Bishop encourages eighth-graders to ‘keep the faith alive’

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — In a scene reminiscent of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic tales, Father Ron P. Floyd led the students from St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School in Hyannis down the steps into the confines of the crypt beneath the main floor of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

Once inside the dimly-lit space, the eighth-graders immediately took note of the familiar names carved into the tombstones: Stang, Feehan, Cassidy, Connolly.

“Are there any bishops who don’t have schools named after them?” one eager student asked.

“Yes,” Father Floyd smiled. “Those who are still alive.”

This rare excursion down into the cathedral catacombs where all the former shepherds of the Fall River Diocese have been laid to rest was part of a May 4 tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral for eighth-grade students from all the diocesan schools, culminating with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.

The annual event has become a tradition for students about to graduate and make that all-important transition into high school — a way of congratulating them on their academic success thus far while encouraging them to maintain the same, faith-inspired standards whether or not they continue at a Catholic school.

“I am so glad to see so many of you here celebrating this special day together, as you all prepare to graduate from your elementary schools and move on with life,” Bishop da Cunha said in his homily. “And we want you to move on with the blessings of the Lord, with the support of our schools and our diocese, and to let you know how precious and important you all are to our diocese, to the Church, and to our country.”

Referring to the day’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. John, Bishop da Cunha focused in on the theme of the importance of God in our lives.

“The people were trying to figure out the role of God in their lives,” the bishop said of the first reading. “Some of them had never really known God as we know Him; they had never really known Jesus. They had a temple dedicated to an unknown God. St. Paul sees this and says: ‘I think you want to know the real God, and I think you are hungry and thirsty for faith and for the knowledge of God.’ And so he begins to teach them about God — the God Who made the world and all that is in it, everything from the microcosmic world of the atoms and cells to the planets and stars and the galaxies and everything in the universe — and to each one of us.

“Then Paul noted that God does not need us or anything, but He created all this so that we could have life, so that we could enjoy this life, so that we could grow and appreciate and understand Him and be happy. But then here comes the main point that I think he really wants to convey to us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”

Drawing a parallel that most of the eighth-graders could easily grasp, the bishop noted how today we are all “connected” through advancements in technology such as smartphones and computers.

“But do we live our lives connected to God, or do we think that we don’t need God — that we have all that we need?” he asked. “We have knowledge, we have science, we have technology, we have smartphones and super computers and all the other types of technology that is available to us; therefore, we have all that we need in our hands, and we don’t need God.”

Bishop da Cunha cautioned the students that as they get older and advance through school, they are going to encounter people who question and challenge their faith.

“People who are going to tell you: ‘Oh, you believe (in God)? Faith is not necessary, is not important. Prayer is not relevant. Going to church is not important anymore,’” he said. “You may find people who tell you this; but you have gone through your Catholic education, you have grown in faith, you have come to know God and you have come to know Jesus, and you have come to appreciate the value of faith and prayer in your life. So when you hear those voices telling you that God is not necessary, I want you to keep in mind these words from Mass today: ‘In Him we live, and move, and have our being.’ And that is where we are going to find the answers to all the questions in your lives.”

The bishop recalled a story about someone who had once spray-painted graffiti on a wall that read: “Jesus is the answer.”

Another person passing by wondered to himself: “The answer to what?” 

So he bought his own spray-paint can and added below it: “But what is the question?”

“Jesus is the answer to all questions,” Bishop da Cunha said.

Returning to the omnipresent technology at our fingertips, Bishop da Cunha cited Pope Francis’ recent meeting with young people for a World Youth Day celebration in Rome and how the Holy Father was talking to them about being fulfilled and finding meaning in life.

“The pope said to them: ‘There is no app for that,’” the bishop said. “You all know that if you want to find music or other things on the Internet — things like how many steps you’re going to walk today or how many calories you’re going to lose today — there is an app for that; people say there is an app for everything! But there is really no app for our happiness. There is no app for going to Heaven. There is no app for fulfillment and joy in life. Jesus is the app for that. Jesus is the answer for everything.”

As the students prepare to enter high school, Bishop da Cunha encouraged them to “keep the faith alive” and “remember that Jesus is the answer to all questions.”

“In Him we live and move and have our being,” the bishop repeated. “And He is the app for our happiness, for our joy, for our fulfillment in this life. May God continue to bless and guide each one of you, and remember to always keep God in your life and you will find happiness and fulfillment in everything you do.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts