Reflecting on Jesus’ statement that the members of his family are “those who hear the word of God and act on it,” Pope Francis invited his listeners to reflect on the concept of familiarity.
To gain such familiarity one must be willing to enter “into the home of Jesus, to enter into that atmosphere…those who reside in the house of the Lord are free, those who have a familiar relationship with Him are free.”
Gaining familiarity with Jesus “also means standing with Him, looking to Him, hearing His Word, seeking to do it, speaking to Him.” Pope Francis makes clear that speaking to Jesus is to have a prayer life marked by a common language, an easy back and forth.
Finally, according to Pope Francis, familiarity with Jesus is gained by remaining “in the presence of Jesus, as He Himself counsels us at the Last Supper.” How much this reminds us that faithful, Sunday by Sunday, celebrating the Mass in remembrance of Jesus is a sure way to gain familiarity with the personality of Jesus.
Jesus desires a familiar relationship with each one of us. Such a familiarity is gained by spending time with him in daily prayer, reading the gospels, faithfulness to Mass, and being in the company of his friends, especially the poor and vulnerable.
How familiar am I with Jesus? Am I comfortable in his presence? Draw near to him who desires to be near to you!
(This reflection is based on Pope Francis’ homily for Tuesday, September 26, 2017).
Several years ago, our youngest son asked if we could give a friend of his, who I’ll name “Joe,” a ride to school on the first day of senior high. I happily agreed to share the excitement of this new adventure and off we headed to pick up Joe. As Joe jumped into the van you could sense his excitement.
“Excited for your freshman year?” I asked.
“ I’m so excited to get a new start”, Joe replied.
“New start?” I replied.
“Yes, Mama Evans, I get to have new teachers and I’m hoping they will see me as a new kid and not know me as the little brother of_______.”
“You see,” he continued on to explain, “my sisters and brothers have not always made good choices and I’m trying really hard to learn from them. I want to get good grades and be something when I grow up. I just want a chance for them to see I’m a good kid.”
My heart sank. How could a young teen feel so diminished and so excited to be seen as the gift they are in the world all at once? How could the words and actions of others have created this sense of judgment in a young person? How could I help support and build up this young person?
As another school year begins and we prepare to welcome children, youth and families to Faith Formation, I am reminded of the lesson Joe taught me many years ago. Everyone wants to be good, to be something, to have others believe in them and be respected.
I was blessed over the years to witness this young person develop into a respectful young man. He had the resilience to strive to be better than others thought of him.
Another school year has begun as fall approaches and we return to a rhythm of learning. We are all on a life long journey of faith. We all have the opportunities to welcome and encourage one another in many ways to support the “Joe’s” of our community. Many of us may have some “Joe” in us.
St. Francis de Sales writes, “Be who you are, and be that well.” We are called to reflect Christ’s light into the world and from the very core of our breath.
As we begin this fall, we have many opportunities to share Christ’s light in the world. Many of us are preparing to begin another year of Faith Formation classes. Many of us will have the opportunity to meet and greet new children and youth. Some of us are the “Joe’s” in the world looking for a new beginning and welcome. We will have the opportunity to share in another person’s life and journey. We have the opportunity to be the “Body of Christ” for the world.
As your fall progresses, consider how you may greet and welcome the “Joes” of the community to your parish and faith community. We are all invited and called to shine the light of Christ into the world…how will you shine?
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ and he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ Matthew 8:23-27
As I sat there on the rocks along Lake Superior during a recent family trip to the North Shore, I found an unexpected peace. Amid the occasional shout from one child or another as they found the “perfect” rock or one shaped like a heart, I still found it. The waves slowly lapped against the rocks and I took a deep breath. I began to realize that I had been holding my breath and waiting for relief for quite a while. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, this summer. While there were so many great days of sweet and blissful memories, there were many others that made my summer seas full of tumult and difficulty. The heaviness in my chest sighed as I sat there with hardly a care in the world, even if it only lasted a short time. I may have found more therapy in those minutes–as I just stopped and listened–than I have in quite a while.
We watched a ship on the horizon making its way to the port. It’s one of our favorite activities every time we visit Duluth, but never has it struck me as profoundly as this time around. I found more symbolism to my recent days and weeks in that ship, the breaking waters, the water hitting the rocks and even in the travel of a single rock ripple than I could have ever searched for. The mightiness of the ship on the waters called to mind the greatness of God, His goodness and His strength even in the great waters of life. My awareness of the calm even as the waves came into shore called to mind that even as the chaos of life swirls around, there is beauty, simplicity and calm even if only on the smallest shore of my life.
Although I may have been carrying around a full load of burdens over recent months, as I tossed even the smallest pebble into the great lake, it brought about a tranquility. The fresh breeze cleansed my soul as I whispered a simple prayer of gratitude for my faith in a God who never left me stranded. As we embark on another changing of seasons and these summer days fade to autumn, may the splendor of God’s creation stir a place within us that reminds us of his faithfulness and fills us with gratitude.
As a reporter, it’s not every day that I have the opportunity to be in a room with a national public figure, much less have the opportunity to ask a question. So when The Visitor was invited to a press conference with former Florida governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush Sept. 21 at St. John’s University in Collegeville, I took the opportunity to attend and to sneak in a question or two that I thought might interest our readers.
First, a little background. Born John Ellis Bush, he was nicknamed Jeb for his initials. He is the son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. George H.W. served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd vice president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Jeb is also the brother of George W. Bush who served as the POTUS from 2001-2009.
Gov. Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida from 1999-2007, and in 2015 he announced he would enter the 2016 presidential campaign. He later left the race.
Gov. Bush was invited to St. John’s to speak on “Conscience and Courage” at the 11th annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture. Over 20 years ago, the governor converted to the Catholic faith and still practices today.
So, while most other sources were interested in hearing his political views on trending topics, my sole purpose (or soul purpose, you might say) was to find out how his faith impacts the decisions and work he does as an elected official. I asked him if he had a role model in this faith life. His response:
“Jesus. That’s about as good a role model as we can have.”
As far as how his faith influences his work, he said:
“As imperfect as we are, to be guided by your faith, you can’t ignore that. I never understood how [as a person of faith] as a public official, that’s ‘private,’ that I can’t act on my faith in the public square. Why do you have it? It should be one of the most important parts of how you go about your business.
And as governor – no perfection here – but I did my best to act on my faith. I put the most vulnerable citizens in the front of the line. They had been languishing either not in any line at all or in the back. We expanded programs for the developmentally disabled. … We grew the economy and generated revenues that allowed us to prioritize a broken foster care system. … I acted on my faith. Those are core beliefs that come from the teachings of Christ.
I had conflicts in that regard as well. The state of Florida has the death penalty. Perhaps one of the most difficult things I had to do as governor was to sign death warrants and participate in the execution, irrespective of if they were innocent or not. That’s an awesome responsibility. That was really hard.
Every year we had a Red Mass [a Mass for judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students and government officials] in Tallahassee. The bishops would come up and pat me on the back for things I did that adhered to their teachings and always saved the death penalty as the last topic of conversation and politely scolded me for not acting on the teachings of the church.
In reality, when you put your hand on the Bible, you also are recognizing that you are trying to faithfully commit to the laws of the state. That was a law that a great number of Floridians agreed to.
But I would never suggest to a pers0n who was running for office, ‘You can be as devout as you want but keep it at home. Don’t talk about your faith, don’t act on your faith in the public square.’ That just doesn’t work. It’s not meaningful to you if [your faith] is not front and center.”
Though I would’ve like to have asked more questions, there just wasn’t time. Fielding questions from other reporters, Gov. Bush added that when he ran for president he “got out of everything.”
“After I ran for president, I got to rebuild my life the way I wanted which allowed me to stay more connected to my family, less travel and rebuilt the business I had before I sold my interest out with the same partners. … I have an education reform foundation … [I’m] living large in Miami. Four grandchildren. Life’s good.”
On civil discourse, he shared some “rules,” specifically:
“If you have a chance to find someone who doesn’t think like you but agrees with you on a particular subject, the requirement would be to pause, take a deep breath, embrace that person and form a coalition to get something done.”
He gave an emphatic “no” when asked if he will run for president again. He said he already had the “best job in the world” as governor, helping people to live lives of purpose and meaning.
When asked about his feelings regarding the current president, he said he is “not a big fan,” which he has made no secret of in the media. However, he kept it positive, affirming some of President Trump’s decisions such as judiciary appointments. He concluded:
“Every morning I pray, and I pray for our leaders as we are taught to do in the Catholic faith. And I pray for our president. I want him to succeed for our country’s sake.”
Finally, when addressing a question on what advice he’d give to people who are talking politics over Thanksgiving dinner, he said:
“Turn off cable TV for starters. One thing that would be helpful would be to stop customizing how we get news. I really try hard to read The New York Times because I find it not to my liking. But I do it for that reason. I want to have different views. I don’t want to be so righteous about my own thinking that I’m less tolerant of other people’s views. … Challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone and listen to people that don’t agree with you.
As it relates to the Thanksgiving dinner, don’t talk about the president. … Talk about things you have in common rather than things you want to argue about.”
On Sept. 9, I had the opportunity to cover my favorite kind of event — a country music festival! This isn’t something we would normally do for The Visitor, but as a fundraiser for Mother of Mercy Care Campus, a Catholic nursing home and care center in Albany, it was newsworthy.
The Rock the Prairie event featured three local bands: Edge of the Ledge, a local Albany band; the Levi Pelzer Band, a local group from Little Falls; and The Devon Worley Band from the Twin Cities, who performed before headliner Phil Vassar took the stage.
“It’s just cool when the community comes together like this to support the elderly,” Vassar said. “We’ve all been in that situation, my grandma was in a nursing home like this one until she passed away a couple of years ago at age 90. It seems like in society today a lot of people forget about [our elders] and just kind of put our old folks away, so it’s really neat for us to be able to do this.”
Although he’s not Catholic himself, Vassar said he has many friends and family members that are, so he’s familiar with Catholicism. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, so I know that several of his songs have references to faith, including his hits “Prayer of a Common Man” and “This is God.”
He didn’t really want to talk about his own faith, but it is obvious to me that he’s a faithful person. I also couldn’t help but notice the cross tattooed on his right forearm.
I asked him specifically what prompted him to write, “This is God,” which is actually God talking to us about how we need to work for peace. He said when he wrote it in 2002, 9/11 was still in the news, as well as other instances of violence. He was on an airplane — where he does a lot of his writing — and was discouraged about the hatred and violence in the world. The song has been described as a call for accountability and a reminder that there are consequences to actions, with God pleading in conclusion for all of his creations to permanently unite in peace and love. As we were talking about it, we agreed that it’s maybe even more relevant now than it was then.
I’m sure most of us can relate to this experience: you go to Mass, find yourself refreshed and rejuvenated by God’s goodness and grace, go home, and before you know it you’re yelling at a family member or complaining about some inconvenience or insignificant problem. When you take the time to reflect, you’re angry at yourself, and lament the fact that even though Jesus literally just came into you in Holy Communion, you just as quickly turn away from Him and fall into the same sins.
Defeated. That’s how I feel every time I give in to my own pride and say things I don’t mean, or argue my point needlessly. That’s how I feel when I give in to my own selfishness and spend my time only on myself, and get frustrated with those around me for interrupting ‘my’ time. I think to myself, How can I receive such incredible gifts of God’s love and grace, and then fail to live those practically in my own life?
As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently began a 10-day self-directed retreat called ‘Lift Up Your Heart’ by Fr. John Burns, based on the 10 meditations of St. Francis de Sales in the Introduction to the Devout Life. It’s been so, so good for my heart so far, because it’s made me really reflect on my own life and grow in self-knowledge, which is something that’s always been hard for me! I just have to share this part of one of the meditations, because it gave me a new lens through which I see my own weaknesses and sinfulness that I think is so incredibly helpful!:
“In quiet reflection, name your own limitations. Admit them—as many as you can recognize. Then, with a deep breath, hold them up to God’s gaze and simply ask for help. Hear God say to you, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Then you can say with St. Paul, ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Cor 11:30). At first it sounds foolish. Consider this: if you were not weak, you would not need God; because you are weak, God can work in you. This means, surprisingly, that the places in your life most attractive to God are the places of greatest weakness, because in those places He can most easily undertake the work of making you whole” (Lift Up Your Hearts 9-10).
That last line has really stuck with me: that the places of greatestweakness in my life are the most attractive to God, because that’s where He can work the most powerfully. He’s not scared off by my struggles with selfishness and pride and laziness, but those are exactly the places He wants to come into most!
There’s a Christian song called “If We’re Honest” by Francesca Batistelli which says, “I’m a mess and so are you/ We build walls nobody can get through/ It may be hard, but the best thing we can ever do/ is Bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine/ His love can heal what hurt divides/ And mercy’s waiting on the other side/ If we’re honest.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to admit to myself that I’m a mess. In fact, I just don’t like messes in any shape or form! Even my room has to be neatly organized and clean, or it drives me crazy. I want my life to be a tidy little package where everything is ‘just so,’ and nothing is out of place. But I know that nothing could be farther from reality! And the truth is, that’s the reality for each one of us. But that’s where Jesus wants to meet us—in our messiness, in our woundedness, in our brokenness. He wants to meet us there so He can heal us most profoundly.
Fr. John goes on to say, “God sets the terms and timelines for healing and wholeness, but nothing can begin until you show the sickness to the Divine Physician” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 10). We can’t wear masks with God. He knows our weaknesses better than we do, but that’s exactly what He wants us to bring before Him, with humble and docile hearts. How freeing that is, that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect! He just expects us to be honest. He’ll take it from there. God will do the healing, but we first have to bring our wounds and weaknesses to Him to be healed. It might be a slow process, but God knows how best to sculpt our hearts in order to make us into the masterpieces He desires us to be, the kind that can most clearly reflect the genius of the Divine Sculptor. What a beautiful truth, that takes away our tendencies to hide behind our shame and distrust of God rather than humbly bringing them before Him with the faith of a child, completely confident in the love of the Father. So we don’t need to be afraid of our weaknesses, because it’s precisely in our weakness that God wants to meet us, to show us His power and love.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
You have seen them – those pro-life billboards between Freeport and Avon. Designed by Profile Across America, these ads offer hope and help to those in need. They are cute, tender, and touching, with facts and an 800 telephone number for help. Billboards are expensive, but there are people who recognize that this message is needed and work hard to get it out. The billboards in this area are the work of the Hartung family from St. Rosa and volunteers from the tri-parish cluster. Each year, for five days, all day long, volunteers run the fried bread stand under the grandstand at the Stearns County Fair. Armed with frozen bread dough, sugar, cinnamon, propane tank and fryer and a passion for the pro-life effort, yummy bread is sold, with all the proceeds going toward these billboards.
This effort was actually started in 1976 by Lawrence and Mary Ann Douvier, dear friends of Hartungs. When they wanted to retire, Hartungs took up the mission. It started with one billboard, then two, and, after last year, three are supported for a year, until the next Stearns County Fair and fundraising effort.
I have been privileged to work in the stand for a shift the past several years. The Stearns County Fair, much like an airport or shopping mall, is a great place for people-watching. I am struck each year by the reactions of people to the stand. A portion do not read the signs or recognize the cause, they are just hungry and fried bread is a great fair food. Others are very aware of the pro-life effort we are working for. There are words of encouragement, words of thanks. Sometimes people donate without taking any bread (clearly not recognizing the nutritional value and not knowing that bread is a “grain” in the food pyramid). Sometimes they want a partial portion, but pay for a full. Others just say “keep the change,” asking us to take their additional donation.
The dedication of the volunteers, especially the Hartungs, is truly impressive. Yes, it is hot in there. (We get that comment a lot.) Yes, it is really loud in there when the demolition derby starts. But sharing time and space (very small space) with people who share the same goal, commitment to life, and enthusiasm, makes fun. It is one of my favorite nights of the year. You leave oily, sugary, but smiling.
Parish fellowship is about enabling the gathering of friends and is usually found in church basements after Mass. I think it can also be about bringing the parish into community. Jesus had fellowship with small groups, sometimes just his Apostles, but we are asked to take our time and talents and be part of a larger Church that includes everyone – creating a community in Christ. You would not think of the Stearns County Fair as a community in Christ, but in this little corner of the fair, that is what happens.
“For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
Until next year, keep an eye out for those billboards and pray for the unborn and those who find themselves scared and confused.
Do you ever watch an interaction and your heart just melts?! Well I have seen a number of these moments recently so I figured I would share a couple of my favorites!
My mom has an in-home day care and the kids are always so fun and full of energy. We have two brothers, Noah and Cole, who stole my heart the other day.
After lunch, the kids take a nap; some of the older kids do not need to take a nap and play until their friends wake up. Noah is at the age where he does not necessarily need a nap, but Cole is still a bit young. Cole likes when Noah takes a nap with him so every day Noah lays down next to him so he knows he is there. This particular day my mom told Noah he had the choice again, he could either stay up or take a nap. Noah came over to me and said, “I really want to have an up day so I can play with my friends but I will go talk to Cole.”
Out of curiosity I followed and listened to their conversation. Noah very gently asked Cole, “Hey Cole, can I have an up day or do you want me to take a nap?” Immediately Cole says he needs to take a nap. You could see the disappointment in Noah’s face and he was quietly sitting there thinking. I jumped in and asked Cole if Noah could just come down and check on him every so often or if he could sleep with a toy Noah picked out. He shook his head and his eyes filled with tears. I will never forget Noah’s next move. He took a deep breath and looked at me with such compassion in his eyes. “It’s okay Tricia, I will just take a nap with my brother.”
He then gave Cole a big hug and reassured him that he would lay next to him so he wouldn’t be sad. My eyes were filled with tears as this kind of love for our brothers rarely exists anymore and it was so neat to see!
The next day I was helping with a brat sale and there was an elderly man walking ever so slowly with his cane across the parking lot. A middle-aged woman was walking into Coborn’s [grocery store] and hollered at him, “Slow down there, sir!” And he stopped dead in his tracks and pretended like he was hitting the lady with his cane and they both laughed and laughed.
These two stories show me how much love and unselfishness there still is in this world. It seems like the people you typically hear about are filled with hate and selfish desires. I think if we all put a little more effort to highlight the love and unselfishness that we see on a daily basis, we would constantly be reminded of our focus in life- and that is to love as Christ loves.
You might have noted, things have gotten awfully loud in our culture. Our public discourse has increasingly been reduced to shouts, vulgarities, and irrationalities.
Into this ugly noise comes the gentle whisperings of J. Vincent Hansen in his little volume, “The Medicine of Place: A Collection of Epigrams and Easy Essays.”
With Hansen’s words, and the photographs of Chuck Norwood, this collection works with delicate beauty to expose the sacred truth of place, simplicity, work and the important quality of being in awe.
The importance of place is stated simply in Easy Essay CCCVIII:
It is poverty of a sort not to
want to be back home by dark.
And again, in Easy Essay CLXXIX:
A knowing physician
will yet prescribe roots—
that is to say the medicine
How about the Sparrow for simplicity mixed with place:
Each spring the Robin
is given a hero’s welcome,
but I have no interest in him;
my concern is for the Sparrow
that stayed the winter.
And when it comes to work, how true is Easy Essay CCXCVIII:
More meaningful than the
blood that entitles me to say heir
are the tools of my father that
enable me to say successor.
When it comes to being in awe, read Easy Essay CLXXXVIII:
When God saw that
ignorance could not serve Him
and that Knowledge would not,
He created Mystery.
Then take in:
Should we slow down
enough, Nature has agreed
to hold our breath.
There are poems in this collection that will also ‘hold your breath’ if you give them a chance, such as The Lady Who Loved Ferns, Old Man Burnett, and The Lady Who Went Out Of Her Way.
Please don’t come to this book looking for knowledge. All it offers is wisdom. Don’t, either, look for spectacle. You will only get gentleness and beauty. And for heaven’s sake, don’t come here for arguments. This book will only offer you invitation, and of that, one after another.
The Medicine of Place: A Collection of Epigrams and Easy Essays. Text by J. Vincent Hansen. Photographs by Chuck Norwood. North Star Press: St. Cloud, MN, 2017.
Hansen is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids.
The 187,066 people who attended the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, Sept. 1, set a record for ninth-day attendance. They also consumed a colossal amount of food — from wacky concoctions you never dreamed could be deep-fried and served up on a stick to healthier dietician-approved options — and everything in between.
With a nod to the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” those of us who were at work in the diocese that day enjoyed sampling goodies at our “Potluck on a Stick.” The brainchild of Bailey Ziegler, diocesan director of human resources, and Kristi Anderson, multimedia reporter at The Visitor, the event was loads of fun and we didn’t have to wait in line or battle huge crowds to relish the tasty food.
The table decorations were gigantic “blue ribbon” vegetables with fictitious notes about our co-workers “who grew them.” There was even a pie-baking contest to round out the occasion.
Teriyaki chicken on a stick. Candied bacon on a stick. Mini-corn dogs on a stick. Fruit and veggies on sticks. Three flavors of DQ Dilly Bars — on sticks, of course. Grilled corn-on-the-cob, hamburgers and brats, BBQ meatballs, crazy cake, lemonade, pop — and more!
Jill Lieser, Catholic Foundation administrative assistant, shares tips for creating her enticing candied bacon on stick.
Candied Bacon on a Stick
Use any amount of bacon that you wish. Make sure it is a thicker cut of bacon.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line a low flat pan with parchment paper and also spray it with cooking spray.
Using either a full piece or half piece of bacon, place bacon on skewer. (Envision ribbon candy.)
Stretch the bacon back to (sort of) lie flat on skewer and place it on the pan.
Sprinkle brown sugar over the bacon and pat it down just a bit. (Amount is to your liking.)
Drizzle with maple syrup. (Amount, once again, is to your liking.)
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bacon is completely cooked but not crispy. (The sugar and syrup should have created light caramel syrup.)
This treat is best served at room temperature. If you must store it in fridge, make sure the bacon pieces are in an airtight container.