The Visitor gets a lot of story ideas from readers. Sometimes we get a great idea but, for whatever reason, we can’t pursue it. Many times space is an issue — which was the case last week when one of our long-time readers, Rita Reker from St. John Cantius Parish in St. Cloud, called to tell us about a fellow parishioner celebrating her 104th birthday. There was no room for the story in the print edition, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Tillie Schaefer and help her celebrate her birthday. And maybe put together a little video (see below).
On Mondays and Fridays she and a group of friends meet at McDonalds after Mass to have breakfast and play cards. On June 24, the group celebrated her birthday with her favorite lemon cake and songs, including one Reker wrote especially for her.
Tillie has been a member of St. John Cantius since marrying her late husband, Art, when she was 24. Friends pick her up to take her to daily Mass, although she said she started a walking workout this past spring to make sure she could walk to Mass if she needed to. “I found out I can walk about a mile without sitting down,” she said. “So I knew I was safe.”
Tillie was a much-loved schoolteacher, beginning her career in the 1930s. She taught in Mayhew Lake, Browerville, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud and St. Benedict High School in St. Joseph. Later in her career she taught special education classes for the St. Cloud school district. She taught many of the children and grandchildren of the friends who gathered for her birthday.
Joyce Dinndorf, one of the many friends on hand to help Tillie celebrate, said that all five of her children had Tillie as a teacher. Her daughter Elizabeth Dinndorf is currently president of Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. Joyce said Elizabeth keeps Tillie’s picture on her desk and tells her students that she is where she is today because of Tillie.
I asked Tillie what her favorite part of teaching was and she was quick to answer that it was her students. She loved all of her students and was blessed with good parents to work with, too, she said.
In a masterful essay on the power of story, Dr. David and Erin Walsh wrote: “Whoever tells the stories defines the Culture.” (http://tinyurl.com/ff-walsh)
I think immediately of stories that are cast broadly through television and the Internet. What stories are defining our culture? What stories are people hearing about the Roman Catholic Church? What stories are they not hearing? After all, basic public relations class teaches, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.”
And just as importantly, what are the stories that are not broadcast, but are still shared to effectively define our Catholic culture? And how are they shared?
A youth minister once shared the story of running into one of his former youth group members. The former member shared that she gained so much from him during his time at the parish. He wanted to know what he said that was so life-changing so he could keep doing it in his ministry.
“Was it when I taught [such and such]?” he asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Well, how about when we studied [such and such]?”
“No, no, no!” she laughed.
“Well, what was it then?”
“It was how much you loved your wife.”
That story reminds me of the ministry of Pope Francis as told through television, radio, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube… you get the idea. Although he has many words to share, it’s the stories of what he is doing that captures the imagination of so many and, I believe, defines our Catholic culture.
We have a story to tell. The Reign of God is here and also coming, and we disciples of Christ are called to learn about it, proclaim it, and make it present. If we echo stories about what we and other people do to make God’s Reign real, it shapes our culture.
I’m not a great storyteller, but I can find and share online stories that are captivating enough to define our culture. I’m not a gifted creator of media, but I can find tools that help us tell little mini-stories of our experience as disciples to help define our culture. These tools can create something from a simple photo, maybe with a little text on it (think meme) to something a that takes a little more time and talent. I love this story of faith and where God’s love is found, by Wendy J. Francisco:
God and Dog Video
My hope is that my contributions to this blog space will share stories, and tools for storytelling, to help us, as a Catholic Community, continue telling our Story well.
We have a story to tell! And we have a culture to define!
Many people are delighted by his seemingly easygoing pastoral way, his smiles and hugs of young and old, by the simple and pointed way he speaks, his mastery of turning a metaphor, his love for the poor and weak and vulnerable, and his insistence on opening the doors so as to reach out to everyone without exception.
Some are not so sure, concerned even by his language which at times seems to be confusing on things like marriage and divorce, and that he writes a whole encyclical on the environment while rarely mentioning the horror of abortion, and when he says something like, ‘Who am I to judge?’ when he is the pope after all and we expect a pope to do just that, judge right from wrong, instead of appearing to be more concerned with having everyone like him than knowing just where he stands on the things that matter.
For me, there are a couple of things Pope Francis has said that help to understand the particular way he sees the world and the Church today interacting with that world.
The first is so well know. It came in a widely published interview early in his pontificate where he said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
Sit with this image for a time. Notice what it says about the church and the world. The church lives in the midst of a world ravaged by a fierce battle. This battle is all too literal in the violence of our day but is also a battle of the spirit, that has left people terribly wounded by broken relationships, poverty, depression, loneliness and a sense of purposelessness.
Clearly, this is no naïve, Pollyanna view of contemporary society. Pope Francis is profoundly convinced of a world in trouble. It is, precisely, because of the dramatic nature of the anguish of our world that the pope insists on the approach he has taken. He went on to say in light of the Church as a Field Hospital, “I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity…It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”
Because of his view of a world deeply marked by sin—just read his New York Times bestselling book The Name of God is Mercy to see how much he has to say about sin—Pope Francis is unrelenting in his insistence that now is the time for mercy, for the Church to make grace as living and palpable an experience for people of our age as possible. As his image highlights, you don’t tell a man dropping over of a heart-attack, as he is dropping over, to stop smoking and use less salt. First you call 911 and do CPR until medical help arrives. Certainly his doctor will get to the anti-smoking and reduced-salt campaign if the man survives. So to, apply grace and mercy urgently. Find every way possible to breathe life back into a people desperate for the Holy Spirit.
There is a second, powerful lesson from Pope Francis that helps to understand how he sees his ministry and the life of the Church today. In a talk to the bishops of Brazil while in that country for World Youth Day celebrations, Pope Francis pointed to the ‘icon of Emmaus’ (Luke 24). There he reminded his listeners of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem discouraged and disappointed by the events surrounding Jesus’ life and death. The Holy Father sees in Jerusalem an image of the Church and those two disciples the many people walking away from the Church for many, various reasons. Then he said, “We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.”
This relates very much to Francis’ vivid insistence on the Church doors being unlocked so that those of us in the Church can go out to meet people who are no longer in the Church with us. Jesus met and walked with the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We need to be a Church willing to go out and walk with the many who have headed away from Christ. Jesus, with those disciples of Emmaus, warmed their hearts with his friendship. We need to be so deeply rooted in our faith life with Jesus that we can warm the hearts of the people we meet along the way.
Pope Francis, as he himself has said, is a son of the Church. The Church, in all her richness, is a precious gift for him.Yet, he recognizes, these gifts are not experienced as such by so many of our contemporaries. We need to meet them with the GIFT, the person, life, love and healing of Jesus Christ. Making Jesus vivid again for the people of our age is the way to draw people into the fullness of our Catholic life. This, it seems to me, is the pastoral plan of Pope Francis.
Have you ever noticed that the news always begins with “Good afternoon” and then proceeds to tell you why it isn’t? We used to laugh at how ironic it was, but it has been more true than ever these past couple weeks, especially with the attacks in Orlando on those at the night club along with singer Christina Grimmie.
What would possess someone to take their anger and hatred to such extremes? Why kill an innocent 22-year-old girl for no known reason? Why let someone’s skin color or life choices influence your perception of their worth when we are all just trying to figure out this crazy thing called life?
Even though these questions will remain a mystery to us for the remainder of our time on earth, it’s exactly in the midst of these kinds of crises when we’re reminded that there’s still good in the world. Just like after 9/11, Sandy Hook, and so many other horrible tragedies, there have been incredible acts of heroism and countless people donating blood and even risking their own lives to help the victims. It’s amazing to see, but it’s also so sad that a tragedy has to happen for us to wake up and love each other, or even to notice the good that still exists in the world.
A priest once told us after a mass shooting that even the smallest of our actions matter — we can either be part of a culture that hates and murders, or we can be part of the culture that loves and forgives even in the little things. Just like how one smile can change someone’s day, even the most insignificant things we do can impact people much more than we could imagine.
So what can we do, especially as young adults, when something so horrible happens? Blessed (almost Saint!) Mother Teresa so famously said that even if we can’t do great things, we can do small things with great love. In the face of so much pain and hatred it’s easy to concentrate only on the things we can’t control instead of focusing on what we can do — we can love. We can choose to love our annoying co-worker, or the person who cut us off in rush hour, or that grumpy cashier who grunts instead of using words. It might seem trite or too small, but it’s everything.
If just one more person had shown one of these shooters what love is, could it have changed the outcome?
I always knew I would be a mom. And then one day, thirteen years ago, I became one. Over time I also became a person with whom I was unfamiliar. I wasn’t that patient, generous, instinctively amazing mom I thought I’d be. As I grew more tired, household tasks multiplied and the needs of other, smaller human beings became more immediate, I realized I was the weary, stressed and anxious mom. I was human. I have to admit that it was only a daily dose of God’s grace, a gifted husband as my helpmate and a strong cup of coffee that helped me make it through those days.
I still recall a priest who gently reminded me of the gift that motherhood truly is. Tears filled my eyes when I confided in him that I was struggling. His words still echo in my heart “How beautiful it is, the mantle of motherhood. ” He continued on, reminding me that I was blessed to be given this vocation as educator and role model for my children and how important this job really is. I cannot tell you how many countless times I have stopped what I’m doing and reflected on his words, “mantle of motherhood,” as I took a step back, silently prayed and readjusted my mantle. I have contemplated the mantle of the Blessed Mother Mary and while I view it full of beauty and grace, she too endured hardship and sadness in the life God designed for her.
This is a blessed life. This is my vocation. This place is where God has called me and brought me the spouse and the children He wants me to love and nurture here on earth. Sometimes this journey is thankless, exhausting and difficult. Being called to so many roles within my vocation is not always easy, but yet so rewarding. The seasons do change and my role is always constantly changing with those precious seasons.
From the outside you will see that most days I rarely have it all together: my mantle sits askew atop my head. It’s tattered and worn and lacking in radiance. You will also find that it doesn’t at all look like the one you may wear. There’s no need to compare because we all wear our own mantle and our own vocation differently, but each of us should be honored to wear these garments that were chosen just for us. We may not all be mothers or fathers, but we are all models of faith, of love and hopefully of Christ.
Embrace what is set before you today and keep in mind the words of St. Joan of Arc: “I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born for this.”
Why start a new Catholic blog? There are already many faith-themed blogs competing with the cascade of news and secular views flowing through the web, social media, television and other media. So, why launch a new one for Catholics living in the St. Cloud Diocese?
Well, two reasons.
First, our faith is the most valuable treasure we have. It grounds us in the Good News of Christ. It challenges us to share God’s love, mercy and forgiveness with others. It should inspire us to change our communities, our nation and our world for the better.
One purpose of this blog is to help you to better see the world around you through a Catholic lens, one that will inspire you, and sometimes challenge you, to live your faith more deeply and help guide your day-to-day life. The bloggers posting to this site will focus on a variety of topics, including current events, parenthood, prayer and spirituality, young adults, rural life, the arts, technology, sports, senior wisdom, food and travel, and the liturgical life of the church. The posts here are in addition to the news, feature stories and columns that you can already find in our diocesan newspaper, The Visitor.
Second, all of our bloggers live within the 16 counties that make up our central Minnesota diocese. They’ll provide a local, Catholic perspective on all of these topics. That’s something you won’t find done anywhere else as frequently and effectively as you will find here.
So, I invite you to be a regular reader of our From the Heart blog, an initiative of our diocesan newspaper, The Visitor. You can sign up at FromTheHeartMN.org to receive an email notice every time a new post is made. Also, if you have an idea for a guest blog post or have a question or comment about the blog itself, feel free to contact multimedia reporter (and our blog coordinator) Kristi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.