Deacon Kenneth Berry stood at the ornately carved pulpit of St. Joseph Church in Edina, holding up the well-read, battle-tested Bible his mother gave him when he was 10.
“Take your Bible with you, read it and let it be part of the foundation of your life,” he told a sizable contingent of the Knox County R-I High School Class of 2023.
“It will give you guidance and help you make the right choices,” he said during the school’s interfaith Baccalaureate service for the graduating class.
Thirty of the 38 graduating seniors, their families and their ministers attended the interchurch prayer service and convocation.
Local congregations take turns hosting the event each spring. Attendance is optional.
Deacon Berry, who assists the pastor of St. Joseph Parish, St. John Parish in Memphis and St. Aloysius Parish in Baring, said this year’s was the largest turnout he’d seen at a Baccalaureate service in his 28 years as a deacon.
It included a procession, four Scripture readings, and two sacred songs led by the Knox County High School Choir.
The graduating seniors were invited to come forward and receive a Bible and a blessing from the minister of their church.
Deacon Berry’s message moved from a fairy tale to a parable.
“One little pig built his house out of straw, another built his out of sticks, and another built his out of stone,” the deacon recounted.
The moment of reckoning for each came when the Big Bad Wolf came a-huffin’ and a-puffin’.
Jesus offers a strikingly similar message in Matthew 7:24-27, the Parable of the Two Foundations.
“Jesus talks about the wise man who builds his house on a solid rock foundation so that when a storm comes, the house will stand firm,” Deacon Berry proclaimed.
“But the foolish man builds his house on a foundation of sand, and when a storm comes, the house gets washed away,” he said.
“The takeaway is that you need to build your lives on the solid rock foundation, which is Jesus Christ,” he said.
Deacon Berry spoke of the importance of making good choices.
“One big choice can have a profound effect on the rest of your life,” he noted.
He talked about how when he was about to be drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, his decision to enlist for four years set him on a decisive course.
“If I hadn’t done that, I never would have gone to Germany, I never would have met my wife, I never would have become Catholic and I never would have become a deacon,” he said.
Conversely, he spoke of two young women he once met who made a bad decision and wound up spending two years in prison.
“The choices you make now, matter,” he stated. “Get into a relationship with Jesus, who’s your rock-solid foundation, and he will help you make right choices in your life.”
Deacon Berry suggested that the rest of the Church pray for the young people to make good choices throughout their lives.
“Pray that they’ll use their Bible to help them make those choices,” he said. “And if any of them do make bad choices, pray that they’ll overcome them and move on with their lives and make good decisions from that point forward.”
The deacon pointed out that he and his wife have weathered some serious health crises, along with grief from a daughter’s recent passing.
“People ask how we can handle of all of that, and I tell them that I can’t,” he stated. “But with my Jesus, I can, because he’s my foundation.”
Deacon Berry closed by repeating to the graduating seniors the refrain of a song by Catholic songwriter and youth evangelizer Steve Angrisano:
“Go make a difference! We can make a difference! Go make a difference in the world!”
“We need you,” Deacon Berry told them. “Your family needs you, this country needs you, this community needs you to go and make a difference in the world.”
Interfaith ministerial alliances throughout the diocese host Baccalaureate services to pray for and celebrate local graduates. Several pastors and ministers often take part.
Father Michael Coleman, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Centralia and a chaplain at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, preached a message to members of Centralia High School’s Class of 2023.
“Each of you has a calling from God to do something only you can do,” he told the graduating seniors. “Each of you is uniquely loved and special to Him.”
The priest recounted receiving his first baseball glove at age 8.
“I was playing catch with my Dad,” he recalled. “I told him I was going to be a great baseball player like Stan Musial, the greatest St. Louis Cardinal ever.”
Fr. Coleman’s father told him that when Mr. Musial was little, an angel tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Stan, I want you to play baseball for me.”
“Someday,” Fr. Coleman’s dad told him, “an angel will tap you on the shoulder and ask you to do something for him. I hope you can do it as well as ‘Stan the Man’ has.”
Only in God
Father William Peckman, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence and the Mission of Sacred Heart in Bevier, spoke to the Catholic graduates of Macon High School.
He warned that they will be told many times to focus on pursuing their dreams and passions.
“Nonsense!” he told them. “Any pursuit devoid of your faith will be devoid of fulfillment and joy.”
“Our ability to negotiate the transitions that come as a matter of life — some of which are joyful as this day is, and those that break our hearts — will be founded on our faith and not on our passions devoid of faith,” he stated.
Father César Anicama, associate pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish of Pettis County, proclaimed one of the readings in Spanish during the Baccalaureate service at La Monte High School.
It was Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus’s Parable of the Talents, in which the master congratulates his stewards who invest what he entrusts them with and present it back to him with increase.
In St. Anthony, Father Christopher Aubuchon, parochial administrator of St. Lawrence Parish in St. Elizabeth and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Anthony, offered a Baccalaureate Mass for graduating seniors in both parishes.
He preached his homily on that Sunday’s readings, focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life. He prayed a graduation prayer composed by Father Joseph Bordonaro, pastor St. Joseph Parish in Warrington, Pennsylvania.
“Today,” he prayed, “we release our children straight into your tender care. Because we know that’s the best place they could ever be. We thank you in advance for all you have in store, for this day, for this year, for their lives.
“... We ask for you to open doors that need to be opened and close every one that should be shut tight. Allow every gift and treasure you have placed inside their lives to grow, develop and flourish, to bring you glory.”
At the end of Mass, Fr. Aubuchon asked God to bestow a blessing upon the soon-to-be graduates.