“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.

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.


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

Guest Blogger: “Come to ME”

Benedictine Sister Renee Domeier wrote this special reflection on June 23, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
This morning, at Lauds, we prayed: “He has taken us and holds us deep in His loving heart!” Later at Mass on this feast of the Sacred Heart, we heard Moses tell the Israelites that God had set His heart on them; He first loved them. . . and us.  So, why do we doubt?  And not to be outdone by Deuteronomy, Jesus says, in the Gospel of Luke: “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Indeed, according to St. Alphonsus de Liguori, “God is crazy in love with us”! So, why do we waver or hesitate to go to Jesus??
For the last 49 years, I have been reading and pondering the prophetic words of Jesus to Two Listeners. Perhaps you know these daily reading too!  He says to them….and to us: Do you at times feel weary, burdened, rejected, in need of assurance? Come to ME. “Cling to ME until My  Divine Life, by that very contact, flows into your being and revives your fainting spirit. Become recharged.  When weary, do as I did on earth–Sit by the well. Rest. Rest and gain power and strength and the work too will come to you as it came to Me. Rest till every care-thought has gone, and then let the Tide of Love and Joy flow in.”
Enjoy this precious Lover, even at this moment!
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!”

Guest Blog: 13 Bible verses for “13 Reasons Why”

Chances are you have heard the buzz by now. “13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix series documenting the 13 reasons why high school student Hannah Baker commits suicide. The series is popular among pre-teens and teenagers alike and it makes sense—the show illustrates elements of high school better left unspoken but difficult to forget—cliques, gossip, rumors, assault, bullying, betrayal—it’s all there. And now, 13 Reasons Why has been renewed for a second season.

Watching it I felt transported to all the worst parts of my own teenage experience…and at the end of each episode, as any good Netflix binge will do, I was blatantly goaded into watching the next…and next.

At the end I found myself very grateful for the people in my life who brought real light to my teenage years. Grateful for my parents who noticed and asked about my changes in mood or interests. I was grateful for teachers, mentors, and friends who reached out and helped me overcome real adversity. And grateful most of all for the introduction to personal prayer, to journaling with scripture at the end of each day, grateful for the invitation I received to leave my difficulties, the betrayals, hurts, and wounds at the foot of the cross and to beg God to forgive me for the people I had hurt and for the ability to forgive those who had hurt me.

Scripture has helped me…it has brought healing. I suspect it could have brought life and light even to others who face difficulties like Hannah Baker. Here are 13 Scripture passages to remember during “13 Reasons Why”:

  1. When feeling as though no one understands you: Psalm 139:1-2 “Lord you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.”
  2. When it seems your plans for your life are unraveling: Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
  3. When you need to hear that everything will be okay: Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work for the good for those who love God.”
  4. When dark thoughts intrude: Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.”
  5. When you are tired: Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  6. When you feel out of your element remember the call to Esther 4:14 “Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen.”
  7. When it seems that no one is listening: Psalm 43:5 “Why are you downcast, my soul? Why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God.”
  8. When you lose something or someone, grieve with Job 1:21 “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!”
  9. When it seems as though everything has gone wrong and God has done nothing for you: Psalms 77:12 “I will recall the deeds of the LORD; yes, recall your wonders of old.”
  10. When the road seems easy for those who torment you: Luke 1:51-53 “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
  11. When you are wronged remember Jesus’s answer to Peter about forgiveness: Matthew 18:21-22 “‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”
  12. When your sadness is clearly temporary, reminding yourself of the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:4 “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
  13. And, when you have forgotten how much God loves you, and how important it is to love all around us: 1 John 4:7-12 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”
Known to her neighbors as “the Church lady”, Joan Spring 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.

Guest Blogger: My journey into faith

Guest blogger Travis Hartnell talks about his journey to full communion with the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil.

Travis, center, with Ryan, his sponsor and his girlfriend Nicole.

Many people have asked me the question, What brought you to the Catholic Church? I heard this question numerous times throughout my journey and every time it meant something different. I wasn’t sure how to respond at first since I hadn’t warmed up to sharing my story. I always felt it was obvious God brought me here, but I knew there was more I could offer people. I was blessed with many graces, and given the hardest conflicts of my entire life during this time. I went through the scariest rollercoaster ride of my life and wasn’t sure when I would get off. So today I want to give you the meat and potatoes of that journey.

The spark that ignited this journey happened at the turn of 2016. Now to start you there wouldn’t be just. I had influences throughout my life that helped me become a spiritual person. I was raised by a spiritual father who was born and baptized Catholic, but didn’t practice much of his life. My mother has been a caring, liberal woman who didn’t present us with specific spiritual offerings but the belief that God is real. Both of my parents didn’t attend church or tell us we were required to growing up. They took an approach that allowed life to be open to ourselves as we grew older. This let us have the freedom to explore what made us happy growing up without feeling judged or different for our choices.

My whole life I have believed in God, a higher power that put us here with a destiny. Countless times in my life I have been shown things happen for a reason. To believe in this means there is someone else [God], that puts us where we are in life against our own will. I say this because it is what truly brought me to Catholicism, and brought me to the happiest point of my life. I have learned people come and go in our lives. Some stay longer than we want, others leave too soon. Best of all, those we are really meant to be with, stay forever.

My coming-to-faith moment started at the end of 2015 with the turn of the New Year. I had been unhappy with my life for quite some time. This unhappiness came from a relationship I did not have a desire to be a part of, and a less than ideal living situation. I had been living with a girl I was dating at the time for a few years. I was comfortable where I was, but not happy. I knew I needed a change, and I wanted that more than anything. To initiate this change I needed to find a new place to live that I could afford on my own. I found an apartment right away to move to and was given hope. Little did I know, I would lose this apartment to someone that means the world to me to this day. This disappointment from the apartment loss left me feeling hopeless. I fell deeper into a depressed state than I already had been in. I felt I had nowhere to turn to. I remember being on my knees alone crying in my room. I was trying to find out what I was supposed to do. I found myself asking God, being mad at him. I really only turned to God in moments of need, not gratitude. I remember feeling as though he did not care about me and what happened. Friends, family and God had left me alone.

Travis receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation with Bishop Donald Kettler during the Easter Vigil April 15 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.

The difficult task life had thrown at me was moving into a new home. I needed to find a place within my budget, and in a reasonable location. About a month later I had an opportunity to move again, but for some reason I decided to pass. Another month went by, and again an opportunity came, but I passed. I made the choice to actively pass on these apartments because it felt like the right thing to do, and I could not have been happier with the choice I made. If I had taken the instant relief from them, I would have missed out on the biggest life-changing events that happened in my life.

It was shortly after these happenings that I approached Ryan, my sponsor, about church. I wanted to know more about God. I was starting to feel a deeper connection with him from the hopelessness I had been going through. I was unsure as to what this all meant to me. I asked to attend Mass one Sunday morning and was afraid. I was so afraid since I did not know what to expect. I remember wanting to back out that morning, but I gathered the courage and went. I attended morning Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. You could say I jumped in head first. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the church, the love of the community, as well as the passion of the priests and others serving the church. It was Father Scott Pogatchnik that first touched me with the words of the Gospel. I remember leaving church feeling refreshed. Like I just hit the restart button on the spiritual darkness I let cloud me. I loved the feelings that overcame me. I soon had asked Ryan to attend Mass a few more times. I knew I wanted to be a part of this community! I just did not know how I was going to get there.

Shortly after this first experience with church, I met someone that would provide a major impact on my life. I knew of this girl, but only as Ryan’s sister-in-law. She was the one that took my apartment in the beginning of this story. Little did I know, without her, I couldn’t credit where I am in my journey today. I met Nicole a year ago. She and I were invited to Ryan and Kaela’s house for a bonfire. Immediately I knew there was something special between me and this girl. They say when you meet the person in life meant for you, that you’ll know when you know. Let’s just say I knew! We became friends, she learned of my new journey in faith and has been a practicing Catholic herself since birth. Because of this she invited me to Mass every Sunday with her. I grew to love Mass, and her. This is where my life had changed me, I felt God’s love. I felt the love from this girl. I knew that if I had gotten that apartment she took, I would never have met her at that fire. She provided me the little bit of comfort I needed to commit to Catholicism. She has changed my world with the support and love she has provided me. I am happy to call her mine!

Bishop Donald Kettler baptizes Travis Hartnell during the Easter Vigil April 15 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Summer was coming to an end and I had been attending Mass for months, always watching others take Eucharist and feeling left out. I made the decision that had been aching at my heart for so long. I needed to pursue the path to becoming Catholic. I went to Ryan and asked if he could look into what I needed to do to join the community. He got a hold of faith formation and put me on the path I needed to start. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Joining the RCIA program was amazing. They provided the tools I needed to learn and become a member of the church. I attended class weekly, as well as Mass every Sunday. I met priests, deacons, and even the bishop a few times. I was asked to be involved in some of the Masses at my comfort. I was called in front of the church many times as a catechumen. The unbelievable thing was, I was never nervous. Easter Vigil came, and I was presented in front of the entire church for baptism first communion, and confirmation! Again, with the welcome of the community, I was never nervous. I am sure you could say it was the grace of God, but maybe it was because, it was the one place, I was truly meant to be.

Guest Blogger: Fatima at 100

Guest blogger, Jeff Johnson, reflections on the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions.

Across this past spring, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve had the opportunity to offer presentations around the St. Cloud Diocese on Fatima. I speak at each parish not as a theologian or mystic, but as a story teller, one who somehow makes a living with imaginative literature. As I begin to tap this out, I realize the act of writing about the messages, promises, prophecies, and warnings of Our Lady of Fatima stirs the same thing one can experience when speaking of Her, which is to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. We would all agree: the story of the Mother of God entering into human history with promises, prophecies, requests, and warnings for everyone on earth is infinite, like a medieval tapestry whose edges enclose the universe. On this cool spring evening, three days before the 100th anniversary of the first apparition which astonished Lucia, Jacenta, and Francisco May 13th, 1917, I am thinking of the faces I have seen since this year began, and those of my beloved fellow parishioners in St. Anna, Holdingford, and Bowlus, faces that are waiting, faces with hopes and fears and questions about what might or might not happen across this crucial and prophetic year. What happened in 1917 in the presence of tens of thousands of people was the most astonishing supernatural event since the Resurrection, and it is reasonable for the Catholic mind to run towards great expectations.

A statue of Mary is carried through the crowd in 2013 at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal. (CNS photo/Paulo Cunha, EPA) See FATIMA-APPARITIONS April 18, 2017.

And yet, as long as I have waited for this year, and dreamed alternately of wonderful and horrible imaginings, I am surprised to be dialing back my guesses. God exists outside of space and time, and hardly needs a calendar, but He loves us, and surely appreciates our need to observe dates and anniversaries of weddings and birthdays and other things worthy of commemoration. I am an English major made nervous by numbers, and I haven’t the faintest idea what it could possibly mean that this October marks the centenary anniversary of Fatima, the 300th anniversary of modern Freemasonry and their grand lodge in England, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation stirred by Martin Luther. We also have the stark truth that our planet of misfortune is growing darker and more horrific by the day, and the many forms of evil from abortion to war seem to have a momentum that is getting well ahead of us. To offer words of fair encouragement against it all, however deep the darkness around us seems, we must remember Our Lady of Fatima promised in the end that her Immaculate Heart would triumph, and She keeps Her promises!

After years of obsessively studying thousands of messages from all over the world—Church approved and otherwise—I have concluded everything Catholics need to know radiates from Fatima. Our Lady came not to bring us trouble, but to defend us from it, and she gave us precisely what we need to be safely led to Her Son. Remember: at the end of last apparition on October 13th, when little Lucia said, And is that all you have to ask, Our Lady of Fatima said, There is nothing more. It was at this point that the children were shown a quick succession of visions including Joseph, Jesus, and a manifestation of Mary as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which likely prefigured Lucia joining the Carmelites as a nun, and 70-100,000 people beheld the Miracle of the Sun.

Our Lady of Fatima might also have been saying: You have everything you need now for salvation. After all, in the preceding months She stressed the importance of Mass, praying the Rosary for peace, the Five Saturday Devotion, and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is the surest, safest path to the Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus. We can, like Lucia did mid-summer, ask for a miracle so that people believe, but we should also be grateful for the messages of Fatima we got, which are dead simple, and the very things all Catholics should assent to cheerfully.

Jacinta and Francisco Marto are pictured with their cousin Lucia dos Santos (right) in a file photo taken around the time of the 1917 apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children, thus paving the way for their canonization. (CNS file photo) See POPE-FATIMA-MIRACLE March 23, 2017.

If I could editorialize, I would like to offer an idea, however speculative, which is that while all Catholics on earth are sharing, and inhabiting 2017 together as brothers and sisters, it is not impossible individual experiences might be around the corner. The three children for instance, had different experiences of Our Lady of Fatima, and the Miracle of the Sun was hardly consistent for those there, or within 30 miles of the Cova: some saw nothing; some saw the sun as a burning wheel of fire; others saw it dash about, pulse, and veer terrifyingly towards earth. I have read too, that some got upset men were not taking off their hats in the presence of the miracle, and there was some yelling and hollering as a result!

Rather than raise my voice in closing, I offer some advice for anyone reading this little piece on the blog of the St. Cloud Visitor, which is to at least consider making a brief list of ways one might honor Our Lady of Fatima this year, and then following through on it. I can only speak of my plans, as they are already enacted: I intend to speak about Fatima to anyone who will listen; I will continue to consecrate and re-consecrate myself to Mary while using the wonderful book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael Gaitley; I will read everything I can by St. Maximillian Kolbe on the Immaculate Conception, which is the devotion of my church in St. Anna.

And last but not least, I have started in on making a series of stone walls around my grandma Anne’s statue of Mary, which overlooks our little lake in western Collegeville. It was given to her the year I was born in 1959 by my uncle Don, and I have clear memories of driving Tonka trucks around it when I was a little boy. I hope I am forgiven that, along with many other things, and may God Bless you St. Cloud Diocese.

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson teaches English at Central Lakes College, and directs Verse Like Water, the visiting poet program of Central Lakes College. He lives in Collegeville with his wife Jessie and university age sons, and is a member of the Two Rivers Catholic Community of Bowlus, Holdingford, and St. Anna.



The Coordinator

When the church celebrates the First Communion of their children, there are many people who are involved. The children, in their best with lace dresses and little ties, are the highlight for the parish. The parents, proud and nervous for their child, pray that nothing goes wrong. The people spend their time grinning at the behaviors of both and are so glad to be present. In the end, everyone remembers their First Eucharist and wants to join in blessing the next class of good Catholics.

What most people don’t notice is the coordinator. Usually a volunteer or modestly paid, the coordinator has done all the heavy work over the year. They have collected forms, set up experiences, taught the classes, worked with the families, build relationships with the students, met with the priest repeatedly, and a hundred other tasks with purpose and meaning. Seldom are they thanked. Often, they are ignored until people want something. These servants with giant hearts pull this all together. From the first parent meeting to the reception after Mass, coordinators do it all.

Father Joe Korf, pastor of the parishes in Sacred Heart in Staples and St. Michael in Motley, poses for a picture with the First Communicants.

In a year’s time, our coordinators have invested their very breath into the lives of children and their families. They have sacrificed time and often funds to make this one experience a once in a life-time moment. The profound love which I have witnessed over and over again humbles me. The thing that amazes me is that they almost always, at some point, sit in the back at the First Communion Mass and I see tears. These tears show me the real meaning of a Sacramental life. Tears that express love and exhaustion at the same instance are holy. And I see them every time. These are the tears that God sheds when we commit to the Church and practice our faith publicly. How proud God must be of those who make such an effort for the little ones.

Father Joe Korf, pastor of the parishes in Sacred Heart in Staples and St. Michael in Motley, poses for a picture with the First Communicants.

So, this year, when you are thanking people who loved your children through a Sacrament, take that moment and give them a hug and thanks. And be aware, that they are already planning for the next year of First Communion children and ready to love them unconditionally. Maybe that will make that embrace just a little bit longer.

By 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

A Change of Perspective: On Coffee and Mission

A month ago I returned to Minnesota after a quick, but lovely, trip to Kenya. The Mission Office staff journeyed to our partner diocese of Homa Bay. We went to be part of a variety of diocesan and parish meetings both evaluating the partnership as of late, and looking at goals for its future. It was a jam-packed week which made the time fly by, and before we knew it it was time to pack our things to return to the airport.

Mission Office staff on a trip to Kenya. From left, Lora Knafla, Beth Neville and Kateri Mancini.

And though the scale at the airport suggested otherwise, I carried little home with me this time in way of souvenirs. It was after all, my third trip to Kenya. But one thing I was sure to bring home was a container of Kenyan coffee.

Each day during my stay there I would begin the day with a cup of coffee, Kenyan-style. It consisted of boiled milk, mixed with a spoonful of Kenyan instant coffee and topped with a few spoonfuls of sugar. I’ll admit, the first day took some adjusting to drink down the whole cup. It simply was not what I was used to.

You see, I am not a coffee drinker! It’s more accurate to say that I take my sugar and whipped cream with a bit of coffee. Sweet mocha drinks are a regular for me (for those keeping score, Caribou’s Berry White Mocha with an extra shot of raspberry is my drink king), but coffee without the chocolate flavor and ridiculous amount of sugar? Unheard-of for this picky drinker.

Until Kenya, that is.

I don’t know what it was. Maybe the milk was just so fresh and thick that the creaminess made it more to my liking. Maybe their sugar is just so raw and molasses-like that it added to the taste. Maybe their coffee is just different enough. But whatever it was, by the second or third day, I was in love with my Kenyan Coffee Concoction! So that was the first “souvenir” to make it into my suitcase.

And although it doesn’t taste exactly the same, nearly every day for the last four weeks I have had my favorite mug filled with hot milk and coffee, Kenya-style.

Until today, that is.

Noticing that my container of Kenyan coffee is running out, and in an attempt to save it a bit longer, I decided to have a mug of my old favorite store-bought Mocha drink instead. And whoa!  Barely had I finished the first sip when I had a strong feeling of too sweet. It no longer tasted quite the same. The picky drinker, who just over a month ago missed her extra shot of raspberry and sugar sludge at the bottom of her cup when finished, now found herself unable to finish the whole glass of chocolate-flavored sweet drink. It’s amazing how our perspective changes.

But our perspectives do change.  A 60 degree day after several months of Minnesota winter has us bringing out our shorts and rolling the windows down; while that same weather after a few months of summer has us reaching for thicker coats and turning the heat on in the car. A newborn baby, bigger than any of your own children were at birth, seems like the smallest thing you’ve ever seen after spending your days with a now-two-year old. Going back to your old school after years away can make the hallways feel a lot smaller than you remember.

A little time away from something or with something different, a sudden encounter or a new experience, and our perspective can take on a whole new direction. And this, I believe, is holy.

For ours is a faith of new perspectives. Jesus’ teachings were constantly challenging the old normal and inviting his followers (and his enemies) to consider new perspectives – on faith, laws, relationships, and God’s-self. The Early Christians’ experience with Christ, and with his non-imminent return, changed their perspective on Gentile-Jewish relations. More recently, Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy suddenly had everyone seeing, hearing and talking about “mercy” like never before (it was like buying a new car and then seeing similar ones everywhere – we couldn’t get away from mercy!), with a stronger understanding of and desire for it.  And each Lent we spend 40 days praying, fasting and giving alms in order to find a new, deeper, perspective on our relationship with Christ and the Paschal Mystery journey we take with him.

And as the church, the people of God – as the catholic church, being universalours is a church of new perspectives.  We were created in the image of a Triune God to be in relationship with one another.  We are called to be “missionary disciples.”  We are made to encounter one another, constantly running into “the other” – whether in the pews around us at Mass, the local grocery store on our way home, or on a mission trip half a world away. God put us in this life together with others, in order to help us continuously find new perspectives.

Pope Francis talks a lot about being missionary disciples, a missionary church. My favorite definition of mission is: “Mission takes place wherever people interact with people, seeking to overcome all that separates them from one another and from God.” 

Isn’t this what so many of our encounters with strangers and friends alike, and the new perspectives often gained from our time and conversations together, does?

As God’s church, we are invited day-by-day, minute-by-minute, to have a little time away from just ourselves, to suddenly encounter someone different or experience new ways of thinking and doing.  And as a result of this daily thrust into mission, our perspective can take on a whole new direction.  This, I believe, is holy.  This, I believe, is Godly.

My many mission experiences complete with the new people and places I have encountered have certainly given me many new perspectives.  Ranging from water conservation, to community ties, to coffee preferences, I have never come home from a journey or bid farewell to delegates quite the same person as I was before.  And each time, each changed perspective, has left me a better person.  For this I am constantly grateful.

But the beauty of our church is that we need not work at the Mission Office or fly for 16 hours to have these experiences. (Though if you want to, let us know!)

Look around you.  Interact with others.  Seek out someone new or different.  Open yourselves up to the many possible experiences put before you each day.  Be church.  Be Godly!  But be warned:

Life may never taste quite the same after you do! 

Kateri Mancini is the coordinator of mission education for the St. Cloud Mission Office, where she has ministered for the past 11 years. She has spent that same amount of time sharing life with her best friend and partner in parenting. As both a minister and mother, Kateri spends her days grappling with the intersection of Church and family, theology and potty training.

“LORD, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

It’s been another insane attempt at church. Impatient kids fighting. Loud baby escaping. Tired parents trying. A family failing at prayer. It’s our usual scene. And amidst all the squealing, the shush-ing, the wiggling, the “stop that”‘s, and the frazzling commotion of pew #3 (aka, our pew), I still somehow (miraculously as it seems) manage to hear the priest’s words, and I respond instinctively along with the congregation in rehearsed response:

“LORD, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

‘Isn’t that the truth!,’ I think to myself as I respond. My roof houses three nutsie little kids who I can’t even keep quiet and under control for an hour at Mass, let alone for the hours that make up the rest of our week. My roof sits atop disgustingly dirty floors that haven’t been swept in days – a task that was made all the harder to do this morning when the toddler pushed her big brother’s cereal bowl off the table, splattering milk EVERYWHERE. My roof covers a husband who’s been sick and a me who’s been overwhelmed and impatient throughout it (well, EXTRA overwhelmed and impatient, on top of the usual overwhelmed-ness and impatience that have been under my roof since moving in). No, unless he likes baskets of unfolded laundry, stepping on Duplos, running out of Kleenex and noise (oh, so very much noise!), my “roof” is no place for my LORD to enter!

“…But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

I wish it were that simple! I think to myself, as I barely finish the sentence before having to quickly grab the toddler smiling at me as she runs down the aisle, once again having escaped pew #3. Everything about the chaos that lies under this family’s roof screams unworthy. With no sign of being “fixed” any time soon. My child now wailing because I won’t put her down again (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…ok four times in one Mass, shame on me!), and me frantically searching for her pacifier that isn’t where it’s supposed to be in the diaper bag which just fell and spilled all over the floor, including rolling back into pew #4. Oh my!  Thank goodness GOD isn’t knocking at my door!  It is not a worthy place for my GOD. We did it – we made it to the end of another hectic, All-Eyes-on-the-Loud-Family Mass!  As I am trying to find everything that has been spread all over (and under) pew #3 (and 4), while my husband attempts to get three squirrely kids into coats before they dart off to run up and down the sanctuary ramp, I feel a tap on my shoulder.  “You have a beautiful family!” the stranger tells me.

I think to myself, as I watch my son almost trip an elderly man in his quest for that ramp-run he’s been waiting for. Beautiful? Don’t you mean busy? That’s what we usually hear: “You sure are busy.”  And after this past hour of desperate attempts to maintain order (and a volume level acceptable to the poor worshipers around us), I find it hard to believe she meant beautiful and not busy. But it is nice of her to offer the pity compliment. I smile and say thank you, ready to get out of there as quickly as possible before my kids do anything else worthy of another comment by the strangers, or worse yet the friends, who have witnessed our Sunday morning ritual of mayhem.  I take a long, deep breath – one of disbelief. And I look at my husband, who just let out a similarly painful sigh. “How does this happen?”  “I don’t know; let’s just go home.”

Home, under that unworthy-roof.  Where chaos abounds in unending heaps. Where tidiness does not (though the heaps part is accurate).  Where noise (I’m pretty sure the neighbors across the street and down the hill can hear us despite closed doors and windows) happens. Where life happens…

Where my “beautiful” family happens.

Home, where we raise three ridiculously rambunctious, but incredibly clever, kids. Where we laugh (oh, their cute little laughs) together.  Where we cry (those heart-breaking cries) and comfort with each other.  Where we pray for one another. Where we love one another…

Where so much of GOD is present.

Home, where I am blessed by a loving husband and the three children that came from that love.  Where we enjoy enough food, water, and health to satisfy more than our basic needs.  Where we enjoy enough fun to satisfy a small army.  Where my life is made messy by the daily challenges of life and motherhood, but where those same things also offer me growth…

Where my soul is healed.

We gather up our kids, the oldest nicely saying good-bye to the gentleman he almost knocked over, the middle jumping up to hug her beloved “Daddy,” and the youngest reaching out to hold my hand in her tiny fingers as she wobbles towards the door. Another long, deep breath of disbelief. But this time, one of gratitude.

How did this happen – that under my roof lies an abundance of GOD and so much of His grace!  Blessings by the handful, all of which I am completely unworthy of. And all of which, make me whole.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

Yet here you are, day after day, entering and abiding with us, showing us yourself through one another.

“…But only say the word and my soul shall be healed!” 

It is, just look at them, it so is.

Tonight I will be taking my children to Mass at a time over-lapping with both their supper and their bedtimes, the longest service we go to all year. And as if that didn’t make me enough of a glutton for punishment, it is also my favorite service of the year.  Why give up my most meaningful night of prayer and community for the usual “Ritual of Mayhem” that is going to church with my kids? Because…they, like the God who gave them to me and the church I give them to, heal me in ways I never knew possible. Because the reasons why tonight is my favorite (the presence of Christ, the humble service, the feasting and fearing together with those you love) are my favorite things about being their mother, too.

Happy Holy Thursday everyone!

Kateri Mancini is the coordinator of mission education for the St. Cloud Mission Office, where she has ministered for the past 11 years. She has spent that same amount of time sharing life with her best friend and partner in parenting. As both a minister and mother, Kateri spends her days grappling with the intersection of Church and family, theology and potty training.