This past Saturday, February eighth, twenty-four of our parish children received the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation for the first time. The children and their families gathered in the Church at 10:00am for a penance prayer service and individual confessions. Four prayer stations were set up around the perimeter of the Church and the families proceeded with their child from one to the other after the child received the sacrament.
In his homily, Fr John used a baptismal bib, colored water and a bleach pen to show how our souls are soiled by sin after our baptism. The soiled water served as examples of various sins we all commit such as, anger (red water), envy (green water), and pride (yellow water). Fr. John marked the baptismal bib with a stain after naming each of these sins. The baptismal bib clearly showed the stains and Fr. John told the children that our souls clearly show the stain of these sins when we commit them and any other sins. Our souls can eventually become gray and even black if we don’t seek to clean them. Fr. John showed how the baptismal bib can be cleaned in the laundry by using bleach or a bleach pen. Our souls need the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation to remove the stains of sins and when we receive the absolution from the priest in the sacrament, we can be sure that the stains are removed from our souls.
After private confession, the families went to the baptismal font, recalled the baptism of this child and prayed together. The baptismal font is where this journey began about seven years ago in each child’s life and it was appropriate that they re-visit the font and the promises they made that day. The next station gave the families an opportunity to pray a Family Blessing Prayer together. Our faith journey is best traveled with family, friends and our parish community to support one another. The First Penance child also received a Crucifix from the parish community to hang in their bedroom as a reminder of Jesus saving love and as a gift to remember the day. At the third station, thanks to Jim Grennon, the families had their picture taken with their child holding a relic of the True Cross. The families were deeply moved by this experience of holding and venerating a piece of the cross that Jesus died upon. At the last station, each of the First Penance children lit a candle and prayed with their parents that they would always be a light to the world that shines as brightly each day as it did on the day of their baptism .
These families celebrated this sacrament of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and love with joy in their hearts that was evident on their faces. The children were excited to confess, receive absolution and grace from their first experience of Penance and are a great incentive to us, as adults to approach the confessional with joy, hope and love. Leave the fear and pride at the door! Jesus awaits us with arms outstretched ready to embrace us, forgive us and set us free from all the burdens we carry in our hearts. God wants that for us. Why wouldn’t we want that for ourselves!
Catholic Schools Week is fast approaching. It runs from January 26 through January 31. The theme for 2014 is: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service”. On a daily basis this theme is vibrantly reflected by all our Catholic schools but especially at Bishop McHugh Regional School. Within an atmosphere of Catholic values, students are challenged by a demanding curriculum, preparing them for the 21st Century, and are living the Gospel call to service through the witness of Team Mercy.
Knowledge is an important virtue but few know the history of Catholic Schools in America. Until the Civil War Catholics were heavily persecuted in our Country. John Jay, the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, advocated that all Catholics be denied citizenship and if possible deported. The newly created Public School system of the time was essentially a Protestant attempt to create a WASP country based on the reading of the King James Bible in every school. Failure to read the King James Bible led to many attacks on Catholics throughout the country. Such attacks notwithstanding, the First Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1852 urged every Catholic parish in the nation to establish a school. In the 1960’s over 4 million children were enrolled in catholic schools.
God can make good out of every evil and the Civil War was a turning point in religious tolerance in the United States. The Civil War divided American Catholics into North and South but also helped to defuse religious prejudices. The post-war period brought continued growth in Catholic education but with it came political pressures against Catholic Schools especially with the Blaine amendments. In 1875, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant called for a Constitutional amendment that would mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public funds for “sectarian” schools. He said he feared a future with “patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and greed on the other” which he identified with the Catholic Church. Senator James G. Blaine of Maine had proposed such an amendment to the Constitution in 1874. The amendment was defeated in 1875 but would be used as a model for so-called “Blaine Amendments” incorporated into 34 state constitutions over the next three decades. These amendments prohibited the use of public funds to fund parochial schools and are still in effect today.
Fast forward to today. We need your support to keep our Catholic Schools open!! We will begin our celebration of Catholic Schools’ Week with the 9:30 mass, Sunday, January 26th. Information regarding Bishop McHugh Catholic School and Catholic Schools’ Week events will be available following the Mass. School representatives will be on hand in the Gathering Space to register students for September 2014. Please note that the $100 registration is refundable should the school be unable to open next Fall. The cut off date for registration is February 28th. Please: I call your attention to the three year Tuition Transfer Grant Program. This is a $3000 grant, over three years, for eligible students! Contact the school for further details.
While we celebrate Catholic Schools’ Week, let us be reminded of the recent observation of Bishop Roger Foys of Covington: “While there may be alternatives to Catholic Education…there are no substitutes.” This vital ministry is an investment in our children and our entire community of faith. Thank you for caring, Blessings, Fr. John