PENFIELD — Few Catholics would consider the middle of Mass an opportune time for game-playing. But since the idea was floated by none other than Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who was to say otherwise?
In fact, Bishop Matano utilized this unique approach to punch home a vital point to the student body of St. Joseph School — the importance of their Catholic education and Catholic faith.
Presiding at a Catholic Schools Week Mass the morning of Jan. 28 at St. Joseph Church, the bishop asked for volunteers from the pews and was greeted by many young hands shooting up. He selected eight students in all, lining them up in front of the altar before explaining what he was up to. This proved a bit daunting for two volunteers, fifth-graders Jaidan Odorisi and Samantha Fallone, who had never before seen the second-year Bishop of Rochester in person.
"I was a little nervous, but excited to meet him," recalled Jaidan, 10.
Samantha, also 10, said she was a tad nervous as well "but I could tell he was going to be nice."
Bishop Matano then prefaced his game by noting the difference between Catholic schools and other schools. "In a Catholic school we learn all about God, and we learn how to live as his followers," he said.
He pointed at the tabernacle behind him, saying that nothing should be more important in our lives than Jesus. Then he asked the volunteers how we might end up distancing ourselves from Jesus with our actions. As he fielded their responses one by one — hurting someone, denying Jesus’ teaching, not obeying parents, lying, stealing, ignoring people — the bishop told each student to step backwards a certain amount of paces depending upon the severity of the sin named. The last response — killing — sent one young man all the way to the back of the church.
While all this was taking place, the bishop invoked the Ten Commandments several times. For instance, while reminding students of the Eighth Commandment — "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" — he remarked, "Do you know how much trouble a lie can cause, to say what’s not true about another person, to gossip, to destroy a good name?" He also lamented the all-too-frequent disregard of the Fifth Commandment — "You shall not kill" — as it applies to the growing trend of terrorism.
"The world has become very violent," he said, noting that terrorists "are taking innocent lives, lives given to us by God and destroying those lives. Isn’t that sad?"
Bishop Matano then called all the volunteers back up front — regardless of how distant they had become — thus illustrating the beauty and importance of the sacrament of penance.
"Jesus never holds a grudge," he said. "Isn’t it nice to be back closer to Jesus?"
The idea of using this "Mother, May I"-type game as a teaching moment got a thumbs-up from both Jaidan and Samantha.
"I thought it was clever," Jaidan said.
"It was a good idea," Samantha added, saying Bishop Matano’s homily helped her better appreciate and understand the purpose of her Catholic education.
St. Joseph’s special liturgy also featured a choir made up of students from prekindergarten through grade 6, as well as youth lectors. Toward the end of Mass, Bishop Matano emphasized that of all the important subjects available to the young Catholic students in attendance, Jesus is the greatest subject of all.
"Every classroom should live and breathe the Catholic faith," he stated.