“This is my body…this is my blood…given up for you.”

Guest  blogger Joan Spring, director of campus ministry at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud, recently visited Venezuela. Here, she shares a  bit of her experience.

Alejandra knocked on the window of the truck and shook her head: more bad news.  We were on a mission to find Omeprazole, a simple medication for ulcers that Alejandra’s mother badly needed.  We had stopped at multiple pharmacies throughout the city and at each one we heard the same: none available. Fr. James Peterson threw the truck into reverse and started talking about other options. Magaly, hospitalized for a rare blood disease, needed only 5 days’ worth of the medication, surely it could be found somewhere.

Joan and Father Ben Kociemba visit the Guzman family.

Just two days earlier the Guzman family had welcomed us into their home in San Felix, Venezuela for delicious arepas and cake. The small house was adorned with images of the family, Pope John Paul II, and a few landscape paintings. Judi, Alejandra, Anita, and Raquel are all grown daughters of Magaly.  They are all employed, three work for a Catholic school and one sells high end shoes in the market. Judi has two children: Jesus and Susje (Jesus backwards) and Anita has two daughters: Franchesca and Stiphani (do not call her Stephanie).  Magaly, when not in the hospital awaiting blood transfusions, rests in the one room in their home that is air-conditioned. “Welcome to Minnesota,” they giggle as they lead us into Magaly’s room. She is curled up under a light blanket and it’s true—the room is reminiscent of a chilly fall day in Minnesota, a refreshing experience in the humid heat of Venezuela.

As we greet Magaly, her daughters all start talking at once but Anita catches my ear.  She asks me eagerly if I know just how much Fr. James is part of their family. I’ve noticed how the four kids are very comfortable around Fr. James, teasing him and referencing inside jokes.  I assure her how clear it is that Fr. James is part of the family.  But she starts to insist as she grips my arm:

“su sangre es nuestro sangre” (his blood is our blood). 

I look at Fr. James thinking I’ve misunderstood but he’s nodding right along.  He starts to explain: Magaly needs monthly blood transfusions and there is a shortage of blood in Venezuela.  So, once a month, he goes to the nearby hospital to donate his blood which is transfused into Magaly a few days later.

We drop Alejandra and her sister Judi at the hospital but Fr. James is still determined to find the medicine somewhere.  He drives down the road toward the prison where a few of his parishioners are carrying out sentences for robberies.  He walks by himself into the pharmacy but comes back out empty handed.  “They have more than enough of the medicine,” he explains, “they won’t run out.  But one day’s dose is 30, 000 Bolivares.”  Earlier in the week he had explained that the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela is 90,000 Bolivares.  I shake my head in disbelief.

Sister Maricela, center, and Father James Peterson, with a sister friend at the airport.

All the time we spent driving around town looking for the medication has made us late to pick up the parishioners he agreed to drive to Las Josefinas.  Las Josefinas are an order of religious sisters serving the poorest of the poor in a neighboring city.  Because of diplomatic relations, one of the three religious sisters, Sister Maricela, has to return to her home country of Mexico. Sister Maricela is desperate to stay in Venezuela.  She has fallen in love with the people she is serving.  She sees the downward trajectory of the economy and the escalating violence in the country.  She confides that although she has served in a number of South American countries during her 17 years as a religious sister, none have struck such a chord on her heart strings as the past two years in Venezuela.  A number of the parishioners at Fr. James’ parish have grown to love Sister Maricela and asked Fr. James if they might join him in bidding her farewell.

As we drive through the barrios, event after event slows us down: a road is washed out, an elderly woman had the time wrong and needs 20 minutes to finish getting ready, a young woman reminds Fr. James he forgot to pick someone up.  As the truck bed fills with people I fear Fr. James is nearing a breaking point: he is weary from the disappointment of the search for medicine and Sister has called asking why he is running so late.

But just 30 minutes later the day’s weariness is forgotten: in the small white chapel of Las Josefinas, Sister Maricela smiles through tears as two small children grip the belt around her pressed white habit. A chorus of young women raise their voices in perfect harmony.  Father James lifts the simple wooden chalice and paten and prays the words of institution:

“This is my body…this is my blood…given up for you”. 
My eyes dance between the white of the host and the white of Sister Maricela’s habit and I thank Jesus for her life, given up for the small children clinging to her side. As I raise the chalice to my lips, I thank Jesus for the gift of his most precious blood, for the sacrifice of his very self which has inspired others, like Fr. James, to hand over their own bodies in imitation.  And as I kneel and pray in thanksgiving, I marvel at God’s Church in Venezuela, and how in the midst of crisis, God’s presence is so tender, so real, so familiar.
Known to her neighbors as “the Church lady”, Joan is a woman searching for God’s voice and beauty in the example’s of Divine Grace she meets in her day to day life. She is particularly grateful God has blessed her with work at the Newman Center which focuses on bringing the energy of college students into contact with the dedicated pillars of the community.

Summer Solace In Scripture

Last month, I cracked open my new Bible and journal and grabbed my favorite colored pens. I was about to embark on a newly launched scripture study for Catholic women and, with all my proper tools in hand, I was ready.

I was also spiritually ready. When I purchased the study journal weeks prior to the scripture study beginning date, I had no idea how in need I was to have my dryness and thirst quenched by the Word.

What I knew was that I desired to read more of the bible, to underline, highlight and memorize the passages, but in recent years my life season hadn’t brought me to much scripture beyond the daily readings. I needed to open those pages and prayerfully read the words while my heart and mind were truly ready to hear them.

God knew that in these weeks, while facing life’s summer chaos and busyness along with other life challenges, I would come to rely on the wisdom of His Word and the insight of the ladies who contributed to writing the journal. Every day I’ve added the short scripture passages, reflections to think upon and the short journal time to my morning prayer. I’m happy that I jumped on a Catholic bandwagon of women who led me to the Consider the Lilies scripture study.

All in His due season, things come to fruition. God knew that this six weeks of reading, praying and journaling would be the balm to my soul, the water to wet the dry earth, the restfulness and encouragement for this summer journey.

I just re-read the ‘Welcome’ page at the beginning of the journal this morning. Let me share a bit of it with you:

‘Maybe this is a hard season in your life-you’re overwhelmed by the burdens weighing you down, the crosses He’s asked you to carry. This study is for you…Or maybe you’re in a sweet spot. Life is really rather good right now. You’re not feeling any particular strain…This study is for you, too….In it, you find the words you need to console a friend, to empathize with the people around you who are suffering…This study makes you a better friend to the woman next to you, to the growing child who aches, to the spouse who despairs….This study is for all of us. We’re all in it together.’

 I’ll be sad when these six weeks are over, but I have more confidence in opening up my Bible and finding the right words. I’ll be eager to start the next study set to begin in the fall. I invite you to join me. Maybe you’re looking for a new way to soak in scripture and share the journey with other women. Now may be the time that God has prepared the soil and opened your heart eager for His Word.

Take the next step and explore Take Up & Read whose mission is to “invite women to read, to ponder, and to respond to the word of the Lord”. Hopefully you’ll find yourself encouraged even by reading some of the past daily scriptures from the current study, Consider the Lilies, that I’ve been talking about in this post.

Have you already joined Take Up & Read? How has it blessed you? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

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.

Works of Heart

“All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. All the women whose heart stirred with a skill….” Exodus 35:25-26

At St. Rose of Lima parish, if you are a member, you are in a quilting group. Each year, the “chair” of the group is responsible for the organizing of the group and making sure there is a quilt for the auction at the fall festival. You can contract with a quilter to make a whole quilt, or buy fabric and have a quilt top made, then schedule a time with the quilting ladies (Tuesdays in the church basement all winter long!).

At Christian Women’s meetings when the talk turns to patterns like “lone star” and “wedding ring,” I smile and nod, pretending I understand. All the while, I am in awe.

Last year, I was a chair. I have no idea how to quilt. I spent a traumatic three hours at the quilt store, determined to find a pattern and fabrics that would make a nice quilt. I wanted to try. I ventured into terms like jelly rolls, fat quarter, sashing. I left with the necessary supplies (thanks to very nice and patient people who work there). I promptly delivered my purchases to an amazing lady, Monika, who I had contacted earlier to assemble the top.

When complete, the church basement ladies scheduled it for hand stitching on a Tuesday and I made sure myself and other members of my group supplied lunch. Months later it was sold at our parish festival, garnering a nice sum. That is, if you only consider the materials and some nominal sum for labor. In truth, if you consider the true labor costs – creating the top, hand stitching, binding (and all the other things I have no idea about) – whatever price received at auction seems low. Yes, the auction is the reason and yes, the proceeds from the auction are outstanding and contribute considerably to our parish finances. But what is the true reward? I contend it is not the final product – the quilts – but instead it is about the process, the tradition, the friendship, the women themselves.

An internet search tells me that dreaming of sewing signifies the development of a new thought. A dream of sewing is also associated with fixing, repairing, or renewing something in your life. “Renewal of something”… that sounds like Tuesdays in the parish church basement. It is about more than sewing and hand stitching around quilt frames each week (often two quilts at a time because that many women show up). It is about the quilts, but it is about the women just as much. The conversation. Jokes. Advice. Stories. Sharing. These quilts could be made in basements around the community, in solitude and by individuals. But the value this tradition brings to the parish is immeasurable. It is what their mothers did. Their grandmothers did. What they still do together. Bringing word of engagements, pregnancies, vacations, they rejoice together. Bringing worries, fears, stress, anxiety, in the basement, they are not alone. Grief, anger, fear, worry – these things cause our hearts to tear, requiring mending and sewing to make needed repairs.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is “a time to sew together.” I believe these women keep the parish stitched together literally and figuratively, binding together quilts and hearts.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Blogger’s note: Sunday, September 3rd @ 2 PM is St. Rose of Lima parish quilt auction. Come for a quilt and honor the work of these amazing women.

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.

Give us this day our daily (cranberry orange) bread

I enjoy baking. Besides cookies, breads are probably the thing I bake the most of. Quick breads, especially banana bread, is something I’ve been making since I was a young girl growing up in South Dakota. As a 4-H member, I exhibited many items in our summer “county fair,” called Achievement Days. I recall winning a purple ribbon (the highest you can receive followed by a blue, red or white ribbon) on my loaf of banana bread when I was in third grade.

Baking, competing, learning more about food and nutrition…it all interested me then as it continues to now. This year’s Stearns County Fair was no exception. I entered several baked items and did OK. My banana bread only took second this go around. I think buttermilk is the key to making it especially good. My cranberry orange bread gleaned the top spot. Orange juice and the zest of the orange rind helps give this bread its great orange flavor. These are my recipes. Enjoy!

 

 

CRANBERRY ORANGE BREAD

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 bag of whole cranberries (fresh or frozen…you can chop ‘em a bit if you wish)
2/3 cup orange juice
zest from 1 large orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped nuts, optional

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and mix well with mixer, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Pour into 3 large loaf pans that have been sprayed. Bake 350 for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center of loaves comes out clean.

Makes 3 large loaves.

BANANA BREAD

6 ripe bananas, mashed
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine bananas, sugars, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and oil. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to banana mixture and mix well scraping sides of mixing bowl occasionally. Pour into 3 large loaf pans that have been sprayed. Bake 350 for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center of loaves comes out clean.

Makes 3 large loaves.

Note: Watch for Rita’s award-winning chocolate chip cookie recipe in the Aug. 11 issue of The Visitor.

Rita Meyer is married and the mother of four children age 17 and under. She and her family are members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Meire Grove.

Welcome to the farm!

Joe and Toni Borgerding will be welcoming the people of the St Cloud Diocese to their organic dairy farm in Belgrade for the annual rural life celebration coming up Aug. 13. 

I have covered many of these celebrations over the years and it’s always fun. I enjoy seeing the farms, the animals and the crowd of people that come out to the Mass with the Bishop. But another thing that I like about it is interviewing the host family for the preview story. It’s always so interesting to hear about how they got started in farming and what farm life is like. This time Joe talked a lot about why they went organic with their farm, too.

This year I tagged along with Kristi Anderson. Joe and Toni and their family were so welcoming! And I’m sure they didn’t expect to be taken to so many different locations for the photo shoot!

We were only able to use one picture, but here are a few of the outtakes, including one adorable photo bomb. 

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. Read more about Dianne on the Meet Our Bloggers page.

The ever present companion of grief

I hold my breath and prepare myself for the day.

It will come and I have no choice or control, if I am blessed to live until then I will need to survive another grief anniversary.

Those dates and days that I now must embrace without my husband in my earthly life are grief anniversaries.

The sunset was taken on our final pontoon ride the evening he died.

My husband died three years ago in my arms. Within minutes we went from enjoying a pontoon ride and a gorgeous sunset on our lake to his dying in my arms. He was fighting and surviving his cancer diagnosis for the second time. We were happy and planning on celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary in a few weeks…and then he died. Unexpectedly really, his doctors said he was an incredible miracle and doing so very well. Well, we never know…we certainly did not know.

So now I have dates and days that are anniversaries of sorts.

They are the dates that were filled with love and joy and celebrating for years, and now they are different. Birthdays, his and ours, wedding anniversaries, holidays and many other dates special to us, they have changed, and so have I. These date are grief anniversaries.

A photo of us at one of our last family weddings together.

These days are now places in time where I pause and attempt to brace and hold my heart from further injury. I prepare and seek to find a way to live through the day not ever really knowing what that day will bring to my life. It is a mix of wonderful memories and heart ripping sorrow mixed together.

These grief anniversaries are difficult for other to support us in and for us to support others through, they come without adequate notice in many situations.

There certainly are actions and words that I have found helpful in my journey, cards, messages, simple notes of, “I am thinking of you” or “I remember you today” from others can be so supportive.

Simple and yet profound, there are no words for me and I personally prefer others avoid the painful experience for them and myself of attempting to explain the why and how of this journey.

I believe God knows our pain and it is for me because of that great love that comes from God that I miss and ache deeply for the physical presence of those I love.

The sunflowers are the last ones my husband grew. The photo was taken on our first wedding anniversary following his death.

Even those closest to our lives may not be able to know when or what or how to best support us. Some of the most comforting moments are when another has said to me, “I have no idea how to support you but I care.” I have come to recognize how individual and every evolving this journey is for each person. I believe there is not one way to do it better and what works well one day may not the next day.

In the aftermath of losing my husband, most everything has become an unknown path of triggers to pain. Just when I think I can be prepared to relax and feel safe in the world…another date, person, place, song, smell or sound can trigger the uninvited and ever present companion of grief.

So I hold my breath a bit more often, close my eyes and call upon God to hold my heart these days. I have another grief anniversary approaching and I will do my best to embrace the day with reflection of love and the pain of loss. Life is still good, just not as wonderful.

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.

 

Be present in the moment

Reflecting on this past month, I am filled with an incredible number of amazing memories. So many fun things took place that this blog could easily be made into a book!

Here are just a few of the highlights from the last month of my life:

At the end of June two friends of mine were ordained to the transitional diaconate and will become priests in just one short year!

 

 

 

 

July 1st my little sister, Briana, married the love of her life! Of course, we had the bachelorette party, Grooms dinner and the other festivities that come with a wedding!

 

 

Nikki and I were also given the wonderful opportunity to chaperone a group of high school students to Rochester for the Steubenville retreat!

 

 

I have learned so much through these experiences. First off, I never realized just how much work goes into putting on a wedding! But as much work as it was, I would wish we could re-live the day and do it all again because it was such a blast!

As hard as it was at times throughout the last month to be present in the moment and not anticipate the next fun thing, I learned that each day goes by so quickly, and to enjoy everything that comes your way, good or bad.

On the wedding day we started getting slightly behind schedule. There was a misunderstanding between the bridesmaids and the bride, so we showed up for pictures at the wrong place which put us even further behind! One thing I admired greatly from my sister was how she handled this little misunderstanding. Most brides, heck probably me, would have been anxious about getting things going and getting to the church, but Briana took things as they came. She was truly living in the moment and just embraced everything that came her way, never letting that smile leave her face! It would have been so easy to be so focused on getting to the pictures that we would have missed the fun of getting ready; or so focused on the reception that we missed the beautiful ceremony.

Overall, I took from this past month that focusing on the future will guarantee that you miss opportunities in the present!

“The present moment is never intolerable. What’s intolerable is what’s going to happen in the next four hours. To have your body here at 8 pm and your mind at 10:30 pm, that’s what causes us suffering.”

Anthony de Mello (1931-1987), Jesuit priest, author and speaker.

–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.

No one left behind

This blog post first appeared on the St. Benedict’s Monastery blog: www.stbensisters.blogspot.com. S. Renee has graciously allowed us to publish it here as well. To read more from S. Renee and other Benedictine sisters, visit their blog at the link above.

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Sometime ago, I had a dream in which I was one of a huge multitude of people. All of us had just been in a serious accident . . .but the surprising thing was that no one was afraid; rather, we were all smiling, talking animatedly, and helping one another . . .whether cleaning another’s wounds, giving water or meds to another or walking together along a very long path. No one seemed to need rest . . . but rather instinctively knew that, as we walked or limped, we were to leave no one behind! Apparently , all of us knew where we were going, i.e., to our Father’s House where we would surely see friends, members of our families, even those who made us suffer while on earth . . . Then I awakened!

Upon thinking of my dream, I realized it was expressing, for me, some thoughts on planting, watering and harvesting (of all unusual themes!). Quite literally, WE are the “crop”, the fruit of another’s labors in the family, the church, our society! I thought of the JOY on the faces of all in my dream; no one was sad! Were they so joyful because they were helping another? Welcoming another on the road? Allowing another to serve? Making sure no one would be left behind? Even more surprising to me was that everyone walked, fully confident that they were going HOME to the welcoming embrace of their Father and other family members.

I know that this dream expresses what I deeply desire—that we stand in awe of a God who depends upon us to bind up one another’s wounds or remind another of our undeserved privilege in being part of God’s family. It also expresses some of what I feel led to do: be a bridge of understanding and forgiveness, especially among the marginalized members of our society! How many more years will be given me? I don’t know. My friend, Fr. Rick Thomas gives an answer: “God speaks through circumstances. When He makes something possible, He wants you to do it; and when He makes it impossible, He wants you to quit.”

Have we reflected sufficiently on the circumstances of this day? What will I/you do so as to leave no one behind? With the Psalmist we can be sure that “ goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our lives. . .”

Sister Renee Domeier has been a Benedictine for 60+ years. She loves to read at least one poem a day and write whenever time and inspiration are given her. She said, “I am very grateful for the gift of life within and around me!”

The Plan for the Pain

When your doctor tells you that you must have major surgery and that you will recover but that it will take two months or more, you cannot help but pause. You start asking questions fast. Is this necessary? Is there some other way? Could we reevaluate this? The answers come. You must have this surgery to solve the issues that put you in the doctor’s office to begin with. So, you make plans. You prepare those around you. You get people to schedule to help. You pack for the hospital stay. And, as a person of faith, you pray that you will be able to handle what is coming.

Waking up after the surgery, you are disorientated and there are complete strangers poking and lifting you. You look around and three angels, your people, sit in the chairs in the room. It all becomes a muddle as you fall back asleep wondering how the next days are going to go. Every time you wake up, they ask you how your pain is and you can’t tell. Nothing seems to not ache. And it hits you, in one of your more cognitive moments, is this an example of Christ’s suffering? Could this be a time for you to learn what His agony was like?

You let that go quickly because suffering in pain does not make you very popular. Besides, you are not SO holy that you would be good in physical distress. But the thoughts keep coming to you, especially when you pray. So, you give in and try to understand how this suffering can bring you closer to understanding the Cross. And you discover that pain is a nuisance. It binds you. It disturbs you. It grieves you. When people ask you how you are you repeat the same phrase hoping that they will just go away because you need to suffer alone. And again, you think of Jesus and how pain is isolating and emotional. No one can take away the pain.

Medication is a good thing. It’s amazing how medicine can change searing pain to a dull throb. Company is a healing wonder. People taking a moment to make a meal or do the dishes easies the pressure. Reading is a distracting consumer of time. Fiction about Newfoundland during 9/11, the writings of John XXIII, and a variety of things you don’t commit to reading in normal times all pass your way. Strange how they all have some form of suffering to their tales.

Jesus didn’t have any pain killers. He had some friends but they were unable to comfort him. Jesus could not be distracted. His mission was clear. Trust through this agony. Believe the Father’s plan for the pain. And there is the question. What is the Father’s plan for the pain? Will you walk out of this dying to yourself and be better? Will you now trust God, who is in our suffering, and know more of my Savior? Will you stop being ungrateful, unkind, and unavailable to others? Dozens of questions come to mind.

The contradictions of being under the influence of time and medication takes a toll on you. Should you really be reflecting on your life as you recover? Is this a good time for self-contemplation? And then you hear yourself laugh and you realize what God’s plan for your pain has been; to remember that the Cross is about love and that love is always around us, even in our pain. So, you sleep trusting and looking to the next day and the next plan.

By Guest Blogger Monica J. Simmons:

– Member of St. Michael Church, Motley.
– Crookston Native, Twins Fan, Nap Taker
– Has been in Youth Ministry for so long she forgets
– College & High School Grad, Perfect Attendance in 1st Grade
– Bible Camper, Retreat Admirer, Funniest Person in her home
– Single because Drums demand attention
– Wants a large dog really badly

Green Beans Anyone?

Father Marv’s sermon on Sunday was about the seed that’s sown in rich soil producing abundant fruit. Well, I think we’ve got good soil going here. At least when it comes to green beans. Good soil. Good seed. Good watering. Good grief! This morning I picked four 5-gallon pails of the things. Sometimes I see green beans in my sleep even.

 

We have a large garden. We don’t do a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where we grow actual shares for customers but just about. We put our “Marvin’s Garden” sign at the end of the driveway when stuff is ready as well as taking pre-orders from our regular customers. The cute little red shed that my husband Marv built houses a frig and shelves that we sell out of.

Today’s lunch included Szechuan green beans. Nothing too difficult. You just cook your snipped green beans in a large pot of boiling water until crisp but firm (that’s called al dente!). Drain ‘em. Add some Szechuan sauce (I bought mine at Coborn’s but I know Walmart carries a couple of different brands as well; look for it in the Asian aisle next to the soy & teriyaki sauce). Toss to coat. Sprinkle on some almonds or cashews and va la’ – a spicy addition to your meal.

Keep tending the soil of your soul. Jesus wants us to bear much fruit – even “fruit” better than green beans! He wants us to respond to His Word and His Will. Keep enjoying summer. And, if you need anything green, please come our way.

Rita Meyer is married and the mother of four children age 17 and under. She and her family are members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Meire Grove.