Brave in the Attempt

Special Olympians are pictured here at the Minnesota State Special Olympics track competition held in Apple Valley this month.

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.

Above, some of the members of the Sauk-Melrose Golden Eagles basketball team show their medals after a competition last winter.

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.

 

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Stillness and rest

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.

Monks of St. John’s Abbey in prayer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Abbey.

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).

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

Contagious Excitement: The Potential in Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New life

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.

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