Californian speaker and singer/songwriter Jackie Francois Angel spoke energetically about God’s agape love with teens and their parents at St. Joseph Church in Rice Lake on Feb. 21. She also outlined four qualities of agape love expressed between people, in family and romantic relationships. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

Ten years ago, St. Joseph’s in Rice Lake hosted its first youth rally. Three years ago, then-director of religious education Laura Schissel broadened the event’s scope by inviting parents with their teens.

On Feb. 21, approximately 300 people attended the event headlined by renowned Catholic artist Jackie Francois Angel and Catholic band SONAR. Lynn Price, recently hired DRE for the Rice Lake cluster, said: “The parent talk gives the adults information and tools to help them guide their families in the faith. Then when the families come together for the second talk – they are learning about topics that enrich the family unit and give guidance to all ages.”

Francois Angel – speaker, singer/songwriter and worship leader from Orange County, California – met with the cluster’s Warriors for Christ CORE Team mid-afternoon. The CORE Team consists of 10th- to 12th-graders who have personally dedicated themselves to learn and live out their faith; part of their commitment is to plan, assist and facilitate Warriors for Christ activities and events.

During her time with the CORE Team, Francois Angel went through the gifts of the Holy Spirit as found in Scripture. She challenged and encouraged them to discover which of these gifts they have been given and how they can be bold in putting these gifts at the service of the Church and others.

Approximately 300 people attended the Feb. 21 event at St. Joseph, Rice Lake. The Catholic band SONAR, which hails from the Twin Cities, performed. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Bishop James P. Powers celebrated Mass, which was followed by a pizza dinner. Various area priests were present with youth groups: Fr. Ed Anderson and Fr. Samuel Schneider with the Rice Lake/Birchwood/Haugen youth; Fr. Gerard Willger with Hayward; Fr. Andy Ricci with Superior; and Fr. Joseph Kumar with Ashland-area participants. Dan Tracy, seminarian for the Diocese of Superior, was also in attendance.

Parents then gathered in the gym with Francois Angel while the youth were energized by upbeat music with SONAR in the church.

First models of the faith

Francois Angel opened by quoting Psalm 63 and St. Teresa of Avila. She started off her parent presentation, affirming, “Our ache and longing can only be satisfied by God.

“The whole purpose of prayer is to contemplate and become wrapped up in the unconditional love of Abba Father,” the mother of three – who travelled to Wisconsin with her two-month-old son – said. She explained how crazy it was for the Jews to hear Jesus speak of God with such familiarity.

Familiarity and relatability characterized Francois Angel’s entire talk. She moved with ease in front of the bleachers, encouraging the adults to renew their commitment as the first models of faith for their children.

“Jesus didn’t just come to save us from our sins; He went a step further and came to bring us into His family,” she said, expounding on that radical concept.

Describing the wrap she uses to carry her baby face to face, Francois Angel drew a parallel with the sacrament of reconciliation. She broke down the metaphorical etymology of the word: re – con – cilia; defining it as “to come back to a relationship that is eyelash to eyelash with the Father.

“When we go to reconciliation, we’re coming back to that intimate gaze,” she said, illustrating with hand motions the tender encounter of a mother with her newborn. Francois Angel said: “Guess what? That’s how God the Father looks at you. He could gaze at you forever.”

She spoke of the Eucharist with conviction, and used another human analogy – that of the marital intimacy – to describe how “we become one flesh with God in the Eucharist.

“How crazy would it be if your spouse only talked to you once a week? That wouldn’t be a very good relationship, would it?” We don’t bring our families to Mass to check off a box, she added, just as we wouldn’t spend an hour with our spouse to fulfill an obligation.

“God wants to accompany us every hour of the week,” she affirmed. Candidly describing her family’s prayer time with three children ages 3 and younger, Francois Angel shared, “It is just nuts at my house.” However, her conviction the primary educator of her children motivates her to persevere in making personal and family prayer a priority.

“There are days I feel like I give out timeouts like Oprah gives out cars,” Francois Angel said, addressing some of the challenges of parenting and family life – challenges such as children who have left the Church and parents or spouses who are not Catholic. She encouraged constancy in prayer and frequenting the sacraments, trusting that prayers and grace are effective.

Before closing in a spontaneous prayer invoking “Abba Daddy and Momma Mary,” Francois Angel again referenced Psalm 63. Echoing St. Augustine’s famous phrase, she said, “If you know the unconditional love of the Father, you will radiate and people will know … there is something different about you. There is a reason you have joy.

“We have hope that we are made for an eternity with God and that nothing else can satisfy our hearts,” she said.

God’s love and human love

Adults joined the youth in the church as St. Paul-based SONAR led praise and worship. Lead singer Nate Reinhardt interjected meditative commentary while performing Cory Asbury’s song “Reckless Love.”

Asking everyone to close their eyes he prayed, “Is God recklessly coming after me? Do I just not see it? Am I open to it?”

Reinhardt continued with a description of being in the rain and holding a small cup versus a large bucket: “What we receive is reciprocal to our openness. … What are my mountains, barriers, obstacles to experiencing God chasing after me?”

Francois Angel began her joint presentation, stating “Every single person on this earth knows we were made for love.” Singing phrases of popular love songs, she invited the youth to complete the lyrics by extending the microphone towards the crowd.

“On a scale of 1 to Adele, we know we’re not supposed to be cheated on, abused or used,” she said, and proceeded to explain the four Greek words for love and their meanings: storge, philia, eros and agape.

With catch phrases and teen-friendly terminology, Francois Angel dissected the four marks of an unconditional, self-donative – or “agape” – love: free, total, fruitful and faithful.

She spoke of addictions that inhibit the freedom to say yes, when you can’t say no to something. She spoke of lust that is a cheap imitation of love, wanting only a part of the person for personal pleasure without considering what is good for their soul.

She encouraged discrediting a culture that believes young people are unable to abstain from sexual instinct, like animals, by asking if animals can look at the stars with wonder or write poetry.

With the youth and parents attentive to her words and hand motions, Francois Angel gave a formula for testing lust against love: “If you’re in a relationship that’s very physical, cut (the physical intimacy) out and you’ll see what you really have with that person.”

She described the spiritual fruitfulness of love in addition to being open to children, and empathized with those who many have experienced some form of abandonment: “If you never saw the fruits of love and kindness and gentleness in your parents’ marriage, you don’t have to make the same mistakes … God will never cheat on you, or abandon you, or leave you.”

She concluded by summarizing, “If you ever want to know if somebody actually loves you, you have to have these four things. If one does not exist, it’s not authentic agape love.”

Francois Angel gave personal testimony of three promises she made in the eighth grade: no drugs, no drunkenness and no sex before marriage. She admitted that many were shocked by her maintained virginity when – at age 29 – she married her husband.

“It is possible,” she said.

She shared seeking out the Sacrament of Reconciliation the day before her wedding to confess everything she’d ever done with any man. She desired God’s grace to give all of herself to the only man who deserved it, something he proved through his commitment to her in sacramental marriage.

Then pointing to the prominent crucifix above the altar, she said: “This is the love that lasts forever. In marriage, we promise ‘until death do us part.’ Marriage is only a foretaste of heaven, a sign that points us to eternal love.”

“Do you know what heaven is?” the speaker questioned. “We think it’s going to be like some boring church service where we’re fanning Jesus and feeding Him grapes.”

In response to the assenting laughter, Francois Angel said with pregnant pauses between each phrase, “It’s eternal ecstasy, eternal joy, eternal love.

“We can be bored at Mass, not understanding what’s going on.” She continued, “Heaven is a wedding feast – not just anyone’s wedding feast – yours. … We are called the bride of Christ, He is our bridegroom.”

Francois Angel modeled how what is done at Mass parallels a wedding celebration, starting with dressing like a bride and bridegroom for first Communion; then, at every communion after that, walking down the aisle towards Christ.

She brought attention to the response “amen” when the Body of Christ is received, like “I do.”
Speaking of God’s proposal from the cross, Francois Angel clarified there are only two responses, yes or no. Then passionately pleading, she asked her audience to make a decision: “Can you imagine being indifferent to someone’s proposal? … He’s proposing His eternal love to you.

“God doesn’t want one hour a week on Sundays. He wants all of you,” she said, and burst into a few lines of John Legend’s song “All of Me,” echoing that God’s love embraces “all your perfect imperfections.”

Wrapping up her talk, Francois Angel invited everyone to renew their commitment to Jesus each time they receive the Eucharist, to look at Jesus and implore, “Help me to love like you loved.”
Lights were lowered as Bishop Powers exposed the Eucharist and the band led the church in song; lyrics that included: “Let the King of my heart be the mountain where I run … the shadow where I hide … the wind inside my sails … the anchor in my waves … the fire in my veins.”

On their knees, youth and adults together raised their voices in praise, many with hands outstretched. After a time of silent prayer, the bishop led a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving and gave the Benediction.

The night ended with SONAR’s reverberant melodies and lively drums. Clapping in unison, the assembly sang out, “Give thanks to the Lord for His love never ends, and all the people said, Amen.”