Lord, why have you chosen me for this work? Sometimes it is so so so hard. Sometimes the topics are uncomfortable. Sometimes I’m challenged about what I think I know or understand about you and about my faith. Sometimes it wreaks havoc on my emotions to try to capture the beauty of someone’s sacred story in just a few carefully chosen words – and then to put my whole heart into it and leave it open and raw for others to enter into and judge.
How could you choose me for this? I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not holy enough. I’m so unworthy to enter under their roofs.
Lord, help me to know you chose me because you love me. You chose me because you love them. You chose me because in the broken places of my own story, your light shines through the cracks – and that’s a story to be thankful for.
Thank you, Lord, for choosing me to be your light in the broken places. Thank you for the gift of listening when I sometimes feel unheard myself. Thank you for the gift of each story and each person you place in my path. Thank you for the stories that are easy to tell and the stories that push me outside of myself. Thank you for allowing me to enter fully into each story and to seek and find your presence in every. single. one.
As we start the next edition, hear my prayers, Lord. Let each person know their story matters to you. Let it be your words that flow through my heart and into my fingers. Let each word glorify you. Let each story shine with your light. Amen.
As a reporter, it’s not every day that I have the opportunity to be in a room with a national public figure, much less have the opportunity to ask a question. So when The Visitor was invited to a press conference with former Florida governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush Sept. 21 at St. John’s University in Collegeville, I took the opportunity to attend and to sneak in a question or two that I thought might interest our readers.
First, a little background. Born John Ellis Bush, he was nicknamed Jeb for his initials. He is the son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. George H.W. served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd vice president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Jeb is also the brother of George W. Bush who served as the POTUS from 2001-2009.
Gov. Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida from 1999-2007, and in 2015 he announced he would enter the 2016 presidential campaign. He later left the race.
Gov. Bush was invited to St. John’s to speak on “Conscience and Courage” at the 11th annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture. Over 20 years ago, the governor converted to the Catholic faith and still practices today.
So, while most other sources were interested in hearing his political views on trending topics, my sole purpose (or soul purpose, you might say) was to find out how his faith impacts the decisions and work he does as an elected official. I asked him if he had a role model in this faith life. His response:
“Jesus. That’s about as good a role model as we can have.”
As far as how his faith influences his work, he said:
“As imperfect as we are, to be guided by your faith, you can’t ignore that. I never understood how [as a person of faith] as a public official, that’s ‘private,’ that I can’t act on my faith in the public square. Why do you have it? It should be one of the most important parts of how you go about your business.
And as governor – no perfection here – but I did my best to act on my faith. I put the most vulnerable citizens in the front of the line. They had been languishing either not in any line at all or in the back. We expanded programs for the developmentally disabled. … We grew the economy and generated revenues that allowed us to prioritize a broken foster care system. … I acted on my faith. Those are core beliefs that come from the teachings of Christ.
I had conflicts in that regard as well. The state of Florida has the death penalty. Perhaps one of the most difficult things I had to do as governor was to sign death warrants and participate in the execution, irrespective of if they were innocent or not. That’s an awesome responsibility. That was really hard.
Every year we had a Red Mass [a Mass for judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students and government officials] in Tallahassee. The bishops would come up and pat me on the back for things I did that adhered to their teachings and always saved the death penalty as the last topic of conversation and politely scolded me for not acting on the teachings of the church.
In reality, when you put your hand on the Bible, you also are recognizing that you are trying to faithfully commit to the laws of the state. That was a law that a great number of Floridians agreed to.
But I would never suggest to a pers0n who was running for office, ‘You can be as devout as you want but keep it at home. Don’t talk about your faith, don’t act on your faith in the public square.’ That just doesn’t work. It’s not meaningful to you if [your faith] is not front and center.”
Though I would’ve like to have asked more questions, there just wasn’t time. Fielding questions from other reporters, Gov. Bush added that when he ran for president he “got out of everything.”
“After I ran for president, I got to rebuild my life the way I wanted which allowed me to stay more connected to my family, less travel and rebuilt the business I had before I sold my interest out with the same partners. … I have an education reform foundation … [I’m] living large in Miami. Four grandchildren. Life’s good.”
On civil discourse, he shared some “rules,” specifically:
“If you have a chance to find someone who doesn’t think like you but agrees with you on a particular subject, the requirement would be to pause, take a deep breath, embrace that person and form a coalition to get something done.”
He gave an emphatic “no” when asked if he will run for president again. He said he already had the “best job in the world” as governor, helping people to live lives of purpose and meaning.
When asked about his feelings regarding the current president, he said he is “not a big fan,” which he has made no secret of in the media. However, he kept it positive, affirming some of President Trump’s decisions such as judiciary appointments. He concluded:
“Every morning I pray, and I pray for our leaders as we are taught to do in the Catholic faith. And I pray for our president. I want him to succeed for our country’s sake.”
Finally, when addressing a question on what advice he’d give to people who are talking politics over Thanksgiving dinner, he said:
“Turn off cable TV for starters. One thing that would be helpful would be to stop customizing how we get news. I really try hard to read The New York Times because I find it not to my liking. But I do it for that reason. I want to have different views. I don’t want to be so righteous about my own thinking that I’m less tolerant of other people’s views. … Challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone and listen to people that don’t agree with you.
As it relates to the Thanksgiving dinner, don’t talk about the president. … Talk about things you have in common rather than things you want to argue about.”
While I was studying at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, I often attended prayer with the monks. On several occasions, I attended Mass and other celebrations at the Abbey Church.
I was always intrigued by how they walk in statio, two by two, bowing first to the altar, then to each other. After seeing this, I asked a classmate why they do that. He told me that they first acknowledge Christ’s presence at the table and then they turn toward each other and recognize Christ within.
That image has stuck with me. Though I don’t go around bowing to every person I meet, one thing I’ve been trying to do is to look people in the eyes when I meet them, even if it’s a brief encounter.
I once watched a television show where they videotaped customers visiting a convenience store. When the customer went outside the store, a camera person recorded their reaction as a reporter asked them to describe the clerk who they just encountered literally seconds ago. Most couldn’t do it. Some could recall the color of a shirt or hair color. Some couldn’t remember if the person had glasses or facial hair. Some couldn’t even recall if the person was male or female. Another image etched in my memory.
How often do we really “see” the people around us? Who are we not seeing?
I’ve been working on a series of articles on mental health. I was blessed to be invited to sit in on one of the meetings of a local mental health support group. I admit that on the way there, I was thinking about how comfortable or uncomfortable the members might be to have me, a stranger and a reporter, there listening to their very personal stories. I admit that I was worried how comfortable or uncomfortable I might be spending time there, too. Would I say the wrong thing? Would I ask the wrong question? Would I offend anyone just by my presence?
Silly me. The group was a truly welcoming, loving group of people. They made me feel like an honored guest rather than a nosy reporter. There was no “get to know you” waiting period; they willingly opened their hearts to me. They looked into my eyes and I looked into theirs. I like to think we recognized Christ at the table and Christ within.
Recently I traveled 60 miles to Long Prairie where I joined the Hispanic community for the Spanish Mass followed by a meeting with representatives from the Mexican Consulate for this story I was working on.
Since I really only speak and understand a little Spanish — and I really want to be fluent in speaking and writing it — I thought it would be a good way for me to have a brief “immersion” experience. After all, it was Mass and surely I could follow along with the familiar parts. And, I like a good challenge.
Sure enough, first thing was the Sign of the Cross – En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.
Easy-peasy. I had learned some of these prayers in Spanish through my work with the sister parish relationship our parish has with a church in Venezuela.
Father Omar Guanchez, the pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie and a native of Venezuela, began the opening prayers and a word caught my ear, “bautismo.” There was going to be a baptism! Que Bueno! How great!
I was able to follow along pretty well during the readings since they were both spoken and in writing in the missalette. During Father Omar’s homily, I struggled a bit more. He was speaking quite fast and without the words in front of me to also help me translate, I had a hard time grasping what he was saying. I knew it was about Maria y Marta (Mary and Martha) and the death and resurrection of their brother Lazaro (Lazarus). Toward the end of his homily, he asked the congregation a question and many “manos” (hands) went into the air. He said a few more words that I did not understand and then, suddenly, the crowd erupted and began moving around, many coming toward me. “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you), they said to me. And all I could stammer out was, “Gracias!” and smile.
The family sitting next me had a teenage daughter and I had heard her speaking English with a friend before Mass started. I leaned across her mother who had told me before Mass began that she did not speak much English (I told her I didn’t speak much Spanish) and asked the girl why everyone was giving blessings to one another. She explained that Father Omar said if we are believers in the resurrection, we must bless those around us, even those we do not know. And since so many didn’t know me, I received many blessings!
As the liturgy continued, I was filled with warmth and love for these strangers sitting around me who blessed me so joyfully. I thought of a homily another priest once gave. He told us to look around at Mass at our neighbors because those are the people we might be with in heaven. I looked around at the young daughter next to me, who answered more of my questions during the baptism and throughout the remainder of the Mass, and the mother who gently held my hand as we prayed the “Padre Nuestro,” or “Our Father,” together.
As we finished the closing song, I quietly pulled out my phone and pulled up my Google Translate app. I wanted to thank the woman next to me in her own language.
“Muchas gracias por tu ayuda y amabilidad,” I sputtered. “Thank you for your help and kindness.”
She put her hand on mine and she, too, had something to say to me in English, “We are one, we are the same.” And in that moment, I thought, that is how Jesus sees us, his daughters. I knew nothing more about her, nor she me, than that we both came to this holy place to worship our Savior. Both of us his daughters, both of us beloved by him. We are one, we are the same.
Early in March, I was up on a step ladder painting my 13-year-old son’s bedroom a brilliant red on one wall and a royal blue on another to coordinate with his two favorite baseball teams: the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago Cubs – who, by the way, he was a fan of BEFORE they won the World Series last year.
I was mid stroke with the paintbrush when I heard my cell phone ring. I had been alerted the day before that I might be “on call” if the Benedictine sisters were getting close to naming a new prioress. So I left my post and grabbed my phone, careful not to swipe the screen with the splatters of paint on my hands. And indeed, it was Sister Karen Rose telling me it was almost time.
Normally, I might be annoyed at being interrupted, that I’d now have to abandon my project, clean myself up and dash out to the assignment, leaving behind my family and unfinished work on a precious Saturday “off.” But, instead, I felt excited and I hurriedly showered, threw on some non-paint splattered clothes and some make up. Less than an hour later, I had my jeep warmed up and waiting at the house of our photographer, Dianne Towalski. The two of us then headed for St. Joseph.
As we walked into the vast gathering space at the monastery, it was very quiet. We were greeted by a volunteer who told us, “It shouldn’t be long now.” The great doors of the chapel were closed but from outside we could hear cheering and clapping. Then music began to play and we could faintly hear the sisters’ voices in song. After just a few more minutes, the great doors were opened wide and out came two sisters, Sister Agatha Muggli, vice president of the Benedictine Federation, and Sister Susan Rudolph.
The two sisters hugged tightly and then Sister Susan, the newly named prioress-elect, walked down the steps and awaited the greetings of each of her sisters. One by one, they came and hugged her, congratulated her, assured her of their support and love.
As Dianne captured the hallowed moments with her camera, I tried to drink in the beauty and sacredness of witnessing this blessed time. Many of the sisters whom I knew also came to welcome me. As Prioress Sister Michaela Hedican greeted me with open arms, I felt an incredible surge of love and admiration for these women of God. I felt the seriousness of their vocation, the resounding “yes” each had given to their calling, the reverence of their past, the excitement of their present, their hopefulness for their future. In those precious minutes there, I
felt awed, humbled and grateful amidst those who were there, those who walked before them, those who will carry on their legacy and tradition; those who paved the way, those who shape the now, those who will lead into the light of the future.
It was a little like a trip to “Oz” for me – transported to a special colorful world with enchanting people who I felt like I’d known forever. It was a little like a dream, something to ponder and cherish. And just like the wizard in the classic movie, the sisters imparted gifts to take with me, gifts I’ve always had inside of me, given to me by the Lord, gifts I used to help tell their story.
And just like that, it was time to leave. Though I didn’t have sparkly red shoes nor the inclination to click my heels together, like Dorothy, I knew in my heart that there’s no place like home.
What seemed like only moments later, I was once again back on that trusty old step ladder, the bright paint bringing new life to the walls and new joy to my son’s eyes. In that brief window of time with the sisters, they, too, gave me new life, new joy and perhaps new understanding of my own unique God-given purpose as a wife and mother, and as a writer.
Thank you, Lord, for my vocation. Please help me always to use it to your glory. And thank you for the vocations of others through whom we can see you more clearly. Please help all those who are searching to find their own calling, that they may hear your voice and courageously answer. Amen.
The well-known song, “The 12 Days of Christmas,” leads us to believe that the Christmas season should be over by now. As Catholics, we celebrate the season of Christmas through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year we celebrate that day on Jan. 9, which is the last day of Christmas and the first day of Ordinary Time (and there’s a Christmas feast day in February, but I’ll save that for another post).
Throughout Advent and now the Christmas season, I’ve been pondering the word “wonder.” I wondered what Mary and Joseph must’ve felt like as they found themselves in their situation. During Christmas, I wondered what the Magi thought as they followed the “Star of Wonder” to meet Jesus. How did they know what to do? How did they trust?
For me, the word “wonder” awakens vivid images of my childhood. We lived in the country with vast corn and soybean fields to the north and east and a wooded forest with a creek running through it to the south and west. This environment made for endless adventures and wonder after wonder — from the simplest rock to the wiggliest worm to the vastness of the universe captured in the design of a single snowflake.
Whenever our family gets together, my brother and sister and I reminisce about those long ago days. And yes, it gives me a “warm fuzzy” to conjure up memories of barefoot escapades on scorching summer days — building forts, climbing trees, drinking from the hose, snitching vegetables from the garden or just laying in the tall grass looking up at the clouds in the sky. In the winter, I recall being so bundled up in snow suits and boots that we could barely make our way outside for whatever winter adventure was on the agenda — creating snow tunnels, sledding, cross country skiing — or staying inside, losing myself in a good book cuddled up with a blanket in front of a warm fire.
In the seriousness of grown-up life, it seems that I have forgotten the joy of wonder. Instead, I wonder how I’m going to pay the mortgage. I wonder if I’m screwing up as a parent. I wonder if my car/refrigerator/snow blower is going to make it another season. Somehow I don’t think that’s the same sense of wonder the Magi felt as they journeyed toward the Christ child. It’s not even the same wonder I felt knowing my face would freeze in the cold air but bundling up in countless layers anyway just to see what new experience might be in store for me.
As I spiritually “bundle up” to face this new year, I feel dressed and ready, clothed in this word “wonder.” My hope is that it will help me grow in my ability to simply stand in awe of the Lord, to spend more time with him, to keep working on trusting more and more, to marvel at the great mysteries left for us to contemplate in Scripture, Creation and each other. I want to look at the world with a holy gaze. I want my eyes to widen and my soul to laugh the same way my children and grandchildren experience the joy of wonder at rocks and worms and snowflakes and clouds.
As we enter Ordinary Time, it’s my goal to cultivate this “excited amazed admiration” (as Merriam Webster defines it) and see the world as anything but ordinary. I already feel the tingle in my toes — barefoot, booted, or otherwise — knowing God will reveal his love for me in amazing ways if I just take the time to look. Where will the new year lead you? I wonder…
I never thought when I became a journalist I’d ever have to face the heavy emotional challenges the last few weeks have brought me. Today, sitting just a few feet away from the Wetterlings, whom I’d never even been in the same room with before, I felt like, in some small insignificant way, I knew them. I think a lot of people feel like that. But of course, I don’t know the Wetterlings. I don’t know how they choose to grieve. I don’t know what they lie awake at night thinking about. I don’t know how they muster the strength to get up, show up and step up day after day.
As I sheepishly choked back my own tears rather unsuccessfully, I wondered how many tears they have shed. I wondered if they even had any more left in them. And, of course, they did. Witnessing the support of the community today eased my mind just a little to see the way they care for one another.
Before the prayer service, my middle son, 14, interviewed me for a class project. The assignment centered on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Besides the barrage of questions about where I was when I initially heard the news and what I felt that day and the days following, he also asked me what was the most important thing I learned from the events that unfolded 15 years ago. In my haste, I listed off some random thoughts and here is what he captured:
“The most important thing Kristi learned is in times of tragedy to always look for the good. There are always people who rush forward to help without asking questions, without judgment, without fear, but with courage, bravery, and intent to save lives, despite the danger,” he wrote in his essay.
“The lasting effect the attacks had was a diminished sense of security, the need to defend our nation, an awareness of the need to pursue peace and justice in the world and remember all who died. We can create a better world by starting with ourselves and treating people the way we would like to be treated. The horrible attacks, though tragic, can be a reminder to speak out against violence and injustice.”
Did my son hear my words? Was he really listening? Father Nick said at the prayer service that we need to teach our children to be ambassadors of peace. Am I doing this, Lord?
The weight of the day also challenged me to ask myself why it takes a tragedy for us to love each other so well? Who in my world needs my care and attention? Who can I love better? The saying is everywhere, the song has been sung by a million voices, but right here, right now, I acknowledge, Lord, and pray, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
To read the full story on the prayer service, click here.