For years during this back-to-school month of September I visited the Nazareth Schools to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit, asking God to bless the school community all through the year. It was always a rich, spirit-raising experience which I thought, given the new relationship with Aquinas Institute, would no longer be a part of my schedule. I am delighted that I was wrong about that.
The morning of Sept. 29 at Aquinas, all of the students now under the Aquinas-Nazareth umbrella gathered in the Wegman/Napier Gym at Aquinas for the opening liturgy. There were some 1,200 students ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade. Joining them were a number of parents, benefactors of Catholic-school education and board members.
It was clear from the beginning that this was a very special assembly. The students greeted guests with warmth. The older students kept an eye on the young students who assisted at the liturgy — singers, dancers, readers, prayer leaders — who were well-prepared and quite poised. And all of the young people participated in a beautiful way.
After the Communion rite of the liturgy, two senior girls who were at Nazareth Academy last year spoke of what it has like for them to make such a major change at this sensitive time in their lives. Also speaking was a senior boy who has attended Aquinas all through high school. All spoke beautifully. The girls allowed that the transition was a difficult challenge for them — large school, coeducation, different customs and practices. But, they also mentioned that they had been helped and reassured by the kindness of the welcome offered to them by their sisters and brothers at Aquinas. Their reflections meshed perfectly with what the senior boy said — that the students at Aquinas were committed to receiving their new companions as warmly and sincerely as they possibly could.
After the liturgy, I had the opportunity to sit with the students who shared their reflections, with two girls from the middle school and with a boy and a girl from the elementary level. The seniors had a chance to elaborate on the comments they had made at Mass and all of us had the opportunity to hear the beautiful younger ones reflect on their adventures in school.
I tried to listen to the young people very carefully and thought about their comments while I was driving to and from Canandaigua for our annual luncheon with our senior priests. At one level it was clear to me that both the young people at Nazareth and at Aquinas want this new enterprise to work. They want to make friends. They want to support one another. They want genuinely to like one another.
At another level I thought that — although they may not use this language — the kids realize that to be faithful disciples of the Lord means to be open to the other. More, such a sense of discipleship recognizes that, finally, we are neither hosts nor guests. Rather we are companions on a common journey who have both the opportunity and the responsibility to support one another along the way.
We are all aware that in many of our parish communities we are going through changes that are painful, that stretch us, that set us on new paths. It occurred to me during my thinking and prayer following the experience at Aquinas Sept. 29 that those who find such change difficult would have been much inspired by the young people who celebrated that morning.
Peace to all.