My parents recently decided to provide me with part of my inheritance in the form of a camper trailer. Our family absolutely loves the outdoors, and for years we’ve been squeezing the six of us into tents and borrowed equipment in a way that resembles the crowded clown cars at the circus. The rationale of providing my inheritance before they died was so they could see our family enjoy the gift that they wanted to leave with us. I don’t mind in the slightest that my parents cheated the system by prematurely gifting us with my inheritance. However, it did make me stop and think about what we inherit from our families, not only in a financial sense but also in a physical, social, emotional and spiritual means.
Perhaps the first time I considered what I had inherited from my family was through a marriage preparation course, where couples were asked to consider how they perceive marriage based on observations of their own upbringing. It was revealing for each of us to look at our unconscious preconceptions that we had inherited from our families through osmosis.
During my early high school years I was introduced to the terms “middle class” and “third world,” instantly becoming aware of the social demographic that my family belonged to. My social conscience was certainly pricked during these formative years of discovering “the other” who had inherited quite different circumstances.
It is clear that we don’t always appreciate what we inherit from our families, be it physical or psychological characteristics, financial assets, generational history or social status. These forms of inheritance can be a heavy burden to carry. Consider the plight of Prince Harry, growing up in the shadow of his mother’s death and finding no other option than to sever almost all of his royal ties, in hopes of achieving a more peaceful life for his family.
Flowing on from the announcement of the 2019 Year 12 results, the topic of academic privilege has once again circulated in the media and placed private schools in the cross hairs. There is no shortage of boasting in the media by schools who compete for the best student outcomes, particularly those with numeric indicators. But as Tara Schultz writes, these “results measure socialisation or lack thereof, sorting young people by privilege or underprivilege … and until this is addressed, the sad truth is that it is better to be born rich than smart.”
The core mission of a Catholic school is to make Jesus known and loved, particularly for the most vulnerable. In the founding days of the many religious order-run schools in Australia, this meant providing education and care to the poorest of families. Whilst many schools generously offer bursaries and financial support to some families who are experiencing financial hardship, the business models and government funding require tuition fees that keep Catholic education beyond the reach of many families.
Over the past two centuries the Australian Catholic education system has inherited a rich charism and tradition of excellence from a variety of religious congregations. These schools are now predominately staffed and led by lay people who have created a new home for the charism to be nurtured. One might wonder how this new expression of mission keeps the faith of those whom it was inherited from.
As a parent, I find it challenging to reconcile the social justice issue of wanting the best for my own children, working hard to give them a great start to life and providing for all their needs, whilst trying to support those who have far less. I hope that my children will appreciate far more than the roof over their heads, quality education, healthcare and co-curricular activities. Perhaps they will inherit a spirit of gratitude for all they have received and a compassionate heart that yearns to share with those who have less. Pope Francis has said “the faith is the greatest inheritance we can leave” and it is my will that our children may come to appreciate this gift.
What will your children inherit from you?
Copyright 2020 Nathan Ahearne