We are one, we are the same

Recently I traveled 60 miles to Long Prairie where I joined the Hispanic community for the Spanish Mass followed by a meeting with representatives from the Mexican Consulate for this story I was working on.

Since I really only speak and understand a little Spanish — and I really want to be fluent in speaking and writing it — I thought it would be a good way for me to have a brief “immersion” experience. After all, it was Mass and surely I could follow along with the familiar parts. And, I like a good challenge.

Sure enough, first thing was the Sign of the Cross – En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

Easy-peasy. I had learned some of these prayers in Spanish through my work with the sister parish relationship our parish has with a church in Venezuela.

Father Omar Guanchez, the pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie and a native of Venezuela, began the opening prayers and a word caught my ear, “bautismo.” There was going to be a baptism! Que Bueno! How great!

I was able to follow along pretty well during the readings since they were both spoken and in writing in the missalette. During Father Omar’s homily, I struggled a bit more. He was speaking quite fast and without the words in front of me to also help me translate, I had a hard time grasping what he was saying. I knew it was about Maria y Marta (Mary and Martha) and the death and resurrection of their brother Lazaro (Lazarus). Toward the end of his homily, he asked the congregation a question and many “manos” (hands) went into the air. He said a few more words that I did not understand and then, suddenly, the crowd erupted and began moving around, many coming toward me. “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you), they said to me. And all I could stammer out was, “Gracias!” and smile.

The family sitting next me had a teenage daughter and I had heard her speaking English with a friend before Mass started. I leaned across her mother who had told me before Mass began that she did not speak much English (I told her I didn’t speak much Spanish) and asked the girl why everyone was giving blessings to one another. She explained that Father Omar said if we are believers in the resurrection, we must bless those around us, even those we do not know. And since so many didn’t know me, I received many blessings!

As the liturgy continued, I was filled with warmth and love for these strangers sitting around me who blessed me so joyfully. I thought of a homily another priest once gave. He told us to look around at Mass at our neighbors because those are the people we might be with in heaven. I looked around at the young daughter next to me, who answered more of my questions during the baptism and throughout the remainder of the Mass, and the mother who gently held my hand as we prayed the “Padre Nuestro,” or “Our Father,” together.

As we finished the closing song, I quietly pulled out my phone and pulled up my Google Translate app. I wanted to thank the woman next to me in her own language.

“Muchas gracias por tu ayuda y amabilidad,” I sputtered. “Thank you for your help and kindness.”

She put her hand on mine and she, too, had something to say to me in English, “We are one, we are the same.” And in that moment, I thought, that is how Jesus sees us, his daughters. I knew nothing more about her, nor she me, than that we both came to this holy place to worship our Savior. Both of us his daughters, both of us beloved by him. We are one, we are the same.

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

THE FIVE HOLY SPIRIT PROMISES IN ST. JOHN’S GOSPEL: Part One

Father Anthony Oelrich composed a series of five reflections on the promises in the Gospel of St. John. Beginning today, he will share one each Sunday through Pentecost.

In addition to Easter being the season of resurrection, it is also the season of the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit. These two—resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit—are really only two aspects of a single event. St. John tells us that it was on the evening of the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection that is, that Jesus came to his disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). In a certain sense, Easter Sunday is also Pentecost Sunday. To be more precise, the Feast of Pentecost is the liturgical celebration of the truth that the Easter mystery is not simply about Jesus, but is also our sharing in his new and eternal life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

As we prepare for the Church’s celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, on the last Sunday of Easter, I would like to offer some reflections on the five Holy Spirit promises in St. John’s Gospel. You find these promises in John 14:16-17; 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11; 16:12-15.

The first promise reads:

 And I will ask the Father,

and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you always,

the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept,

because it neither sees nor knows it.

But you know it

because it remains with you,

and will be in you.

This passage introduces us to the central subject of this promise as well as the four that will follow, that is the Paraclete. To be precise, it is the promise of ‘another Paraclete.’ Jesus, only here in John’s gospel, is identifying himself as a Paraclete. The Greek word paraklētos is multivalent. It means one who councils, assists, defends, stands up for, comforts another.

Before the lies and darkness of the world, Jesus has stood with his disciples as a paraclete, defending them with the truth of the Father and assisting them to embrace the light and life that comes by loving God and their neighbor. Jesus himself is this ‘truth of the Father’ precisely in his being the Son of God, which is to say in his relationship with the Father. It is this relationship of complete gift and receptivity existing for all eternity between the Father and the Son that is the truth of our existence as human beings. Jesus Christ in his humanity is the revelation of this truth.

Now Jesus promises the disciples that when he leaves this world, they will be given another paraclete. The Spirit will help them in the face of assaults from the world to live the truth, to live in the relationship that the Son shares with the Father from all eternity and which will be theirs because of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.

Notice, from the last verse of this promise, this Spirit has already remained, has been with the disciples. Jesus’ historical existences has been permeated with the presence of the Holy Spirit, for he came in “grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). The promise, however, is that once Jesus has passed through death to life at the Father’s right hand, the Spirit will come to dwell in the disciples. “A new mode of presence and action of the Spirit is here promised by Jesus for the time to come: an action or presence most intimate, most interior, and therefore most immediate; the Spirit will act from within their hearts” (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 360).

Imagine a very dear friend of yours. You admire in this friend her enormous capacity for compassion and kindness. You have experienced this compassion and kindness first hand from your friend and have even been encouraged to grow in compassion and kindness yourself from her example. What if, by an act of the will, she could simply bestow her very own capacity for compassion and kindness upon you? That would be precious indeed!

This is something of what Jesus is extending to his disciples in this first promise. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus places within us his very own capacity for living the truth of his relationship with the Father. The intimacy, the trust, the assurance and peace that we see in every aspect of the life of Christ because of his all-encompassing trust in God, this intimacy, trust, assurance, and peace comes to live in us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

John, in his first letter, speaks of this indwelling of the Spirit as a gift in ‘seed’ (3:9). As a seed, it is not yet the full-grown plant. Still, a tomato seed, well cared for, becomes nothing other than a tomato-bearing plant. This seed of the Spirit, promised us by Christ and bestowed in baptism, if tended well, will increasingly become in us the truth of our shared relationship of intimate love with Jesus for God the Father in the communion of the saints.

Now that is a promise, I would say, worth embracing. And to think, it is only the first of five such promises from our Lord.

Father Tony currently serves as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.

A Change of Perspective: On Coffee and Mission

A month ago I returned to Minnesota after a quick, but lovely, trip to Kenya. The Mission Office staff journeyed to our partner diocese of Homa Bay. We went to be part of a variety of diocesan and parish meetings both evaluating the partnership as of late, and looking at goals for its future. It was a jam-packed week which made the time fly by, and before we knew it it was time to pack our things to return to the airport.

Mission Office staff on a trip to Kenya. From left, Lora Knafla, Beth Neville and Kateri Mancini.

And though the scale at the airport suggested otherwise, I carried little home with me this time in way of souvenirs. It was after all, my third trip to Kenya. But one thing I was sure to bring home was a container of Kenyan coffee.

Each day during my stay there I would begin the day with a cup of coffee, Kenyan-style. It consisted of boiled milk, mixed with a spoonful of Kenyan instant coffee and topped with a few spoonfuls of sugar. I’ll admit, the first day took some adjusting to drink down the whole cup. It simply was not what I was used to.

You see, I am not a coffee drinker! It’s more accurate to say that I take my sugar and whipped cream with a bit of coffee. Sweet mocha drinks are a regular for me (for those keeping score, Caribou’s Berry White Mocha with an extra shot of raspberry is my drink king), but coffee without the chocolate flavor and ridiculous amount of sugar? Unheard-of for this picky drinker.

Until Kenya, that is.

I don’t know what it was. Maybe the milk was just so fresh and thick that the creaminess made it more to my liking. Maybe their sugar is just so raw and molasses-like that it added to the taste. Maybe their coffee is just different enough. But whatever it was, by the second or third day, I was in love with my Kenyan Coffee Concoction! So that was the first “souvenir” to make it into my suitcase.

And although it doesn’t taste exactly the same, nearly every day for the last four weeks I have had my favorite mug filled with hot milk and coffee, Kenya-style.

Until today, that is.

Noticing that my container of Kenyan coffee is running out, and in an attempt to save it a bit longer, I decided to have a mug of my old favorite store-bought Mocha drink instead. And whoa!  Barely had I finished the first sip when I had a strong feeling of too sweet. It no longer tasted quite the same. The picky drinker, who just over a month ago missed her extra shot of raspberry and sugar sludge at the bottom of her cup when finished, now found herself unable to finish the whole glass of chocolate-flavored sweet drink. It’s amazing how our perspective changes.

But our perspectives do change.  A 60 degree day after several months of Minnesota winter has us bringing out our shorts and rolling the windows down; while that same weather after a few months of summer has us reaching for thicker coats and turning the heat on in the car. A newborn baby, bigger than any of your own children were at birth, seems like the smallest thing you’ve ever seen after spending your days with a now-two-year old. Going back to your old school after years away can make the hallways feel a lot smaller than you remember.

A little time away from something or with something different, a sudden encounter or a new experience, and our perspective can take on a whole new direction. And this, I believe, is holy.

For ours is a faith of new perspectives. Jesus’ teachings were constantly challenging the old normal and inviting his followers (and his enemies) to consider new perspectives – on faith, laws, relationships, and God’s-self. The Early Christians’ experience with Christ, and with his non-imminent return, changed their perspective on Gentile-Jewish relations. More recently, Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy suddenly had everyone seeing, hearing and talking about “mercy” like never before (it was like buying a new car and then seeing similar ones everywhere – we couldn’t get away from mercy!), with a stronger understanding of and desire for it.  And each Lent we spend 40 days praying, fasting and giving alms in order to find a new, deeper, perspective on our relationship with Christ and the Paschal Mystery journey we take with him.

And as the church, the people of God – as the catholic church, being universalours is a church of new perspectives.  We were created in the image of a Triune God to be in relationship with one another.  We are called to be “missionary disciples.”  We are made to encounter one another, constantly running into “the other” – whether in the pews around us at Mass, the local grocery store on our way home, or on a mission trip half a world away. God put us in this life together with others, in order to help us continuously find new perspectives.

Pope Francis talks a lot about being missionary disciples, a missionary church. My favorite definition of mission is: “Mission takes place wherever people interact with people, seeking to overcome all that separates them from one another and from God.” 

Isn’t this what so many of our encounters with strangers and friends alike, and the new perspectives often gained from our time and conversations together, does?

As God’s church, we are invited day-by-day, minute-by-minute, to have a little time away from just ourselves, to suddenly encounter someone different or experience new ways of thinking and doing.  And as a result of this daily thrust into mission, our perspective can take on a whole new direction.  This, I believe, is holy.  This, I believe, is Godly.

My many mission experiences complete with the new people and places I have encountered have certainly given me many new perspectives.  Ranging from water conservation, to community ties, to coffee preferences, I have never come home from a journey or bid farewell to delegates quite the same person as I was before.  And each time, each changed perspective, has left me a better person.  For this I am constantly grateful.

But the beauty of our church is that we need not work at the Mission Office or fly for 16 hours to have these experiences. (Though if you want to, let us know!)

Look around you.  Interact with others.  Seek out someone new or different.  Open yourselves up to the many possible experiences put before you each day.  Be church.  Be Godly!  But be warned:

Life may never taste quite the same after you do! 

Kateri Mancini is the coordinator of mission education for the St. Cloud Mission Office, where she has ministered for the past 11 years. She has spent that same amount of time sharing life with her best friend and partner in parenting. As both a minister and mother, Kateri spends her days grappling with the intersection of Church and family, theology and potty training.

New life

Spring is upon us and in a rural community we start thinking about planting in the newly revealed ground, no longer covered by snow. There is life. Last week at St. Rose of Lima Parish in St. Rosa, the bulldozers came in and started clearing trees and tearing up sidewalks. After over a decade of planning and drawings (and re-drawings) we have broken ground on our addition, featuring new bathrooms, an elevator and gathering area. For a tiny parish of 200 families, this is huge.

Adding to our excitement our seminarian, Deacon Derek Wiechmann will be ordained in June and celebrating his first Mass with us on Sunday, June 4th. In a time when prognosticators expound on the ills and demise of the Catholic faith, there is life. Seeds are being planted in the smallest corners, often overlooked or deemed no longer viable. So fitting that Derek will preside in St. Rosa for his first Mass, overlooking the construction of an addition, both of which events represent an expansion, a growing of the Catholic faith.

Philippians 4:6 tell us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is with that hope and belief, particularly in this coming Holy Week, that we look forward. This year we look ahead to Easter, to the Resurrection of our Lord, to the future of Catholic faith in the face of Derek, and to the growth and ever increasing blessings visible in our parish both in Derek and in a long-awaited and often prayed for addition. Truly this year we need to reflect, smile, be filled with thanks, and pray Psalm 23:5 because our cup truly is overflowing.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of and trustee from St. Rose of Lima Church. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments.

One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns!

Hot Cross Buns have an interesting history behind them: the idea of marking crosses on baked goods such as bread, cakes and buns goes back to pre-Medieval times and was a visible sign that the bread was “blessed” and had the power to ward off evil spirits, as well as help with the longevity of the bread by stopping it from going moldy or becoming stale so quickly. A cross marked on the dough was also believed to help the bread to rise.

An image of the hot cross buns while cooling.

Although the name for Hot Cross Buns was commonly known as Good Friday Buns for nearly a hundred years, during the 1730s the buns were starting to be sold on the streets and therein the name as well as the popular rhyme emerged, as the sellers would shout out “One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns”….a penny for a larger bun or for two smaller ones. Nowadays, you can buy Hot Cross Buns all year round, which some people think is a shame, as it cheapens and weakens the history and traditions behind this wonderful spiced bun.

Personally, I had never made Hot Cross Buns but I received a catering order for four dozen of them from the Melrose-cluster Liturgical Director for the second grade Learning Centers in preparation for their First Communion. Upon Googling both the history and numerous different recipes for Hot Cross Buns, I came up with a plan. If I would have had cardamom on hand, I would have used that but instead, I went with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to spice my buns. Also, the recipes ranged from using raisins, currants and other dried cut-up fruit. I used raisins and diced fruit cake fruits because that’s what I had on hand. And, I used my bread machine (my kitchen wouldn’t be complete without at least one sitting on the counter!) to mix and knead the dough. If you’d rather make yours totally from scratch, here’s the general recipe I followed:

Traditional Hot Cross Buns Recipe


1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
1 cup warm 2% or whole milk (110 to 115 degrees)
1 egg
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup raisins
½ cup diced dried fruit (craisins, currants, pineapple, etc.)

Icing:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
2-3 Tablespoons milk or cream

Directions

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. In a large bowl, combine eggs, butter, sugar, salt, spices, yeast mixture and half of the flour; beat on medium speed until smooth. Stir in dried fruit and remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide and shape into 24 balls. Pinch and tuck dough under to shape into buns. Place on parchment-lined or greased baking sheets. Cover with kitchen towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool slightly.

For icing, in a small bowl, mix confectioners’ sugar, extract and enough milk or cream to reach desired consistency. Pipe (in a plastic baggie with a corner cut off) or pour from a measuring cup a cross on top of each bun.

Yield: 2 dozen small buns.

Rita Meyer is married and the mother of four children age 17 and under. She and her family are members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Meire Grove.

“LORD, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

It’s been another insane attempt at church. Impatient kids fighting. Loud baby escaping. Tired parents trying. A family failing at prayer. It’s our usual scene. And amidst all the squealing, the shush-ing, the wiggling, the “stop that”‘s, and the frazzling commotion of pew #3 (aka, our pew), I still somehow (miraculously as it seems) manage to hear the priest’s words, and I respond instinctively along with the congregation in rehearsed response:

“LORD, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

‘Isn’t that the truth!,’ I think to myself as I respond. My roof houses three nutsie little kids who I can’t even keep quiet and under control for an hour at Mass, let alone for the hours that make up the rest of our week. My roof sits atop disgustingly dirty floors that haven’t been swept in days – a task that was made all the harder to do this morning when the toddler pushed her big brother’s cereal bowl off the table, splattering milk EVERYWHERE. My roof covers a husband who’s been sick and a me who’s been overwhelmed and impatient throughout it (well, EXTRA overwhelmed and impatient, on top of the usual overwhelmed-ness and impatience that have been under my roof since moving in). No, unless he likes baskets of unfolded laundry, stepping on Duplos, running out of Kleenex and noise (oh, so very much noise!), my “roof” is no place for my LORD to enter!

“…But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

I wish it were that simple! I think to myself, as I barely finish the sentence before having to quickly grab the toddler smiling at me as she runs down the aisle, once again having escaped pew #3. Everything about the chaos that lies under this family’s roof screams unworthy. With no sign of being “fixed” any time soon. My child now wailing because I won’t put her down again (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…ok four times in one Mass, shame on me!), and me frantically searching for her pacifier that isn’t where it’s supposed to be in the diaper bag which just fell and spilled all over the floor, including rolling back into pew #4. Oh my!  Thank goodness GOD isn’t knocking at my door!  It is not a worthy place for my GOD. We did it – we made it to the end of another hectic, All-Eyes-on-the-Loud-Family Mass!  As I am trying to find everything that has been spread all over (and under) pew #3 (and 4), while my husband attempts to get three squirrely kids into coats before they dart off to run up and down the sanctuary ramp, I feel a tap on my shoulder.  “You have a beautiful family!” the stranger tells me.

I think to myself, as I watch my son almost trip an elderly man in his quest for that ramp-run he’s been waiting for. Beautiful? Don’t you mean busy? That’s what we usually hear: “You sure are busy.”  And after this past hour of desperate attempts to maintain order (and a volume level acceptable to the poor worshipers around us), I find it hard to believe she meant beautiful and not busy. But it is nice of her to offer the pity compliment. I smile and say thank you, ready to get out of there as quickly as possible before my kids do anything else worthy of another comment by the strangers, or worse yet the friends, who have witnessed our Sunday morning ritual of mayhem.  I take a long, deep breath – one of disbelief. And I look at my husband, who just let out a similarly painful sigh. “How does this happen?”  “I don’t know; let’s just go home.”

Home, under that unworthy-roof.  Where chaos abounds in unending heaps. Where tidiness does not (though the heaps part is accurate).  Where noise (I’m pretty sure the neighbors across the street and down the hill can hear us despite closed doors and windows) happens. Where life happens…

Where my “beautiful” family happens.

Home, where we raise three ridiculously rambunctious, but incredibly clever, kids. Where we laugh (oh, their cute little laughs) together.  Where we cry (those heart-breaking cries) and comfort with each other.  Where we pray for one another. Where we love one another…

Where so much of GOD is present.

Home, where I am blessed by a loving husband and the three children that came from that love.  Where we enjoy enough food, water, and health to satisfy more than our basic needs.  Where we enjoy enough fun to satisfy a small army.  Where my life is made messy by the daily challenges of life and motherhood, but where those same things also offer me growth…

Where my soul is healed.

We gather up our kids, the oldest nicely saying good-bye to the gentleman he almost knocked over, the middle jumping up to hug her beloved “Daddy,” and the youngest reaching out to hold my hand in her tiny fingers as she wobbles towards the door. Another long, deep breath of disbelief. But this time, one of gratitude.

How did this happen – that under my roof lies an abundance of GOD and so much of His grace!  Blessings by the handful, all of which I am completely unworthy of. And all of which, make me whole.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

Yet here you are, day after day, entering and abiding with us, showing us yourself through one another.

“…But only say the word and my soul shall be healed!” 

It is, just look at them, it so is.

Tonight I will be taking my children to Mass at a time over-lapping with both their supper and their bedtimes, the longest service we go to all year. And as if that didn’t make me enough of a glutton for punishment, it is also my favorite service of the year.  Why give up my most meaningful night of prayer and community for the usual “Ritual of Mayhem” that is going to church with my kids? Because…they, like the God who gave them to me and the church I give them to, heal me in ways I never knew possible. Because the reasons why tonight is my favorite (the presence of Christ, the humble service, the feasting and fearing together with those you love) are my favorite things about being their mother, too.

Happy Holy Thursday everyone!

Kateri Mancini is the coordinator of mission education for the St. Cloud Mission Office, where she has ministered for the past 11 years. She has spent that same amount of time sharing life with her best friend and partner in parenting. As both a minister and mother, Kateri spends her days grappling with the intersection of Church and family, theology and potty training.

Cookies bring the story of Jesus to life

It’s easy for children to associate Easter treats with chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and brightly colored hard-boiled eggs. But, resurrection cookies turn a simple morsel of meringue into a powerful teaching tool by blending verses from Scripture with the five ingredients throughout the preparation phase. While these tidbits can be made at any time, the process coincides ideally with the Easter story if they are made during the evening of Holy Saturday.

Resurrection Cookies

1 cup whole pecans
1 tsp. vinegar
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar

Zipper baggie
Wooden spoon
Tape
Holy Bible

Preheat oven to 300° F.

Place the pecans in the zipper baggie and let the children beat them with the wooden spoon to break them into small pieces. (Explain that after Jesus was arrested the Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. vinegar into mixing bowl. (Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given common wine, sometimes translated as vinegar, to drink.) Read John 19:28-30.

Add the egg whites to the vinegar. (Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave his life to give us life.) Read John 10:10-11.

Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. (Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers and the bitterness of our own sin.) Read Luke 23:27.

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar. (Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because he loves us, he wants us to know that and he wants us to love him as well.) Read John 3:16.

Beat ingredients with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. (Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.) Read Isaiah 1:18 and 1 John 3:1-3.

Fold in the broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet. (Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.) Read Matthew 27:57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven off. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. (Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed.) Read Matthew 27:65-66.

At bedtime, discuss with the children that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. (Explain that Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.) Read John 16:20 and 22.

On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! (On Resurrection morning, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.) Read Matthew 28:1-9.

 

Rejoice. The Lord Jesus has risen! He is alive!

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.”

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake

Like most American families, we celebrate birthdays with cake. This year, we decided to celebrate my daughter’s 7th birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. I had booked the party, complete with pizza, the frivolous arcade games, and the required birthday cake for a few of her friends and a few members of our family.

After the games and the pizza, the big moment arrived.  From the back of the restaurant, our hostess got the kids excited, whooping and hollering in anticipation for the big guy himself:  Chuck E. Cheese! I noticed a girl about the same age as my daughter, whose family was dining elsewhere in the restaurant. She had come over to join the party.  The hostess said to her, “I’m sorry, this is a private party.  Could you go back over and sit with your parents?”  Even though the hostess wasn’t rude, I thought I heard an undertone of disdain.  So I told the girl she was absolutely free to join us.  “Who cares if one more child is screaming and dancing with Chuck E. Cheese, right?  I would be kinder than this hostess,” I told myself.  So for a few moments, she joined the party, laughing and dancing with the rest of the girls.

But then the cake came – gaudy pink and gooey chocolate, a 7-year old’s dream cake.  The little girl stood by watching, clearly expecting to get a piece of cake.  And something in me switched like a light.  The thoughts running through my head told me that I had paid for this cake for our family, not for her.  “Doesn’t she realize how rude she is being? Where is her mother?” I asked myself.  I don’t think I was rude when I told her I was sorry that I didn’t think we would have enough cake for her.

As we passed out the cake, I watched her eyeing every piece and I was determined that she wouldn’t get one.  When Grandpa declined, I insisted he have one.  I saved one for my son who was too busy playing games to even care, and I certainly took one for myself.  At one point I justified my behavior by the sinking ship philosophy, reminding myself that this girl had a brother and sister I had seen earlier.  And if I gave her a piece, they would want one too.  “It’s not like I am denying a homeless person food or something.  It’s chocolate cake, for Pete’s sake!”

And when the last piece of cake was plated and served, I very sadly told her I was sorry she didn’t get one, and I sat down to take a bite of mine.  Then it hit me.

It’s a Friday and I should be fasting.

I have given up chocolate for Lent.

And I don’t even like chocolate cake.

The replays in my head all show me the story in a different way, the way it should have gone.  The way I wish it had gone.  I was gracious and generous to this girl and gave her a piece of cake because we really did have plenty.  I introduced her and helped my daughter make a new friend.  I relive the fictitious scene in my head, my beautifully innocent daughter laughing and dancing with her new friend.  I imagine I have forever changed the life of this Somali girl with my kind gesture.

Did I mention this was a Somali girl?  Would it change the way YOU view the story?  Would it have changed the way I had treated her if she were NOT Somalian?  I realized the depths of racism.  I can say I am not racist, and my actions were not unkind.  They were just not kind.  In the town we are from, there are very few Somali children and my 7-year old has almost no experience with them.  I could have given her a positive experience right then, but for some reason, I didn’t.

That evening, I prayed that God would forgive me, even if this girl didn’t even notice I had wronged her.  I prayed that God will give me an opportunity each day to be kind, and that I will never again wonder whether or not race makes a difference in my decisions.  And I pray the same for all who may read this story and miss an opportunity for kindness.

Amy Wilwerding is a math teacher at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. She lives in Freeport with her husband and four children. They are members of Sacred Heart Church in Freeport.

The Paschal Mystery

The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Sacred Liturgy reminds us that “the church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery, reading those things ‘which were in all the scriptures concerning him’ (Lk 24:27), celebrating the Eucharist in which ‘the victory and triumph of his death are again made present,’ and at the same time ‘giving thanks to God for his inexpressible gift’ (1 Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of his glory’ (Eph 1:12) through the power of the Holy Spirit” (n. 6).

This celebration of our Lord’s paschal mystery is what makes the week we are now beginning holy, the summit of the church’s life.

That word paschal reminds us that Jesus’ entire life was directed toward the gift of himself in love to the Father for us.  Because, as Fleming Rutledge points out in her fine book The Crucifixion, “the life of Jesus is single-mindedly directed toward his self-offering…His death…was the willed culmination of that life of self-giving for our good” (p. 31).  His resurrection was the Father’s embrace of that gift in joy and faithfulness.

That word mystery reminds us that this act of love is not confined to history, but is a present reality.  As the biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson points out, “Christian faith has never—either at the start or now—been based on historical reconstructions of Jesus, even though Christian faith has always involved some historical claims concerning Jesus.  Rather, Christian faith (then and now) is based on religious claims concerning the present power of Jesus…Christian faith is not directed to a human construction about the past: that would be a form of idolatry.  Authentic Christian faith is a response to the living God, whom Christians declare is powerfully at work among them through the resurrected Jesus” (The Real Jesus, 133, 143).  Mystery is the present experience of a once for all event acting powerfully in our lives today.

Please do what you can to find your way to church this Holy Week for the various celebrations of our Lord’s paschal mystery.  Open yourself to the act of love in which Jesus offers himself to the Father for us present here and now in love and power, to heal and save, to empower and send forth on mission.

Father Tony Oelrich currently serves as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.

Circles of Understanding

Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land … Love them as you love yourselves. Lev. 19:33

Many people in the St. Cloud area have been struggling over the fact that we have many Muslim refugees living in our community. Some struggle because they are afraid. With the increased attention from national news, it’s not hard to understand. But it shouldn’t be that way.

Refugees from Somalia make up the largest number of Muslim residents in the area and have been coming here for many years. Many of them are citizens now, which is why we need to make an effort to get to know them. Their stories are fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking.

On March 24, people from different faith communities gathered at Discovery School in St. Cloud for the second “Circles of Understanding” event.

Sponsored by the St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group, a group that Bishop Donald Kettler helped to create, the events aim to bring people from varied faith backgrounds together in small groups to get to know each other. Many from the Somali community participated.

“So much of what is causing the fear that seems to be rampant is misconceptions, false ideas or ‘fake news’, and people not sitting down with each other,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities and an organizer of the event.

“In Circles of Understanding, people spend two hours together, getting to know each other.  Not playing a game and not checking their phones, but really talking and listening with their hearts open. No distractions, no entertainment, but just listening and sharing stories and thoughts,” she said. “People are really amazing when they are given the opportunity to be a part of Circles. You can see it on their faces. Walls of fear and misconception disappear. That is what Jesus did and that is what we are all called to do…to sit with and to listen.  What comes from a heart open to listening is the Spirit’s work.”

This effort is something that is very close to our bishop’s heart.

“As a priest and bishop, an important part of my ministry is to bring unity between people and God as well as strive to unite people in the community,” Bishop Donald Kettler said in a column last year. “Since arriving in the diocese three years ago, I have worked to foster peace and unity among our faith communities.”

“Get to know better some of our Somali-Muslim brothers and sisters,” he recommended. “Search for opportunities to share a conversation or a meal.”

And the timing of the “Circles” event couldn’t have been better because earlier in the week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a reflection titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times.” The reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” according to a news release. In this short document, the bishops encourage Catholics to reach out to immigrants and refugees in their communities.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life,” the reflection says. “They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

You can read the whole reflection here: http://usccb.org/news/2017/17-054.cfm.

You never know what someone has been through in their life. Take the time to get to know these new members of our community. You won’t be disappointed.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on our Meet Our Bloggers page.