Being 25 years old, the last number of years have brought some pretty drastic changes in my life. Moving to Kansas for college, moving to Wisconsin for my first “big girl” job, and then moving back home with my parents to help them out, you learn so much about yourself and your family in these vital formation years.
This year has brought a different kind of change that I had yet to experience- a brother. For as long as I can remember there have always been 5 people in my family- my parents, my 2 younger sisters and I. As much as I demanded a baby brother as a child, I never understood why my parents wouldn’t just give one to me!
Briana, my youngest sister, met and started dating Steven at Ave Maria University in Florida last year. As soon as she told us about him, we knew there was something different about this guy. The way she talked about him and how giddy she was after hanging out with him made us realize they were more serious than we had ever thought!
Steven treats Briana the way anyone would want their baby sister treated. When Briana is having a rough day he shows up with roses and chocolates, or if she has to work until late he will drive her so she doesn’t fall asleep on her drive home. One thing is for sure – I know for a fact that Steven has Briana’s back and will be there for her when she needs it, which is incredibly comforting as the wedding date approaches.
Even though I always expected to get married first since I am the oldest, and as much as I assumed Briana would stay young forever, God has really shown me that He allows things to happen for a reason and that things will happen in His time, when they are supposed to. So even though things are not going the way I had originally ‘planned’ I am learning how much better I like (and trust) God’s plan! As much as I am looking forward to being married and having kids one day, I am grateful for this time to focus on my relationship with God and to be there for my family and friends!
Since the fifth day of Christmas is associated with “five gold rings,” and with the end of 2016 fast approaching, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at five “gold” stories from the past year — ones that, from my perspective, were truly moving and inspiring. Here is my list of the top five in no particular order. (Click on the headline to read the full story.)
This story from May featured two seamstresses — Sarah Zeroth and Lisa McCalla — who use old wedding dresses to make garments for families grieving the loss of an infant child. Families can use the gowns or wraps to hold their baby, and they can keep them as a memento or use them to dress their child when they are laid to rest.
“Every baby deserves something that’s beautiful,” Zeroth told The Visitor.
Their efforts are a much-needed ministry of mercy — one that honors the sacredness of life and comforts suffering families.
This feature told the story of five Linn brothers and their families in the Avon area who restored an old pickup truck belonging to the brothers’ late father. They did the work to honor their mother, Irene Linn, who suffers from an Alzheimer’s-like disease. On Mother’s Day, after nearly three years of work, son Eric took his mom for a ride in the refurbished truck.
“Tragedy and disease have taken so much from us,” Eric said at the time. “Who would have thought that after all the work our old farm truck did to support us it would be the glue that kept our family together?”
It’s a story that honors the dignity of life and the strength of family bonds.
These students at St. Mary Help of Christians School and their art teacher deserve praise for their high-quality replica of the Holy Door of Mercy that was open this past year at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The students used a technique called “copper tooling.” They were each assigned one or two images from the Holy Door, and each image was made into a panel, “depicting biblical scenes of sin and redemption through God’s mercy.”
“I just think this is a perfect representation of this whole community,” one teacher at the school said. “Starting in art class, incorporating religion, incorporating faith, our wonderful volunteers, it encompasses so much of the school and parish and it really represents us working together.”
It was an interactive and very creative way to participate in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
This feature told the story of Father Arthur Vogel, a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud who grew up in Germany when Hitler came to power. His incredible journey — which included spending time in a prisoner-of-war camp in the United States during World War II — eventually led him to the priesthood and central Minnesota, where the services of a German-speaking priest were in demand at the time.
Father Vogel’s story is a reminder of the power of the human spirit in the face of great adversity and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us on our life’s journey.
Every morning since the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling in 1989, Agnes Imdieke of Albany would light a candle and say a prayer for his safe return. I found her dedication to praying for this intention, even after so many years — years during which many of us, including myself, thought the mystery of Jacob’s disappearance may never be resolved — to be inspiring.
The ending of the story is bittersweet, of course. We now know that Jacob was murdered. But that doesn’t mean Agnes’ prayer was in vain. We don’t always get what we pray for, but prayer always brings us closer to God and it can bring us closer to others in need of comfort, strength and hope.
Agnes’ story is a lesson in faithfulness and prayerful perseverance.
The word gospel has many meanings. This Fourth Day of Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on the four Gospels found in the New Testament. These four are, of course, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
When speaking of the four New Testament Gospels, we are talking about a genre of writing which is biographical in the sense of first century Greco-Roman biography. Gospel in this sense is a book communicating the life, ministry, and meaning of Jesus Christ.
It is spectacular that we have four different narrators of the life of Jesus. The reason for four is very much connected to the Christmas mystery. God in Jesus has taken a human face. God is, therefore, encountered by other human beings. Each person brings his or her own history and personality to the relationship with Jesus. We receive, because of this, a much fuller and diverse, and for that, more beautiful understanding of the person of Jesus.
Matthew, among many other things, is fascinated with how Jesus fulfills Jewish prophecy and expectation. Mark is most interested in the essentials about Jesus, getting to the point. Luke loves to repeat the stories Jesus told and his special affection for the poor. John is so mystical and spiritual, he relates the deep sense of Jesus’ spirit to us.
Four different Gospels, four different portraits of Jesus, yet one Lord and one Savior of all.
And this gets us to another meaning of Gospel. Each book we call Gospel is essentially about relaying to us what the message of Jesus is. This message, also, is called Gospel. Mark, the great summarizer, tells it most clearly: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is the essence of the Gospel as message found in all the Gospels, though different aspects are highlighted in each.
And finally, the ultimate meaning of the word Gospel: It is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is, in person, the good news of God’s inbreaking kingdom of healing, mercy and grace. Ultimately, when we Christians speak of the Gospel, we mean Jesus Christ!
That is, the baby born for us on Christmas, to be for us Emmanuel, God with us!
And we have four written narratives, the four Gospels, to tell us the story of this one Gospel.
Year after year people across the world get together on January 6 to celebrate El Dia de Reyes (Three Kings Day). This day is not only important for its significance in that it celebrates the height of the Christmas season and the journey of the Three Kings, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, to honor the birth of the born Christ, this day is important to people as a means to celebrate culture, tradition, family and friendship.
With celebrations across the world taking place January 6, I delight in my own traditions, but also in the traditions of other countries as they celebrate this special day.
In Germany, for instance, carolers go from house to house treating people with joyful music and in return receive cookies, sweets and money. People also sprinkle their doorways with holy water and write the initials of the Three Kings along with the year as a means to seek protection over their home.
In Poland, January 6 is actually a national holiday filled with street parades, caroling of songs and reenactments of the Nativity scene.
As for my native country, Mexico, El Dia de Reyes is celebrated publicly and privately like many other countries. Public celebrations include parades celebrating and honoring the three Kings. Private celebrations and traditions were filled with family, sharing, food and joy.
Growing up, preparations for El Dia de Reyes started soon after the New Year arrived, with food preparations at the top of the list. Some of the foods planned would include: tamales, posole, champurrado (traditional Mexican hot drink), churros, chocolate abuelita (hot chocolate) and more.
On the eve of El Dia de Reyes my parents would have us set our shoes by the window or outside the door because, as we were told, the three kings would pass by our house and they could take our shoes if they needed them or leave us a gift in return for our generosity. It never dawned on me my shoes would be too small for them, but, nonetheless, I would set a pair of shoes accordingly. Come morning time, I would run to see if my shoes were needed or if a surprise was left in return. To my delight, I would always wake-up to money in my shoes and gifts underneath the Christmas tree. Now, it is not that I received gifts twice, the fact is, our tradition, as well as that of many Latin American countries, is that gifts arrive on the 6th of January. Santa Claus was not the bearer of gifts–instead, it was the three wise men who brought us gifts. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were always days of honoring the newborn Christ, worshiping, sharing time with family and friends, and sharing food with each other. January 6, on the other hand, was a day focused on gifts and kids–for, just like the three kings brought gifts to the newborn Christ, we also received gifts.
In addition to the gifts and the various types of food and sweets we ate and drank, there was the traditional Rosca de Reyes. A rosca is a cake pastry that reminded me of a large doughnut. The rosca was filled with a plastic baby Jesus, and the tradition was that if you were the “lucky” one to find the baby Jesus in your pastry, then you would be honored with the responsibility of hosting a party on Candlemas Day on February 2. Looking back, I now understand why people were relieved when they ate their rosca and could not find the baby Jesus!
The entire day, as I recall, was filled with joy – sharing with family, friends, and even people you did not know, was special. Everyone felt like family.
All-in-all, growing up I enjoyed the traditions my parents handed down to my siblings and I, but now as an adult I cherish them, and I look forward to sharing these traditions, as well as those traditions my husband’s Polish/German family handed him, and give our girls a set of beautifully blended traditions.
This second day of Christmas invites us to reflect on the two natures of Christ.
This is the very heart of the Christmas mystery. The baby born in Bethlehem is so super special because the baby is divine, sharing in the fullness of God. And yet, the baby is a baby, a fully human bundle of joy.
The language of the two natures, human and divine, in the one person of Jesus Christ wasn’t fully developed until the Council of Chalcedon in 451. There, when Pope Leo the Great’s famous Tomb of Leo concerning the two natures of Christ was read out, the council fathers responded by shouting, “This is the faith of the fathers … Peter has spoken thus through Leo …”
This technical, theological language addresses something truly existential. It is about the encounter that makes Christmas a source of joy and grace and true delight even after some two thousand years. In the birth of Jesus, a real encounter has taken place between humanity and divinity. God is truly and fully with us. Our humanity has really and fully become a dwelling place for the divine.
The wonderful Flannery O’Connor highlights this while speaking of an author’s work at writing fiction, who is “looking for one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete, and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye, but believed in by him firmly, just as real to him, really, as the one that everybody sees” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 42).
Jesus is, in God’s grand narrative, the one image that connects, combines and embodies the two points; the seen, fleshy humanity and the unseen, spiritual divinity.
From the point of Jesus’ birth until this moment, human beings are never alone, God is near. The two, human beings and God, have become one again in Jesus.
As we prepare to enter the Christmas season, From the Heart bloggers would like to offer readers a daily “gift” for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Please enjoy these story gifts as you reflect on the glorious birth of our Savior.
We’re previewing the “First Day of Christmas” (traditionally celebrated Dec. 26) by blogger Timothy Johnston early so that readers can fully appreciate the entrance of the season. The Second Day of Christmas will follow on Dec. 27. Click the link below to watch Timothy’s video.
In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned Janet Brinkman’s array of scrumptious treats and shared her recipe for “Jeweled Fruitcake.” Here’s another of her recipes — a rich, creamy fudge made with white chocolate, pistachios and cranberries — Yum!
White chocolate, pistachio
and cranberry fudge
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla
16 oz. white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil.
Melt white chocolate chips.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together until smooth. Add in vanilla and melted white chocolate. Beat until smooth. Fold in dried cranberries and pistachios.
Refrigerate until firm — at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
Any time of the year one might spy a tasty treat on the counter in the Pastoral Center’s kitchen. Colleagues in this building are ever so generous with sharing sweets and garden produce. But, a stroll through the kitchen around Christmas is especially gratifying as samples of holiday baking appear.
Janet Brinkman, director of human resources, brought in a lovely assortment earlier this week. Her “Jeweled Fruitcake” was filled with scrumptious fruits and nuts — moving way beyond traditional fruitcake “territory.” (While many recipes suggest that fruitcakes should be baked at least one month before they will be served, Janet said this one does not need to age but the fruits and nuts need to steeped overnight in some “good spirits” and that the measurements of all the fruits in the recipe are approximate.) There’s still time to bake it before Christmas Day!
First day: Soak the following fruits and nuts in brandy and rum overnight:
2 cups dried apricots
1 1/2 cups pitted dates
8 oz. mixed candied fruit
8 oz. red candied cherries
8 oz. green candied cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups walnuts (don’t chop)
1 1/2 cups Brazil nuts (don’t chop)
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup rum
Ingredients for second day:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. vanilla
On second day, heat oven to 300°F. Grease 8 or 9 mini loaf aluminum foil pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Mix dry ingredients, eggs and vanilla. Fold in fruit and nut mixture. Spread in pans. Bake the loaves for 55 minutes at 300°F. Remove loaves from pans and cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.
This blog post first appeared on the Fiat House blog Dec. 2. It is being reprinted here with permission.
As I write this blog post, the walls of the Fiat House are starting to look quite bare. In fact, they look quite a bit like they did during those first few weeks when we first moved in. Tomorrow morning at 8:30, a small crew of friends will be coming to help me move my belongs to the Wild West (St. Anna, MN) and I will be saying my farewell to Fiat House. In three weeks when April moves out, the Fiat House itself will be saying farewell as the Lord in His infinite wisdom, has decided to close the chapter of Fiat House to begin writing something new for the both of us.
Last night April and I reflected on all of the beautiful ways the Lord used Fiat House for His Glory. We remembered our first party where we unveiled our house name, we recalled the joy of our first 5k and the yearly advent retreats we coordinated. We also reminisced about all the wonderful people who gifted us with their presence for Fiat dinners. One of the greatest gifts of this house was the beautiful friendship formed with our first roommate, Marita.
I could go down memory lane for hours, and you could too if you scrolled through the archived blog posts. But what I have been reflecting on most from my time here at Fiat House isn’t so much the memories of the house, but its purpose.
When I first moved into Fiat House I was restless to organize its vision and mission. The Lord had mysteriously called this house forth and I was anxious to use my gifts to help Him shape it into something organized, structured and well run. In my mind we were a discernment house for young women interested in consecrated life. I thought of many ways we could accomplish this goal: Fiat 5ks, nun runs, and collecting materials on various religious orders. I thought that this house – through April and I – was meant to serve other women.
Gradually over time, the Lord began to strip me of the supports of my coordinated efforts and plans for this house. Life at the Fiat House began to slow down and the house began to flower into something completely different from what I had thought. I began to realize that this house wasn’t for other people’s formation, it was for our formation.
As the house began to independently take shape, I would get increasingly more annoyed with the questions: “so what exactly is Fiat House?” “what do you ladies do?” “What’s its purpose?” I felt vulnerable and stupid with these questions because I didn’t know the answers. I couldn’t see or explain what the Lord was doing, but His movements were palpable. I couldn’t do anything besides surrender my plans to the mystery of His and let Him take over.
Increasingly over time, and with the help of one of my favorite books, Reed of God, it became clear that Fiat House was meant to be an almost four year Advent for both of us. In Reed of God, Carell Houselander describes Advent beautifully: “Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence, It is the season of humility, silence and growth.”
Humility. Silence. Growth. These three words sum up some of the greatest lessons learned at Fiat House. In the hum drum of our quiet life here, the Lord began to grow. Like an expectant mother, I couldn’t initially see anything happening, but I knew he was there and I soon began to feel His presence more and more. Perhaps on the outside nothing exciting appeared to be happening in my life. I had my usual routine of work, grad school classes and such, but on the inside, everything was changing! The Fiat House was a physical reminder of what the Lord was doing interiorly. Just as the Fiat House was an empty space for the Lord to work, my heart was to become an empty space for the Lord to grow. Mother Teresa says “God cannot fill what is full. He can fill only emptiness, deep poverty, and your “Yes” is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really “have” to give, but how empty we are, so that we can receive Him fully in our life and let Him live His life in us.”
I also began to realize that my own “fiat” wasn’t a magical moment when I courageously said my “yes” to God for the great mission for which He was going to call me. My “fiat,” modeled after the blessed Mother’s Fiat, was meant to be a spousal “I do.” A complete gift of myself to the Lord to do with me as He willed. On paper this seems lovely, but through the tears, trials and pains of purifications, I began to know what kind of commitment was required to be a spouse of Christ. The Lord began to teach me about my daily “fiat…” the daily “yes’s” that require self denial to accomplish His will. The Lord uses our obedience to flower within us. Every “Yes” to Him is a “No” to our self and therefore allows Him space to continue to grow in our hearts. Mary was full of grace and God-Bearer because she was obedient.
As the physical Fiat House comes to an end, the Lord is asking us to continue the Fiat House in our hearts: an empty space for Him to grow and flower within us. As He continues to grow with in us, He is asking us to take Him out to the new people we will encounter through our new ministries and endeavors.
As we wait in hopeful expectation for the next chapters to be written, in some ways, April and I are approaching yet another Advent. I wait in hopeful expectation as I begin my new job as New Evangelization Coordinator at the parishes in the Holdingford area, and April waits in hopeful expectation as she begins her new endeavors elsewhere (you’ll have to ask her in person where she’s off to. Hint: it’s a bit farther than my new location in St. Anna…)
As we journey in this season of Advent, let’s be attentive to the Lord growing in silence. And let’s not shortchange this Advent season of growth.
help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come into contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up, and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine. It will be You, shining on others through me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart hears for You. Amen.
At a recent Learning Over Lunch session for employees of the diocese, Deacon Mark Barder, director of the planning office, delighted us with his passion for creating fudge. He has spent a number of years honing his Creamy Velvet Fudge recipe and technique. As an early Christmas present, Deacon Mark generously agreed to share his distinct process with readers of the “From the Heart” blog.
“The older I get, the less I need. Of the many things that I have done in my life, making candies, fudges and other sweets during the Christmas holiday is one of my favorite things to do (besides lighting my house with Christmas lights!). It has taken a long time to perfect one of these recipes — fudge.
I decided after all these years of making fudge to relinquish my recipe to family, friends and strangers. I am confident if you follow it, you will WOW the socks off of anyone who tastes it.
Enjoy, share and savor this delectable recipe.
Creamy Velvet Fudge
Prepare two or three loaf pans by pressing a large sheet of parchment paper in each. (Paper should extend over top of pans.)
Place in large plastic bowl (combine and set aside):
1 (3-3.5 oz.) bar sweetened chocolate, broken into small pieces (Ghiradelli, Godiva, Cadbury)
2 (12 oz.) packages chocolate chips(* See tips section.)
1 cup butter, softened
7 oz. container of marshmallow cream
1-2 tbsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. of another flavoring, if desired
Place in a metal pot fitted with a candy thermometer:
5 cups sugar
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk, shaken very well
Over low heat, bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Do not scrape sides of pot!
The mixture will boil at 221°F. When the mixture reaches 234°F to 236°F take it off the heat and pour it into the bowl with the chocolate, butter and other ingredients. Again, do not scrape sides of pot!
With a hand mixer, beat the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Pour the fudge into the prepared bread pans. (Use heat resistant spatula.)
Cool it overnight. When cool, take the fudge out of the pans by lifting the parchment paper. Wrap the blocks in plastic wrap.
Yield: Approximately five pounds.
Deacon Mark’s fudge-making tips:
I prefer a plastic bowl for mixing the ingredients as plastic helps to dissipate heat.
Any flavor of chocolate chips — milk chocolate, dark, mint, butterscotch, peanut butter, etc. — can be used. Don’t use generic chips. *
Generic marshmallow is cream is OK, but do use not marshmallows as they are coated with a fine sugar that does not dissolve.
Use a high-end vanilla.
Other flavorings such as mint, rum, maple, almond, etc. may also be used to modify the fudge flavor.
I use a metal pot with a copper bottom for cooking the fudge.
Use a hand mixer — do not use a stand mixer with a metal bowl for combining the ingredients. The metal bowl is too cold for this process.
Consider investing in a high-quality, digital candy thermometer — it’s an important tool in the candy-making process.
I use a bamboo utensil to stir the sugar and milk while it is heating.
I prefer gas heat as it is easy to control.
If you plan to add nuts, take the mixture off the stove at 234°F.
For French mint fudge, heat the mixture to 236°F.
If your fudge is grainy, the mixture did not reach the 234-236°F temperature.
The fudge will keep one to one-and-a-half months. Do not refrigerate it. Refrigeration dries it out and alters the taste. I have been told it can be frozen but I have never tried this.