Daily Mass – rural style: Saturday

Daily Mass on Saturday turns out to be somewhat complicated, but not in a bad way.  Most churches in the area offer a Mass on Saturday, but it’s a late-afternoon or evening vigil Mass for Sunday.  Since it’s our only option, I’ll treat the vigil Mass like a Saturday Daily Mass and still attend Mass on Sunday.

Our Mass options are:  Swanville at 7:30 pm (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 5 pm (14 miles away), Flensburg at 4:30 pm (16 miles away), Grey Eagle at 4:30 pm (22 miles away), Sobieski at 7:30 pm (22 miles away), and Belle Prairie at 8 pm (28 miles away).

A view of the altar at Sacred Heart in Flensburg.

I’ve only been to meetings in the basement at Sacred Heart in Flensburg, so it will be a pleasure to be in the Sanctuary. I was hoping that they would let us in. Years ago, at the meeting my wife and I attended at Sacred Heart, we were trying to kick-start a youth program for the tri-parish community. For my part in the meeting I played a Peter Furler song.  It was loud. Really loud. I think it was kind of unexpected.

When we arrived there were no barricades or checkpoints.  There was however a young dad holding a baby.  They were surrounded by adoring onlookers.  Hmmm…  Baptism?  That would be a nice celebration.

Jenna lights a candle in front of the statue of St. Anthony at Sacred Heart Church in Flensburg.

There was a good size crowd inside (in a small church it doesn’t take much). We found a pew and knelt.  Father Jimmy Joseph came out and Mass started. Yes, there was a baptism!

The sanctuary reminds me of a wedding cake topper, and that’s not a criticism.  It’s bright and white but easy on the eyes.  Perhaps the wedding cake analogy is not so bad, since the Eucharist has been described as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. I like the idea of cake for dinner!

 

Statue of St. Therese at Sacred Heart in Flensburg.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen exit signs in any building that quite caught my eye as well as the ones at Sacred Heart. St. Anthony beckons for the left hand door, and St. Therese offers guidance to the right. Of course, you can also turn around and exit through the doors you came in through!

When Mass is over we go outside and there’s the familiar scene of the newly baptized baby surrounded by adoring onlookers again. Welcome to the friendship of Christ, little one! I pray that, for you and your family, attending Mass just gets better and better. Remember: the family that prays together, stays together.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Friday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day five in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

I have the day off today because I worked a (very) long day on Tuesday.  I’m really looking forward to mowing 2 acres of rough-and-tumble lawn today (do I sound as sarcastic as I did when I was a teenager? Some things never change).

Today’s Mass offerings are:  Browerville at 8:30 am (10 miles away), Swanville at 8 am (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:15 am (14 miles away), and Flensburg at 8 am (16 miles away).

Interior, St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.

We don’t often go to Christ the King in Browerville so we decide to celebrate there.  After the debacle of Thursday, missing Mass because of the seasonal change in the time of the Mass, I decided to double-check the Mass times by going to the parish website and reading the latest bulletin.  It’s not often I say this, but:  thank goodness for computers!  According to Christ the King’s bulletin, they cancelled their Friday Mass this week.   So I go to St. Mary of Mt. Carmel’s website and verify that the Mass time there is still 8:15 am.  All of this took some time because of the snail’s pace of our Internet connection.  I want to rant about the inequity of high-speed Internet access among rural folk, but that’s a blog for another day.  Of course after all this I walked into the living room and there, on the coffee table, was the latest bulletin from St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Church.  I didn’t really have to go to their website after all.  Insert sound of man slapping his forehead!

The drive in was beautiful.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and “that ole weepin’ willa is laughin’ at me.”  It was that kind of morning.  I was tempted to belt it out like Gordon McRae, but prudence, which is not always my strongest virtue, won out.

The church was not packed like it was on Wednesday.  There are the regular homeschoolers and the seasoned veterans.  We take a pew near the front (you know, closer to Jesus) and kneel.

Stained glass and candles at St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.

In a few minutes Father Ken Riedeman comes out and we stand and Mass begins.  I think that Father Ken could have a side-job of being a reader for an audio book publisher.  He has a wonderfully deep, clear, resonant voice.

Father Ken also told a good joke during the homily:  There were 3 people from 3 different countries arguing about whose country was the greatest.  The first person said “Our country is the greatest.  We were the first country to put a man in space!”  The second person said “No, our country is the greatest.  We were the first to put a man on the moon!”  The third person said “That’s nothing.  Our country is the greatest because we’re going to put a man on the sun!”  The other two looked at him and said “Are you crazy?  You can’t put a man on the sun!  He’ll burn up!”  The third man smiled and said “No he won’t.  We’re going to do it at night!”

As Father Ken said, St. Philip Neri (whose feast day fell today) probably would have loved that joke (after a few hours of explaining ballistics, astrophysics and planetary science).

Our Lady of Guadalupe statue at St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe nos bendice al salir. ¡Somos tan afortunados de pertenecer a esta parroquia! (Our Lady of Guadalupe blesses us on her way out. We are so fortunate to belong to this parish!)

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Thursday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day four in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

It’s springtime in Minnesota.  The swallows are swooping, the broccoli is bursting, and school is ending!  Our homeschool year ends today and we have big plans for tonight.  Mostly a goof-off evening:  nachos, ice cream sundaes, and a movie.  Jenna and I choose the movie Babe.  I’m not crazy about anthropomorphizing animals, but Babe is a pretty good movie. Every year we raise some hogs, though none of them have ever talked back to me.  Grunted: yes; chewed on my pantlegs: yes; provided us with a lot of bacon and roasts: oh yeah!

Our Mass options today: Randall at 8 am (12 miles away), Swanville at 8 am (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:15 am (14 miles away), Grey Eagle at 8:30 am (22 miles away), Sobieski at 4 pm (22 miles away), and Belle Prairie at 8:30 am (28 miles away).

Statue of St. Joseph at St. Joseph Church in Grey Eagle.

Morning Mass works best for us, since we’re having a family party tonight.  It’s always interesting to attend a different church, one we’ve never been to, so we’re off to St. Joseph’s Church in Grey Eagle.

How to get there?  I know that if you’re in Swanville you can just keep going and end up in Grey Eagle.  I make a quick check of that route on Google maps and verify the route.

Once again we head down the Morrison-Todd County Line Road.  I expect road work and am not surprised when we see the sign that reads “Road construction ahead.”

Then we see a sign that reads “Flagman ahead.”

The next sign reads “One lane traffic ahead.”

I fully expect to see a sign that reads “I’d turn back if I were you.”

The flagman stops us and I have the opportunity to see what the farmer has planted in his field.  Oh, corn!  I think that’s what he planted last year.  And the year before that.  And the year before that.  And shall I go into my rant about how there should be farms where vegetables that people actually eat would be grown?

After a short wait the flagman lets us pass.  We drive by the big native Minnesota machine that chomps up the old road and lays down a new one behind it.  Just amazing!

It’s a long winding beautiful drive from Swanville to Grey Eagle.  We arrive and, unbelievably, can’t find the church!  How do you hide a church in a small town like this?  We finally find the church after asking directions from a guy walking his dog.  We were a little late (two minutes, tops).  Probably not enough for excommunication (that’ll be the last time I use that joke). So even though we left early enough, we’re still a couple of minutes late.

We got out of our cars (we took two, I needed to get to work after Mass) and Father Ron Dockendorf hails us from the front of the church.  Thinking he was just going in to celebrate Mass I jubilantly shout “We made it!”  He informs us that Mass was at 8:00 am (they had just switched to their warm weather schedule).  So as it turns out we were 32 minutes late and we completely missed Mass.

Marian grotto at St. Joseph Church in Grey Eagle.

Father Ron was very kind and gave us a blessing right there in the parking lot and sprinkled us with holy water.

We act like tourists and take pictures of the beautiful Marian grotto in front of the church.

But I failed.  No Mass.  No Blessed Sacrament.  I’m hungry.  I’m hungry for the Real Presence.

 

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Wednesday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day three in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

Up and at’em at 6:30 am.

Today’s Mass offerings are:  Browerville at 11am (10 miles away), Swanville at 5:45 pm (13 miles away), Long Prairie at 8:30 am (14 miles away), and two churches in Little Falls offer Mass at 7:30 am or 8:30 am (22 miles away).

Statue of Mary outside St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.

For our schedule today Long Prairie is most convenient, so the home parish, St. Mary of Mount Carmel, it is!

It’s a busy day for us:  Father Jimmy Joseph is coming over to our house at noon for lunch and then to bless our gardens and fields, Jenna has a cello student coming to our house at 2:00, and I have a Schoenstatt Boy’s Group meeting at St. James Church in Randall at 3:00. Jenna is also making lunch: carnitas and coleslaw.  Yum!  But morning Mass is brief and shouldn’t disrupt any of that. On the way to Long Prairie, Jenna casually mentions that since it’s Wednesday, it will be a class Mass (St. Mary of Mount Carmel is blessed with a Catholic elementary school).  Well, even a class Mass won’t make it that much longer.

Vera, 11, comes with us. We don’t listen to the radio or play a CD on our way to Masses. Instead we have conversation or enjoy the quiet.  Having a wife who is studying theology in graduate school provides ample opportunity for intellectual discussions. Lately she’s been thinking about Mary as the gateway to the Church, and we’ve been discussing the beatitudes and comparing that with the qualities of our Blessed Mother.

We arrive at St. Mary of Mount Carmel and reflect on how many cars are lining the street.  We park, walk up the stairs and enter the sanctuary.  We are met by 8 sixth grade ushers, who provide us with a printed program.  I look at the cover and see that it’s a graduation Mass.  This will be no quick 1/2 hour daily Mass or even 45-minute class Mass!

The front of the church is packed with kids and the other pews are pretty full.  Long Prairie has a population of about 3,500 and it looks like everyone in town showed up for this Mass!  Father Omar is in his element, questioning the sixth grade kids and enjoying their answers.  It’s a little like a tv game show, but without the technicolor sets or commercials.  Linda Dinkel, the principal at the school, is out of town enjoying her first grandchild who was either just born or almost born (it was a little unclear).  Brenda Gugglberger, the former principal, took over the role as commencement speaker.  The air was filled with outstretched arms as electronic devices “capture the moment” as the children participate in the various ceremonies.

The ropes of the bells at St. Mary’s.

An hour later (after the Eucharistic feast and before the final blessing) my wife leaned over to me and said, “I think this could go on for some time.”  Yesterday I was worried about being excommunicated for being late to Mass.  Now we’re leaving before Mass is officially over!  But we have a merciful and forgiving God, and as lovely and emotional as the ceremonies were, we thought it prudent to quietly excuse ourselves and go.

I wonder how many kids are tempted to pull the bell ropes on their way out of the Church?  I know I am!

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

 

Daily Mass – rural style: Tuesday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day two in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”

Yesterday, going to Mass was easy. When it’s just Jenna and I there are so few complications. Today we’re up again at 6:30 am. Vera (11) and Gloria (5) are both feeling better and are going to attend with us.

A view of the altar at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Today’s Mass offerings are: Sobieski at 8 am (22 miles away), Grey Eagle at 8:30 am (22 miles away), Randall at 7 pm (12 miles away), and Long Prairie at 7 pm (14 miles away). The early bird catches the Mass, so it’s off to St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski.

I scarf down 1/2 a banana and a cup of coffee for breakfast, and Jenna does without. Unfortunately the usual charming breakfast rituals of the kids seem to stretch out longer. Later, most of us are dressed and ready but Gloria is taking a little longer with her pink sparkly shoes than usual.

The one-sided (my side) conversation as we leave the porch goes something like:

“OK, let’s get going.  It’s getting late.”

“C’mon Gloria, you can pet the kittens later.”

“Let’s go, it’s getting late.”

“No Gloria, put the kittens down.”

“C’mon let’s go!”

“No Gloria they don’t allow kittens in church.”

In the car and off we go, once again down the Todd-Morrison County Line road. Only this time we turn on Highway 27 and take the Flensburg exit.  We drive through Flensburg (“Oh look, the liquor store is for sale.”) and then on to Sobieski.

The floor at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Arriving at St. Stanislaus (at 8:05) we park in the “lower” parking lot and climb the two flights of stairs up to the church. As we open the doors we can hear Father Jimmy Joseph reading the first Scripture reading.  Thoughts of excommunication for being late and “we really ought to get rid of those kittens” cross my mind.  After all, WWSPS (What Would St. Paul Say?).  We take a pew a bit further in the back than usual so as not to distract the 11 parishioners who arrived on time.

Father Jimmy has a lovely singing voice and I wish there were more opportunity in this Mass to hear it.  I think Father Jimmy, Father Matthew Crane, and Father Aaron Kuhn should form a singing group.  Their first record could be a devotion to our Blessed Mother and they could call themselves “The Mama and the Papas.”

After Mass Father Jimmy stops to talk with us (we used to be members of his parish in Randall). Then some of the ladies come up and start speaking with Jenna. It turns out that one of them knows Sister Jessica from the Schoenstatt Shrine down in Sleepy Eye. Since we’re involved and devoted Schoenstatters this is a joyful coincidence.

The ceiling medallion at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

But I can’t stop looking at the interior of this church. It’s gorgeous! I start taking pictures, and then I can’t stop taking pictures. It’s like being in a National Park! Everywhere I turn there’s something incredible; so much history, so much beauty. Jenna said much the same later, but that it also has a very “homemade” feel. As if the artisans of the Church were very skillful, but made everything for love of God and not for money.  The interior of the church inspires worship, but the statuary and ornaments don’t feel pristine or sterile. They’re as if loving hands have caressed them over the years. Even the floor tiles, linoleum squares like you might see in an old drugstore, have the look of polished marble. I had to touch them to make sure they weren’t stone.

A Polish banner at St. Stanislaus Church in Sobieski. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

As we leave the sanctuary, we pass under a banner. I have no idea what it says, but I

know that I’ve been blessed.

Outside the skies are cloudy and mist is falling. We retrace our drive back home. I hurriedly fix lunch and dinner for myself to take to work (it’s going to be a long day). It was a roundtrip journey of 44 miles, with a priest from Karola, India and banners in Polish. I feel a little like I’ve just come back from a journey to a far-away and seemingly enchanted place.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Daily Mass – rural style: Monday

Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day one in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”
Blessed are you who live in close proximity to a church that offers daily Mass!
Every once in a while my wife and I attempt the holy grail of Catholics: to go to daily Mass.  After all, as St. Bernard put it: “You will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.”
Since we live in a rural area our options are limited.  None of the parishes within a half-hour driving distance offers daily Mass.  So we map out our options.  We find that if we draw a circle with a radius of 25 miles (or so) of our home we can find various churches that offer Mass on each day of the week.  Unfortunately those churches within that radius do not offer Masses at the same time.  Morning Masses at 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 10:00.  Afternoon Masses at 4:30, 5:00, 6:30, 8:00.  So not only do we have to map out daily Masses at a number of churches, we have to make ourselves available at that time on that day (did I mention that we have 6 kids and homeschool them all?).  General Patton had it easier organizing the supply train for his troops!
Our monthly issue of the Magnificat will act as a sort of “Boedekkers Guide” for us (spiritual direction, as opposed to actual physical direction).  So come with me as my wife and I attempt the greater good: going to daily Mass in rural Minnesota!
Monday
Statue of the Holy Family at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Up at the usual time, 6:30 am.  Our Mass options:  8:00 am in Swanville (13 miles away), 7:00 pm in Flensburg (16 miles away), and 7:00 pm in Belle Prairie (28 miles away).  Mondays have the least number of Masses offered in our area, and evening Masses are harder for us to schedule for than a morning Mass.  So our choice is St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville.

It’s an easy drive down the Morrison-Todd County Line Road for us.  This morning it’s just Jenna and I, since some of the kids are down with colds, and those who aren’t are taking care of the ones who are, while also trying to get their schoolwork done.
We leave at 7:30.  It’s a beautiful morning: the sun is a welcome sight after days of rain.  After 10 minutes we cross Highway 27 and see a sure sign of Spring in Minnesota.  Lilac trees in bloom?  No.  Rhubarb springing up?  No.  Road construction?  Yes!  Welcome to Minnesota!
12 minutes later we park across the street from the church.  As we enter the sanctuary we bless ourselves with holy water from a solid stone font.  I guess the sponge is in the basin to keep you from dripping water on your forehead.  Since I can use all the blessings I can get I’m tempted to dunk my head in the font, but decorum wins out and I simply dip in a finger.
Statue of St. John the Baptist at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy Stephen Miller.

There are 9 other people sitting in various pews, mostly toward the back of the church, reciting the rosary.  We walk down the aisle as the 5th joyful mystery is prayed.  We choose a third-row pew and kneel.  I’ve heard it said that if you want to be closer to Jesus then sit nearer the altar.  I’m in that club!

I seem to remember that this church and the church in Randall, St. James, were designed by the same architect.  There are similarities: a lot of exposed wood, simple plain walls and no ornate decorations.  Very 1960s Scandinavian design, which I like.  There are two recessed grottos: one has a statue of St. John the Baptist and the other has a statue of the Holy Family.  The grotto of St. John the Baptist is relatively unadorned, befitting the man who cried out in the wilderness.  In contrast, the grotto with the Holy Family is bedecked with flowers, featuring a beautiful arch of flowers over their heads.  It looks wonderfully celebratory.
A view of the altar at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.

Father Ron Dockendorf walks down the aisle.  We stand and Mass begins.  I’m reminded, being at a different church than my usual, of the days before Jenna and I were married, and well before my conversion to Catholicism.  Out of curiosity, I would attend morning Mass at a Catholic church not far from my apartment in Alameda, California.  I found the whole service confusing, but I was also fascinated by all of the rituals.  Now, years later, I’m less confused but still fascinated.

The first Scripture reading is appropriate to what I’m attempting in this week-long blog.  In the Acts of the Apostles 16:11-15, St. Paul describes the beginning of a long journey.  And while Swanville is not exactly Phillipi, Father Ron spreads the good news with a quiet fervor that I think St. Paul would be proud of.
After Mass Father Ron stops and speaks with us.  He recognizes us from when I worked at the library in Swanville and sometimes went to morning Mass at St. John the Baptist.  I ask him if he still rides a motorcycle.  He does, and he is looking forward to warmer (and drier) riding weather.
As we drive away (and after the almost mandatory after-Mass stop at a grocery store) we head north, back to our family, thankful for the quiet time we’ve had together.
Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Living with Christ inside

Lately I’ve been meditating on our Blessed Mother, and especially on the Incarnation and her Fiat.

Mary was living the divine life, the life of love. When the Angel said to her “Hail, full of grace” it’s a comment on her holy life, which can be measured by the proportion of grace that is given.
Her response to the Angel, who announced that she would give birth to a child who is God, indicates complete humility: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.”
And then she says, “may it be done to me according to your word.”  These are words of a willingness to receive, a willingness to be submissive to the love of God.
When we are at Mass, after the priest consecrates the Precious Body and Blood of our Savior, we also say words of submission and a willingness to receive His love.  We say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  After this we participate in the Divine Sacrament and eat Christ’s Precious Flesh and Blood.
I wonder whether Mary, our Blessed Mother, was the very first “receiver” of the Eucharist.  In her Fiat she submits and then receives Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  And not only that, but his Humanity as well.
Mary lived with Christ inside of her for nine months.  Every heartbeat of hers, every breath, every morsel of food she ate, nourished the Divine Child within her.
When we partake of the Eucharist, the consecrated species (body/blood) lasts about an hour or two, until it is dissimilated by our body’s natural functions.  The Sacrament that we receive through Communion abides with us until we commit a mortal sin.
I think about what it would be like to be Mary, to have the real Presence inside of me for nine months.  Then I realize that every time I go to Mass, I have the incredible privilege to be like Mary, to have Christ inside of me.
For a little while.
Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

 

 

Hi-yo Silver, away!

The other day was my youngest daughter’s birthday. By happy coincidence it was also my birthday. She turned 5 years old, and so did I (except that there’s another number in front of my 5).

Due to the “busyness” factor of our family, our birthday celebrations were stretched out over three days. Today, five days after my birthday, my wife found a present that Gloria had made for me. It was in a gift bag, and I had the honor of opening yet another present in front of the family.

Inside the gift bag were a couple of wads of tissue paper, and inside one of the wads was something wrapped and taped in more tissue paper.  Opening this I found an aluminum foil packet about the size of the palm of my hand. I opened the packet and inside were little pieces of aluminum foil, some were rolled up like balls.

I said, “Wow, Gloria. What is it?”

She said, “Silver bullets.”

My heart just melted. My daughter thinks I’m the Lone Ranger! I really like the Lone Ranger, but didn’t think my fondness for the masked man had registered with her that deeply.

Do you know why the Lone Ranger used silver bullets?  The movies and TV show about the Lone Ranger are based on a series of books by Fran Striker Jr.  I’ve only read the first one, appropriately titled “The Lone Ranger.”  It’s a fictional origin story of the Lone Ranger, giving the back story to his name and “accoutrement” (that’s French for all the cool stuff he wore).  It explains that silver is a fairly soft metal, so that bullets made of silver won’t kill anyone, but is more like a punch. As the Lone Ranger puts it: “I don’t shoot to kill. I want a silver bullet to be a symbol of justice.”

Fran Striker also wrote a “Lone Ranger Creed,” part of which reads: “… God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.” Think of that the next time you gather around the old campfire. It’s fun to sit there and swap stories or jokes, perhaps trying to top the last whopper with something bigger and better.

Our mouths, like a six-shooter, are capable of shooting lead or silver. The Book of James, in Chapter 3 says: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.”

This Lent I’m going to gentle my words, to try hard to control my mouth.  To think before I talk.  Maybe I really don’t need to top the last whopper.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

“Have fun storming the castle!”

“Have fun storming the castle!”

And with those words my wife bade me adieu as I went to work.

It doesn’t help that I was listening to “The Lord of the Rings” on tape as I commute. Frodo and Sam were in Shelob’s lair, and the darkness and oppression of her cave are descriptive of the weather on leaving the house. Oh well, as Sam says: “Now for it.”

The days are warming up (in the 30s and 40s, *above* zero) and the nights are in the 20s. This can only mean two things: it’s Lent, and the sap is running in the trees!

For the last few years I have made modest amounts of maple syrup from our modest amounts of sugar maple trees. The first time I did it I honestly thought that I had witnessed a miracle. Some 10 hours of boiling gallons of sap yielded a couple of pints of amber looking fluid. One taste told part of the tale, and the faces on the kids who tasted it told the rest of the story: it was indescribably wonderful!

I was a Log Cabin man before this. What was good enough for my childhood was good enough for my adulthood. But it was time to put away childish things, and it was time to read the label on the bottle! Fercryinoutloud there’s no maple in the blasted thing!

I don’t have professional equipment. All I have is the kitchen stove, a big soup pot and some big sauce pans and some five gallon buckets. There are only about six or seven sap-producing maples on my land so if I get a 10 gallons of syrup I’m doing well. Start boiling early, and finish up late. The first 10 hours of boiling is boring. The evaporation rate on a stove is tedious. I’ve heard that boiling sap in the kitchen will take the wallpaper off the walls, but since my wife wants to replace the wallpaper in our kitchen I think I’m doing us a favor!

It’s that last hour of boiling, when the remaining sap is near the syrup point. The sap lingers at a point just before that for some time. Then BAM! It’s there and you’ve got to move fast! So in that long steamy day I get the bottles and lids ready for that BAM moment.

What, you may be asking yourself, has this got to do with Lent?  I’m reminded of John 15 when Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  We’re like trees waiting to be tapped, but not so that the sap flows out, but so that His sap, His love, flows in and abides in us.  During this Lent I feel myself like a dormant tree, slowly awakening from a wintry slumber and looking forward to the refreshment of Spring.  We are Easter people; recovering from His Passion and overflowing with his merciful love. I pray that our branches do not wither and die, but rather bear the fruit of His love to share with others.

But for now, I’m still waiting for the drip and trickle flow of sap from those spouts.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.

Summer, Winter or Anytime Reading

Every year, at one season or another, some well-intentioned soul comes up with a list of books that they think everyone should read.
Being a well-intentioned soul myself (and a former librarian), I couldn’t resist adding my own list to the pile.

Last spring my wife and I taught a literature class for the homeschool group we belong to, Regina Caeli.  The focus of our choices was the concept of divine mercy.

Jenna chose books in which divine mercy permeated the writing and fairly leapt off the page:  Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place,” an amazing true story about her horrifying experience in World War II, and A.J. Cronin’s “Keys of the Kingdom,” about a priest setting up a mission in China and learning tolerance and compassion.

My choices, a little more off-beat, challenged the reader to find the concept of divine mercy.  These, and a few other titles, are my recommendations for anytime reading.

Shane, by Jack Schaefer – The second-best western I’ve ever read.  Very little gunplay, but with incredible dramatic tension, especially between two men and a stump!  The teens in my group loved this book.  They were especially impressed by Shane’s compassion at a key moment in the book.

War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells – Everybody knows the story, but have you ever read it?  “Rule Britannia!” comes crashing down, saved in the end by…  If you don’t know, then you haven’t read the book, so I’m not going to spill the microbes here (oops!).

A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. – An oddly reassuring book that shows that the Catholic church will endure, regardless of the megatonage of nuclear weapons that obliterate civilization.  The smartest and most Catholic science fiction book ever written.

The Smiling Country, by Elmer Kelton – My own personal favorite work of fiction.  A little rough around the edges, but the best western I’ve ever read.  An aging cowboy in the prettiest part of Texas dealing with the intrusion of internal combustion machines.  An amazing cast of characters (his best friend’s name is Snort Yarnell), a touching and realistic romance, and no gunplay.  Guys: the end will make you cry, and that’s a good thing.  Wives: buy this book for your husband.

Yeah, I used to be a librarian.  But that didn’t keep me from liking good books.

Stephen Miller
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Former Librarian.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.