Catholic Herald staff
Encountering God in the Mass was the theme of the Wednesday, Oct. 11, diocesan youth rally held at Immaculate Conception, New Richmond.
Chris Hurtubise, associate director of Catholic formation, and Fr. Adam Laski, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and its cluster parishes, emceed the gathering, which drew nearly 400 students, chaperones, youth ministers and priests, as well as Bishop James P. Powers, celebrant of the Mass.
Youths were entering a community in mourning. Hours before, a high school sophomore had been killed in a car crash, and a 10-year-old had also just died. Diocesan youths joined Fr. John Anderson, pastor of the New Richmond and Erin Prairie parish cluster, in praying for them.
After playing “Amazing Grace” in memory of the children, musician Luke Spehar, a Twin Cities native, led students through an energetic blend of singing, ice breakers and calisthenics before Fr. Andrew Ricci, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and keynote speaker, took center stage.
‘Come to the table’
The evening’s theme was encounter, and Fr. Ricci urged students to do as he did as a kid – get “involved in the central prayer of what it means to be Catholic.”
Fr. Ricci took on various roles in his home parish, St. Anthony in Cumberland – from server to reader to Eucharistic minister – while he was growing up.
“Mass,” he said, “is an encounter with Jesus Christ, through his word and through his body and blood.”
Mass has two parts – the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, he explained. God has spoken to people through the Bible for 2,000 years, and after hearing the Word of God, “We come to the table,” in a tradition instituted by Jesus.
Jesus commands us to this encounter, Fr. Ricci added. “Jesus didn’t say, you know, hey, take it, maybe, think about it …. He said this is my body. Take it. Eat it. Drink.
“Jesus,” he emphasized. “Not me. Not the bishop. Not the pope. Jesus …. If we go because he commands it, I want to exhort you, first and foremost, to come to Mass.”
We come to Mass because we need food, he said. “If we don’t eat, we eventually get sick and we die. This is spiritual food. You need this for your soul.”
“We need this spiritual food, because sometimes life is difficult and challenging, hard,” he continued. “This is why he came …. he came because we need him.”
Just as you can’t sustain a body on just any type of food, you need healthy spiritual food to sustain your soul, he added. “If you just have a diet of junk food, you end up with a junk body.”
Just attending Mass isn’t enough, either, Fr. Ricci said. “Come to Mass, but come prepared for Mass.”
Mass isn’t meant to be an entertainment, a passive experience. Instead, he urged youths to come prepared to pray – bringing either their petitions or offering their thanksgiving – based on whatever happened during the week.
“When did it become the business of Jesus Christ to entertain us?” he asked.
Entertainments are just distractions and amusements, he added. “That’s not life …. Jesus Christ did not pour out his life, he did not die on the cross to entertain us.”
Bringing out the Monstrance for adoration, Fr. Ricci closed his talked by encouraging teens to work at building their spiritual lives, as athletes and musicians work at honing their skills.
“When you come, you want to get something out of it, put something into it,” he said.
During adoration, a New Richmond teen gave her testimony. After going through a dark period in her life – athletics had overtaken God as her top priority – she attended Extreme Faith Camp, where she offered herself to God and returned to a more joy-filled life.
Spehar then led students through adoration and into Mass.
‘He offers, he invites’
The first reading was from the book of Jonah, and Bishop Powers began his homily by recounting the story of Jonah. Resistant to God’s call to go to Ninevah, Jonah sits on a hill overlooking the city in the first reading and laments to God.
“We don’t know whether Jonah is going to accept God’s love himself or not,” the bishop said, “and I’m not sure that we need to, because I think that story is our story. I think it ended that way, just like Jesus ends all the parables that way. There is no set ending, because we write the ending of that story with our lives.”
“We choose in our lives whether we accept God’s love or not,” the bishop added. “God offers his love to us in so many ways, but he never forces his love on us. He offers, he invites, he offers, he invites.”
Asked by one of his disciples to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gives them the words of the Our Father. “Abba” is Hebrew for “daddy,” and signifies “the intimate relationship that our God wants with us,” he continued. “A little child running to daddy.”
Then, the bishop reflected on the Our Father, line by line. He asked youths to consider whether they are keeping God’s name holy, because it’s easy to slip into careless language or tell an off-color joke. He wondered how often we pray for the Kingdom of God, and he asked teens to reflect on their lives.
“Are we doing God’s will in our lives?” he asked. “How willing are we to forgive?
“Do people know we are Christian and Catholic by what we do, or do we have to tell them?” Bishop Powers wondered.
“We are to be Christ to and for one another,” he said.
Two more youth rallies are on the diocesan calendar in the coming months. A rally featuring Catholic musician and speaker Jackie Francois Angel and the band Sonar is being hosted in Rice Lake by the parish cluster on Feb. 21, and a diocesan rally with Luke Spehar and keynote speaker Fr. Zach Weber from the Diocese of Green Bay will be March 21 at St. Francis Xavier, Merrill.