by Joe Bollig
SENECA — When parishioners at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish here entered church for the First Sunday of Advent on Nov. 27, they were greeted by a mystery.
There, in its customary place every year, was the Christmas creche and lighted, empty manger.
But it was too early — why was it there?
It was there because the 28-member parish Evangelization Team decided to “do something a little different this year,” said member Myra Runnebaum.
And not only was the creche and lighted manger there, but a purple banner with the word “Created,” and a vintage image of the infant Jesus superimposed on a host being elevated by the hands of a priest.
There was still more.
That Sunday, pastor Father Arul Carasala’s homily drew from the resources of a special preaching series based on the book “Rescued” by Father John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
During a quiet time after receiving Communion, a short meditation on the word “Created” was read by a member of the Evangelization Team. After Mass, parishioners were given a card featuring the four theme words for the four Sundays of Advent and a message, plus the eucharistic image, as they left the church.
The light in the empty manger symbolizes waiting for Jesus and God’s creation, said Father Carasala. The color of the banner on the third Sunday was rose-colored for Gaudete Sunday, matching the Advent wreath, to symbolize joy. The eucharistic image on the card is to emphasize that Jesus came as the Word made flesh and remains with us as the Eucharist.
Father Carasala listened to Father Riccardo during a retreat for archdiocesan priests in early June.
“I like the book,” said Father Carasala. He already owned a copy of Father Riccardo’s book before Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann sent copies to all the pastors of the archdiocese.
One of the things Father Carasala took away from the book is that people are losing a sense of God and there is a tremendous need to bring that back. Because of that loss, people are suffering increased rates of suicide, alcoholism and opioid abuse.
“And that’s why these things are happening, because we are pushing God off the stage,” said Father Carasala.
“We don’t realize that God created us in the image and likeness of him,” he added.
The parish’s new Advent approach actually embodies three archdiocesan initiatives, rather than just one.
The first, via the Evangelization Team, grew out of the archdiocesan Enflame Convocation of 2019. The second, launched this summer, is Revival: Eucharistic Amazement, part of the national effort to promote belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The third is the Advent preaching series based on Father Riccardo’s book.