“Made for Mission” was the theme of the Diocese of Superior’s 2021 Fall Conference, held virtually on Friday, Oct. 29.
Due to the continuing presence of COVID-19 in the diocese, retreats were held in individual parishes rather than in Rice Lake, as initially planned.
Following a suggested schedule including morning Mass, a recorded presentation from Bishop James P. Powers and reflection time, attendees watched a video keynote by Ryan O’Hara, a retreat leader and speaker who is a familiar face around the diocese.
Chris Hurtubise, director of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, introduced O’Hara, who recorded the presentation from his studio in West St. Paul, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife and three teenage sons, plus three additional teenagers and a toddler.
Addressing the range of educators watching the presentation – teachers, directors of religious education, administrators, youth ministers – he acknowledged some topics are more difficult to teach than others.
He recalled his mother’s talk about the birds and the bees – how painful it was for both O’Hara and his mother, who he wished “would just get to the point or stop.” Every time he gives the talk – four times now – he’s struck by the “utter miracle of life,” and this “cooperation between a man, a woman and God.”
It’s shocking, if you think about it, he observed, the likelihood that you or I “actually made it here.” Harvard Business School did a study showing the “probability of you” is 1 in 10 to the 2,865,000th power.
We are not here by chance or accident, he continued. Great care is taken from our conception; he quoted, “’Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,’” which God says in Jeremiah 1:5.
Speaking of an article his sister sent him from 1965 about his father’s car stalling on a railroad track – the front was sheared off by a train – he reflected, “Wow, I’m like 2 feet, 3 feet away from not being here at all.”
His mother was a religious sister in Terre Haute, Indiana, when that happened to his father. The unlikelihood of their meeting and marrying convinced him God wanted him to be here, and he was here for a mission, a purpose.
If we all had that information about our histories, we would know we are precious, loved and irreplaceable, he said. He paraphrased a quote from Mark Twain: “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why,” and then suggested a modification: the day you were baptized, and the day you figure out why.
Referencing Matthew 4:19, where Jesus said, “Come follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men,” O’Hara said, the “call to mission and discipleship go hand-in-hand.”
He offered three reminders.
“First, all of us are in the disciple-making business,” he said, just by virtue of who we are and what we are doing, by connection to the church in Catholic school or religious education in a Catholic context.
“The main thing that we’re all doing and all moving toward – we’re all making disciples,” he repeated, and all the meetings phone calls, spreadsheets and business of everyday life is in the service of making disciples and educating the whole person.
“That’s the mission of the church,” he added.
The second reminder was summarized in Jesus’ fishing instructions to Simon Peter in Luke 5:4: “Go out and put out into the deep.”
“In the deep, you can’t see the shore so easily, and you can’t see the bottom, and so you have to rely on faith,” O’Hara explained. “Sometimes you feel like, I can’t just rely on myself. I need some supernatural help.”
COVID has called people out of their comfort zones. Not only are we in the disciple-making business, he said, “We’re in the humanly impossible business.”
“It’s hard to educate the whole person,” he continued, and it’s hard to lead young people into a relationship with God, remotely, on Zoom.
“It has been an ordeal for all of us,” added O’Hara. But, “It was never supposed to be easy for us to begin with.”
With God, all things are possible, he said, and quoted from John 15:5. “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Through the gift of faith, we can move through difficulties, through things that seem almost impossible. Somehow God can bring it all together, and he does.
Comparing virtue to muscles, he said, any time you put a virtue into practice, it grows. But, he clarified, faith doesn’t always equal “go.” Sometimes faith equals “wait,” or “stop.”
Using the example of kinetic and potential energy – kinetic, the energy of movement, and potential, the energy of position and gravity – O’Hara explained kinetic energy is faith that moves, and potential energy is God asking us to wait or stop.
Citing the dammed, potential energy of Hoover Dam as “a beautiful image for where some of us may be in our spiritual life, work life,” he quoted from Isaiah 40:31: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength … walk and not faint.”
Sometimes waiting gives us the strength we need in the future, he said.
His third and final reminder was, “We’re also in the abiding business.”
“Abide” is used in Scriptures a number of places – his favorite is John 15:5, quoted earlier in the article, where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, and we’re asked to remain in Jesus, or “abide” in him.
There’s meant to be a close, personal connection, that we are receiving life and fruit and all the nutrients we need from Jesus, he explained. That happens in many places, but the first place is in the sacraments. The second is by growing in daily prayer, “regular, personal conversation with God.”
O’Hara said he hopes that’s a commitment everyone has made, to “stay close to Jesus,” who has a strong desire to spend time with you, speak with you and communicate his love, plans and provisions for you.
To foster that relationship, O’Hara starts with Scriptures every day – thinking, reflecting and talking with God about them. He reads the daily readings, and “when something sticks out, I stop, and I circle it and … have a conversation with God,” because he knows God is calling his attention to something. Then, he usually tries to make some simple resolution for that day.
At the conclusion of the 25-minute talk, O’Hara assured listeners that God loves and cares for them, and their work is changing lives.
The keynote can be accessed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhhYkPMCTIU.
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