The Power of a Gentleman

“A guy is a boy by birth, a man by age, and a gentleman by choice.” -Vin Diesel

This past weekend I got to attend a beautiful wedding in Texas. The wedding was for the brother of one of my best friends, and the whole weekend was just so great. I not only got to meet Catherine’s family, but I also learned a valuable lesson while in the warmer weather!

One thing I immediately noticed was how gentlemanly the men are in Texas. I was a little skeptical that this was true all the time, thinking maybe it was just a good day, maybe a good hair day?! 😉 As the weekend went on, I realized that there was a culture of respect in Texas in a way that I had never experienced before. I rarely opened my own door the entire weekend!

When we were on the shuttle bus from the airport, it was incredibly crowded. People were standing and an older couple loaded onto the bus. Instantly, the young man sitting to my left got up and tapped the older lady on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, would you like to have a seat?” She was very appreciative and took the seat. We also went to Whataburger for lunch and a young boy, who must have been around 7 years old, held the door for us as we walked out. I thanked him and he smiled really big with a couple teeth missing, and said, “My brother and I try to hold the door open for the ladies.” Not only did these instances melt my heart, but it also gave me hope for our next generation.

Another great example of these gentlemen was my friend’s brother, Samuel. Samuel is 14 and from the moment we got there he was very attentive to our needs- if we needed a plate he would grab one for us, or if we were all leaving the house he would stop dead in his tracks and tell us to go ahead. When we went into the kitchen for breakfast, all of the men immediately stood up so the women could take the limited seats around the table. Samuel also put together a cot for us so that we would not have to try to figure out how to put it together ourselves. If more 14-year-olds acted like Samuel, this world would indeed be a better place!

Since I got back to Minnesota, I have seen gentlemanly behavior but, sadly, I’ve seen more of the opposite extreme. In fact, in the airport a guy shoved his way to get out of the door before me. These extremes amaze me, that some men can treat women with so much respect while others don’t make any attempt to act like gentlemen. Talking with Nikki about this, she remembered seeing a quote from Jason Evert that mentioned this problem in another way.

“Authentic femininity is a combination of class, tenderness and virtue. When a woman possesses these traits, a man will naturally want to be more of a gentleman around her.”

-Jason Evert

We as women obviously don’t have total power over how men act, but we do have more power than we think we do. We can help men to grow in virtue by being women of virtue ourselves, and from our example we can help them to want to rise up and treat us with the dignity we have! It’s a two-way street; both men and women need to be respectful of the opposite gender and expect to be respected as well. How beautiful is it that we as women have the power to help men become all they’re called to be?! Women- I challenge you to live out Jason Evert’s quote and raise the bar for the men in this world today, and men- never forget that there is nothing more attractive than a true gentleman!

–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.

God can be found in the silence

Last week I volunteered at one of my favorite events at St. John’s University — serving Thanksgiving dinner to students. Students receive tickets, come all dressed up and are served the traditional foods. It is family style, so we give them the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, dressing, pumpkin pie, and they pass it around their table. One lucky student gets designated to carve the turkey. It is a wonderful event and about 1,800 students take part and are served over the course of the night. The men’s choir stands up and sings in the Great Hall. And I got to work with Father Rene, one of my favorite human beings. It is a tradition, and a very beautiful one at that.

As I was leaving, I saw a student looking inside, through the glass doors. He was wearing sweatpants and was alone. As I opened the door, he quickly left. Maybe it was a student with class… maybe. Or maybe he had no group, no invitation to join. As I returned to my office, I hoped he had a place for the approaching long Thanksgiving weekend. I hope his solitary evening was limited to this event as the holidays approach.

I think we are quick to assume that everyone has a shared experience when it comes to holidays and family events. Do we stop to consider, as millions of pictures are posted on Facebook of happy gatherings, that maybe someone is sitting alone? There is no place they fit. Relationships are strained. Maybe they are living in fear. Or they just don’t feel welcome.

This time of year we have food drives for food shelves and volunteerism at shelters is high. These are great! Hunger and homelessness are especially tragic this time of year. But inside our own communities, in our circles, our co-workers, there are those who are broken and sad. Those who have the material goods they need, but not the spiritual support. Truth be told, being home alone over the holidays is not as glamorous as 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) made it appear in the movie “Home Alone.”

But for you, sitting alone Thursday, this blog is for you. You are not unimportant or unworthy. And for every amazing album of pictures shared on Facebook, there is someone just like you sitting on their couch. Remember that God can be found in the silence. He is speaking. You are not alone. Not this holiday, not ever.

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Pumpkin, spice and everything nice

Pumpkin shells have been used to cook or serve just about everything from soup to nuts. Trendy and creative ideas abound employing every size, color and shape of this edible gourd.

Wendy Gessell, who recently shared her Raspberry Ribbon Pie recipe, has been making a comforting mushroom, rice and sausage hotdish in a pumpkin shell for over 10 years. Wendy’s recipe has a nostalgic feel to it — like a casserole one might have sampled at grandma’s table back in the ‘60s. Her browning paper copy is typed on two half-sheets of paper, perhaps from a church cookbook published back in the day. This charming Pumpkin Shell Dinner recipe and quaint, personal notes are those of Mrs. Clayton Anderson.

Pumpkin Shell Dinner

1 (12-14 in.) pumpkin (prepared as directed below*)
1 lb. bulk sausage, cooked and drained
1 c. brown, wild or white rice (or a mixture), cooked
1 (10 1/2 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 (4 oz.) can mushrooms; those in butter sauce are good
Celery and onion, chopped as desired
Butter, salt and pepper, brown sugar

Brown the sausage in a large sauté pan. Mix sausage with rice, soup, mushrooms and cooked celery and onions. Spoon this mixture into the prepared pumpkin shell. Put pumpkin shell “lid” in place. Set in a large shallow baking pan, add 2 cups water to the pan and bake at 350°F for 2 hours. Serves 4-6.

NOTE:

* Choose a small (not more than 12-14 inches in diameter) pumpkin that will sit evenly in a pan. Cut a fairly large lid from the top. Scoop out the seeds and stringy portions and wash the pumpkin inside and out.

To serve, it is best to carry the whole, baked pumpkin to the table on a platter and have one person serve it. Spoon out the sausage and rice mixture and then cut squares of pumpkin from the opening to serve alongside. Have butter, salt, pepper and a small bowl of brown sugar on the table to season the pumpkin squares.

If any of the pumpkin shell is left, you can peel it, scrape away the remaining food, mash it and use as canned pumpkin. A pumpkin shell dinner retains heat well. Because the pumpkin shell “lid” keeps the steam inside, some moisture may accumulate. Mixtures that are not watery should be used. Foods with rice and noodles will absorb this mixture, but removing the cover the last 30 minutes of cooking will solve the problem.

A note from Wendy:

I try to make this recipe at least once a year and prefer one-half pound ground beef and one-half pound pork sausage and a mixture of one cup cooked wild rice and one cup cooked brown rice. I use two four-ounce cans of mushrooms but have never seen the ones in butter sauce that Mrs. Anderson proposed. Of course, fresh sliced mushrooms could be sautéed, as well. I suggest sautéing three stalks celery and one medium onion. I put a bottle of soy sauce on the table when I serve this hotdish — it seems to be a tasty addition.

A note from Carol: It’s Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. I feel blessed — and ever so grateful — for many wonderful people, experiences and things in my life. I hope you do, too.

If you are making one last trip to the grocery store perhaps you will consider picking up a pumpkin to fill with Wendy’s hotdish or a creation of your own. I think it’s an innovative, enticing way to serve just about anything this time of year.

Carol Jessen-Klixbull is a copy editor at The Visitor. She is a former Family and Consumer Science teacher who has a passion for all things “food.”

A story to be thankful for

Another edition of the paper down in the books. Time to dive into the next issue. What stories will this one hold?

Lord, I’m not ready. I have barely had a chance to process what you’ve blessed me with in the last two weeks: making a spunky new friend with a tenacity for life,  sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers-turned-friends at an historic interfaith gathering, brainstorming at the bishop’s request with some of the most dedicated faithful who are committed to their communities, and a rare and blessed heart-to-heart with a special woman of God. Just to name a few.

Lord,  why have you chosen me for this work? Sometimes it is so so so hard. Sometimes the topics are uncomfortable. Sometimes I’m challenged about what I think I know or understand about you and about my faith. Sometimes it wreaks havoc on my emotions to try to capture the beauty of someone’s sacred story in just a few carefully chosen words – and then to put my whole heart into it and leave it open and raw for others to enter into and judge.

How could you choose me for this?  I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not holy enough. I’m so unworthy to enter under their roofs.

Lord, help me to know you chose me because you love me. You chose me because you love them. You chose me because in the broken places of my own story, your light shines through the cracks – and that’s a story to be thankful for.

Thank you, Lord, for choosing me to be your light in the broken places. Thank you for the gift of listening when I sometimes feel unheard myself. Thank you for the gift of each story and each person you place in my path. Thank you for the stories that are easy to tell and the stories that push me outside of myself. Thank you for allowing me to enter fully into each story and to seek and find your presence in every. single. one.

As we start the next edition, hear my prayers, Lord. Let each person know their story matters to you. Let it be your words that flow through my heart and into my fingers. Let each word glorify you. Let each story shine with your light. Amen.

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

“Every Mile Mattered”

Have you ever heard a song that speaks to your heart so clearly that it’s almost as if God’s using a megaphone to grab your attention? Recently I heard the song “Every Mile Mattered” (click to watch the video) by Nichole Nordeman, and it was definitely one of those moments! It spoke into the fears and worries that have been on my heart lately in a powerful way. It speaks of messiness and confusion in our lives, and it reminded me that there’s a reason for everything that has happened, whether I can see those reasons now or not. Here are some of my favorite lyrics:

It’s history,

You can’t rewrite it

You’re not meant to be trapped inside it

Every tear brought you here,

Every sorrow gathered

It’s history,

But every mile mattered

Those last words are pure gold—“Every mile mattered.” A friend recently lamented to me after she broke up with her boyfriend, “Now I’m back at square one.” But this song helped me to realize that nothing could be further from the truth! Every experience, every hurt, and every joy we encounter changes us, and God uses all of those things to shape and mold us into who He wants us to be. What a crazy and beautiful truth! When things don’t turn out as we had hoped and we feel like that job or relationship or project was a waste of time, what if we held on to this reality of God’s patient molding of our hearts rather than giving in to frustration and regret?

It’s so easy to fall into the “Why, God?!” trap, doubting His love and His plan, doubting that He is good and that His plan is what’s best for us. It’s good to be honest with God with the questions and hurts of our hearts, but sometimes we need to take a step back and remember what an amazing and powerful and gentle God we serve. At the Encounter Milwaukee young adult conference this past weekend, we prayed the words of a praise and worship song, “You are good,” and at one point the priest had just the ladies sing it, asking the men to pray for their sisters in Christ as we sang those words, that we would know the goodness of the Father and His intimate love for each of our hearts in a deeper way. It was such a beautiful moment, as our brothers prayed that the Father would remind us of His love. The priest also reminded us that praising God isn’t the same as thanking Him—we praise Him for who He Is, while we thank Him for what He’s done for us. Even when we don’t understand why God is doing what He’s doing in our lives, and we fall into sadness and anxiety, we can praise Him for who He Is, because we know that He Is good and He will never change or let us down!

So this Thanksgiving, the raw prayer of my heart is that we would each be given the grace to take our lives—past, present, and future—and lift them up to the Father, praising Him for Who He Is and thanking Him for what He’s done in all the winding paths of our lives, even if it doesn’t all make sense to us right now. He’s not done writing our story, but we can trust that when we look back someday, we will see that His plan was beautiful—and every mile really did matter.

–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.

Putting a Face on a Story

Another shooting. When I first heard of the horrible shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I shook my head and decided to numb myself by turning away from the news.

But the [heart]breaking story was too widely reported for me to completely shut out. Still, I could cope. To me, it was an anonymous tragedy. Like Las Vegas and Orlando and Newtown and too many other places.

It was anonymous until I found out through email that my friend and colleague Cherryl, retired from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, lost her sister-in-law Therese and brother-in-law Richard in the church. Cherryl shared, “It’s been one long panic attack since Sunday and my brain can’t seem to stop looping everything.”

Therese and Richard were the first two from the Sutherland Springs shooting to be buried.

There were many images of the tragedy online and on TV, including the first funerals of the 26 victims… those of Therese and Richard. There were even images of the couple. But none of them captured my attention and touched my heart until I heard that they were part of my friend’s family. In a strange and mysterious… and now emotionally loaded… way, they have become part of my family too. Cherryl wrote on Facebook, “[Therese] and Richard were so much in love with each other. They did everything together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company.” Besides the obvious prompting to pray for the Sutherland Springs community and to renew my own pursuit of non-violence, her post called me to reflect on my own spousal relationship… do we enjoy each other’s company so much that others would notice? Do we savor our moments even more now that we’re reminded how fragile life can be? Will I make a conscious choice to love my spouse no matter what challenges face us, challenges that pale in comparison with the last moments of Therese and Richard?

All of a sudden, an anonymous tragedy in another state became an event that has deepened my perspective on life and love.

All because someone put a face on a very sad story that I wanted to ignore.

Tim Welch is the Consultant for Educational Technology at Catholic Education Ministries, Diocese of Saint Cloud, MN. Read more about him on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

Saints in the Ordinary

The first snowfall was right outside my window and I was sitting in my house weighing my options. I had obligations, both to God and to my family on this particular day.

All Saints’ Day tends to be one of my favorite Holy Days and it’s like one of those “Amen” kind of Catholic days. The day where I call to mind all of these amazing and holy men and women who have ran the race and finished well. These holy souls who I call friend, intercessor, confidant and role model.

But this day, I had kids with schedules and commitments, so that meant the handful of Mass options in the area could realistically only come down to one for us. It also meant, like it does on most Holy Days, that I take a shift with all the kids while my husband takes a pew on his own at a different Mass option. The snow was making the little ones even more excitable as they watched it out the window and it was making me more frustrated. I didn’t have time for this! How inconvenient of the weather to ruin my All Saints day.

I readjusted my tarnished halo, bundled up the kids and prayed a prayer for safety as we headed out on the road for the fifteen mile drive to church. The roads were far from ideal and I ended up tailing a truck with a cattle trailer the entire drive. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to speed today any way. (Bless me Father for I have sinned, I may have in the past.) I tried to refocus my heart while feeling anxiety creep in my chest. Scurrying about from home to church, back home again and then in the opposite direction to another activity wasn’t really how I’d wanted to spend my day. We parked in the lot and were accompanied by others who were rushing in to Noon Mass over their lunch time, along with many members of the older generation. We were greeted by the kindly gentlemen ushers as I scanned the seating arrangements. Of course, the good hearted Catholics took up most of the back half of church, allowing no room for a weary mom with five kids to slide in and remain anonymous. I decided that was fine and, after arriving to church with minutes to spare, I most certainly deserved a place in the front third of the church. I settled in and calmed myself as I prepared for Mass to begin. I allowed myself to familiarize myself again with the unsurpassed beauty of this particular church. As the choir sang the Gloria, God nudged me a little reminding me that all of this is why I love my faith, love our rich traditions and respect such things as obligations of Holy Days.

God also allowed for opportunities to grow in my own humility and saintly endeavors during that Mass as the toddler threw his pacifier past the lady on the other end of our pew and into the abyss of the side aisle. Or when the toddler also figured out that the thick rope that held the kneeler also could be played much like a banjo. I tried not to let them bother me while pretending to be Super Mom as the Keeper of the Pew. If only they all knew that secretly in my mind I was certain that my wish to remain inconspicuous during one Mass was once again too lofty a saintly goal. I pressed on, determined to call on the saints and angels to give me peace and serenity in that moment. After all, I had gotten us all to Mass safely and on time and I knew that one way or another God would bless it. The final blessing had come and the final hymn had been sung. We began putting on the winter coats and hats to leave church. I felt an inner sigh regretting that it just didn’t feel as special this time around. I suddenly heard a voice from the gentleman in the pew behind us. I turned, ready to defend, but stopped short.

The man smiled a broad smile, leaned in and said, “You’re doing a marvelous job”.

I smiled back, held back the tears and nearly hugged the sweet older man. He had no idea that on that day my motherly confidence was lacking and, while I was being a dutiful mom and Catholic, I felt anything but saintly.

Never doubt the impact of your simple words to that person in the pew in front of you, the smile you send across the room or the promptings telling you to reach out to someone today. You just may be the saint on earth modeling those in heaven, by just one gesture or word. Choose to make that look and those words ones of encouragement to build up the kingdom of God.

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.

Pastoral conversion: from maintenance to mission

Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis (The Great Reformer), commented on a recent interview with the pope by an Argentinian reporter. Addressing the area of greatest need for growth in the Church, Pope Francis said, it is in “pastoral conversion. It is still very much halfway there” (“Relaxed pope muses on Latin America…” Crux).

Ivereigh went on to define pastoral conversion as “a move from maintenance to mission, and a pastoral focus on concrete people and their needs rather than taking refuge in abstraction and legalism” (Ibid).

In his apostolic exhortation Evanglii Gaudium, Pope Francis speaks of pastoral conversion in the strongest possible language. “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself” (27).

Pastoral conversion is a call to the Church to place the proclamation of the Gospel over and above maintaining our structures and defending the status quo. Pastoral conversion is about finding ways to include people and to implore the Holy Spirit to help us extend the grace of the Gospel to those most in need of that grace.

More concretely, and in our context, this means looking for ways to include people whose lives have fallen short of the Church’s teachings rather than simply reminding them how they have fallen short. Instead of simply repeating doctrines that we all know, striving to find ways to make living the Gospel message of the God who comes to us while we are yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

Pastoral conversion is about a willingness to let go of church buildings that served the past so as to form vital and living communities of disciples for today. It is about an openness to being misunderstood and taken advantage of—getting a little dirty as Pope Francis says—in order to walk with those who are far from God and yet searching for life and healing.

Pastoral conversion is about making space for the other, who in an age of massive emigration is often very different from us. Instead of asking what do I get out of this, seeking ways to give others what I have. Such an approach calls us to set aside defensiveness and any semblance of protectionism so we might encounter one another.

Pastoral conversion, in short, is about asking and acting on how best to share and extend Gospel grace to others, especially those on the margins of such grace. It is risky and will entail getting bruised from time to time. More importantly, it will mean the Gospel, which for many has become old news, will be made for some good news again!

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