Advent Series: A time to grow in grace

Since I was a little girl, my favorite Mystery of the Rosary has been the Visitation. I love reflecting on this mystery. I love thinking about Mary making haste to visit Elizabeth. I love imagining their embrace when they finally meet. I find myself tearing up at the greeting Elizabeth gives Mary, “And how could this happen to me? That the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And the great proclamation from Mary: her prophetic Magnificat speaking of God’s greatness, God’s mercy, and how the Lord is visiting his people!

I think what strikes me so much is how desperately I want this type of interaction in my own life when I visit family or friends. I want to greet others with this type of joy or amazement but so often I fail. In my ministry, especially at Mass, I try to facilitate in our space the greeting Mary and Elizabeth share. I stand by the door in the baptismal lobby and try to greet the “Mary’s” walking through with Elizabeth’s enthusiasm and recognition of the in-stirring of Emmanuel with them. Time and again I fail.

I recognize how often as women especially, we tear each other down. I know my own heart fails to reach out to other women and embrace the goodness and divine in them.  I’m so grateful for the examples of women in my life who lift up and embrace and encourage others.  I’m grateful for Mary and Elizabeth and I’m also grateful for those I’ve met who follow in their footsteps.  I think of my friend Brenda who greets me always with a compliment, with an uplifting and encouraging word. I think of Farhiya who I’ve witnessed turn to every woman she meets with a smile, hug and laughter that makes my heart sing.

I am grateful for the Mary’s and Elizabeth’s in my life who challenge and encourage me to visit other women with love, respect, and honor. And I pray that this Advent might be a time for us to grow in grace so we all might welcome and experience the divine in one another as Mary and Elizabeth model for us!

Known to her neighbors as “the Church lady”, Joan is a woman searching for God’s voice and beauty in the example’s of Divine Grace she meets in her day to day life. She is particularly grateful God has blessed her with work at the Newman Center which focuses on bringing the energy of college students into contact with the dedicated pillars of the community.


Advent Series: No path to light, except through darkness

Guest blogger Rebecca Calderone shares a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent. Rebecca is a chaplain at St. Benedict Senior Community. Read more about her in her bio at the end of her post.

There are some patients that I will always remember. Maggie* is one of them. I remember clearly the first time I met Maggie. I walked into her private room looking over the gardens at St. Benedict’s Senior Community and she was sitting at a table working on a puzzle. Learning that I was the chaplain, she put her puzzle piece down and used her walker to transfer herself into her recliner chair. Maggie was recently admitted to hospice. I was glad to see that she was still moving around on her own and talking with ease despite the use of oxygen. This indicated to me that she might be on hospice for a more extended length of time, and I always appreciated when I had the opportunity to build longer relationships with my hospice patients. We spent that first visit getting to know each other and she shared at length about her life story. I listened intently, honored as always, to be the recipient of the telling of one’s story.

Over the following nine months or so I visited Maggie about every one to two weeks. She stayed relatively strong most of the time leading up to the end of her life. One day while visiting I said to Maggie, “You’ve been on hospice for quite some time now. What has it been like for you to know you’re in this stage of life where the end is coming near?” Maggie shared about the challenges of waiting. She shared about how full her life had been, that she felt in good relation with those she loved, and that her faith was strong. She was ready to go, and yet her time had not come. She shared about what a trial this was for her, as well as the blessings she experienced in each moment, knowing that it may be her last.

Waiting for death is in many ways akin to waiting for the birth of new life. December 3 marks the beginning of the Advent season. We enter into a time of repentance, waiting and anticipation. The prophet Isaiah, who we will hear from often throughout the season of Advent, tells us,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV)

There is no path to light, except through darkness, and without each other neither light nor darkness could exist. Darkness does not, however, have to mean the ugly or the evil. There is beauty in the dark moments of our life, beauty in the seasons of waiting.

The beauty of darkness comes in the form of hope and opportunity. Advent is an opportunity for all of us to turn ourselves toward the light of Christ. Maggie was a beautiful example of a woman who embraced the darkness of her period of waiting. There were challenges and there was pain as she transitioned through stages of her dying process. But there was also hope, which grew out of the assurance of Christ’s light being there to guide her from one life into the next.

As we enter into this season of Advent, I challenge each of us to lean into, and explore the darker areas of our lives. This isn’t an easy thing for any of us, and there are plenty of distractions with lights, presents, and decorations that keep us from remembering this season as a time of waiting, rather than already being a time of celebration. But it’s not just difficult because of distractions, it’s difficult because it is counter-cultural (especially here in central Minnesota!). How have you been taught to identify your emotions? To process your losses? I’m of a younger generation that is taught much more to be aware of emotions. And yet, engaging emotion and letting myself exist with it remains a challenge. This challenge is part of the core human experience that we are all called to participate in. Just as light and darkness cannot exist without each other, we cannot have inner peace without also knowing inner unrest.

Advent is about so much more than happy anticipation, it is a real opportunity to reflect inward. The gift of Christ’s birth can be more fully appreciated only if we enter into that process. Reflect back on your year. Reflect on what losses in your life still have some lingering hurt. For some people those pains may be deep, with the loss of a close relationship, or like Maggie, losses of independence and functioning. For others the losses, though still challenging and real, may be losses related to a happier event (like the losses that come after getting married as you transition into what it’s like to live together and share your whole life with another person). Learning to recognize what is a loss and to be aware of the inner journey through that is a gift of the human experience, and one that Advent calls forth in us.

The challenges of this season will be greatly rewarded. Of this we can be assured. One of the beauties of Advent, similar to what we go through during the season of Lent as we await the resurrection, is that we know the end of the story. We know that there is light that will shine into our darkest places. We know that new life exists in the birth of Christ. Christ comes, not to take away the pain of the journey, but to be our light and guide along the way.

May each of us experience the gift of turning inward this Advent. May we have the courage to face our pains, and the strength and wisdom to allow ourselves to live in that place. And when our challenges become overwhelming, may we turn our eyes to the light of Christ that is already shining at the end of this season. Peace to you on your Advent journey.

*Name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality.

Rebecca Calderone is the Director of Pastoral Care for St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud. She earned her Master of Divinity in 2014 from St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary. From there she went on to study chaplaincy and did her training at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. She became board certified through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains in 2017. She lives in St. Cloud with her husband, Chris, who also works in ministry in the diocese. In January, Rebecca will begin work on a Doctor of Ministry in Interfaith Chaplaincy.

The Power of a Gentleman

“A guy is a boy by birth, a man by age, and a gentleman by choice.” -Vin Diesel

This past weekend I got to attend a beautiful wedding in Texas. The wedding was for the brother of one of my best friends, and the whole weekend was just so great. I not only got to meet Catherine’s family, but I also learned a valuable lesson while in the warmer weather!

One thing I immediately noticed was how gentlemanly the men are in Texas. I was a little skeptical that this was true all the time, thinking maybe it was just a good day, maybe a good hair day?! 😉 As the weekend went on, I realized that there was a culture of respect in Texas in a way that I had never experienced before. I rarely opened my own door the entire weekend!

When we were on the shuttle bus from the airport, it was incredibly crowded. People were standing and an older couple loaded onto the bus. Instantly, the young man sitting to my left got up and tapped the older lady on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, would you like to have a seat?” She was very appreciative and took the seat. We also went to Whataburger for lunch and a young boy, who must have been around 7 years old, held the door for us as we walked out. I thanked him and he smiled really big with a couple teeth missing, and said, “My brother and I try to hold the door open for the ladies.” Not only did these instances melt my heart, but it also gave me hope for our next generation.

Another great example of these gentlemen was my friend’s brother, Samuel. Samuel is 14 and from the moment we got there he was very attentive to our needs- if we needed a plate he would grab one for us, or if we were all leaving the house he would stop dead in his tracks and tell us to go ahead. When we went into the kitchen for breakfast, all of the men immediately stood up so the women could take the limited seats around the table. Samuel also put together a cot for us so that we would not have to try to figure out how to put it together ourselves. If more 14-year-olds acted like Samuel, this world would indeed be a better place!

Since I got back to Minnesota, I have seen gentlemanly behavior but, sadly, I’ve seen more of the opposite extreme. In fact, in the airport a guy shoved his way to get out of the door before me. These extremes amaze me, that some men can treat women with so much respect while others don’t make any attempt to act like gentlemen. Talking with Nikki about this, she remembered seeing a quote from Jason Evert that mentioned this problem in another way.

“Authentic femininity is a combination of class, tenderness and virtue. When a woman possesses these traits, a man will naturally want to be more of a gentleman around her.”

-Jason Evert

We as women obviously don’t have total power over how men act, but we do have more power than we think we do. We can help men to grow in virtue by being women of virtue ourselves, and from our example we can help them to want to rise up and treat us with the dignity we have! It’s a two-way street; both men and women need to be respectful of the opposite gender and expect to be respected as well. How beautiful is it that we as women have the power to help men become all they’re called to be?! Women- I challenge you to live out Jason Evert’s quote and raise the bar for the men in this world today, and men- never forget that there is nothing more attractive than a true gentleman!


Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

God can be found in the silence

Last week I volunteered at one of my favorite events at St. John’s University — serving Thanksgiving dinner to students. Students receive tickets, come all dressed up and are served the traditional foods. It is family style, so we give them the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, dressing, pumpkin pie, and they pass it around their table. One lucky student gets designated to carve the turkey. It is a wonderful event and about 1,800 students take part and are served over the course of the night. The men’s choir stands up and sings in the Great Hall. And I got to work with Father Rene, one of my favorite human beings. It is a tradition, and a very beautiful one at that.

As I was leaving, I saw a student looking inside, through the glass doors. He was wearing sweatpants and was alone. As I opened the door, he quickly left. Maybe it was a student with class… maybe. Or maybe he had no group, no invitation to join. As I returned to my office, I hoped he had a place for the approaching long Thanksgiving weekend. I hope his solitary evening was limited to this event as the holidays approach.

I think we are quick to assume that everyone has a shared experience when it comes to holidays and family events. Do we stop to consider, as millions of pictures are posted on Facebook of happy gatherings, that maybe someone is sitting alone? There is no place they fit. Relationships are strained. Maybe they are living in fear. Or they just don’t feel welcome.

This time of year we have food drives for food shelves and volunteerism at shelters is high. These are great! Hunger and homelessness are especially tragic this time of year. But inside our own communities, in our circles, our co-workers, there are those who are broken and sad. Those who have the material goods they need, but not the spiritual support. Truth be told, being home alone over the holidays is not as glamorous as 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) made it appear in the movie “Home Alone.”

But for you, sitting alone Thursday, this blog is for you. You are not unimportant or unworthy. And for every amazing album of pictures shared on Facebook, there is someone just like you sitting on their couch. Remember that God can be found in the silence. He is speaking. You are not alone. Not this holiday, not ever.

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Pumpkin, spice and everything nice

Pumpkin shells have been used to cook or serve just about everything from soup to nuts. Trendy and creative ideas abound employing every size, color and shape of this edible gourd.

Wendy Gessell, who recently shared her Raspberry Ribbon Pie recipe, has been making a comforting mushroom, rice and sausage hotdish in a pumpkin shell for over 10 years. Wendy’s recipe has a nostalgic feel to it — like a casserole one might have sampled at grandma’s table back in the ‘60s. Her browning paper copy is typed on two half-sheets of paper, perhaps from a church cookbook published back in the day. This charming Pumpkin Shell Dinner recipe and quaint, personal notes are those of Mrs. Clayton Anderson.

Pumpkin Shell Dinner

1 (12-14 in.) pumpkin (prepared as directed below*)
1 lb. bulk sausage, cooked and drained
1 c. brown, wild or white rice (or a mixture), cooked
1 (10 1/2 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 (4 oz.) can mushrooms; those in butter sauce are good
Celery and onion, chopped as desired
Butter, salt and pepper, brown sugar

Brown the sausage in a large sauté pan. Mix sausage with rice, soup, mushrooms and cooked celery and onions. Spoon this mixture into the prepared pumpkin shell. Put pumpkin shell “lid” in place. Set in a large shallow baking pan, add 2 cups water to the pan and bake at 350°F for 2 hours. Serves 4-6.


* Choose a small (not more than 12-14 inches in diameter) pumpkin that will sit evenly in a pan. Cut a fairly large lid from the top. Scoop out the seeds and stringy portions and wash the pumpkin inside and out.

To serve, it is best to carry the whole, baked pumpkin to the table on a platter and have one person serve it. Spoon out the sausage and rice mixture and then cut squares of pumpkin from the opening to serve alongside. Have butter, salt, pepper and a small bowl of brown sugar on the table to season the pumpkin squares.

If any of the pumpkin shell is left, you can peel it, scrape away the remaining food, mash it and use as canned pumpkin. A pumpkin shell dinner retains heat well. Because the pumpkin shell “lid” keeps the steam inside, some moisture may accumulate. Mixtures that are not watery should be used. Foods with rice and noodles will absorb this mixture, but removing the cover the last 30 minutes of cooking will solve the problem.

A note from Wendy:

I try to make this recipe at least once a year and prefer one-half pound ground beef and one-half pound pork sausage and a mixture of one cup cooked wild rice and one cup cooked brown rice. I use two four-ounce cans of mushrooms but have never seen the ones in butter sauce that Mrs. Anderson proposed. Of course, fresh sliced mushrooms could be sautéed, as well. I suggest sautéing three stalks celery and one medium onion. I put a bottle of soy sauce on the table when I serve this hotdish — it seems to be a tasty addition.

A note from Carol: It’s Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. I feel blessed — and ever so grateful — for many wonderful people, experiences and things in my life. I hope you do, too.

If you are making one last trip to the grocery store perhaps you will consider picking up a pumpkin to fill with Wendy’s hotdish or a creation of your own. I think it’s an innovative, enticing way to serve just about anything this time of year.

Carol Jessen-Klixbull is a copy editor at The Visitor. She is a former Family and Consumer Science teacher who has a passion for all things “food.”

A story to be thankful for

Another edition of the paper down in the books. Time to dive into the next issue. What stories will this one hold?

Lord, I’m not ready. I have barely had a chance to process what you’ve blessed me with in the last two weeks: making a spunky new friend with a tenacity for life,  sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers-turned-friends at an historic interfaith gathering, brainstorming at the bishop’s request with some of the most dedicated faithful who are committed to their communities, and a rare and blessed heart-to-heart with a special woman of God. Just to name a few.

Lord,  why have you chosen me for this work? Sometimes it is so so so hard. Sometimes the topics are uncomfortable. Sometimes I’m challenged about what I think I know or understand about you and about my faith. Sometimes it wreaks havoc on my emotions to try to capture the beauty of someone’s sacred story in just a few carefully chosen words – and then to put my whole heart into it and leave it open and raw for others to enter into and judge.

How could you choose me for this?  I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not holy enough. I’m so unworthy to enter under their roofs.

Lord, help me to know you chose me because you love me. You chose me because you love them. You chose me because in the broken places of my own story, your light shines through the cracks – and that’s a story to be thankful for.

Thank you, Lord, for choosing me to be your light in the broken places. Thank you for the gift of listening when I sometimes feel unheard myself. Thank you for the gift of each story and each person you place in my path. Thank you for the stories that are easy to tell and the stories that push me outside of myself. Thank you for allowing me to enter fully into each story and to seek and find your presence in every. single. one.

As we start the next edition, hear my prayers, Lord. Let each person know their story matters to you. Let it be your words that flow through my heart and into my fingers. Let each word glorify you. Let each story shine with your light. Amen.

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter and blog coordinator for The Visitor. Read more about Kristi on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

“Every Mile Mattered”

Have you ever heard a song that speaks to your heart so clearly that it’s almost as if God’s using a megaphone to grab your attention? Recently I heard the song “Every Mile Mattered” (click to watch the video) by Nichole Nordeman, and it was definitely one of those moments! It spoke into the fears and worries that have been on my heart lately in a powerful way. It speaks of messiness and confusion in our lives, and it reminded me that there’s a reason for everything that has happened, whether I can see those reasons now or not. Here are some of my favorite lyrics:

It’s history,

You can’t rewrite it

You’re not meant to be trapped inside it

Every tear brought you here,

Every sorrow gathered

It’s history,

But every mile mattered

Those last words are pure gold—“Every mile mattered.” A friend recently lamented to me after she broke up with her boyfriend, “Now I’m back at square one.” But this song helped me to realize that nothing could be further from the truth! Every experience, every hurt, and every joy we encounter changes us, and God uses all of those things to shape and mold us into who He wants us to be. What a crazy and beautiful truth! When things don’t turn out as we had hoped and we feel like that job or relationship or project was a waste of time, what if we held on to this reality of God’s patient molding of our hearts rather than giving in to frustration and regret?

It’s so easy to fall into the “Why, God?!” trap, doubting His love and His plan, doubting that He is good and that His plan is what’s best for us. It’s good to be honest with God with the questions and hurts of our hearts, but sometimes we need to take a step back and remember what an amazing and powerful and gentle God we serve. At the Encounter Milwaukee young adult conference this past weekend, we prayed the words of a praise and worship song, “You are good,” and at one point the priest had just the ladies sing it, asking the men to pray for their sisters in Christ as we sang those words, that we would know the goodness of the Father and His intimate love for each of our hearts in a deeper way. It was such a beautiful moment, as our brothers prayed that the Father would remind us of His love. The priest also reminded us that praising God isn’t the same as thanking Him—we praise Him for who He Is, while we thank Him for what He’s done for us. Even when we don’t understand why God is doing what He’s doing in our lives, and we fall into sadness and anxiety, we can praise Him for who He Is, because we know that He Is good and He will never change or let us down!

So this Thanksgiving, the raw prayer of my heart is that we would each be given the grace to take our lives—past, present, and future—and lift them up to the Father, praising Him for Who He Is and thanking Him for what He’s done in all the winding paths of our lives, even if it doesn’t all make sense to us right now. He’s not done writing our story, but we can trust that when we look back someday, we will see that His plan was beautiful—and every mile really did matter.


Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Putting a Face on a Story

Another shooting. When I first heard of the horrible shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I shook my head and decided to numb myself by turning away from the news.

But the [heart]breaking story was too widely reported for me to completely shut out. Still, I could cope. To me, it was an anonymous tragedy. Like Las Vegas and Orlando and Newtown and too many other places.

It was anonymous until I found out through email that my friend and colleague Cherryl, retired from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, lost her sister-in-law Therese and brother-in-law Richard in the church. Cherryl shared, “It’s been one long panic attack since Sunday and my brain can’t seem to stop looping everything.”

Therese and Richard were the first two from the Sutherland Springs shooting to be buried.

There were many images of the tragedy online and on TV, including the first funerals of the 26 victims… those of Therese and Richard. There were even images of the couple. But none of them captured my attention and touched my heart until I heard that they were part of my friend’s family. In a strange and mysterious… and now emotionally loaded… way, they have become part of my family too. Cherryl wrote on Facebook, “[Therese] and Richard were so much in love with each other. They did everything together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company.” Besides the obvious prompting to pray for the Sutherland Springs community and to renew my own pursuit of non-violence, her post called me to reflect on my own spousal relationship… do we enjoy each other’s company so much that others would notice? Do we savor our moments even more now that we’re reminded how fragile life can be? Will I make a conscious choice to love my spouse no matter what challenges face us, challenges that pale in comparison with the last moments of Therese and Richard?

All of a sudden, an anonymous tragedy in another state became an event that has deepened my perspective on life and love.

All because someone put a face on a very sad story that I wanted to ignore.

Tim Welch is the Consultant for Educational Technology at Catholic Education Ministries, Diocese of Saint Cloud, MN. Read more about him on the Meet Our Bloggers page.