By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Summer seemed to pass very quickly this year. Even Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., commented on it at the beginning of the annual Convocation Mass for teachers and administrators Aug. 12 at St. Therese Church in Parkville. New teachers and seasoned veterans joined in the chuckles as he said, “It is a joy to be with all of you after a very fast summer!”
Bishop Johnston was joined by Father Joe Cisetti, pastor of St. Therese Parish and Father Ryan Koster, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of St. Joseph concelebrating the Mass, and assisted by Deacon Mike Elsey, a teacher at St. Pius X High School, and Rev. Mr. Olvin Giron, transitional deacon at St. Therese Parish.
In his homily, Bishop Johnston noted that the Holy Spirit makes all things new. Thus as teachers, administrators, students and their families prepare for a new school year, “it’s fitting that we do so with a Mass of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent to make God present and active in us; and in a real sense to make things new again … to bring things back to life … to renew and change us.”
He spoke of the new life that Jesus brings through the power of the Holy Spirit in the first reading from Isaiah which talks about the Spirit of the Lord which will rest upon the Messiah; the same gift “given to us at Baptism and Confirmation … you and I are born again anointed and set apart for service. We have been given a new life to live, if only we will.”
The bishop recalled attending a talk by a Minnesota Catholic high school educator. The teacher described the high school’s curriculum and spoke of the role of drama in the school.
All the students are required to take classes in the arts, and he believed the most important was drama. “Every student during their time in the high school will be a part of a play, because of what they learn from that experience.”
Drama is so important, the educator said, because of its similarity “to the entire Christian life.” First, in order to play a role effectively, you have to surrender yourself “to a new identity given to you by another author. In effect, he said, this is what Christianity is: in order to be a Christian, we have to die to our first self and embrace a new identity given to us by God.”
Bishop Johnston expanded on what the educator said about roles. “Secondly, he said, every role in a play is important, even the tiniest parts are important to the overall story; and, if one of them is not done well, the whole play suffers: it’s a great analogy of the Body of Christ. Everyone is important; and no one is dispensable. Everyone in the community is called to excel in the part they are given to play.”
The bishop told the teachers and administrators that in a sense, he thought this captured “two of the most important things we must carry into this new academic year.”
“… We must realize that each of us is called to live fully and eagerly the new life that we have been given by God in Jesus. … surrender the old life of illusion and desire that Jesus delivered us from through his death and resurrection. … we must also embrace and surrender to our new identity—the one we have been given by the author — God.”
He explained, “This is what it means to truly be a disciple. Being a disciple is more than simply believing in God; it is about reaching a moment where, in total freedom, I choose to, figuratively, sell all I have and buy the ‘pearl of great price’ … it’s when I hitch the ‘wagon’ (our lives) to Jesus, and allow him to give it direction. It’s like accepting a marriage proposal from the Son of God: it requires a deliberate, life-changing decision—a trusting surrender. I no longer live for me; I live for Him.”
Bishop Johnston said he shared that with the teachers “because to be a good Catholic School teacher or coach, I’m convinced you really have to be a good disciple of Jesus first. Or, at least, … on the way to becoming a disciple.” He invited all those present to see in the year ahead an important time for themselves and their identity. “I invite you to explore your identity — who are you? Do you still live as if you had never encountered Jesus of Nazareth? Have you discovered the adventure of your new identity and really begun to live? You have a part in God’s drama, have you died to self and embraced your new part in the play?”
He urged the teachers and administrators to remember “to carry into this year a consciousness that everyone in our school is indispensable. Every child is important and has a part, however small. If we see this, we will be energized to help every student excel, and realize they are indispensable to God’s plan. God has a role suited just for them which they must carry out with excellence and confidence.”
He concluded saying, “In essence, we want to help our youth: 1. Receive the gift you are; 2. Realize the gifts you’ve been given; 3. Respond with the gift only you can give. This is true for each of us. This helps us all to realize and honor the human dignity and goodness of everyone, to begin to see what it means to live a life of service, and to help our students discover the process of discerning a Christian vocation.
“May the Holy Spirit bless and guide you as you love Jesus, follow Jesus, and share Jesus as actors in God’s great drama that is now our new life in Jesus.”
One very important part of the Convocation Mass is the Christian Commitment of Faith for Teachers and Administrators. Teachers and administrators promise to conduct themselves in a manner that supports the Church’s doctrinal and moral teachings; foster the common discipline of the Church and urge observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law; participate in Holy Mass or Christian services weekly according to their faith traditions; Catholic teachers promise to protect, practice, teach and profess the Faith in its entirety and associate with what is expressed by the Pope and all Bishops in communion with the Church, practicing an active and moral faith life and remaining in good standing with the Catholic Church; and non-Catholic teachers and administrators promise to protect, teach and profess the Faith in its entirety and support and model behavior in accordance with the teachings of the Church.
Following Mass, diocesan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Peters and Associate Superintendent Patricia Burbach both spoke about the coming year and about accreditation. In July the diocesan school office received confirmation that all the schools are fully accredited.
Thunderstorms rolled over the area that morning, but as the teachers left the church to perhaps finish setting up their classrooms, the sun came out. As the old song by Johnny Nash says, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny” year. All diocesan schools were to start classes Aug. 15, 16 or 17.