Catholic high school seniors remain positive amid ‘roller-coaster’ school year

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Senior year is supposed to be the best year of a high schooler’s education. Who knew that in 2020, it would also be the weirdest?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of high school students to miss proms, senior trips, and the chance to say goodbye in person to their classmates. However, many of those students at Catholic high schools choose to see this as a lifetime lesson and a reminder that only God is in control and that in spite of the hardships and disappointments, he is present.

The Denver Catholic would like to honor those students who didn’t have the chance to have a “normal” graduation, but still managed to get through the school year and make this an important achievement worth celebrating.

Isaac Ritzer

The COVID-19 pandemic is something very unfortunate that has impacted everybody in one way or another. For Isaac Ritzer, Senior House Capitan at Bishop Machebeuf High School, it’s just proof that God always provides. His four years in high school were a roller-coaster of emotions; however, there is nothing more important for him than the memories, relationships, and friends he gained and for which he’s very grateful.

Isaac grew up in a solid Catholic family, where he received a very strong faith formation, but several of his teachers at Machebeuf also contributed to this faith formation in a very special way by setting an example of how to live like Christ. It is a real treasure that he will carry on to the next chapter of his life.

“My faith is something that I have always been fully immersed in… I was never taught that Church is just a side thing and that the faith only matters on Sundays,” Ritzer told the Denver Catholic. “Instead, in the classroom and at home, I was taught to build my life around my faith, because it is the most important thing. Because of that, my faith will be something I consider with every serious decision I make, and it will always be an active part of my life.”

Photo: Alyssa Sierra Photography

As for his graduation ceremony, Ritzer said that even though he would’ve liked to have a normal ceremony, he is more focused on the positive side of it, such as the great memories he has with his classmates and the things he learned during his time at Machebeuf. Just like other high school seniors across the country, to make this end of the school year a memorable and unique celebration, his friends and classmates have come up with creative ways to celebrate.

“I actually went to a ‘drive by’ at a friend’s house for his graduation. Essentially, people drove up to the house, while staying in their cars, just to celebrate their accomplishments,” he said. “One thing that happened this week was that a friend of mine signed to run at Benedictine college. He invited me to the Zoom call for his signing. It was always awesome to watch his drive and competitive spirit, and it’s so cool that he gets to carry that with him into college.”

Ritzer shared with the Denver Catholic how grateful he is for the great opportunity he had to lead his class as their senior captain and shared a message with his classmates to whom didn’t have a chance to say goodbye but will always remember.

“It was an absolute honor being a senior captain this year and watching so many of you step up to the challenge,” he said. “You showed me every day what it meant to lead in so many ways. Thank you for being teammates, peers, classmates, companions, and friends. Thank you for being there to share the great moments and also to make the bad ones a little bit better. There’s so much I could say to each and every one of you, but to keep it short, thanks for the memories! You are like family to me. I love you guys!”

Rachael Perez

Rachael Perez, a senior at Holy Family High School, knows her graduation will be nothing like what she’d imagined. Nonetheless, she has faith and has decided to focus on the greater treasures she is taking from her years at Holy Family, such as the relationships she was able to build with her teachers, whom she said pushed her to be a better student, friend, daughter and sister and support others whenever they needed help.

“[They were] an excellent example of the faith and how fruitful a life with Christ can be,” Perez said.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains, and that’s exactly how Perez feels about the next chapter of her life.

Photo Provided

“I know there will be trials and great joys. God is there in both those times and all the moments in between,” she said to the Denver Catholic. “My faith has helped me so much and I’m so grateful for it. Because I have that faith, I’m really not scared or anxious about the future. Whatever comes next is what will be.”

Although Perez at times feels sad by the fact that her graduation ceremony has been “delayed,” the pandemic has taught her and many others the importance of adapting to new situations quickly and accepting what you can’t control. At the same time, she is aware that life must go on and she’s trying to adapt to a new “normal.”

When asked about the biggest lesson she’s learned from the pandemic and her senior year, she said, “I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. As simple as that. Everything can be gone in a split-second, so enjoy all that you can.”

“My class especially, we’ve gone through quite a bit and we know how temporary life and experiences can be,” she added. “It’s important that we all live in the moment and hug everyone as tight as possible — when it is safe and acceptable to do so.”

COMING UP: The Next Pope and Vatican II

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Polemics about the Second Vatican Council continue to bedevil the global Catholic conversation.

Some Catholics, often found in the moribund local Churches of western Europe, claim that the Council’s “spirit” has never been implemented (although the Catholic Lite implementation they propose seems more akin to liberal Protestantism than Catholicism). Other voices claim that the Council was a terrible mistake and that its teaching should be quietly forgotten, consigned to the dustbin of history. In The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (just published by Ignatius Press), I suggest that some clarifying papal interventions are needed to address these confusions.

To begin: the next pope should remind Catholics what Pope John XXIII intended for the Council, thereby challenging both the Catholic Lite Brigade and the Forget Vatican II Platoon.

The pope’s opening address to Vatican II on October 11, 1962, made his intention clear: The Church, he said, must re-focus on Jesus Christ, from whom she “takes her name, her grace, and her total meaning.” The Church must put the Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ, the answer to the question that is every human life, at the center of her self-understanding. The Church must make that proclamation by proposing, “whole and entire and without distortion” the truths Christ gave the Church. And the Church must transmit those truths in ways that invite skeptical contemporary men and women into friendship with the Lord Jesus.

John XXIII did not imagine Vatican II to be a Council of deconstruction. Nor did he imagine it to be a Council that froze the Church in amber. Rather, Pope John’s opening address to Vatican II called the entire Church to take up the task of Christian mission: the mission to offer humanity the truth about God and us, both of which are revealed in Jesus Christ.  The next pope should forcefully remind the Church of this.

The next pope might also engage – and settle – a parallel debate that began during Vatican II and continues today: Did the Catholic Church reinvent itself between October 11, 1962, and December 8, 1965, the day the Council solemnly closed? Or must the documents of Vatican II be read in continuity with revelation and tradition? Curiously, the “progressive” Catholic Lite Brigade and the ultra-traditionalist Forget Vatican II Platoon promote the same answer: Vatican II was indeed a Council of discontinuity. But that is the wrong answer. It is a mistaken reading of John XXIII’s intention for Vatican II. It is a mistaken reading of Paul VI’s guidance of the Council. And It is a mistaken reading of the Council’s texts.

Three canonized popes – John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II – plus the great theologian-pope Benedict XVI have insisted that Vatican II can and must be read in continuity with settled Catholic doctrine. To claim that Vatican II was a Council of rupture and reinvention is to say, in effect, that these great men were either duplicitous, anti-conciliar reactionaries (the tacit indictment of the progressives) or material heretics (the tacit indictment from the far right-field bleachers). Neither indictment has any merit, although the latter has recently gotten undeserved attention, thanks to ill-considered commentaries reverberating through the echo chambers of social media and the ultra-traditionalist blogosphere.

Thus the next pope ought to insist that the Catholic Church does not do rupture, reinvention, or “paradigm shifts.” Why? Because Jesus Christ – “the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13.8] – is always the center of the Church. That conviction is the beginning of any authentic evangelization, any authentically Catholic development of doctrine, and any proper implementation of Vatican II.

The next pope should also lift up the Council’s genuine achievements: its vigorous  affirmation of the reality and binding authority of divine revelation; its biblical enrichment of the Church’s self-understanding as a communion of disciples in mission; its insistence that everyone in the Church is called to holiness, especially through the liturgy; its defense of basic human rights, including the first of civil rights, religious freedom; its commitment to truth-centered ecumenical and interreligious dialogues. Yes, there have been distortions of these teachings; but to blame the distortions on the teachings themselves is a serious analytical error.

A Catholicism indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism has no future. Neither does a Catholicism that attempts to recreate a largely imaginary past. The Catholicism with a future is the Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council, rightly understood and properly implemented. That happens to be the living Catholicism of today, and the next pope should recognize that, too.