By Christopher Lushis
SOUTH BEND — “May God guide all of you in the discernment of your vocations and may He give you the courage to live the radicalism of the Gospel.” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades stressed these hopes throughout his visit to Saint Joseph High School on Feb. 28, as he encouraged the young men and women he encountered to discern and follow the will of God for their lives.
The Gospel reading, which detailed Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, provided the heart of the bishop’s message on vocations, authentic Christian love and the fundamental nature of human beings as sons and daughters of God.
Bishop Rhoades said, “Jesus is calling us to a deeper and holier way of life. He is teaching what God’s intention is for marriage, that it be permanent. Jesus teaches that man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh. It is the union of two whole persons, the union of love and life.”
“He also tells us that what God has joined together, no human being must separate,” Bishop Rhoades continued. “This was pretty radical, but Jesus is teaching us truth, teaching us the way to human fulfillment, the path to true freedom. Is it hard? Yes! Is it radical? Yes! Being a disciple means we take up the cross and being obedient to the will of God, even when it is tough.”
The bishop also spoke of the importance of good marriage preparation, marriage enrichment programs, retreats and pastoral outreach to those who are divorced and remarried.
“Members of the Church who are divorced and remarried are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we do not want them to feel that they are excluded from the community. Encourage them to make a spiritual communion by uniting their hearts with Christ and the community during the Sacrifice of the Mass. Always keep in mind charity and truth, and continue to love them and encourage them.”
He also took the opportunity to present the reality of the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction.
“When I look at other members in our community of faith, whatever their sexual inclinations, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I love, respect and am called to have compassion and sensitivity towards — without watering down the truth,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Instead of identifying people by their attraction or inclinations, I look at them as persons. And I talk about God’s love for them, and the Church’s love for them, and my love for them.”
“Your fundamental identity is not based on sexual attractions,” Bishop Rhoades said. “You are first and foremost beloved sons and daughters of God and our brothers and sisters in Christ! We need to try to help them live according to God’s plan, to live a chaste life, just as we encourage that of people who get divorced. Because ultimately, where is true happiness and salvation? It is living according to God’s plan. That is the path that Jesus is showing us, and that’s the narrow path that we must stay on. Yes the Gospel is challenging, it challenges every single one of us. But this is true freedom, it is true human fulfillment, and in the end, it leads to eternal life.”
At the end of Mass, various students were recognized for their academic excellence and commitment to service. Principal Susan Richter announced the top performers from the senior class honored as tri-valedictorians Chelsea Supplinger, Anna Boll and Greg Monnin and salutatorian Claire Jilek.
Bishop Rhoades was also presented with gifts from the high school community, including a framed picture of the new Saint Joseph Chapel that he consecrated in 2012, as well the as naming one of the school parking lots in his honor.
Also announced was a service effort that Saint Joseph’s plans to take part during this summer in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.
On the feast of St. Joseph, members of the school will be presenting building material for the construction of a home to its recipient, South Bend resident Melanie Brazier. Bishop Rhoades was presented with a 2×4 to be used in the project, which he signed and blessed with holy water. He offered his blessing for the guidance and protection of all who participate in the build, as well as for the joy, peace and security for all who will come to reside with the home.
Bishop Rhoades fielded many questions posed by the student body, ranging from his favorite places to have offered the Mass, which included the Holy Sepelchre and the Tomb of Pope John Paul II, to his favorite leisure activities — tennis and basketball, to his Confirmation name of St. John the Evangelist. He was also asked about any struggles he may have faced in beginning his vocation to the Priesthood. He told the students that while his mother was supportive of his decision to become a priest, his father, who was not Catholic, was at first quite resistant, but eventually came to see the beauty of God’s plan at work and was very proud of his son.
After the assembly, Bishop Rhoades sat in on a theology class focused on Catholic social teaching. The class, taught by Mike Hamann, demonstrated how the principles of justice were being taught and applied to the lives of the students. Bishop Rhoades joined in the discussion and highlighted the importance of upholding the human dignity of each person and promoting the common good.
During lunch, Bishop Rhoades met with student council leaders to discuss various aspects of the religious elements of the school. The students offered positive reviews about their theology classes, especially when seeing their professors display faith lived out beyond the classroom. In addition, they signified that their spiritual development was enhanced through retreats, which connected faith with life. They also discussed how to increase vocations throughout the diocese and suggested having a larger focus on youth ministry for the South Bend area schools.
Before concluding his day, the bishop met with the school’s campus ministers and theology teachers, reviewing his hopes for the future and listening to their recommendations for improving Catholic education in South Bend. These thoughts included beginning the instruction of John Paul II’s theology of the body on the seventh-and-eighth-grade levels and the possibility of introducing classes focused on the Vocation of Women.