By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Hundreds of second-through-12th- grade students gathered in the Assumption High School gym Feb. 2 for the annual Scott County Catholic Schools Mass as part of Catholic Schools Week celebrations.
Father Thom Hennen, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport and a theology instructor at Assumption, was the celebrant. Concelebrants were Fathers Rich Adam of Sacred Heart Cathedral-Davenport, Jason Crossen of Our Lady of Lourdes-Bettendorf, Jake Greiner of Our Lady of Victory-Davenport, Tony Herold of St. Paul the Apostle-Davenport, William Kneemiller of St. Paul the Apostle-Davenport, Apo Mpanda of St. Anthony-Davenport and Jim Vrba of St. John Vianney-Bettendorf.
Fr. Hennen began his homily by talking about light. “We celebrate Christ, who is our light, entering his temple. For this reason, at the very beginning of Mass today we blessed candles, as symbols of this light, and carried them in procession to the altar.” This day also marked Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
“To my mind, there could hardly be a more fitting feast on which to celebrate our Catholic schools. After all, our Catholic schools have as their mission to enkindle and bring to flame this same ‘light’ in the hearts and minds of every student who passes through our halls so that all of you might, in turn, carry this ‘light’ out into the world, a world that can seem very dark at times.”
He expressed gratitude for three years of teaching at Assumption. “This is an experience for which I am more grateful than you can know. And let me tell you, I have seen the light of Christ here. I have seen his light in my students — in their desire for knowledge and in their authentic goodness. I have seen the light of Christ in my fellow teachers — in their passion and dedication. I have seen the light of Christ in your families, who are so devoted to this school. I have seen this same light, the light of Christ, when I have visited the other schools of this deanery and of the diocese, in my role as vocations director.”
Fr. Hennen also referred to the privilege of sitting on a committee looking at Catholic identity in diocesan Catholic schools. “That is, to look at what being a Catholic school really means and to help develop a tool for further assessment and growth … so that they might be even better at enkindling that light of Christ in the hearts and minds of their students.”
He noted that “when it comes to academics, Catholic education is not so much about grades and honors as it is about learning, learning that will serve others in the future. I know all of your parents want you to get good grades — and so do I, and so do all of your teachers. But, above all, we want you to truly learn, and to acquire a hunger for learning. We want you to be humble enough to admit first that you don’t know something and then commit to becoming life-long learners.
“When it comes to sports, in Catholic schools, it’s not just about winning. It’s about winning fairly, honorably and with grace. It’s about teamwork, self-sacrifice, personal discipline and leadership.
“When it comes to the arts (music, theater or the visual arts), in Catholic schools it’s not just about another activity — it’s about being co-creators with God in a small way; it’s about making something beautiful. It’s about dedication, commitment, and a passion for giving others a window into what it means to be human and into God’s own beauty.
“When it comes to all other extracurricular activities, again it’s not just about providing more things to do. Rather, it’s about forming well-rounded people who can benefit our world and glorify God with their lives in a variety of fields and vocations.
“When it comes to prayer, it’s not about having to pray or having to go Mass. It’s about the opportunity to cultivate a real relationship with God even in the midst of our school day. It’s about beginning and sustaining a conversation with God that will continue throughout our lives and even into eternity. It’s about being able to unite our whole selves, in all of our gifts and weaknesses, to the perfect offering of Christ to the Father.
“When it comes to our service, it’s not about fulfilling a requirement. Rather, it’s about developing the habit of service to our neighbor. It’s about cultivating the virtue charity, that self-less love that stops at nothing for the good the other.
“We began our Mass today with the blessing of candles, as symbols of the light of Christ. And really, the symbol of the candle is perfect for what we are all about as Catholic schools. Think about it: a candle gives off both light and warmth. But how does a candle do this? It does this by giving of itself, by allowing itself to be consumed. In the same way, we are called to give light and warmth, truth and love, to our world. Christ did this above all else, bringing the light of his truth and the warmth of his love into the world by the perfect sacrifice of himself for others, which we commemorate and enter into each time we gather around this altar.”