By Patrick Murphy
FORT WAYNE — Monday, Jan. 9, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the last day of the Christmas season, was a special day at Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne, as Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his annual pastoral visit there. The day began with Mass in the school gymnasium, celebrated by Bishop Rhoades and concelebrated by school chaplain Father Ben Muhlenkamp. During Mass, the bishop confirmed six students of the school, one of whom also received his first Holy Communion.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades reflected on the meaning of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. He reflected on the important meaning of the Jordan River for the Jewish people, recounting several Old Testament events that took place there. The bishop highlighted the crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites at the end of the Exodus and their entrance into the Promised Land. John the Baptist preached and baptized at the Jordan River, a powerful sign that the new Exodus was about to begin.
The bishop explained that a new Joshua would lead the people to freedom in the Promised Land. That new Joshua is the Messiah, Jesus, who came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Jesus did not need baptism or repentance, since He was without sin. “But he went into the waters like all the other people to demonstrate His solidarity with them. He shows us that He came to unite Himself to sinners whom He had come to save.” Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of His public ministry.
After explaining the revelation of the Holy Trinity at the Baptism of Jesus, the bishop spoke to the six candidates for confirmation about the effects of the sacrament of baptism: becoming sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit. They would receive an increase of the graces of their baptism at confirmation, a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them to live as faithful disciples of the Lord.
Over 600 students, faculty members and guests participated in the Mass, including the sponsors and families of those who were confirmed. At the end of the Mass, the bishop thanked the administration, faculty and staff of Bishop Luers for their devoted service to the mission of Catholic education. He commended the school choir and asked them: “Do you have a CD? I’d like to use it when I meditate in prayer.” The bishop commented on the beauty of two songs that the school’s choir sings so well: “The Prayer of Saint Augustine” and “Humbly, We Adore Thee.”
The students who were confirmed are Sergio Davila, Jimena Lopez, Liseth Nino, Courtney Scott, Leticia Cruz and Carlos Alvizures. Alvizures also made his first Holy Communion. Following the Mass, Lopez, a freshman, said she felt “closer to God. It was inspiring.” A friend of Lizeth Nino smiled broadly as she hugged her. “I don’t know English very well,” she said, “but I know Liseth (a junior at Luers) is proud and thrilled.”
Stephanie Lee, a sophomore at Bishop Luers, was happy to be in attendance at the Mass. “We see the bishop quite often,” she said, “and we’re always glad he’s here.” Riley Mintch, also a sophomore, said the bishop’s message personalized the feast that day and gave more meaning to the Baptism of Christ.
The bishop’s visit came within days of his leaving for Palestine and Gaza as a member of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services. The bishop shared with the Luers community about the work of CRS in the West Bank and Gaza, which began after World War II. CRS is involved in peace building, development, building livelihoods and emergency response and recovery. The bishop highlighted the problems in Gaza, an area devastated by war and conflict that has left not only physical damage, but instability and insecurity for the people, with over 50 percent unemployed.
The bishop thanked the Luers community for its support of CRS and asked for prayers for his trip and for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.
After Mass, Bishop Rhoades visited theology classes, had meetings with the faculty and enjoyed lunch with Student Council members. “I enjoy talking with students,” he said, “learning about them, their lives and their concerns. Hopefully they learn something — I know I do. And I love the Luers spirit!”
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