Student leaders urged to bring joy of faith to high schools

Photo Caption: The contingent of student leaders from Schlarman Academy in Danville pose with Bishop Jenky after Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Oct. 25.

Joy is a powerful witness to the love of God and the beauty of the Catholic faith, and more than 140 student leaders were encouraged to take that message — and attitude — back to their high schools at a gathering in Peoria last Tuesday.

“We need to know our faith. We need to be able to convincingly demonstrate it to others. But if we do that and lack joy or love, it will fall upon deaf ears,” said Father Antonio Dittmer, the keynote speaker at the second Catholic High School Leadership Day. “You will convince people by your joy.”

Held at the Spalding Pastoral Center, the day drew representatives, teachers, administrators and chaplains from the seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Peoria: Central Catholic in Bloomington, The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, Schlarman Academy in Danville, Marquette Academy in Ottawa, Notre Dame High School in Peoria, St. Bede Academy in Peru, and Alleman High School in Rock Island. It was sponsored by the diocesan Office of Evangelization in conjunction with the Office of Catholic Schools.

The goal is to bring together a select group of students and equip them to be authentic Catholic leaders in their school communities and society “and thus transform the world.”

SOMETHING “TREMENDOUS”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, joined the students for lunch and then celebrated Mass for them at St. Mary’s Cathedral. During the liturgy they were commissioned to “stand up for the truth as taught by Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church,” to follow Christ by reaching out in compassion to their fellow classmates, “especially those who are overlooked or rejected” and to “stand as a light for Christ and thus bring others to know and love him.”

As they left the cathedral the student leaders received rosary rings that were blessed at Mass from Bishop Jenky and Father Patrick Henehan, director of the Council for High School Chaplains and pastor of St. Jude’s Parish in Peoria.

In his homily, Bishop Jenky reminded them that just as a tiny mustard seed produces a large bush or a little yeast leavens dough to make bread so their talents can be used by Jesus to do wonderful things.

“In the case of baptized, confirmed, Communion-receiving Catholics we can make an enormous change in our world. That is what your leadership is all about,” he said.

Bishop Jenky said there are times when even he feels shaky, “but when I remember what happens in the Eucharist, whatever little talents God gives me God can make great things out of. And the same transformation should and will happen to you.”

“Let us never let our fears, our insecurities, our troubles ever get in the way of God doing something tremendous in our lives,” he said. “The kingdom of God is ours for the taking and God will surely, truly, inevitably make that kingdom happen.”

“LET THEM SEE YOUR JOY”
Catholics have ample reasons to be joyful, but Father Dittmer gave the students leaders his top four to reflect on during the day. The first is that we are loved by God.

“How can we not be joyful,” asked the priest, a former chaplain at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign and the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal. Currently he serves as a spiritual director at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn.

This loving, living God also invites us into a relationship that can be nurtured daily. Father Dittmer added that through sanctifying grace God actually dwells in us.

Another reason to have a joyful heart, he said, is that God takes care of us.

“Numerous times in the Scriptures he reminds us that if we place our trust in him all will be fine,” Father Dittmer said, noting that even in tough times God is preparing us for our ultimate vocation of being in union with him eternally.

He warned them not to fall victim to the four obstacles to joy: self pity, complaining, worry and discontentment. Self pity makes us lose sight of God, while complaining is a failure to be grateful for what God has given us, he said.

Worry can result from a lack of trust and discontentment comes from not understanding that we have all we need in the love and mercy of God, Father Dittmer explained.

“Joy is something internal — no one can take that away from you,” he said. “It’s something God the Father longs to give” and it must be shared with others.

“When people meet you, let them see your joy at being Catholic,” Father Dittmer said.

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