Last week I volunteered at one of my favorite events at St. John’s University — serving Thanksgiving dinner to students. Students receive tickets, come all dressed up and are served the traditional foods. It is family style, so we give them the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, dressing, pumpkin pie, and they pass it around their table. One lucky student gets designated to carve the turkey. It is a wonderful event and about 1,800 students take part and are served over the course of the night. The men’s choir stands up and sings in the Great Hall. And I got to work with Father Rene, one of my favorite human beings. It is a tradition, and a very beautiful one at that.
As I was leaving, I saw a student looking inside, through the glass doors. He was wearing sweatpants and was alone. As I opened the door, he quickly left. Maybe it was a student with class… maybe. Or maybe he had no group, no invitation to join. As I returned to my office, I hoped he had a place for the approaching long Thanksgiving weekend. I hope his solitary evening was limited to this event as the holidays approach.
I think we are quick to assume that everyone has a shared experience when it comes to holidays and family events. Do we stop to consider, as millions of pictures are posted on Facebook of happy gatherings, that maybe someone is sitting alone? There is no place they fit. Relationships are strained. Maybe they are living in fear. Or they just don’t feel welcome.
This time of year we have food drives for food shelves and volunteerism at shelters is high. These are great! Hunger and homelessness are especially tragic this time of year. But inside our own communities, in our circles, our co-workers, there are those who are broken and sad. Those who have the material goods they need, but not the spiritual support. Truth be told, being home alone over the holidays is not as glamorous as 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) made it appear in the movie “Home Alone.”
But for you, sitting alone Thursday, this blog is for you. You are not unimportant or unworthy. And for every amazing album of pictures shared on Facebook, there is someone just like you sitting on their couch. Remember that God can be found in the silence. He is speaking. You are not alone. Not this holiday, not ever.
Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Matthew 6: 19-21 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
I helped a friend clean her attic recently. I have spent time reflecting about it since. I know, most people want to finish such a project and put it behind them. The dust…the spider webs…and other creatures you realize may be joining you (though unseen). However, in recent months I have found myself thinking about our life’s journeys. We each have a different one and we each choose to live it uniquely and, hopefully, authentically. How do we do that? Well, I am not a picture person. There is little physical evidence on this earth I exist, particularly if you judge existence by the number of photos you appear in or possessions you own. Does this lack indicate a life wasted or, at a minimum, insufficiently documented?
I saw a quote recently from Louie CK. While not the most appropriate man to quote for a Catholic blog, I appreciated his sentiment. “I don’t like taking pictures with people… It doesn’t feel normal,” CK explained about people’s need to take a selfie with him rather than have an actual conversation. “I always shake their hand and ask their name because everybody is interesting.” Imagine that, he wants to use that brief encounter, just for a moment, to learn about a stranger.
Treasuring a moment should be about closing your eyes, remembering a smell or a sound or a touch. I think we need to find a way to enjoy things beyond literal societal requirements. Observe. Let some things happen, pass, and then reflect. For instance, when you attended the state fair, would you smile at your selfie in front of the Sweet Aunt Martha’s cookie stand or do you remember the taste of the cookies? I am too skeptical for pictures. I see smiles, but I think about what is going on inside. Worries, hopes, ambitions, anxieties, love, hate, joy, sorrow, disappointment, satisfaction, anguish, anger, gratitude. Who are they really? Where do they wish they really were? I want a conversation; I want to hear your feelings. Describe it to me in words so I can feel your emotions; let’s talk.
Why does this have to do with the attic and my friend? There was a lot of “stuff.” To most, much of it would appear to be of little value or consequence. However, with each box there was a new story – Christmas gifts of long ago- some close to 70 years old, an assortment of practical jokes (definitely inappropriate for Catholic blog), retirement gifts marking a well-earned completion of a career, worn back braces from a severe injury. It was fun, almost a game – what used to be in this empty box? Where did it come from; on what occasion; who gave it; and most importantly, what did you feel about it. We built upon the stories as the day went on. Little pieces, little insights. Her son was able to hear about his mom’s childhood and touch and experience the same toys she played with as a child. She was a person, with feelings, memories and stories, not just “mom.” She joked that we were preparing for an estate sale for someone not dead yet. With that her son stopped her and pointed out that without her narrative, without her voice, all of the “stuff” would not have meaning. Now some of it seems priceless. It is the power of her story that gives it value.
At a certain age we start to think about how a particular day, interaction, experience becomes part of the great story of our life, rather than just another day. Who or what will tell our story? Will people wish there would be one more conversation, one more hug, or one more letter or card? (yes, handwritten, with an actual stamp!) One of the coolest treasures we found was a get-well poster with notes from friends and family that was from a surgery over 30 years ago. Seeing familiar names, remembering forgotten faces. Actually hand-made, handwritten (in cursive even!)
The quest for literal documentation is not new. Remember Thomas in the Gospel. In today’s world, Doubting Thomas would have demanded a picture. In the story of Martha and Mary (the sisters) in Luke 10:39-40, “Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.” I am pretty sure Martha would have had a camera. Maybe we should be like Mary (his mother) who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
You have seen them – those pro-life billboards between Freeport and Avon. Designed by Profile Across America, these ads offer hope and help to those in need. They are cute, tender, and touching, with facts and an 800 telephone number for help. Billboards are expensive, but there are people who recognize that this message is needed and work hard to get it out. The billboards in this area are the work of the Hartung family from St. Rosa and volunteers from the tri-parish cluster. Each year, for five days, all day long, volunteers run the fried bread stand under the grandstand at the Stearns County Fair. Armed with frozen bread dough, sugar, cinnamon, propane tank and fryer and a passion for the pro-life effort, yummy bread is sold, with all the proceeds going toward these billboards.
This effort was actually started in 1976 by Lawrence and Mary Ann Douvier, dear friends of Hartungs. When they wanted to retire, Hartungs took up the mission. It started with one billboard, then two, and, after last year, three are supported for a year, until the next Stearns County Fair and fundraising effort.
I have been privileged to work in the stand for a shift the past several years. The Stearns County Fair, much like an airport or shopping mall, is a great place for people-watching. I am struck each year by the reactions of people to the stand. A portion do not read the signs or recognize the cause, they are just hungry and fried bread is a great fair food. Others are very aware of the pro-life effort we are working for. There are words of encouragement, words of thanks. Sometimes people donate without taking any bread (clearly not recognizing the nutritional value and not knowing that bread is a “grain” in the food pyramid). Sometimes they want a partial portion, but pay for a full. Others just say “keep the change,” asking us to take their additional donation.
The dedication of the volunteers, especially the Hartungs, is truly impressive. Yes, it is hot in there. (We get that comment a lot.) Yes, it is really loud in there when the demolition derby starts. But sharing time and space (very small space) with people who share the same goal, commitment to life, and enthusiasm, makes fun. It is one of my favorite nights of the year. You leave oily, sugary, but smiling.
Parish fellowship is about enabling the gathering of friends and is usually found in church basements after Mass. I think it can also be about bringing the parish into community. Jesus had fellowship with small groups, sometimes just his Apostles, but we are asked to take our time and talents and be part of a larger Church that includes everyone – creating a community in Christ. You would not think of the Stearns County Fair as a community in Christ, but in this little corner of the fair, that is what happens.
“For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
Until next year, keep an eye out for those billboards and pray for the unborn and those who find themselves scared and confused.
“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.
My parents, nieces and nephews are active in Special Olympics. I have helped coach track and this spring spent the day at a swimming meet for Special Olympians. My niece has special needs and the entire family has become involved – supporting her, coaching the athletes, raising community awareness, organizing events. I have written before that we all have times and places where we KNOW God is. Sure, it is easy to experience God in church on Sunday. But I know, without a doubt, God is on the track at Melrose High School Thursday nights in the spring and summer, working in the lanes at Melrose Bowl each Sunday afternoon and evening in the winter, and is present everywhere these amazing athletes are.
There is a truth and beauty in their smiles. Nothing is hidden or masked. You can see, hear, and feel their joy. Often their spirits soar, filled with genuine excitement, and express it without fear of criticism. They are open about their feelings, not hiding behind pride or fear. They are gifted with the ability to live in the moment.
Their motto, recited before each competition, is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Loudest cheers are not necessarily for the winner, but for the final person to finish. Because they kept going. They never gave up.
It struck me – how do God’s teachings apply? I did some research and found information about the need to understand the teachings regarding salvation and having the ability to repent from sin. But what if you are unable to comprehend the idea of “sin”? Do they live in a special state of grace based on their challenges? These are all profound theological arguments for scholars far above my Catholic understanding/pay grade.
This is what I know. Yes, in church on Sunday, they won’t know the “right” words. (But, who are we to judge? Do we have the revised Nicene creed with “consubstantial with the Father” figured out?) They might not know how to hold their hands or when to bow or genuflect. But are the mechanics, in their cases, that important? Shouldn’t we delight in their presence in our community? What if we all could live that honesty, with our hearts on display?
I found John 9:2-3
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
A day with these athletes will show you these works of God. I personally believe we just need to trust God’s plan for them and us. I think they are definitely created by God to teach us all a few things. (And their families teach us about strength and patience – God bless all of you!) They are gifts from God and not condemned, not punishment, not retarded, or any other awful, judgmental description.
God is alive in them! His works are displayed in them! In the Irish language, they use the term “duine le Dia” to describe individuals with mental challenges. It translates to “a person with God.” One night on the track, in the lanes, on the court, or in the pool will show you this is true.
I have the opportunity to attend Mass at St. John’s Abbey and find myself seeking it out when life seems to be moving too fast. Why? Because there, amid the monks, is the monastic pause.
At first, I admit, that pause confused me. Possibly because my responses were always a beat ahead, causing me to be self-conscious. Then it annoyed me (let’s get this show on the road!). Now I have come to crave it. It forces you to slow your thinking.
When I did a little research on the pause, I found monastics read words slowly to allow time to gain “stillness.” There are pauses to allow the heart to hear and the “rest” is just as important as the words. I also found out monks chant quietly enough to hear the voice of their brothers beside them. With that, I discovered why I feel the connection to this form of Mass and prayer.
We have a guitar group in St. Rose, my home parish, and my favorite moments are when the guitars, piano, all instrumentation drop and they sing unaccompanied — just the pure, clear, simple beauty of the voice, without cover. I have the same feeling when the “Our Father” is sung. Singing it seems less perfunctory. In the same way, the monks pause to allow time for words to go beyond mechanics and find their meaning.
We all have those Bible verses which speak to us. Based on this reflection, it will come as as no surprise then that I always return to 1 Kings 19: 11-12
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle whisper.”
Jesus could have chosen a “louder” way of living, yet he did not. Without show or drama, he kept it simple, honest and clear. He did not accumulate stuff, but instead placed value on relationships and people.
It is with that in mind that I think this monastic idea of chanting quietly enough to hear the voice of our neighbor should be taken beyond the walls of the Abbey. I believe some of the loneliness people are often found in the loudest, busiest places. It seems paradoxical. Yet it is there they can be overlooked, their voices, their whispers, unheard due to the noise.
Pope Benedict said in his Verbum Domini in 2010 that “Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us” (VD, No. 66). Granted, He will wait for us, until we are ready to be quiet, but can our neighbor in need? We rush to commotion and excitement. Our attention is drawn to action. It is probably why I feel the pull to rush through that monastic pause, but what am I missing while my eyes are drawn to latest dumpster fire? Who am I missing? We often hear the words “I never saw that coming.” Maybe we can, if we put that pause in our everyday life and listen with the ear of our heart (Rule of St. Benedict).
In a time when too many look upon vocations to the priesthood in a negative way for whatever reason – scandal, dissatisfaction, lack of engagement in the faith – I invite them to meet some of the priests I know, especially the most recently ordained one for the St. Cloud Diocese.
As our parish was preparing for the ordination of Father Derek Wiechmann, I happened across the words of Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations:
“What a beautiful life it is to live in community with those who are joined together by a sacred bond, to wake up every morning and have the beautiful opportunity to bring the compassion, love and face of Christ to others… It’s a life of great excitement, every day waking up not knowing where the Lord is going to lead you and whose heart he’ll touch with you being the instrument.”
That excitement was on Father Derek’s face before his first Mass in St. Rose on Sunday. Every day he will wake up with the opportunity to be a light to someone in the dark, to provide comfort to the hurting, to be with people in their best and in their worst moments. Priests guide, unite, and encourage. Their job descriptions include action verbs like “counsel, teach, prepare, help, hear, lead, celebrate.”
Imagine if we could all have jobs like that! Truth be told, it made me jealous. I know, to be jealous of someone committing to a life as a Catholic priest seems a bit odd, but here I am.
Then I remember a homily by Deacon Rick Scherping a couple Sundays ago in St. Rose. He relayed the story of a little boy who set out to meet God. He thought it could be a long trip to where God lives so he packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and started his journey. When he had gone about three blocks he met an old man. He was sitting in the park just staring at some birds. The boy sat down next to him and opened his little suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old man looked hungry so he offered him a Twinkie.
The elderly gentleman gratefully accepted it and smiled at the boy. His smile was so pleasant the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a root beer. Again, he smiled at him. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old man, and gave him a hug. He gave him his biggest smile ever.
When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” But before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? He’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old man, also radiant with joy, returned to his home. His son was stunned by the look of peace on his face and asked, “Dad, what did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” Before his son responded, he added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”
Deacon Rick pointed out that all have a smile to share. We all can do the smallest act of caring, and with that the potential to be Christ to those around us. So maybe we were not called to be priests like Father Derek, but we can share in his excitement — not just in his potential and future, but in our own. We can all follow amazing men like Father Derek and Deacon Rick, not knowing where Lord is leading, but armed with our Twinkies, root beer and pure, genuine excitement as we embrace the opportunity to find out.
Spring is upon us and in a rural community we start thinking about planting in the newly revealed ground, no longer covered by snow. There is life. Last week at St. Rose of Lima Parish in St. Rosa, the bulldozers came in and started clearing trees and tearing up sidewalks. After over a decade of planning and drawings (and re-drawings) we have broken ground on our addition, featuring new bathrooms, an elevator and gathering area. For a tiny parish of 200 families, this is huge.
Adding to our excitement our seminarian, Deacon Derek Wiechmann will be ordained in June and celebrating his first Mass with us on Sunday, June 4th. In a time when prognosticators expound on the ills and demise of the Catholic faith, there is life. Seeds are being planted in the smallest corners, often overlooked or deemed no longer viable. So fitting that Derek will preside in St. Rosa for his first Mass, overlooking the construction of an addition, both of which events represent an expansion, a growing of the Catholic faith.
Philippians 4:6 tell us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is with that hope and belief, particularly in this coming Holy Week, that we look forward. This year we look ahead to Easter, to the Resurrection of our Lord, to the future of Catholic faith in the face of Derek, and to the growth and ever increasing blessings visible in our parish both in Derek and in a long-awaited and often prayed for addition. Truly this year we need to reflect, smile, be filled with thanks, and pray Psalm 23:5 because our cup truly is overflowing.