Bishop to educators: Win the next generation to Christ

Bishop Kemme spoke to pastors and Catholic school principals and other staff Thursday, Aug. 4, in Good Shepherd Hall at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. (Advance photos)

Bishop Carl A. Kemme talked about his fondness for the term “Peace be with you,” which is reserved in the liturgy for a bishop, when he addressed Catholic school principals and pastors Thursday, Aug. 4.

The term is based on Jesus’ greeting in the Upper Room after his resurrection.

“The apostles were gathered together in fear and confusion, and confounding doubt,” Bishop Kemme said. “They had seen, most from a safe distance, the fate of Jesus, the cruel passion and death of the one whom they had lived with, followed, learned from, and to whom they had given their lives and their love. In their minds, to be sure, it was all over for him and perhaps going to be over for them as well.”

But Jesus reassured them that he was alive, Bishop Kemme told about 100 educators and pastors in Good Shepherd Hall in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.

Two of the nearly 100 educators and pastors who attended the conference.

Peace is a gift of God

“Peace was his gift to them, not as the world gives it, such as we might hope for a more peaceful day or a more peaceful work or a life that has fewer troubles, but a peace that is from above, a peace that is born out of an Easter faith,” he said. “Sometimes, it is true, we feel like those apostles gathered in the Upper Room wondering where to go, what to do, how to act, paralyzed in fear and confusion and doubt. Our world is troubled, darkened, and full of concerns, but Jesus is here and he walks with us as the Risen Lord. As we begin another year of serving in the educational mission of the church and as we prepare ourselves to do the Lord’s will and in doing so to face certain challenges, I wanted my first words to you today to be a word of peace.”

The bishop encouraged those attending to consider reading and reflecting on two books: From Christendom to Apostolic Mission and a book of essays by the Institute For Catholic Liberal Education on Renewing Catholic Schools.

They may not agree with everything in the books, he said, but the books contain the direction diocesan Catholic schools should take in the years ahead. “I have read these books several times and continue to do so to mine the many insights they provide in helping those of us in leadership to renew that which is entrusted to us, all our ministries, especially in our parishes and in particular our schools.”

Prepare students to evangelize

Bishop Kemme said Catholic schools are critical in this new apostolic era and that over the years Catholic education has shifted from a primary focus on preparing students academically to forming them as disciples to advance society and culture and to evangelize it.

“These are the things one is hearing about Catholic Schools that, quite frankly, weren’t being admitted or spoken of just 20 or 30 years ago. And that is a good shift in my mind, for it reclaims why we have Catholic schools in the first place, in order to advance the mission of the church, which is the salvation of souls.”

The shift away from secular standards to the tradition of the church and its mission requires an understanding of why Catholic schools exist: “To win the next generation for Christ and to form them as his faithful and loving disciples and stewards. Anything else or less than this is not worthy of our time, energy, and resources.”

Culture has darkened

The culture has darkened over the last few years, especially recently, Bishop Kemme said. “Our parishes and schools will be even more critical in pointing the way and helping people embrace the truths of our faith, helping our students learn how to live as disciples in this world. It is my hope that more and more people will see us and all that we do in the mission of Catholic education as a beacon of light and hope in the times in which we live, a time of confusion, fear, and confounding doubts.”

It won’t be easy, he added, because of growing distrust and even animosity to the faith from a culture that teaches: that the young are masters of their own truth, definers of their identity and gender ideology, a redefinition of marriage, and dysfunction in the realm of human sexuality fueling by pornography and sexual promiscuity.

“These and so many other forces work against the Gospel of truth, goodness, and beauty. But this is the world in which we are called to live. We cannot hide from this reality or build higher walls to shield our children from these forces. It is into this way of life that we are sent as missionary disciples, into the breach, if you will, to do battle for the souls of our children. This is the mission of the church in this new apostolic era in which the Gospel demands to be preached and lived in a new and more dynamic way. We have been called to be leaders of the faith in this critical time.”

A new apostolic era

To exist and to serve in this new apostolic era, the bishop said, it is imperative for the faithful to deepen their resolve by an increased conversion to the Lord and a willingness to give a more public and personal witness about what we believe and teach. “I cannot encourage each of you enough to grow in your prayer lives, to open your minds and hearts to a more dynamic discipleship, and to offer your minds, hearts, and bodies as an instrument of evangelization, discipleship, and stewardship.”

The Eucharist is more vital than ever for living a Christian life, Bishop Kemme said.

“It is the food that strengthens and sustains us for the long road that lies ahead. We can only imagine how powerful the Eucharist was for the apostles and early Christians in that first apostolic era when the world was so against them; how much they must have relished those moments when they offered the Mass and encountered the Risen Christ with them again. The same must be said of us.”

We are at the beginning of a Eucharistic revival in this country, he said, one that is designed to bring about a renewal of enthusiasm, understanding, belief, and appreciation of the Eucharist.

Parish revival needed

“I long for this revival in all our parishes. And so I want to reaffirm the essential part the Eucharist is to play in the life of the school. It should never be viewed, like the faith, as something we add on, but something that is part and parcel of our school experience, extending, if you will, the altar and its graces to the classroom, to the gym, to the halls, and everywhere else the students are.”

He encouraged pastors and educators to reflect with students about that Sunday’s homily and to host Eucharist adoration and Eucharistic processions. “I think the classrooms should be replete with Eucharistic symbols that teach by art the beauty and the importance of the Mass. In such ways then, the entire school community should be wholly devoted to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our holy faith.”

Bishop Kemme concluded his address by asking them to be leaders to be on fire with God’s grace, marked by boldness and enthusiasm for the Gospel and the church.

“If we bring this kind of leadership to our ministry – and make no mistake, yours is a ministry in the church – we can be confident that something great and substantial will happen in the minds and hearts of the students and their families entrusted to our pastoral care. They will not see us as mere administrators, but as ardent believers in the One we are called to serve and that connection is sure to make a difference.”