“Why did he come?” Fr. Shaji Pazhukkathara asked in opening the Advent reflection held on Nov. 30 at St. Anthony’s Church in Park Falls.
“And why are we here?” he added before saying a prayer. A large group of adults with about 20 high school students had gathered in the church, after sharing a meal, to hear Diocese of Superior staff answer those very questions.
Julie Anne Johnson, of the Diocese of Superior’s Office of Faith Formation, took the youth to a presentation while the office’s director, Chris Hurtubise, spoke to the adults.
Hurtubise noted that much of the content of his talk has been covered by the Catholic Herald (“Rescued and Response: Jesus as ‘ambush predator,”’ April 1 edition) from previous events – centering on the message from Fr. John Riccardo’s book, “Rescued.”
He set the scene sharing an experience from this past summer’s Extreme Faith Camp. Toward the end of the camp, he was walking with another camp leader outside among the white pines about 10:30 at night. Twinkling stars were dancing around in the dark sky.
They came upon one of the ninth-grade girls who was participating on the prayer team. She’d been basically cloistered all week with a group of her peers learning about prayer and praying for the fruits of the camp. The young woman admitted the beginning of the week had been a struggle for her, and Hurtubise then asked what her favorite part of the week had been.
“Adoration,” she said without hesitation. It’s a response Hurtubise hears over and over from campers; however, the girl clarified that it hadn’t been the daily adoration with the prayer team, but the group adoration night.
She paused, and Hurtubise shared what she said: “‘You know how sometimes at a wedding … a little girl might dance with her dad? Well, at adoration, I felt like I was a little girl again. And I was dancing on Jesus’ feet.’”
Of his experience from that moment, Hurtubise said it was the most beautiful thing: “That’s kind of like everything I could ever hope for someone to experience at camp.”
He compared that to what his hopes were for the evening’s reflection, “that we be like little children, letting Jesus take the lead. Letting our worries and care go, stepping up onto the Lord’s feet.”
Referring back to the talk’s theme, “Why did he come?,” Hurtubise began summarizing Fr. Riccardo’s four main points in knowing and sharing the Good News, the Christian story: Created, captured, rescued and response.
The “created” aspect points to the value and dignity of every life, none ever being an accident. Hurtubise commented on the creation narrative in Genesis and God’s assessment that everything he made was good. He invited his listeners to think about “everything that leaves us speechless” in nature, in the world and then added that God, after making man, called him “very good,” emphasizing humanity’s magnificence in the order of creation.
“Captured” acknowledges the reality of original sin, something seen just opening any newspaper or reading a headline. It’s the knowledge that we all fall short, Hurtubise said, and that there’s a third player on the stage.
“Rescued” was touched on through an understanding of reconciliation, but in a broader sense than the sacrament of confession. Hurtubise explained the etymological roots of the word re-con-cilia-tion, that it means coming close, “eyelash to eyelash.”
“From the split second of the fall (of Adam and Eve), God’s earnest desire was to bring about that sort of reconciliation … It’s much bigger than the forgiveness of sin,” he said. “It’s about the oneness every human being was created for… It’s what our hearts yearn for.”
With another Scriptural image, Hurtubise attempted to impress the depth of what this description actually represents. In reference to the prophet Isaiah’s inspired words he said, comparing God’s love to that of a mother, “Multiplied times infinity – even if a mother could forget her child – which we can hardly imagine, I will never forget you.”
That love and devotion, he said, “that is the heart of the Father.”
“So, why did Jesus come?,” the speaker asked. “He came to bring that about.”
This is the back story, he said, of the meek and mild child we adore in the manger. Yet, in truth, he was a strong warrior – God with us, but decisively to bring about redemption. Jesus is powerful and came for a purpose, to fight the enemy of our souls.
Hurtubise closed by reflecting on the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well – an encounter of reconciliation. He observed Jesus’ response to his disciples when they asked if he was hungry: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,” Jesus said, “and to finish his work.” He was sent by God to reconcile – he was satisfied by the moment of reconciliation brought about with the woman.
“Response” was addressed as tapping into the emotions and insights from the Biblical reflections. It consists, Hurtubise said, of prayer, thanks and surrender.
He ended with the encouragement to see Christian community – to be real about the need we have of each other and the growth that happens in friendship and shared discipleship.
At the same time, Johnson was sharing the same message in terms more relatable to teens. She used the example of being an athlete and the rough-and-tough place it can be as an athlete who’s good as an underclassman but not quite good enough to start on varsity.
The motivation and discouragement, the comparisons, she said, “it can be a place of constantly needing to be something we cannot reach.”
Saying that while this is a common human experience, it’s not a new one, Johnson referred to another Biblical image: Moses and the burning bush. Teen who related to the sense of not being adequate for a mission entrusted were invited to raise their hands.
Who am I, Moses asked, doubting his ability to fulfill God’s given task to help free the people of Israel.
Johnson honed in on God’s answer: “The Lord’s response wasn’t to show him how qualified he was. His answer wasn’t even about Moses at all. It was, ‘I will be with you.’” This question-and-answer was repeated again between Moses and God, with the same result – the assurance that God would be with him.
“What name do we give Jesus especially in the time of Advent?” Johnson asked.
“Emmanuel,” was the answer. “God-with-us, Emmanuel.”
She continued, again with relatable examples, how Jesus as a human being was just like us in all things but sin. How he got tired, had favorite foods, felt physical pain missing the nail in the workshop and hitting his thumb; that he must have had moments of feelings of self-doubt and feeling excluded.
The point is, Johnson shared, “that we need to realize that God understands the walk that we’re walking because he has lived it … He’s not just a story in some book. He doesn’t just watch us from Heaven wishing us good luck … He came to live it with us.”
Returning to the athletic analogy, Johnson explained a concept she had coined as “enough-ness.
“It doesn’t come from what we do, how well we perform or the circumstances we find ourselves in… While the world surrounds us with performance expectations and ratings,” we need to ask, “Where does being enough come from? Where does our worth and identity come from?”
“The simple answer,” she said, “is God. Our being enough comes simply from being God’s children.”
Johnson impressed that “being a child of God” isn’t just something we hear in second grade while preparing for sacraments. She also referenced Genesis’ creation passages and the distinction between God calling all he created “good,” and humans “very good.”
“It’s a subtle difference,” she acknowledged, “but huge when it comes from the mouth of God.”
She spoke again about the exchange between Moses and God. When God told him he would be with Moses, he didn’t come up with a fix-it strategy or plan of self-improvement that Moses had to keep up with. She pointed out that Moses never “got over his struggles” and that God’s promise was simply “Emmanuel” – to walk alongside him whatever he faced.
What we celebrate at Christmas, Johnson iterated, is the preparing of our hearts to receive him, to receive what he brings – yes, salvation, but “primarily to remind us who we are, whose we are, what is our worth and identity.”
To prepare the youth for the time of Eucharistic adoration that would conclude the evening, Johnson encouraged them to make time and space for silence, and to practice it often whenever and wherever.
In that silence, in those moments, she said, “We can hear God’s voice reminding us who we are, that we are enough, that he comes to be with us.”
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