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Archives Teachers, parish leaders ‘Celebrate Christ’

Oct. 30, 2019

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff writer

LAKE PLACID – Faith. Hope. Passion. Mission. From the opening Liturgy through the keynote addresses, these words encouraged and challenged participants at Celebrate Christ 2019. Held at the Crowne Plaza, the biennial event drew more than 250 people from around the diocese. Catholic schoolteachers and principals gathered on Oct. 18, while catechists, parish personnel, and others participated on Oct. 19.

Opening the event was St. Joseph Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, superintendent of Catholic Schools and director of Faith Formation for the diocese. She focused attention on the participants’ common task: “We are all called to be missionary disciples who know Jesus and go forth to share the incredibly good news of his love and mercy…The Gospel assures us that the Holy Spirit accompanies us and teaches us what to say.”

Bishop Terry R. LaValley, celebrant of the opening liturgy, expanded on this in his homily.

“Faith consists in letting ourselves be renewed by Christ’s call. We must possess a passionate will to give ourselves to Christ, which is what children should witness when they see us, when they look at our lives. Faith is a gift of God that comes to us through others, through witnesses. It is kept alive in remembering, in the body we call the Church.”

Noting that the current generation has too often been deprived of this type of witness, Bishop LaValley reminded listeners that, “We must always share our experience of God to encourage others. Remember: the Holy Spirit made evangelizers of the Apostles, and he does the same for us. In this way we share in Psalm 145: ‘Your friends make known, O lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.’”

Keynoter Kevin Dowd reinforced these themes in his lively and highly engaging multi-media presentations. Teacher, speaker and author, Dowd brought a wide-ranging experience to his talks, analyzing current social issues as opportunities for sharing our faith with others.

“We have to claim our heritage, to remember who we are as Church,” said Dowd. “People search for their birth moms. Others spend endless hours researching their family genealogies. Knowing who we are is so important! And rites and rituals are only a part of this identity. I am aware of Presence, with a capital ‘P,’ and I feel the gentle pull of relationship to the one Ground of Being,”

With input from his audience, Dowd examined what it means to be Catholic, highlighting the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, where they recognized the risen Christ in the breaking of the Bread.

“It was then that their hearts were burning within them,” Dowd explained. “That reminds us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, absolutely central to who we are. Our Church also uses signs – incense, oils, bells, candles – to point to the sacred, which help us remember our heritage.”

Dowd connected sharing our Catholic heritage with the work of passing on the faith. Himself a former Catholic school teacher, he noted that Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to offer what other schools cannot.
First, he said “is a clear understanding of the dignity of every person created in the image of God. Not that people in general are so created, but YOU and YOU and YOU, each one is created in the image and likeness of God – each one unique and different and precious. We can honestly embrace all children: ‘You are loved and appreciated and welcomed here.’ By contrast, our society isolates us, a feeling amplified by social media; this means that we cannot reveal who we really are.”

Furthermore, “Catholic schools give a clear moral vision. As we teach the Ten Commandments, we must be careful not to miss the preamble: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt; you shall have no other gods before me.’ This is God saying: ‘I want you to be FREE, not slaves – to work, to the culture, to social media. I want you to be free to hear the voice of Love and to respond with love.’”

This truth grounds students in their relationship to God and to others, and thus strengthens them for their part in in building the kingdom of God.

Finally, Dowd asserts, Catholic schools give meaning to students’ lives.

“As suicides increase right along with social media use, we combat that with the Cross,” he said. “We teach students that their lives have infinite, eternal, meaning; we open their spirits to the Resurrection and let them know that suffering has eternal value. The heart of what we do is about a relationship to Jesus Christ. It is all about this loving relationship, and about how God always finds a way to get in. We offer young people the greatest gift: hope.”

That hope is renewed constantly in the gift of the Eucharist, and Dowd suggests a three-movement approach to teaching about this sacrament.

“The first is receiving the Real Presence of Jesus, as he told us to do in memory of him,” Dowd said. “Of course, we are not worthy. But God wants to heal us! We receive the Body of Christ in order to BE the Body of Christ. He wills us to continue his work and to be his presence to others. As Pope John Paul II wrote, ‘The Eucharist is the principle and plan of mission.’ This leads to the second movement, being the Body of Christ, who expects us to bring his presence into the world by caring for those in need and by defending the defenseless. Think of the words of Teresa of Avila: ‘Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses his people.’”

The third movement Dowd cites is “offering” – the offering of ourselves to the Lord who has given himself for us on the Cross.

“We join ourselves to the gifts brought to the altar,” said Dowd. “Using the marriage metaphor of Scripture, we see that God wants a marriage with us, he wants to bring us into himself. The Eucharist is an invitation to that, to respond with a true ‘I do.’ We receive the Body of Christ, but he also wants to receive us. Let your heart receive the One who opens so deeply to you. In this way, as Benedict XVI reminds, all creation is taken up to be transformed in Christ.”

Recognizing the role of many in that transformation, Celebrate Christ also honored teachers for long time service in Catholic schools. Teachers and catechists alike were also recognized for the many hours they invested in the diocesan “Growth in Faith” program. Additionally, certificates were awarded to catechists in the areas of leadership and youth ministry.

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