by Marc and Julie Anderson
SABETHA — Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
And that usually means there’s a problem.
In the case of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha, though, smoke and fire were features of a four-hour event held Oct. 10 before an overflow crowd.
Planning for the event — called “Hope Arising” — started months ago in response to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s May announcement that the Sunday Mass obligation would be reinstated the weekend of June 5-6. In writing to the archdiocese’s pastors, he encouraged them to consider hosting events to welcome people back to Mass and participation in parish life.
Taking the archbishop’s words to heart, Father Zarse, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, St. Augustine Parish in Fidelity and St. James Parish in Wetmore, began praying in earnest, both on his own and with his parishioners.
“I kept playing with this idea that beauty will save the world,” he said.
“We have to draw the human heart which has been so wounded and so fearful for so many different reasons in the last two years and gently draw this heart out with experiences of beauty,” he added.
Over time, Father Zarse, along with a committee of five parishioners — Amber Deters, Annie Deters, Kerry Glynn, Jody Reel and Deb Wenger — concluded that while there had been so much darkness in the world, the parish should look to the future with an increased focus on Jesus, the source of all hope.
The overall vision for the event consisted of three main parts.
First, Mike Debus, a Kansas City, Missouri, performance artist, created three paintings as the audience watched. Depicting Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary in succession, Debus paused in between the second and third painting to share his testimony, something he had not done publicly before. Event organizers and attendees alike said that it really added to their admiration of him.
“That testimony, for a lot of the people, was even more powerful than the art he was creating because it made him a real person with a real story,” Amber Deters said, leaving the audience “feeling closer to him.”
After Debus finished his last painting, the event moved into its second phase, that of a soup supper during which the Mikey Needleman Band, from Olathe, provided live music.
Originally, the event was supposed to be held outside, but rain forced everything indoors. Being inside though, organizers said, brought people closer in terms of physical proximity which, in turn, created more fellowship opportunities.
“No one wanted it to end,” Reel said of the fellowship.
In fact, organizers ended up extending the meal portion a little bit to offer people more time to enjoy one another’s company.
After supper, everyone returned to the sanctuary for eucharistic adoration, complete with fire and smoke — and a lot of it.
The lights in the church were turned completely out, and the sanctuary was lit by candles, 150 of them to be exact. They were placed on the floor, on pedestals, on the altar and on the back altar. The monstrance was placed front and center, towering above all of the candles.
And then there was the incense.
“We had two thurifers coming in swinging the thuribles followed by the crucifix and our four processional candles, and then the younger kids carried the devotional candles,” Reel said.
In total, the procession featured 10 altar servers ranging from third graders to sophomores in high school.
Additionally, people were given the opportunity to write their prayers on slips of paper, and then add them to the fire and watch them burn. The exercise was reminiscent of Psalm 141, which reads, “Let my prayers arise like before you like incense and my raising of my hands like an evening oblation.”
Calling it overwhelmingly beautiful, Reel said that specific hour of eucharistic adoration was “hands down one of the best moments” — not only for her but the entire parish.
Amber Deters agreed.
“Being in front of Jesus for an extended amount of time in this beautiful setting was their favorite part, and I think that having that as the capstone of the night really honed in on what our focus was, where our hope was and what it’s all about — our hope in God,” she said.
Jacob Gruber, who attended the event with his fiancee and her 6-year-old son, said the Holy Hour was unlike any he’d experienced previously and provided a “deeper level of intimacy” than he’d ever experienced.
“I think until you have [an event like this], you don’t realize you need it,” he said. “It’s a great way to have something besides Mass to draw people into the church. I think that’s something that a lot of parishes today are missing. Most families come to Mass, and that’s the extent of what they see. They don’t see the parish community outside of that, and this is something that can draw not just the Catholics but also fellow Christians within our communities to bring us all into greater fellowship with Christ.”
Betty Niehues agreed.
“It was a very unique time of feeling close to God,” she said.
Perhaps it was D’Ann Niehues, though, who summarized everyone’s feelings with only four words.
“It was just awesome,” she said.