WYD, Part V: When God Surprises You With Mercy

I’ve always been told that the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God will not sustain you. I love this quote, and I’ve seen it in action more than ever in this past month since my friend Ben died. During our trip to World Youth Day, on the morning of the overnight Vigil where all the pilgrims sleep out in a huge field, I found out that his body had finally been found, after 3 weeks of searching since the kayaking accident. I was so relieved, since we had been praying and offering Mass and lighting candles for him at every church and shrine we had been to in Spain and Poland. But it also brought back fresh grief as I had to let go of that last shred of hope that somehow Ben was still alive. That night, after the candlelit Vigil with Pope Francis, I started to become overwhelmed with emotion again, and I desperately wanted a p20160730_234002lace to hide—an adoration chapel, a corner of the field, anywhere that I could escape to pray and be alone with God for a while. But I soon realized that when you’re in a field with 2 million people, being alone is not only impractical but absolutely impossible.

As the rest of my group finished praying and started goofing around and talking, I hid my face in my knees and tried not to let anyone see my tears. But then I heard God saying to my heart, I know you want to be alone but that’s not what I have for you right now. I want you to let Me love you through the people around you. Let them see your pain and be vulnerable with them. That was the last thing I wanted to do! Even though the people in our group had become like family in the last 9 days together, I have never been good at being vulnerable with other people. But when Jenny, one of the girls in our group, came over and started talking to me, I knew God wanted me to let her see what was going on in my heart, as reluctant as I was. And before I knew it, I was surrounded by a whole group of people, including one of the priests and my two sisters, and we were all crying and praying together as they shared my pain. The hurt in my heart was finally able to be let out, as I sobbed harder than I had in a long time. But I realized at that moment that God’s plan was so much greater than mine—just as I was trying to escape from the people around me, He led them to me in order to show me His love and mercy in such a tangible way.

I was taught this same lesson of seeing God’s mercy through other people another time during the trip, when my sister Briana and one of the guys in our group, Bou, volunteered to use their afternoon free time to help me get back to the Divine Mercy Shrine and convent of St. Faustina (where she received many visions of Jesus and spent her last days!). We had gone there together as a group a few days earlier, but I had unintentionally volunteered myself to be interviewed for a radio show (only I would accidentally do that!), and they decided to have the interview right as we arrived at the shrine, taking up the majority of our time there. The next night in Adoration (with 20,000 other English-speaking pilgrims plus Audrey Assad & Matt Maher!),20160728_141554 I felt a strong pull on my heart to go back there, and even though I had no idea how that would be possible I trusted that God would somehow make it happen. So when Briana and Bou volunteered to go with me, I knew that was my chance! The time at the Shrine was incredible, but due to the long lines to see St. Faustina’s relics we ended up not being able to catch a train and had to walk all the way back to Blonia Park where Pope Francis would be having his Opening Welcome, which was quite a few miles!

But even though the number of blisters on Bou’s feet went from 1 to 10 by the end of the walk, and Briana started having trouble with her asthma, neither of them complained. And although I know Bou was in a lot of pain that night, he told me that he would gladly do it all again the next day if I asked him to because he knew how much I needed to get there. I realized that they were a reflection of God’s mercy for me that day— powerful love that isn’t afraid of suffering. The sacrifices Bou and Briana made for me really made me look seriously at my own heart to see how I can make God’s mercy and love visible to the people around me.

One of the girls in our group had worn a t-shirt on the trip that said “Live Generously.” That’s what Divine Mercy is all about—giving of ourselves in imitation of Christ Who gave Himself and continues to give Himself to us out of pure love.

So how are you called to be the living reflection of God’s mercy? At the heart of it, mercy is self-giving love when it encounters brokenness and suffering. Is there someone in your life whose burdens you can help carry? Or are there sacrifices you can make in order to make life more beautiful for another person? God has given us the incredible ability by His grace to be His mercy and love for others. Let’s use it!

-Nikki

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.
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.

Called to love and serve

It was a child. It was the horrific deed of one person. It took us from light and joy into a place of fear and struggle and hope. We struggled, an innocent child going to get a movie with his buddies and taken in the night. This was the place in time that one family, one community, one world were thrown into the journey that has formed and changed so very many lives. We learned, we answered the challenge from Jacob’s family for us together to seek how to live with hope in a manner that I had never considered.

My husband and I were just in the beginning of parenting. Our son’s birthday celebration on a beautiful fall day ended for us with those who love and care for us gathering to celebrate life. Just a short drive away another family ended that night being tossed into a journey that would span decades. And that family chose the light and hope of life over the dark.

The Wetterlings for many of us are an incredible example of unselfish love and care, grace and hope. An unending witness to how we can respond to a horrific event. It was by their example we were in awe of a family that could have, in this painful event, turn in and away, but rather, they opened themselves. And by their living example, they led us in learning how we can continue to love with hope. I suspect it was a very intentional turning out and continuing to move the momentum forward with hope, to bring an innocent young boy home.

And now, as they mourn the death of their son in these past weeks, they again provide and gift the community with an amazing gathering to grieve and mourn. The Wetterlings provided a community service that took us from the pain of death into the hope of the future. The sensitivity to the enormous diversity and faith practices in our community, all combined to provide a place for sharing our loss. Reflecting on life using such a grand collaboration of spiritual forms — the Native American prayer, the Baha’i, Christian and beyond. The words of the family to express gratitude to the community and beyond were incredibly generous — to honor us in sharing this time of memorial. To, in their pain, bring us together with care and compassion was an incredible and selfless gift.

Jacob’s family has shown us in so many ways how I believe we are all called to live — in community, with and for others.

Patty provided us the witness to care and support others. “We wouldn’t have survived the past 27 years,” Patty said, “without the love and care and support. Jacob’s Hope will continue in the love and care and support we share with each other.”

She continued, to “every parent who is out there still searching….we’re still with you,” Patty said. “Jacob’s Hope will continue in our efforts to bring every missing person home. Every last one!”

The music and readings of the service for me reflected the call of Christ of love and care for one another. It set forth a strong reminder that the call of our Catholic baptism to live in the light of Christ is real and for every one of us.

Red Grammer’s song reminded us, “…black or white, red or tan…we are part of the family of man.” We are called by Christ to love and serve one another. There are no conditions on God’s command, there are no “time outs” from Jesus’ teaching — we are called to love and serve.

As the song written by Douglas Wood proclaims, “We are Jacob’s Hope.” As we grieve and mourn the death of Jacob, we now have the opportunity to once again decide how we will live. Do we choose to live with hope or despair? Do we choose to live in the light even on the days that the darkness seems to overcome the glimmer?

Christ calls us to shine the light. Together I believe the light of the Son will overcome any evil and challenges that come into each of our lives.

I choose to live with hope and light. I choose the Son. I hope you do as well.

Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.
Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

Another school year, another step in letting go

These weeks with schools starting are filled with beginnings…and endings. Another school year begins and we are reminded that our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors are moving along in life. We too are moving along in our journey.

For some, especially parents, I believe that it can be a time of mixed emotions. Where has the time gone? How did summer fly by so quickly? How can they be growing up so fast?

For some there are the mixed emotions of relief that their children/youth are back in a routine, back to a schedule, back to school lunches and activities. For some the regret of time that has passed and missed opportunities will take some time to process and perhaps let go. Our sons are young adults and yet, still our beloved sons.

We may be challenged to trust others as we bring our wee ones to their first day of school. Trusting that they will be okay without our presence for the day can be a challenge. For some it is the task of taking our young adults to college. I get teary thinking of those days gone by.

If I need to explain why these moments and days of letting go are so challenging, I believe it would be like this:

1.    I will miss our sons. My whole being loves them beyond words. They are our flesh and blood, the great love we prayed for, rejoiced when birthed and long to stay close to.
2.    I worry that I may not have done all I could have to prepare our sons for the world they will now navigate in without their dad and/or I by their side. I worry that I missed an important lesson that they will need to survive. I know we did the best we could with what we knew and had at the time, but I will still ponder if it was enough.
3.    I never want them to feel lost or alone, frightened or afraid. I am certain they will have these times as we all seem to, and the reality is that I cannot keep them from this pain, nor do I really desire to as it is in these time they will also find the core of who they are and I trust, God’s grace and strength.
4.    I will miss who we are with you as a family. Every time one of us leaves, we as a family are changed. We become less day to day with one another and I will miss that.

I do not worry that my sons will be okay. I have no doubt that they will survive and in fact thrive. We have worked to prepare them for the journey of life and witnessed as they have fallen and they learned to get back up and try again, they have learned to work hard and be proud of their contributions. They have learned the meaning of team and family and faith in the truest sense. They are caring men of integrity and compassion. We have focused on them embracing that all of us are created in the image and likeness of a faithful and loving God, we are all gifted. I have tried to teach them to listen with the ears of your heart to others, to hear them as people who want many of the same dreams we do and to know they are loved and prayed for…always. So yes, as another school year begins, I pray for us all as lifelong students of faith and life.

Franciscan Blessing/Benediction

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears

to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.
Geralyn Nathe-Evans has been called to the vocations of wife, mom, Lay Ecclesial Minister, nurse and friend. Read more about Geralyn on our Meet Our Bloggers page.

WYD, Part IV: The Power of Genuine Beauty

“Beauty will save the world.”

To be completely honest, I always thought this quote by Dostoevsky was a little corny. I mean, how could beauty ‘save the world’? It’s not even a living thing, much less Superman. In fact, it seems completely intangible and hard to even define. So why in the world would Dostoevsky, the famous writer, say such a thing? And why would great Catholic thinkers and popes such as St. John Paul II, Paul VI, and Benedict XVI echo this statement?

When we were in Europe, most especially in Rome, these words finally made sense to me and took on meaning in a powerful way. As I stood in St. Peter’s Basilica and looked up, I was completely surrounded by beauty from every side, and it was breathtaking. I felt like I was being embraced, entirely taken into the beauty around me. Not only did I realize the power of beautiful art, but throughout our time there I witnessed the power of beautiful music, beautiful Liturgy, beautiful churches, and beautiful souls to transform us, as a huge signpost pointing to the beauty of God.

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God not only created beauty, but He Is Beauty Itself! He is the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, so anything on earth that is true, good, or beautiful is a reflection of Him. When something is wholly beautiful, it is entirely good as well and leaves the soul with pure and perfect joy. Of course, on earth we can only experience this joy partially and incompletely, but it is a foretaste, a cherished glimpse of what is to come—eternal bliss with our God forever. I realized that it is precisely this kind of genuine beauty that leads us out of ourselves and our own problems and draws us up to God.

But isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? I’ve heard this phrase so many times, but I’m realizing more and more that it’s only part of the story. There is some truth to this statement, because although God’s fingerprints are everywhere it depends on the openness of the person to recognize the traces of beauty. But beauty, at its heart, is objective—it’s a reflection of God Who Is Beauty. Beauty on earth has the power to save the world because it leads us back to the goodness and beauty of our Maker.

Benedict XVI said this so perfectly: “An essential function of genuine beauty is that it gives man a healthy “shock”, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum.” How often do we get caught up in the humdrum of life? We get lost in our daily lives and need that “shock” to be able to recognize God and His hand in the ordinary.

use2This is why beautiful churches, beautiful music, and beautiful Liturgies are so important. There’s quite a bit of debate on whether churches should have statues, sacred art, etc. or whether they distract from the Eucharist. I see now more clearly than ever that the beauty of sacred art and statues, far from distracting us from what’s happening in the Mass, leads our hearts and minds to Jesus because it reflects the beauty of the Heavenly Church and of God Himself.

So my challenge to you is this: look up some sacred art or sacred music online or find a truly beautiful church to spend some time praying in. Or find a genuinely beautiful soul to spend some time talking with on a deeper level. Let yourself be drawn into the authentic beauty in front of you and out of your day-to-day routine in order to see a glimpse of Beauty Himself.

-Nikki

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.
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.

 

Let peace begin with me

I never thought when I became a journalist I’d ever have to face the heavy emotional challenges the last few weeks have brought me. Today, sitting just a few feet away from the Wetterlings, whom I’d never even been in the same room with before, I felt like, in some small insignificant way, I knew them. I think a lot of people feel like that. But of course, I don’t know the Wetterlings. I don’t know how they choose to grieve. I don’t know what they lie awake at night thinking about. I don’t know how they muster the strength to get up, show up and step up day after day.

As I sheepishly choked back my own tears rather unsuccessfully, I wondered how many tears they have shed. I wondered if they even had any more left in them. And, of course, they did. Witnessing the support of the community today eased my mind just a little to see the way they care for one another.

Before the prayer service, my middle son, 14, interviewed me for a class project. The assignment centered on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. wetterling4-300x200Besides the barrage of questions about where I was when I initially heard the news and what I felt that day and the days following, he also asked me what was the most important thing I learned from the events that unfolded 15 years ago. In my haste, I listed off some random thoughts and here is what he captured:

“The most important thing Kristi learned is in times of tragedy to always look for the good. There are always people who rush forward to help without asking questions, without judgment, without fear, but with courage, bravery, and intent to save lives, despite the danger,” he wrote in his essay.

“The lasting effect the attacks had was a diminished sense of security, the need to defend our nation, an awareness of the need to pursue peace and justice in the world and remember all who died. We can create a better world by starting with ourselves and treating people the way we would like to be treated. The horrible attacks, though tragic, can be a reminder to speak out against violence and injustice.”

wetterling1-300x200Did my son hear my words? Was he really listening? Father Nick said at the prayer service that we need to teach our children to be ambassadors of peace. Am I doing this, Lord?

The weight of the day also challenged me to ask myself why it takes a tragedy for us to love each other so well? Who in my world needs my care and attention? Who can I love better? The saying is everywhere, the song has been sung by a million voices, but right here, right now, I acknowledge, Lord, and pray, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

To read the full story on the prayer service, click here.

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

Local graduate students discuss “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church”

One man raised both arms in the air, palms out, elbows locked, hands up.

And he prayed, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

Another man raised both arms in the air, palms out, elbows locked, hands up.

And he was shot three times in the leg.

The difference between these men? One wears black. The other is black.

Mass struck me differently one day in mid-July, after reading the Washington Post headline, “North Miami police shoot black man who said his hands were raised while he tried to help an autistic patient.” As I watched the presider raise his hands during the Our Father, I imagined Charles Kinsey making the same motion with much different results. The shooting of Kinsey was one of too many instances of racially-charged violence that plagued the country this summer. How long, O Lord, will the hate continue? How many more lives will be destroyed?

Racism is so deeply woven into the fabric of this nation. What can I possibly do about it?

These are the sorts of big questions that prompted a racial justice book club to form at the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. A small group of us met for dinner each Wednesday in August to discuss Fr. Bryan Massingale’s prophetic book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis Books, 2010). Some SOT students attended a lecture by Fr. Massingale at St. Cloud State earlier this spring. We were inspired by the urgency with which one of the country’s leading theologians attacks racial injustice. We cannot remain indifferent, Fr. Massingale says. Peoples’ lives are being destroyed by discrimination. We must act.

After two years of graduate studies, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that effective ministry is fueled by both passion and knowledge. We used our weekly discussions to talk through big theological concepts like human dignity and social justice. Guided by Fr. Massingale’s research, we did our own mini analysis of race relations in our parishes. But mostly, we sat around the table sharing stories. What was it like marching in the Black Lives Matter protest? Did your family talk about race growing up? How do you feel when you hear of another shooting in North Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Dallas, and on and on. Lived experience provides the spark.

Two SOT classmates and I did our undergraduate studies at Marquette University and were lucky enough to be taught by Fr. Massingale. I’ve shared my struggles with moving from Milwaukee, an urban, racially-diverse city, to Collegeville, a rural, mostly white town. There were many nights this summer where I watched from my window as campers caught Pokémon and monks strolled after Evening Prayer. I confided in the group that I feel grateful for the peace I experience here. At the same time, I feel unsettled and a bit removed. There are no blood stains outside Emmaus Hall, no protestors on Abbey Road. But there are ministers here who long for racial reconciliation and desire to be part of the solution.

The Lord requires of us to “do justice” according to the prophet Micah (6:8). This summer, our justice work was aided by good classmates, a good book and halfway decent leftover pizza.

Jessie Bazan is a masters of divinity candidate at the Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as the director of retreats and social outreach for St. John’s Campus Ministry.
Jessie Bazan is a master’s of divinity candidate at the Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as the director of retreats and social outreach for St. John’s Campus Ministry.

Turn the Page

You’ve seen it most everywhere and you know it’s coming, school days are near. For those of us who thrive on routine, we’ll be glad to settle back in to a little more normalcy to our days even if they are a bit more hectic. As a homeschooling mom I won’t be sending anyone out the door or losing my helpers or finding a little more peace and quiet in my day now that the kids will be back in school. No, I’ll be headed back to school just like other students and teachers, while still wearing the Mom hat. Ten years in, I’m a little used to it and still get excited when I smell new textbooks, but I am determined to make the summer days last and hate to see them go.

As I flipped the calendar to August I found myself asking the same question most of us who relish summer ask, “where did the summer go?” I also wonder what I did with my time, how did I spend my days and how weeks flew by at rapid speed without me so much as blinking? Why does winter never seem to rush by like this?

These are all seasons. Days marked off on a calendar. Passages of time faded away.

I hope we made the best of them. I think we did. At the end of each season I check the mom files in my heart and once again find that they are stocked well with new memories. A quick glance back at the calendar from mere months ago reminds me how far we’ve come and events and things we did that I’d already nearly forgotten. My expectations at the beginning of the summer tend to be so high with an enormous list because I’ll have so much more “extra” time. In reality, it never turns out that way. If I dwell on what isn’t I miss out on what is.

Summer 2016 was good to us and it turned out to be the imperfectly perfect summer just for us. Not a series of failed expectations, but a bunch of good days at home as a family, trips for ice cream and stops at the library. It may not be remembered as a monumental summer where we took a really big vacation, but I daydream that it was one where at least some days were memorable.

But you know what? September is going to be awesome too. There are lots of candles to be lit and partying to be done around here. In my house we’ll celebrate a new one year old, our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our oldest turning fourteen. It’s bound to be memorable! Every month beyond that lends itself to something amazing, but I may need to help make it so with a happy smile, cheerful spirit and grateful heart. Which reminds me, I really need to work harder on those things.

Are you also lamenting summer’s end? Look ahead and see all there is left to unfold in the coming weeks and months. There are so many reasons to celebrate each day and so much to be thankful for. We are blessed with each given season.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the "Meet Our Bloggers" page.
Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Mother Teresa: Saint and Role Model

As Mother Teresa’s canonization was celebrated yesterday, I am beyond thrilled to celebrate the life of such an incredible saint and role model.  I have always loved her, and got to spend time in Haiti working with her order, the Missionaries of Charity, which was a dream come true for me!

I had the opportunity to teach third grade faith formation in Wisconsin a couple years ago.  When preparing for the year I was not quite sure how it would go.  I had helped with faith formation many years with my mother when I was younger but I had never taught by myself.  I decided to emphasize the saints, because what better examples than people who have already walked this journey before us?

Even though Mother Teresa was not a declared saint at that time, I referred back to her a lot. The kids had never heard of her and as a treat for how engaged they were, and all the questions they had not only about the faith, but about Mother Teresa, I decided to have a class where we watched her movie.

The kids were beyond thrilled to watch her movie and throughout the whole movie they were continually asking questions.  “Why are there so many sick people on the streets?”  “Is this a real movie or is this made up?”  “Why did she change the color habit she wore?”  We paused the movie multiple times so we could discuss and answer some of their questions.  They were very excited after class that day (maybe it was the cookie I brought them… I had such a soft spot for these kids!), and I like to think they were inspired by Mother Teresa’s story.

We started the next class by giving updates about our lives: one boy had a brand new baby sister, another just got back from a vacation, and one girl was super excited to tell me that they were doing a wax museum at school and everyone had to pick their hero and be them for a couple hours.  One boy chimed in that he was going to be Elvis and this girl stands up with the biggest smile as she told me who she picked– and yes, it was Mother Teresa!

Before the wax museum she practiced her speech in front of the whole class and she was so excited to tell me that she got to wear a habit her mom made that looks just like Mother Teresa’s.

Besides being the proudest teacher at this church, I learned a very important lesson.  If I would not have shared my passion for the saints, particularly Mother Teresa, the kids would have never heard of her.  So how is this different than sharing our faith to our non-Catholic friends and co-workers?  If they see your passion, can it become their passion too?

-Tricia

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.
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.