage and interact with each other in teamwork, co-operation and collaboration to foster a school’s “catholicity.” Otherwise, they would be “mere mechanisms without a soul.”

Schools should be an extension of the family, and the students’physical environment that of a recognisably Catholic “school-home”infused with prayer, suffused with “a delight in the sacramental”, andwhere “the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation inparticular should mark the rhythm of a Catholic school’s life.” (HST)

This spirituality of communion should extend to the wider society. Ina 2021 video message to the Jesuit Latin-American educationalcommunity (FLACSI), Pope Francis said:

“I would like schools to be welcoming schools, places where one’s own and others’ wounds can be healed;schools where the doors are truly open, where the poor can enter and where one can go to meet the poor. Theyshould embody the wisdom of the Gospel, which is the privileged perspective from which we can learn to livetogether with everyone in solidarity and fraternity knowing that we are created and connected as a family, asbrothers and sisters.”


4.        Imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum

As such, Catholic education must be integral i.e. aiming to “develop gradually every capability of every student: his or her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral and religious capacities,” as constantly inspiredand guided by the Gospel values. (HST)

This does not mean a Catholic school’s distinctiveness “lies only in the quality of its religious instruction,Catechesis or moral activities” – a school must espouse authentically Catholic values and virtues across itsentire curriculum, teaching students how to transform culture in the light of faith, and living out their faith inpractice. (HST)

This would mean for example, upholding the sanctity of life, especially of the vulnerable and unborn, despite theworld’s prevailing culture of death, and respecting the dignity of the human person and caring for creation in athrow-away culture that treats people and the earth as objects to be used, abused, and then discarded.

Pope Francis reminds us, through FLACSI that, “I want your schools to teach how to discern, to read thesigns of the times, to interpret one’s own life as a gift to be grateful for, and to share. Students should have a critical attitude towards the model of development, production and consumption (Laudato si’, 138) that makes the vast majority of the world’s population suffer… My wish is that your schools have conscience, andcreate conscience.”


5.        Sustained by Gospel witness

Catholic educators also have an integral role in the Church’s evangelisingmission. “Theirs is a supernatural calling and not simply the exercise of aprofession. The nobility of the task to which they are called demands that,in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message,not only by word, but by every gesture of their behaviour.” (HST)

In his General Audience of January 11, 2023, Pope Francis urged: “Wedo not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long wayfollowing Jesus to bear witness to Him, no. Our proclamation beginstoday, there where we live… We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, not convincing them ourselves, but instead, allowing the Lord todo the convincing.

Ǫuoting Pope Benedict XVI, he clarified, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows byattraction.”

As Pope Francis told FLACSI, “Jesus is the model that teaches us to relate with others and with Creation. He teaches us to go out, to meet with the smallest, with the poor, the rejected. May our schools form hearts convinced of the mission for which they were created, with the certainty that ‘life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others’ (Evangelii gaudium, 10). Life that is conserved ends up being a museum piece that smells of mothballs, and this is not helpful.”

5 marks, 5 wounds

Christ’s arms are stretched out on the cross, imploring everyone to come into His embrace, to reciprocateHis unconditional, undying love for us. We recall His words on Calvary: “I thirst!” (John 19:38) which echoes His earlier appeal to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Give me a drink!” (John 4:7) Jesus thirsts, not forliquids, but for our souls.

St. Teresa of Calcutta explained: “‘I thirst’ is something much deeper than Jesus just saying ‘I love you.’ Untilyou know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you, you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you, or who Hewants you to be for Him.”

To me, the two wounds on Christ’s hands symbolise the 1st and 3rd essential marks of Catholic schools, welcoming communities that attract young people to Christ who shows them their heavenly destiny. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

The two wounds on Christ’s feet remind me of the 4th and 5th marks, for “How beautiful upon themountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announcessalvation, who says to all, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)

As Pope Francis explained to the OIEC: “Jesus is always on the move, and He exhorts His disciples to do the same. Similarly, Catholic schools, in their initiatives, must teach minds to be open to new situations and concepts, to walk together without excluding anyone, to establish points of encounter and attracting those whoare far away.”

The wound in Christ’s side, the one in His Sacred Heart, therefore symbolises the 2nd mark, which is all aboutour identity as His Beloved Disciples. Created in the divine image, how else are we to regain the likeness of God if not by conforming our hearts, and moulding those of our young charges’ to Christ the good Shepherd’s?

We cannot do it through our own human efforts: it will be possible only if we cooperate with the grace of theHoly Spirit poured out on us at Pentecost, which we celebrated last May 20. What better time to start then inthis liturgical season of Ordinary Time, the extra- ordinary, exciting springtime of sowing the seeds of faith, bringing forth new life and walking with the Lord who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

So, every time we see the crucifixes in our homes, classrooms and churches and ‘consider he who hangs onthe cross for you’, may we be reminded of the 5 essentials of our vocation to lead the young people in ourschools to heaven, and that in the joys and sorrows of our pilgrimage on earth we never walk alone.


NB: Limited hard copies of the HolySee’s Teaching on Catholic Schools areavailable from ACCS. A PDF copy has alsobeen posted online at