Growing in Faith

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Thomas Aquinas 8th Grade Learns to Model Christ’s Love and Service in the Community

Throughout the St. Thomas Aquinas School 8th grade retreat, hosted by Father Sam Kachuba, there was one constant scripture passage reiterated throughout the day: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7: 24-27). Those in attendance heard these words echoed during Eucharistic Adoration, and again in Father Sam’s closing message to the students. In the days that have passed since the retreat, I’ve often found myself reflecting on the analogy used to convey Father Sam’s message: storms. Storms are often unexpected; they can roll through with little warning, darken our skies, and flatten us entirely. We can resign ourselves to being left irreparably damaged by the harsh winds of elements out of our control, or we can use our faith to heal and rebuild. Whether we endure storms in our own lives, encounter them by accident, or even cause them for others, we are called to make faith the foundation upon which we stand, trusting the fact that God has a plan for each of us. God’s plan for us does not promise a lifetime of perfection, but rather, a divinely blessed chaos that allows us to grow closer to Him and His love, and spread that love to others.

When asking the students what their takeaways were of the retreat, the responses were overwhelming. Grace Patrignelli, an 8th grader at St. Thomas Aquinas School, explained, “Father Sam gave a little speech which really touched my heart and soul. He said ‘You can either be the storm in someone’s life, or you can help someone in their storm.’ Those very few words left me in tears when we left the building.” The students were uplifted by Father Sam’s words, internalizing them as a call to action rather than simply a sermon. We often fail to consider how we sometimes cause storms, both large and small, in the lives of others. By adjusting our perception of those around us, we can evaluate our own words and actions through the lens of Christ, seeking to serve and love them during their times of turmoil rather than add to their distress.

Nellie Kiernan, another 8th grader from St. Thomas Aquinas School, describes the retreat as a positive, empowering experience. “From the retreat, I realized that God is always guiding us to where he wants us to be, and guiding us to be good, but he gave us the gift of free will, so if we want to, we can stray off the path that God is leading us on. I believe that if we stay on God’s path to the right place, he will show us how to lead others there, too.” The importance of leadership was also a focus of the retreat day. For adolescents today, being leaders and serving others isn’t always easy, especially when some inaccurately believe that being “cool” takes precedence over doing what’s right. That being said, the St. Thomas Aquinas class of 2019 was called by Father Sam on the morning of September 21st to be the leaders the world needs; to be respectful, be kind, and put goodness into a world that so desperately needs it.

The core of Father Sam’s message can be summarized by the observation of 8th grader Joshua Dixon. “Father Sam used the word “storm” for someone going through hard times. He said that if you are a true friend or family member, you would walk through the storm with them, rather than watching from afar. The same thing goes for people who have little or nothing, or for people that society looks down upon.” The students and teachers were inspired to take an active role in serving others in God’s love, rather than watching passively from the sidelines. Student Andrew Cimmino also reflected that “The retreat was a calling for me to become more devoted to my leadership position [in Student Council], and use it as a way to connect with others and find how I can help them past their struggles.” Regardless of whether it is a family member or stranger, a friend or an adversary, the lowest in society or the highest, we as members of Christ’s loving community are responsible for helping them navigate their storms.  The St. Thomas Students have begun so boldly, putting this into action with the beginning of their community service projects for the year, including their annual leaf raking trip to help elderly members of the local community tend to their yards and a school-wide breast cancer awareness fundraiser organized with the help of the St. Thomas Aquinas faculty and staff.

As Catholics, we are called to meet a higher standard of love and service, something that can be difficult for adolescents to internalize. Nevertheless, thanks to the wisdom and guidance imparted on the future graduates of St. Thomas Aquinas School by Father Sam, these students have willingly accepted this responsibility, resolving to act as God’s forces of nature in the world in a time where storms are so common.

By: Ashley Woodworth