Earlier this month, as our parish community celebrated Ash Wednesday, I was able to preside at our school Mass. I love celebrating Mass with our children at the grade school! It’s one of the highlights of my week as I am able to share the Eucharist with our kids who are growing to know, love and serve Him.
How privileged we are as priests to help people encounter the Lord Jesus. As the children processed forward to receive ashes on their foreheads, I was struck by the reality that they are approaching us in trust that we’re not going to lead them astray – that we are going to help them encounter the Lord Jesus.
There were a range of emotions on the children’s faces as they came forward, some were smiling, some were nervous, some were showing visible sadness, some were confused as they came forward the same way they do for Holy Communion expecting they’d be receiving Holy Communion instead of ashes…but they still came forward to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Helping children begin to understand their relationship with God is one of the many wonderful ministries that we, as parish priests, have the privilege to engage in. We walk with them as they begin to question their faith and grow to know, love and serve the Lord Jesus. It certainly isn’t the most glamorous ministry, but to sow the seeds of faith within the hearts of those whom parents entrust us to educate, is a tremendous responsibility. Future leaders in the faith and the world are formed in our parish schools. This is why it is so important for us as priests to model and to teach our students that each one of them has received a call from God – or in other words that each one of our students has a vocation and to help them discern that vocation.
Nearly every week, I enter a classroom and teach our students using the Holy Cross Vocations curriculum to begin the conversation regarding discernment and identifying the person God created them to be. We use the definition of a vocation as God’s dream for us for the students in grades 2-5. This language helps to enable the children to “Dream Big!” in regards to what God would like to do with their lives. It is so important to begin this conversation early and to encourage our students to talk about their own hopes and dreams for their lives with God in prayer and with their families at home.
How important it is for us to serve as stewards of God’s grace for our children so that they can grow into the people God created them to be!
Fr. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C., took his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross in the fall of 2014, and was ordained a priest in the spring of 2015. He currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Fr. Dan is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.