After a snow day postponed his original pastoral visit to Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne, earlier this year, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his visit to the school on Monday, April 9. At the beginning of a Mass celebrated with students and staff, he mentioned that he has had to reschedule previous pastoral visits to Bishop Luers because of snow as well. He decided that after this year’s visit in February was postponed, he should come in April to avoid the snow: However, he joked, as he drove to the high school that morning, it was snowing.
The Mass, concelebrated by Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp, took place on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. The bishop explained at the beginning of his homily that the Annunciation is usually celebrated on March 25, but was pushed back this year because Palm Sunday landed on that date. The Annunciation could not be celebrated during Holy Week or Easter Week, so it was carried over to the first available date of April 9.
Bishop Rhoades used his homily to reflect on the Gospel, which told the story of the Annunciation. He said that the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary was “the greatest announcement in human history.” He reflected that Gabriel’s visit must have been startling and overwhelming for Mary. Even though it was a short conversation, it was also a conversation that “turned Mary’s life upside-down.”
The bishop said that the message from Gabriel was not a command from God. Instead, the message was a calling. While Mary may not have had total understanding of this calling from God, she had total trust.
“Because of her faith and obedience, God came into the world,” Bishop Rhoades said. In addition, he said that Mary invites us to say “yes” to God, as she did.
“When we say yes to God, we find our true happiness and peace,” he said.
A student asked him earlier that day how he knew of his calling to the priesthood. The bishop shared that moment, which happened during his sophomore year of college. He had been praying on a mountain, torn between the vocations of marriage and the priesthood. He took Mary’s response from the Annunciation, substituted “handmaid” with “servant,” and prayed, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to Your Word.” After this prayer, the bishop felt incredible peace and joy about the priesthood, a sign that this was God’s will for him. He encouraged the students to pray and seek to know the Lord’s will, and then to do it. He said that no matter the circumstances they might be going through, they will have “peace and joy deep down” when they follow the will of God.
Bishop Rhoades transitioned his homily to the three students who were receiving the sacrament of Confirmation at Mass. He explained that the same Holy Spirit that came down upon Mary at the Annunciation, as well as the apostles at Pentecost, would descend upon Lucy Derloshon, Jordi Hernandez and Gabriel Mitchell as they were being confirmed. The bishop asked that the students and faculty pray for Derloshon, Hernandez and Mitchell, that their hearts would be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit throughout their lives.
After the homily the bishop asked Derloshon, Hernandez and Mitchell to stand and renew their baptismal vows. After the renewal, the bishop asked for a moment of silence as the students and faculty prayed for the three students. Once the prayer was finished, the candidates were brought to Bishop Rhoades by their sponsors to be confirmed.
At the end of Mass Bishop Rhoades commended the choir and thanked those who organized his visit — as well as the faculty, who are agents of “the great mission of Catholic education.” He then invited the students to join him on the upcoming World Youth Day pilgrimage taking place in Panama in January. He said that there would be many participants from the diocese, and that he hoped there would be a good representation from Bishop Luers.
Before celebrating Mass, Bishop Rhoades visited a few classrooms. He spoke to Drew Heiniger’s three AP Government classes on the topic of immigration and the Church’s teaching and activities in service of migrants and refugees.
The bishop began his discussion with Heiniger’s sixth-period class by sharing that one of his first assignments as a priest in York, Pennsylvania, was visiting migrant camps in Adams County twice a week. He that he celebrated Mass for them and tended to their spiritual and pastoral needs.
He explained that many people are forced to migrate, especially when people’s lives are in danger or they are unable to support their families due to extreme poverty. He gave examples of the conflict in Syria, poverty in Mexico and drug problems in Central America.
Bishop Rhoades also said that the Church is very involved throughout the world in helping refugees and migrants. Currently, he noted, there are 65 million refugees in the world who have been uprooted from their homes.
While the Church recognizes the right of nations to control and secure their borders, the Church also recognizes the plight of those who are unable to live in peace or with economic stability. In addition, the Church insists upon respect for the life and dignity of all, including undocumented immigrants. The bishop stressed the importance of keeping families together, and the pain caused by forced separation.
“There needs to be a way to help these people,” he said. He knows that immigration is a complex issue; however, Catholics should look at the topic of immigration with the perspective of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching.
After speaking with the classes, Bishop Rhoades joined student leaders and peer ministers for lunch. This group was composed of sophomores, juniors and seniors. As each student came to the meeting, the bishop asked them their name and which parish they attended.
As the group ate, he asked questions about the activities and community at Bishop Luers, and let the students lead the discussion. The topics they covered were the responsibilities of Student Council and Peer Ministers, the service group Sodalitas, visits from area priests and seminarians, their theology courses, an upcoming school production of “The Sound of Music,” sports programs and the diocesan pilgrimage to World Youth Day.
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