By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
KEOKUK — Kindergartners through fifth-graders and their grandparents sat in the bleachers of St. Vincent School gym, their eyes fixed on Bishop Thomas Zinkula as he delivered an energetic homily on the Mystery of the Holy Cross. It was Grandparents Day, and many in attendance — students, parents and grandparents — are not Catholic.
“What is this?,” he asked as he made the sign of the cross, received the correct answer and then asked the students where they see crosses in their school, church, home and community. He provided clues, such as “14 crosses going around the church.” “Stations?” one of the students answered. “Yeah,” the bishop responded. He teased some in the bleachers for giving away answers. Among the gathering was Lynne Devaney, diocesan superintendent of schools, who kept her lips sealed.
Bishop Zinkula asked the students why the cross, a “terrible instrument of torture,” is such an important symbol. “Why do we make such a big deal out of it? Why is it holy?”
“Because that is how Jesus saved us from our sins,” one student said. “Exactly,” the bishop responded. He cited the passage from John’s Gospel proclaimed at the Mass to make the point. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” — John 3:16 (-17).
“That’s what our faith is based on,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Jesus died for us on the cross and rose from the dead to save us from sin and death. Let’s talk about the times we make the sign of the cross during Mass. When is the first time we make the sign of the cross?”
“When you put your hand in the holy water,” a student said. “Blessing oneself with holy water when we enter the church is a reminder of baptism,” Bishop Zinkula said. Illustrating the point with infant baptism, he said, “The priest, parents and godparents claim the child for Christ when they make the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead during the Rite of Reception of the Child at the entrance to the church.” He spoke of other times Catholics make the sign of the cross throughout the liturgy.
Before proclamation of the Gospel, for example, Catholics make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, lips and hearts, Bishop Zinkula explained. He demonstrated on Carlene Lemon, a great-
grandmother and member of Church of All Saints Parish in Keokuk. Unbeknownst to the bishop, her husband, Jon, died seven months ago. The sign of the cross demonstration reminded Lemon to keep the Lord in her mind, in her heart and in her love for others, but also filled her with joy and gratitude, she said.
Bishop Zinkula’s homily inspired Principal Shari Bozorgzad. It was “a reminder to everyone that we should think and be more reflective about the words that come out of our mouths. As a Catholic, I believe it is easy to speak the prayers and responses rotely, but Bishop Zinkula’s reminder taught me the importance of being more attentive and contemplative.”
“Although Keokuk Catholic has a small percentage of Catholic families, the overall message was for everyone. The simple activity of reflection is empowering! The message was also important for our students and their relationship with their grandparents. Grandparents have a wealth of experiences and stories and a vast capacity for love. I believe Bishop’s message reminded our students of the importance of speaking thoughtfully and actively listening to the adults in their lives.”
Bishop Zinkula said the theme, the Mystery of the Holy Cross, laid the groundwork for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Catholic faith and ritual for Catholics and non-Catholics. “The non-Catholic children, parents and grandchildren might be intrigued by the rhyme and reason of the symbolism and gestures used in the Catholic Mass and thereby might be more attracted to it. All in all, it was an occasion for evangelization on many levels.”