By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEE’S SUMMIT — Catholic school kids are sharp.
Motivational speaker Dominic Rizzi — he of the sculpted physique and the head full of coal black hair — asked a church filled with hundreds of them to guess his age.
All sorts of answers came flying at him through the pews, including the correct one — 51.
Then he asked the middle schoolers assembled at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish for the 17th annual Respect Life Education Day how many push-ups they think a 51-year-old man could do.
They showed him no mercy. “100.”
So Rizzi hit the floor of the parish church and gave them 100 push-ups, albeit straining on the last 10 or so while the students cheered him on.
Then he gave his talk about how anything is possible if people remember the mission God has for them.
He told them of his two brothers who hold black belts in martial arts, one of whom told
Rizzi that a black belt only means that you have mastered the fundamentals.
“You master the fundamentals in your spiritual life,” Rizzi told the students, “and it will change your life.
“And the first fundamental is that you were made for a mission. No one is here by accident,” Rizzi said.
“And that mission is to know, love and serve God,” he said.
Once that mission is in focus, nothing is impossible, Rizzi said.
Not even pulling off yet another Respect Life Education Day after Mother Nature threw a blizzard on the first scheduled day, Feb. 21.
“You can’t say no to Dena,” Christine Walker said of Dena Pepple, the Presentation mother who launched the first Respect Life Education Day for all Catholic school middle schoolers in 1996.
Walker could have of course. After all, she is the mother of five children, aged 10 years to seven months.
But Walker had plenty of help from other Presentation parents who always come through, she said. “I couldn’t have done it without my helpers,” she said. “They are amazing.”
And they are also busy parents.
“We’re all too busy,” Walker said. “But we’re not too busy to do this.”
Surprisingly, the rescheduled event went without a hitch. Every general and workshop speaker except one was able to make the rescheduled date. And when the speakers for the closing session couldn’t make it, Rizzi stepped in with his talk on the importance of living life fully, every day, with a focus on the fact that God values every life.
And like the previous 16 Respect Life Education Days, the middle schoolers learned the richness of the broad spectrum of Catholic teaching on the value of life.
Julie Pickert, a teacher at St. Pius X High School, told the students of her work in sidewalk counseling and prayer at local abortion clinics.
She does it for a very simple, basic, Catholic reason, Pickert said.
“These babies need at least one person to stand up for them,” she said.
And for the mothers and fathers of babies about to be aborted, Pickert added.
“It’s more than just physical life we are trying to save,” she said. “It’s about standing up for all our brothers and sisters so they may have eternal life in heaven.”
Pickert said her message to mothers caught in circumstances in which they think abortion is the only solution is that abortion is not the solution.
“For every reason for an abortion, there is an answer,” she said. “The baby is not the problem. Life circumstances are the problem.”
And that goes for people facing decisions at the end of life as well, said Sister Julia Kubista, director of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord.
“Is it ever right to intentionally take the life of an innocent person? There are people who think that if an elderly person is sick, then it’s OK to end that person’s life,” Sister Julia said.
“You are going to have to explain to them that it is not right. That is your Christian duty,” she said.
“Life is sacred. Life is holy because it belongs to God,” she said. “Every moment God gives you, respect it. Treasure it. Life is always worth living until God calls us home.”
Students also heard Sister Faustina of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord describe their mission among the poor in Vladivostock, Russia.
They heard FBI agent Mike Oyler describe his work in breaking some of the largest drug rings in Kansas City.
“My whole career is putting stupid people in jail,” Oyler told the students. “Don’t do stupid things.”
And Rizzi finished the day by driving home the point that each life has dignity and worth and that the virtue of chastity enhances that dignity and worth.
“Our human sexuality isn’t just great,” Rizzi told the students. “It’s much better than that. It is sacred and holy.”
It is also rooted in God’s law of love.
“If we break God’s law of love, it is going to affect the mind, the body and the soul,” he said.
Sexual promiscuity can not only lead to disease, sometimes fatal, but even more than that, “It steals our capacity to love,” Rizzi said.
Rizzi urged the student to stay close to the sacraments through their teen years, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“When a priest forgives your sins, it’s more powerful than if he raised you from the dead,” Rizzi said. “He has healed your soul. Your body will eventually die, but your soul is eternal.”
Rizzi also told the students to be like athletes, giving everything they have for a goal.
“When we give our best to God,” he said, “we get more back than we can ever imagine.”