In three different ceremonies through these Lenten days, we’ll be recognizing some 800 high-school seniors for their commitment to the Christian life. These young women and men, nominated by their parishes, gather with their peers to receive a small plaque recognizing their selection for the “Hands of Christ” award.
We had the first session at St. Joseph, Penfield, on Monday. The second, at St. Lawrence, Greece, on Wednesday. The last one will be on Saturday, March 28, at St. Mary Our Mother, Horseheads.
We have been honoring high-school seniors for about 25 years. The format has evolved over time, and we have regionalized the celebrations as the number of honorees has grown. But, the constant element always has been to encourage our maturing friends in prayer and service.
I don’t know the number of these events I have celebrated with our seniors over the years. I can tell you that I never grow tired of them. Each one is a new experience. Each one is a reminder of how God constantly renews our community with new life, exciting gifts and wonderful, youthful faith. A highlight for me over the years has been the practice of inviting representatives of the seniors to share something of their faith story with their peers, and with friends and family members who attend the celebrations. When the young people rise to speak, I notice that all present give the speaker their undivided attention. That experience always is a reminder to me of the power one’s story can have in the lives of others.
No less important, in my opinion, is the positive and deep impression it makes on each of the seniors to be in the company of peers who share values that are very important to them. I know that when I was their age it was very important to me to have such friends. I expect that’s true of all of us at whatever age we may find ourselves.
I hope that you will keep in your prayers all of our friends who are now coming to the end of their senior years in high school. As you so well know, this is a pivotal time in their lives. They face some major questions. Some already have fairly clear ideas of the directions they would like to take in life. Others are still searching. Still others haven’t faced the question as of yet. In all cases, the probability is fairly high that there will be some changes in direction along the way. I remember that I started college at Holy Cross in September of 1955 with a view toward service in the Navy. In February of 1957, I entered Mater Christi Seminary in my home Diocese of Albany. And, I know that many of my peers experienced equivalent shifts in their own early directions.
In addition to praying for them, it can be helpful to indicate our interest in them, to encourage them, to offer whatever support we can. There’s no one set way to do that. They’re different from one another. So are we. But it never hurts to ask a question that invites them to reflect aloud on their own journey, if they are inclined to do that. It never hurts to offer a word of praise or gratitude when they do something that you admire. It always helps to listen carefully when they speak. We all want to be taken seriously.
If you know a high-school senior, I certainly encourage you to pray for her or him. And, I ask you to think of some specific way in which you might encourage that person at this very important time of life.
Peace to all.