Writer’s note: This is second in a series covering the Lenten mission at St. Anthony Abbot Catholic Church, Cumberland. Videos are online at facebook.com/ACTinFaith.
Inviting listeners to examine their status as followers of Jesus – reminding them of their story as Christians, reviewing Jesus’ salvific acts and urging them to follow Christ’s call to evangelization and discipleship – was the theme of a Lenten mission in Cumberland.
The “Rescued” parish mission at St. Anthony, which is clustered with parishes in Turtle Lake and Almena, was presented by Chris Hurtubise, the Diocese of Superior’s director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.
‘A new era of history’
Kicking off his March 7 presentation after a brief summary of the previous night’s talk, Hurtubise began, “The church exists to evangelize.”
“Ours is not an age of change, but a change of the ages. It’s not that our culture is starting to change a little bit … it’s that we live in a new era of history,” he asserted.
Hurtubise described how in the mid-20th century, most people still identified as Christian and regularly attended church. Even during his school years, he saw the rapid decline of families involved in a church.
“We live in a new apostolic moment,” he said. “We live in a new time in which we are called to go out and make disciples … the way that we do that is to learn our story,” he said, adding that first, the story has to be known and made personal.
He also asserted that the Catholic Church maintains the fullness of truth exists in the church Jesus founded and the Catholic Church’s historical veracity as that church. While the Gospel is powerful good news, its dynamism can easily be lost in complacent familiarity.
Drawing again on personal experience, Hurtubise shared more of his own conversion story and his experience of powerlessness when faced with sin and the guilt associated with it. Encouraged by his Baptist pastor in college to believe in God’s forgiveness, Hurtubise was transformed and empowered more through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the grace of forgiveness in that act.
The grace of unshakable confidence in God was the goal of this section of the talk. Using an icon image of the Trinity, Hurtubise narrated an imagined conversation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the moment of the fall of Adam and Eve and Jesus’ offering of himself to go and rescue mankind.
“You are crazy important to God,” Hurtubise said. “I don’t know if you know that; maybe you don’t believe that … Jesus didn’t shy away from that mission.”
This is who Jesus is, Hurtubise explained, in contrast to modern “watered-down” descriptions of him as a moral teacher, a spiritual leader who talked about loving people.
“Anything else is a counterfeit that’s not worthy,” he added.
Hurtubise attempted to recreate a semblance of the feelings someone might experience who had been kidnapped and trapped, then rescued by the most gentle of saviors.
“Sin and death are powers – but they are no match for the power of Jesus. So who is Jesus?… meek and mild and gentle,” but also a strong warrior, a savior.
“Just as those troops showed up on D-Day to fight and to liberate, Jesus showed up in the manger to fight and to liberate – that is who he is … he came to do battle … in the fullness of it on the cross.”
He went on to address the confusion of the cross – how can God die? Answer: Only if he allows it.
Hurtubise then reflected on the passion and the scourging of Christ – referencing the “Passion of the Christ” movie – how horrific and difficult it is to watch and imagine, yet also showing how steeled the Savior’s will.
The speaker pointed out the paradoxes of the Creator of the world being portrayed as a victim in his last hours. He spoke of Jesus’ attempt to show us the love of the Father, making atonement by dying in our place, and Jesus fighting for us.
He dove deeper into each of those three salvific actions—the cost of original sin and the price God was willing to pay to bring his children home to him, “conquering the devil on our behalf,” the kidnapper of souls.
Giving a detailed description of Fr. John Riccardo’s concept of Jesus as an “ambush predator,” he said, “This is exactly what Jesus is doing. He cloaks his divinity. The devil is not an idiot. He’s evil, but he’s not an idiot. He is a creature … a mighty creature, but he knows … that if (he) goes head-to-head with God, he will lose.”
“What was Jesus up to?” Hurtubise mused. “Why is he letting himself be tortured and killed? He is an ambush predator – he’s fighting a strategic war to set us free. He is getting the devil exactly where he wants him so he can pounce.”
He continued referencing the Michigan priest’s reflections with an image of Jesus in the passion. “Jesus on the cross is not the hunted. He is not a helpless victim. Jesus on the cross is the aggressor and is the hunter. He is going to war to fight for our liberation.”
Hurtubise then asked the question, “Do you believe in your heart of hearts that Jesus did that for you? Do you know his love?… See his desire for you.”
It was noted how Fr. Riccardo quoted early church fathers echoing the ambush predator image – and when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was confirming his defeat of the devil and death. The speaker went on to claim the authority over the enemy that the name of Jesus has. He added, in moments of temptation, to tell Satan in Jesus’ name to “go to hell.”
This vanquishing of the devil was necessitated by the fall of mankind, but after Jesus’ passion was complete, he calls his followers to join him on mission in calling souls back to their inheritance of intimate and childlike relationship with the Father.
He invited a personal questioning of the things currently keeping us bound by sin, holding us back from deeper friendship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“He is just waiting for us to reach our hand up,” and ask for help, for forgiveness and for freedom. “Are we open to God’s grace to heal us in that way? He can deliver you… he can bring warmth into a heart that has grown cold … Whatever it is, he can do it – will you let him lead?” Hurtubise asked.
To open the final of the four elements in his summary of the Gospel – created, captured, rescued and response – Fr. Riccardo invites us to ask for the graces of gratitude, surrender and courage.
Hurtubise unpacked the priest’s last chapters of “Rescued,” explaining the importance of worship as the primary act of worship, and in particular through the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.”
“We don’t go to Mass to get something out of it,” he stated. “We go to Mass to offer worship to the God who deserves it. He deserves it because of that,” he said, pointing to the cross on the wall.
“He deserves it because he created us. We are so self-centered,” Hurtubise said, admitting the distractions and disappointments when attending Mass is a seeking for God to give something more than an offering of worship.
Surrender is lived out in discipleship and personal witness, something to continually take stock of in one’s own life.
Then, harkening back to the strong images Fr. Riccardo uses of the rescue, Hurtubise continued, “Imagine you know somebody else is still captured in that room. What would your response be?”
Motioning with his hands, the speaker responded, “We gotta go back. We gotta go get them. It wasn’t just me in there.”
Knowing how desperately we needed God should motivate the response to do something to help others, to open our eyes to the need for God around us.
To conclude, Hurtubise directed listeners to a series of six videos the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship developed to further explore conversion, discipleship and evangelization. They can be found by visiting catholicdos.org/evangelization-resources or searching for the “Superior Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship” page on YouTube.
The evening mission ended with a time of Eucharistic adoration, which included praying the Litany of Trust.
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