High school students were called to “be authentic Christians” at Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ pastoral visit to Bishop Luers on January 12 and 13. The annual visit looked different this year, as the bishop did not visit individual classrooms, but he did spend two consecutive mornings at the school to ensure that all Bishop Luers’ students could be present with him at a Mass.
Bishop Rhoades drew from the first letter of St. John in his homily and asked the students to always hold fast to the truths of the Gospel — particularly Jesus’ commandment to love others and to remain unified in the Christian faith and the life of the Church.
He proclaimed his joy at visiting the school, but this joy was tinged with sadness, as well.
“I also sometimes worry about you, kind of like a father who worries sometimes about his kids,” he said. “Why do I worry? Because I know there are antichrists around us. This is a problem today like it was back in the time of St. John. There are still those who propagate errors and falsehoods, who deny the true faith and try to convince young people to deny their faith. There are a lot of false teachers out there; those who try to deceive, to get young people to follow a different path than the path of Jesus.
“St. John is talking about many antichrists,” Bishop Rhoades stated. “He’s referring to members of the Christian community who did not persevere in the faith, who departed from the Church because they denied that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
“St. John calls them liars for denying that Jesus in the Christ. He calls them antichrists for refusing to recognize that God had come in the human life and death of Jesus; that He had come in the flesh. … And connected to this denial of the Incarnation was their disobedience to the great commandment to love.”
The bishop said he has seen a lot this past year, during the election season and during the pandemic, and is struck by “people claiming to be Christian or Catholic and yet filled with anger and hate. As Pope Benedict XVI taught, hatred and violence are tools of the antichrist.”
He warned that both racist and pro-abortion ideologies cannot be reconciled with the Gospel. While the bishop highlighted the abundance of Christian love exhibited during the pandemic, he also lamented the selfishness of some who focused on their own comfort and autonomy, rather than the common good and protecting the elderly and the vulnerable.
“The bishop spoke about the attack by a riotous mob on the Capitol the week before, noting that a few carried banners with the name of Jesus. He asked: “how can one reconcile Christian discipleship with unrighteous anger and hate?” The simple answer: you can’t!”
“We must all ask: Who do we belong to – Jesus Christ or a political idol? We can’t let our faith be eroded by ideology. The Christian faith is not an ideology.”
He recommended to the students that they read St. John’s letter and take to heart its strong words. He continued: “St. John says, ‘Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.’ He also writes: ‘If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.’ This is the logic of Christianity; it’s the logic of God, the logic of God who loved us so much that He sent His Son who died on the cross out of love for us.
“Young people, be authentic Christians!” he exhorted. “Reject the antichrists who try to manipulate you, political ideologues and demagogues who do not uphold the dignity of the human person. Don’t listen to the false teachers and hypocrites, modern-day Pharisees who claim to be religious, whose hearts are hardened to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus — the truth that we must love one another and that’s how we’ll be judged by God!”
Six students were confirmed during the bishop’s visit: Daniel Barron, Johnny Bloom, Edgar Castro, Eross Garcia, Isaac Zay and Edwin Gomez. Pastoral minister Nicole Rudolph worked with these students during after-school sessions to prepare them for their confirmation.
Rudolph praised the students’ dedication to their preparation for this sacrament. “They really desired to receive the sacrament, having personally made the decision to do so on their own and taking the responsibility to commit to attending classes. Some of them have taken theology classes at Bishop Luers for two to three years, which helped inspired their decision. All the students were really attentive, engaged, and actively participated which I was always impressed with especially since the sessions where at the end of full school days.”
Even on days that students had to miss sessions due to quarantine or virtual learning, they and Rudolph always found ways to make up the missed time. Most of the young men selected older siblings or other family members for sponsors, though one of them chose theology teacher Ann Isch as his sponsor. Father Patrick Hake, co-chaplain at Bishop Luers, offered a personal reconciliation service for them a week prior to their confirmation to help “prepare their souls to receive the sacrament.”
Even though the pandemic caused great changes to the annual visit, Principal Jim Huth was pleased, he said, to welcome Bishop Rhoades to the school and to hear his message.
“After the events of last week in Washington, his message of God’s love was a message our students really needed,” Huth said. “They are torn and confused by these events and the message of centering ourselves on God’s love and denouncing hatred and violence helps give us all courage and strength in these crazy times; a foundation built on truth – God’s truth.”
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