Every year, students from Catholic schools in the Fort Wayne area come together to celebrate the All-Schools Mass with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and the priests from their schools. This year’s Mass took place on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
The risers in the room were filled with children in their uniform polos and khaki pants or school skirts, but the clothing of the fourth-grade students in the chairs in front of the altar varied. Some were dressed as martyrs, while others were dressed as religious brothers and sisters; all personified saints or those on their way to sainthood. The students had made ready for this day by choosing a saint and researching him or her, and shared the story of their saint with their classmates or their other schoolmates.
Melissa White, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Joseph Hessen Cassel School, Fort Wayne, shared how she and her students had delved into the study of some of the church’s most holy figures. “We’ve been discussing how you become a saint,” she said, and besides this, they researched and had a weekly assignment about their saints, which they shared with the class. The day of the All-Schools Mass, the students dressed like their saints and visited the younger grades, sharing information about them.
One of White’s students, Mara Striker, explained that she dressed like St. Agatha because, “She’s the patron saint of breast cancer.” Another student, Malachi Blaumbo, said that he chose St. Padre Pio because he was interesting and “he loved helping other people.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke with the students about the church’s saints, but first addressed the Gospel reading of the day. The Gospel began with Jesus telling his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49). The bishop explained that Jesus was so eager to save us, to do His Father’s will, to set the world on fire with God’s love. He explained that this fire is very destructive, in that it destroys sin and evil. However, fire also gives light, like the flame of a candle in a dark room. The fire that Jesus sets gives light to the world.
The bishop explained that Jesus did not want the fire of his love to be extinguished in the world when he ascended into heaven. He sent the Holy Spirit, who descended as tongues of fire upon the disciples at Pentecost so that the fire of his love would spread throughout the world.
The bishop then addressed all the eighth-grade students, telling them that they too would receive the fire of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation. The Holy Spirit would help them to spread the faith and the love of Christ.
“Every saint spread the fire of God’s love in the world,” Bishop Rhoades said. He explained that these holy men, women and children were on fire with God’s love and spread his love through their words and heroic deeds.
After this, the bishop turned the focus of his homily onto the fourth-grade students. He told them that during the opening procession he had looked among them and tried to guess which saint they were dressed as. He joked that he “thought he was in a Franciscan monastery,” as he had noticed many students dressed as Franciscan saints. Then he asked for all the children dressed as St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Clare and other Franciscan saints to join him in front of the altar for a moment.
He talked to two students dressed as St. Anthony, asking them how the saint spread God’s word. The students said that he spread love through giving to the poor. The bishop said he heard that many of the schools had recently held collections of food, money and other items for those affected by the hurricanes, and that this act was an example of spreading God’s love; and that every school in the diocese tries to spread the fire of God’s love through making sacrifices.
Bishop Rhoades also spoke to a student dressed as St. Clare. He explained that St. Clare was a contemplative nun, meaning that she spent much of her time in prayer. He told the children that prayer is another way to spread God’s love. “Praying for others is an act of love,” the bishop said.
“We can spread the fire of God’s love in prayer and good deeds,” he said. He asked some of the other students gathered with him how they could spread this fire at school. Their suggestions included spreading the Gospel, sharing the teachings of Jesus and spreading goodness.
“Our mission is to spread the fire of God’s love on the earth,” which Jesus came to earth to do, he said. He explained that there is so much hate, selfishness and violence in the world that the need to spread God’s love is urgent. The bishop ended the homily with a line from the prayer “Come Holy Spirit,” which he had the students repeat: “Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.”
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