The gift of fatherhood: Modeling faith, love and self-sacrifice

This Sunday, June 18, is the day we set aside to honor fathers. I invite us to give thanks and blessing this Father’s Day, not just to our biological fathers, but to all who have provided fatherly care along our journey.

The role of father is sometimes viewed as one that provides the foundation and framework for our homes and our lives — someone who at times is not present, but who is always in our lives and formation, giving an invaluable gift to all with whom he comes into contact.

My own father was a carpenter by trade, teaching me that hard work is a gift. He diligently worked outside in the heat of summer as well as the wet and cold of winter, while my siblings, mother and I were comfortable within the protection of our home or school.

My father was not an educated man in terms of today’s standards. His wisdom and education came from hard work and common sense. I do not ever recall him complaining about his work. He was proud of the homes he built and his life with his family.

Whether going to Mass as a family or helping someone in need, few words were spoken. Faith was the foundation and framework he gave us to live. My father was a quiet man who said “I love you” much louder in deeds and service than words.

Much of my vocational call to work for the church came through my dad’s challenge to accept all people as God’s and recognize that we are all doing the best we can with what we have and know.

My father-in-law was an educator by trade, teaching me the value of education and a good debate. A gentle man, he lived by example and set the standard high. Even as Parkinson’s disease took his speech, he would pray, mouthing the words that he could no longer speak aloud.

My husband and the father of our three sons was a great model and blessing. He was a devoted, faithful husband and father as he modeled and prepared each of our sons for the journey that God would call them to.
He, by his example, showed our sons how to be loving and committed husbands, fathers and sons. Dave, when diagnosed with cancer, cared for his sons’ and my needs beyond his own. He was a man of integrity, humor, family and faith. He continues beyond his death to profoundly affect our lives and how we live each day.

I have been blessed with many priestly “fathers.” They are the holy men who have helped me to recognize the value of commitment and service. With eyes forward they lead me, in the light of the Gospel, to who I am called to be. I am well aware of the sacrifices they make for our faith, parishes and church.

All these men, with very different qualities and gifts, are men that I honor on Father’s Day for the fathering they have provided in my life.
For all fathers and others who “father,” we give thanks. The special vocation of fatherhood is so very vital to the life of our church.

Geralyn and her husband, Dave, and their sons.

This year, once again, our sons and I will enter the day without our fathers living. Our fathers did not leave us by their choice. They have been welcomed into eternal life and love, and yet there is a deep pain that accompanies that reality. We move into this Father’s Day with one less — one less hug and kiss, one less conversation or shared meal, one less conversation on the meaning of life and the wisdom only our fathers can share.

It is difficult for me to anticipate this day, especially for our sons. Yet I know, death will not win. As we live and breathe in this world they will remain. For all those mourning the physical presence of your dads on Father’s Day, I am so sorry. I pray that in some ways we may each find a morsel of comfort in the presence of them that remains in us and one another.

Along with the tears that follow this day, I am so very grateful for all that I have had, for the great dad and father of our sons that I have been blessed to share life with.

To all fathers, Happy Father’s Day! In your faithfulness, gentlemen, you have the power to teach us the gift of hard work, lead us in prayer, instill in us the call of Jesus, model the beauty of serving others and, by attending Mass, lead us to the real gift of holy Eucharist.

On Father’s Day, we pause to recognize the blessing of these men standing before us as well as those who no longer are with us and say, “Thank you!”

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.

Energy bites and a happy marriage

Recipe for a Happy Marriage

4 cups of love
2 cups of loyalty
2 1/2 cups of laughter
3 cups of forgiveness
1 cup of friendship
5 heaping spoons of hope
2 spoons of tenderness
3 1/2 spoons of compassion
4 quarts of faith

Blend love, loyalty and laughter. Stir in forgiveness, friendship and hope. Add tenderness and compassion. Mix thoroughly with faith. Garnish with hugs and kisses, kindness, understanding and a pinch or two of patience.

There are zero calories in this marriage medley but a generous serving provides a limitless amount of energy!

Bailey Walter’s “No-Bake Energy Bites” can boost one’s endurance, too.

Bailey and Jason

Bailey, director of Human Resources for the St. Cloud Diocese, will wed Jason Ziegler this Saturday at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville. He works at St. John’s Abbey in the Marketing and Communications and Vocations offices.

“I make these frequently when Jason and I are traveling or doing something outdoors — they’re perfect for a day on the lake or hiking through the woods,” she said. “And, anybody can create them very quickly, which is what I like in a recipe! They’re really easy and tasty and healthy, too.”

No-Bake Energy Bites

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Thoroughly mix all ingredients together in a medium-size bowl and chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour.

Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. (I usually make them about the size for two bites!)

Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Yield: About 20 “two-bite-sized” balls.

Notes from Bailey:

  • I recommend creamy peanut butter for this recipe. I usually use a natural one with no added sugar or salt.
  • When I don’t have ground flaxseed on hand, I just leave it out.
  • 1 cup shredded coconut can also be added.
  • Maple syrup or agave can be substituted for the honey.
  • Raisins can be substituted for the chocolate chips, if you wish.
  • I found this recipe at http://www.isthisreallymylife.com/2013/03/pinterest-no-bake-energy-bites/.
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.”

Surrounded with Blessing and Supporting in Prayer

With the recent ordination of Father Derek Wiechmann to the priesthood, I took a trip down memory lane. The trip took me back to 2009 when our family started helping host one of the diocesan Vocation Camps in Villard. Our oldest children were six and four at the time. On a whim and as a favor to our friend, Father Gregory Mastey, who was the Vocations Director at the time, we offered to host one of the three day camps. That led to hosting for the next five years. I’d also say that while we were merely helping feed the young men who attended the camp, along with the seminarians and priests who came to help out, our family gained a lot from the camps too. We began to relate to the seminarians who crossed our path during those years. We kept in touch with many of them, if not personally, at least prayerfully. We’d seen several seminarians come and go, but many stayed and continued the journey to priesthood. In the last four years we’ve been honored to see those vocations come to fruition in the sacrament of Holy Orders as we’ve excitedly attended their ordinations at the Cathedral.

The Heidelberger family with Father Derek Wiechmann, center, and Father Gregory Mastery, right.

While looking back through the years we’ve known (now) Father Derek, I felt my heart swell and become so grateful. Not just for Father Derek and his vocation, but for the many priests who have become part of our family circle. Some of them may have been our pastor at some point in our lives, a colleague when I’ve worked for a parish or two. Others entered our circle through an event or the Vocations Camps. Each of them as unique as the homilies they preach each week. Each of them carrying a story of significance that touched us and drew them into our lives.

Some exteriors were a little harder to tap into and the vulnerability of the man in black took longer to reach. Others are natural extroverts who wear a smile, extend a hand and we quickly found common ground on which to stand. We’ve gathered around a table with them and shared a meal in our home, smiled and waved across a crowded room at a diocesan event, prayed with them at Mass or visited them at the current parish they are serving.

One of the vocation camps the Heidelbergers helped host.

These men quickly rise to the top of our prayer list when we pray together each evening as a family. Praying for seminarians and priests has always been important to our family, but as personal connections have been made those prayers even more important. When our children were able to see priests outside of a church or Mass setting, they began learning more about them and started to find out how human they really were. They would hear about their families, ask questions of the priest, share a laugh or a joke and find out seemingly insignificant things like their favorite food or hobbies they enjoy. These turned into fond and fun memories for our kids over the years.

All of these things became reasons why priests are some of our family’s very favorite people.

We never set out to intentionally befriend these men. What we set out to do was to support and pray for seminarians and priests. What we gained is a cloud of witnesses donning black and faithfully, joyfully living out their vocation.

Another photo of campers at a summer vocations camp hosted by the Heidelbergers.

I hope you have a good example or two of a priest whom brings a smile to your face or spiritually challenges you. Continue praying for him and for all priests who need your support and prayers. Consider sending him a note of gratitude or encouragement and let him know you’re praying for him. Do you struggle with getting to know your parish priest or finding a way to connect with him? A great way to start is a smile, outstretched hand, or invitation to a meal. Sometimes it takes a few interactions or invitations, but be gently persistent. It may take him a while to have a clear calendar or perhaps he’s an introvert and encountering parishioners in their home is difficult for him. Prayerfully consider what may be the best way in which to support a priest. I’d say that letting him know you’re praying for him is a very good way to start. Those monthly Serra calendars printed in the Visitor are very useful for this. Pray for the priest of the day and, if he happens to be a priest you know, let him know that day that you are praying for him specifically.

Each of us can help foster and support vocations, whether to priesthood, religious, single or married life, one prayer at a time.

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.

Guest blogger: “Contagious Excitement: The Potential in Everyone”

In a time when too many look upon vocations to the priesthood in a negative way for whatever reason – scandal, dissatisfaction, lack of engagement in the faith – I invite them to meet some of the priests I know, especially the most recently ordained one for the St. Cloud Diocese.

As our parish was preparing for the ordination of Father Derek Wiechmann, I happened across the words of Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations:

“What a beautiful life it is to live in community with those who are joined together by a sacred bond, to wake up every morning and have the beautiful opportunity to bring the compassion, love and face of Christ to others… It’s a life of great excitement, every day waking up not knowing where the Lord is going to lead you and whose heart he’ll touch with you being the instrument.”

Father Derek Wiechmann’s first Mass June 4 at St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa.

That excitement was on Father Derek’s face before his first Mass in St. Rose on Sunday. Every day he will wake up with the opportunity to be a light to someone in the dark, to provide comfort to the hurting, to be with people in their best and in their worst moments. Priests guide, unite, and encourage. Their job descriptions include action verbs like “counsel, teach, prepare, help, hear, lead, celebrate.”

Imagine if we could all have jobs like that!  Truth be told, it made me jealous. I know, to be jealous of someone committing to a life as a Catholic priest seems a bit odd, but here I am.

Then I remember a homily by Deacon Rick Scherping a couple Sundays ago in St. Rose. He relayed the story of a little boy who set out to meet God. He thought it could be a long trip to where God lives so he packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and started his journey. When he had gone about three blocks he met an old man. He was sitting in the park just staring at some birds. The boy sat down next to him and opened his little suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old man looked hungry so he offered him a Twinkie.
The elderly gentleman gratefully accepted it and smiled at the boy. His smile was so pleasant the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a root beer. Again, he smiled at him. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old man, and gave him a hug. He gave him his biggest smile ever.

When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” But before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? He’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old man, also radiant with joy, returned to his home. His son was stunned by the look of peace on his face and asked, “Dad, what did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” Before his son responded, he added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”

Deacon Rick pointed out that all have a smile to share. We all can do the smallest act of caring, and with that the potential to be Christ to those around us. So maybe we were not called to be priests like Father Derek, but we can share in his excitement — not just in his potential and future, but in our own. We can all follow amazing men like Father Derek and Deacon Rick, not knowing where Lord is leading, but armed with our Twinkies, root beer and pure, genuine excitement as we embrace the opportunity to find out.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of and trustee from St. Rose of Lima Church. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments.

Daily Mass – rural style: Saturday

Daily Mass on Saturday turns out to be somewhat complicated, but not in a bad way.  Most churches in the area offer a Mass on Saturday, but it’s a late-afternoon or evening vigil Mass for Sunday.  Since it’s our only option, I’ll treat the vigil Mass like a Saturday Daily Mass and still attend Mass on Sunday.

Our Mass options are:  Swanville at 7:30 pm (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 5 pm (14 miles away), Flensburg at 4:30 pm (16 miles away), Grey Eagle at 4:30 pm (22 miles away), Sobieski at 7:30 pm (22 miles away), and Belle Prairie at 8 pm (28 miles away).

A view of the altar at Sacred Heart in Flensburg.

I’ve only been to meetings in the basement at Sacred Heart in Flensburg, so it will be a pleasure to be in the Sanctuary. I was hoping that they would let us in. Years ago, at the meeting my wife and I attended at Sacred Heart, we were trying to kick-start a youth program for the tri-parish community. For my part in the meeting I played a Peter Furler song.  It was loud. Really loud. I think it was kind of unexpected.

When we arrived there were no barricades or checkpoints.  There was however a young dad holding a baby.  They were surrounded by adoring onlookers.  Hmmm…  Baptism?  That would be a nice celebration.

Jenna lights a candle in front of the statue of St. Anthony at Sacred Heart Church in Flensburg.

There was a good size crowd inside (in a small church it doesn’t take much). We found a pew and knelt.  Father Jimmy Joseph came out and Mass started. Yes, there was a baptism!

The sanctuary reminds me of a wedding cake topper, and that’s not a criticism.  It’s bright and white but easy on the eyes.  Perhaps the wedding cake analogy is not so bad, since the Eucharist has been described as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. I like the idea of cake for dinner!

 

Statue of St. Therese at Sacred Heart in Flensburg.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen exit signs in any building that quite caught my eye as well as the ones at Sacred Heart. St. Anthony beckons for the left hand door, and St. Therese offers guidance to the right. Of course, you can also turn around and exit through the doors you came in through!

When Mass is over we go outside and there’s the familiar scene of the newly baptized baby surrounded by adoring onlookers again. Welcome to the friendship of Christ, little one! I pray that, for you and your family, attending Mass just gets better and better. Remember: the family that prays together, stays together.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Friday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day five in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

I have the day off today because I worked a (very) long day on Tuesday.  I’m really looking forward to mowing 2 acres of rough-and-tumble lawn today (do I sound as sarcastic as I did when I was a teenager? Some things never change).

Today’s Mass offerings are:  Browerville at 8:30 am (10 miles away), Swanville at 8 am (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:15 am (14 miles away), and Flensburg at 8 am (16 miles away).

Interior, St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.

We don’t often go to Christ the King in Browerville so we decide to celebrate there.  After the debacle of Thursday, missing Mass because of the seasonal change in the time of the Mass, I decided to double-check the Mass times by going to the parish website and reading the latest bulletin.  It’s not often I say this, but:  thank goodness for computers!  According to Christ the King’s bulletin, they cancelled their Friday Mass this week.   So I go to St. Mary of Mt. Carmel’s website and verify that the Mass time there is still 8:15 am.  All of this took some time because of the snail’s pace of our Internet connection.  I want to rant about the inequity of high-speed Internet access among rural folk, but that’s a blog for another day.  Of course after all this I walked into the living room and there, on the coffee table, was the latest bulletin from St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Church.  I didn’t really have to go to their website after all.  Insert sound of man slapping his forehead!

The drive in was beautiful.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and “that ole weepin’ willa is laughin’ at me.”  It was that kind of morning.  I was tempted to belt it out like Gordon McRae, but prudence, which is not always my strongest virtue, won out.

The church was not packed like it was on Wednesday.  There are the regular homeschoolers and the seasoned veterans.  We take a pew near the front (you know, closer to Jesus) and kneel.

Stained glass and candles at St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.

In a few minutes Father Ken Riedeman comes out and we stand and Mass begins.  I think that Father Ken could have a side-job of being a reader for an audio book publisher.  He has a wonderfully deep, clear, resonant voice.

Father Ken also told a good joke during the homily:  There were 3 people from 3 different countries arguing about whose country was the greatest.  The first person said “Our country is the greatest.  We were the first country to put a man in space!”  The second person said “No, our country is the greatest.  We were the first to put a man on the moon!”  The third person said “That’s nothing.  Our country is the greatest because we’re going to put a man on the sun!”  The other two looked at him and said “Are you crazy?  You can’t put a man on the sun!  He’ll burn up!”  The third man smiled and said “No he won’t.  We’re going to do it at night!”

As Father Ken said, St. Philip Neri (whose feast day fell today) probably would have loved that joke (after a few hours of explaining ballistics, astrophysics and planetary science).

Our Lady of Guadalupe statue at St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe nos bendice al salir. ¡Somos tan afortunados de pertenecer a esta parroquia! (Our Lady of Guadalupe blesses us on her way out. We are so fortunate to belong to this parish!)

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Thursday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day four in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

It’s springtime in Minnesota.  The swallows are swooping, the broccoli is bursting, and school is ending!  Our homeschool year ends today and we have big plans for tonight.  Mostly a goof-off evening:  nachos, ice cream sundaes, and a movie.  Jenna and I choose the movie Babe.  I’m not crazy about anthropomorphizing animals, but Babe is a pretty good movie. Every year we raise some hogs, though none of them have ever talked back to me.  Grunted: yes; chewed on my pantlegs: yes; provided us with a lot of bacon and roasts: oh yeah!

Our Mass options today: Randall at 8 am (12 miles away), Swanville at 8 am (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:15 am (14 miles away), Grey Eagle at 8:30 am (22 miles away), Sobieski at 4 pm (22 miles away), and Belle Prairie at 8:30 am (28 miles away).

Statue of St. Joseph at St. Joseph Church in Grey Eagle.

Morning Mass works best for us, since we’re having a family party tonight.  It’s always interesting to attend a different church, one we’ve never been to, so we’re off to St. Joseph’s Church in Grey Eagle.

How to get there?  I know that if you’re in Swanville you can just keep going and end up in Grey Eagle.  I make a quick check of that route on Google maps and verify the route.

Once again we head down the Morrison-Todd County Line Road.  I expect road work and am not surprised when we see the sign that reads “Road construction ahead.”

Then we see a sign that reads “Flagman ahead.”

The next sign reads “One lane traffic ahead.”

I fully expect to see a sign that reads “I’d turn back if I were you.”

The flagman stops us and I have the opportunity to see what the farmer has planted in his field.  Oh, corn!  I think that’s what he planted last year.  And the year before that.  And the year before that.  And shall I go into my rant about how there should be farms where vegetables that people actually eat would be grown?

After a short wait the flagman lets us pass.  We drive by the big native Minnesota machine that chomps up the old road and lays down a new one behind it.  Just amazing!

It’s a long winding beautiful drive from Swanville to Grey Eagle.  We arrive and, unbelievably, can’t find the church!  How do you hide a church in a small town like this?  We finally find the church after asking directions from a guy walking his dog.  We were a little late (two minutes, tops).  Probably not enough for excommunication (that’ll be the last time I use that joke). So even though we left early enough, we’re still a couple of minutes late.

We got out of our cars (we took two, I needed to get to work after Mass) and Father Ron Dockendorf hails us from the front of the church.  Thinking he was just going in to celebrate Mass I jubilantly shout “We made it!”  He informs us that Mass was at 8:00 am (they had just switched to their warm weather schedule).  So as it turns out we were 32 minutes late and we completely missed Mass.

Marian grotto at St. Joseph Church in Grey Eagle.

Father Ron was very kind and gave us a blessing right there in the parking lot and sprinkled us with holy water.

We act like tourists and take pictures of the beautiful Marian grotto in front of the church.

But I failed.  No Mass.  No Blessed Sacrament.  I’m hungry.  I’m hungry for the Real Presence.

 

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Wednesday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day three in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

Up and at’em at 6:30 am.

Today’s Mass offerings are:  Browerville at 11am (10 miles away), Swanville at 5:45 pm (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:30 am (14 miles away), and two churches in Little Falls offer Mass at 7:30 am or 8:30 am (22 miles away).

Statue of Mary outside St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.

For our schedule today Long Prairie is most convenient, so the home parish, St. Mary of Mount Carmel, it is!

It’s a busy day for us:  Father Jimmy Joseph is coming over to our house at noon for lunch and then to bless our gardens and fields, Jenna has a cello student coming to our house at 2:00, and I have a Schoenstatt Boy’s Group meeting at St. James Church in Randall at 3:00. Jenna is also making lunch: carnitas and coleslaw.  Yum!  But morning Mass is brief and shouldn’t disrupt any of that. On the way to Long Prairie, Jenna casually mentions that since it’s Wednesday, it will be a class Mass (St. Mary of Mount Carmel is blessed with a Catholic elementary school).  Well, even a class Mass won’t make it that much longer.

Vera, 11, comes with us. We don’t listen to the radio or play a CD on our way to Masses. Instead we have conversation or enjoy the quiet.  Having a wife who is studying theology in graduate school provides ample opportunity for intellectual discussions. Lately she’s been thinking about Mary as the gateway to the Church, and we’ve been discussing the beatitudes and comparing that with the qualities of our Blessed Mother.

We arrive at St. Mary of Mount Carmel and reflect on how many cars are lining the street.  We park, walk up the stairs and enter the sanctuary.  We are met by 8 sixth grade ushers, who provide us with a printed program.  I look at the cover and see that it’s a graduation Mass.  This will be no quick 1/2 hour daily Mass or even 45-minute class Mass!

The front of the church is packed with kids and the other pews are pretty full.  Long Prairie has a population of about 3,500 and it looks like everyone in town showed up for this Mass!  Father Omar is in his element, questioning the sixth grade kids and enjoying their answers.  It’s a little like a tv game show, but without the technicolor sets or commercials.  Linda Dinkel, the principal at the school, is out of town enjoying her first grandchild who was either just born or almost born (it was a little unclear).  Brenda Gugglberger, the former principal, took over the role as commencement speaker.  The air was filled with outstretched arms as electronic devices “capture the moment” as the children participate in the various ceremonies.

The ropes of the bells at St. Mary’s.

An hour later (after the Eucharistic feast and before the final blessing) my wife leaned over to me and said, “I think this could go on for some time.”  Yesterday I was worried about being excommunicated for being late to Mass.  Now we’re leaving before Mass is officially over!  But we have a merciful and forgiving God, and as lovely and emotional as the ceremonies were, we thought it prudent to quietly excuse ourselves and go.

I wonder how many kids are tempted to pull the bell ropes on their way out of the Church?  I know I am!

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

 

Daily Mass – rural style: Tuesday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day two in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

Yesterday, going to Mass was easy. When it’s just Jenna and I there are so few complications. Today we’re up again at 6:30 am. Vera (11) and Gloria (5) are both feeling better and are going to attend with us.

A view of the altar at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Today’s Mass offerings are: Sobieski at 8 am (22 miles away), Grey Eagle at 8:30 am (22 miles away), Randall at 7 pm (12 miles away), and Long Prairie at 7 pm (14 miles away). The early bird catches the Mass, so it’s off to St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski.

I scarf down 1/2 a banana and a cup of coffee for breakfast, and Jenna does without. Unfortunately the usual charming breakfast rituals of the kids seem to stretch out longer. Later, most of us are dressed and ready but Gloria is taking a little longer with her pink sparkly shoes than usual.

The one-sided (my side) conversation as we leave the porch goes something like:

“OK, let’s get going.  It’s getting late.”

“C’mon Gloria, you can pet the kittens later.”

“Let’s go, it’s getting late.”

“No Gloria, put the kittens down.”

“C’mon let’s go!”

“No Gloria they don’t allow kittens in church.”

In the car and off we go, once again down the Todd-Morrison County Line road. Only this time we turn on Highway 27 and take the Flensburg exit.  We drive through Flensburg (“Oh look, the liquor store is for sale.”) and then on to Sobieski.

The floor at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Arriving at St. Stanislaus (at 8:05) we park in the “lower” parking lot and climb the two flights of stairs up to the church. As we open the doors we can hear Father Jimmy Joseph reading the first Scripture reading.  Thoughts of excommunication for being late and “we really ought to get rid of those kittens” cross my mind.  After all, WWSPS (What Would St. Paul Say?).  We take a pew a bit further in the back than usual so as not to distract the 11 parishioners who arrived on time.

Father Jimmy has a lovely singing voice and I wish there were more opportunity in this Mass to hear it.  I think Father Jimmy, Father Matthew Crane, and Father Aaron Kuhn should form a singing group.  Their first record could be a devotion to our Blessed Mother and they could call themselves “The Mama and the Papas.”

After Mass Father Jimmy stops to talk with us (we used to be members of his parish in Randall). Then some of the ladies come up and start speaking with Jenna. It turns out that one of them knows Sister Jessica from the Schoenstatt Shrine down in Sleepy Eye. Since we’re involved and devoted Schoenstatters this is a joyful coincidence.

The ceiling medallion at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

But I can’t stop looking at the interior of this church. It’s gorgeous! I start taking pictures, and then I can’t stop taking pictures. It’s like being in a National Park! Everywhere I turn there’s something incredible; so much history, so much beauty. Jenna said much the same later, but that it also has a very “homemade” feel. As if the artisans of the Church were very skillful, but made everything for love of God and not for money.  The interior of the church inspires worship, but the statuary and ornaments don’t feel pristine or sterile. They’re as if loving hands have caressed them over the years. Even the floor tiles, linoleum squares like you might see in an old drugstore, have the look of polished marble. I had to touch them to make sure they weren’t stone.

A Polish banner at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

As we leave the sanctuary, we pass under a banner. I have no idea what it says, but I

know that I’ve been blessed.

Outside the skies are cloudy and mist is falling. We retrace our drive back home. I hurriedly fix lunch and dinner for myself to take to work (it’s going to be a long day). It was a roundtrip journey of 44 miles, with a priest from Karola, India and banners in Polish. I feel a little like I’ve just come back from a journey to a far-away and seemingly enchanted place.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Monday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day one in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”
Blessed are you who live in close proximity to a church that offers daily Mass!
Every once in a while my wife and I attempt the holy grail of Catholics: to go to daily Mass.  After all, as St. Bernard put it: “You will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.”
Since we live in a rural area our options are limited.  None of the parishes within a half-hour driving distance offers daily Mass.  So we map out our options.  We find that if we draw a circle with a radius of 25 miles (or so) of our home we can find various churches that offer Mass on each day of the week.  Unfortunately those churches within that radius do not offer Masses at the same time.  Morning Masses at 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 10:00.  Afternoon Masses at 4:30, 5:00, 6:30, 8:00.  So not only do we have to map out daily Masses at a number of churches, we have to make ourselves available at that time on that day (did I mention that we have 6 kids and homeschool them all?).  General Patton had it easier organizing the supply train for his troops!
Our monthly issue of the Magnificat will act as a sort of “Boedekkers Guide” for us (spiritual direction, as opposed to actual physical direction).  So come with me as my wife and I attempt the greater good: going to daily Mass in rural Minnesota!
Monday
Statue of the Holy Family at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Up at the usual time, 6:30 am.  Our Mass options:  8:00 am in Swanville (13 miles away), 7:00 pm in Flensburg (16 miles away), and 7:00 pm in Belle Prairie (28 miles away).  Mondays have the least number of Masses offered in our area, and evening Masses are harder for us to schedule for than a morning Mass.  So our choice is St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville.

It’s an easy drive down the Morrison-Todd County Line Road for us.  This morning it’s just Jenna and I, since some of the kids are down with colds, and those who aren’t are taking care of the ones who are, while also trying to get their schoolwork done.
We leave at 7:30.  It’s a beautiful morning: the sun is a welcome sight after days of rain.  After 10 minutes we cross Highway 27 and see a sure sign of Spring in Minnesota.  Lilac trees in bloom?  No.  Rhubarb springing up?  No.  Road construction?  Yes!  Welcome to Minnesota!
12 minutes later we park across the street from the church.  As we enter the sanctuary we bless ourselves with holy water from a solid stone font.  I guess the sponge is in the basin to keep you from dripping water on your forehead.  Since I can use all the blessings I can get I’m tempted to dunk my head in the font, but decorum wins out and I simply dip in a finger.
Statue of St. John the Baptist at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy Stephen Miller.

There are 9 other people sitting in various pews, mostly toward the back of the church, reciting the rosary.  We walk down the aisle as the 5th joyful mystery is prayed.  We choose a third-row pew and kneel.  I’ve heard it said that if you want to be closer to Jesus then sit nearer the altar.  I’m in that club!

I seem to remember that this church and the church in Randall, St. James, were designed by the same architect.  There are similarities: a lot of exposed wood, simple plain walls and no ornate decorations.  Very 1960s Scandinavian design, which I like.  There are two recessed grottos: one has a statue of St. John the Baptist and the other has a statue of the Holy Family.  The grotto of St. John the Baptist is relatively unadorned, befitting the man who cried out in the wilderness.  In contrast, the grotto with the Holy Family is bedecked with flowers, featuring a beautiful arch of flowers over their heads.  It looks wonderfully celebratory.
A view of the altar at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Father Ron Dockendorf walks down the aisle.  We stand and Mass begins.  I’m reminded, being at a different church than my usual, of the days before Jenna and I were married, and well before my conversion to Catholicism.  Out of curiosity, I would attend morning Mass at a Catholic church not far from my apartment in Alameda, California.  I found the whole service confusing, but I was also fascinated by all of the rituals.  Now, years later, I’m less confused but still fascinated.

The first Scripture reading is appropriate to what I’m attempting in this week-long blog.  In the Acts of the Apostles 16:11-15, St. Paul describes the beginning of a long journey.  And while Swanville is not exactly Phillipi, Father Ron spreads the good news with a quiet fervor that I think St. Paul would be proud of.
After Mass Father Ron stops and speaks with us.  He recognizes us from when I worked at the library in Swanville and sometimes went to morning Mass at St. John the Baptist.  I ask him if he still rides a motorcycle.  He does, and he is looking forward to warmer (and drier) riding weather.
As we drive away (and after the almost mandatory after-Mass stop at a grocery store) we head north, back to our family, thankful for the quiet time we’ve had together.
Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.