Here is a photo of the chaperones from the eighth-grade class trip to Chicago. I still can get some air beneath me!
I should have folded my hands in prayer. It would have looked like I was kneeling and levitating.
Fr. Dennis Zehren is the pastor of Nativity of Mary Parish and School. Fr. Zehren has been at Nativity since June 2012. Pray that he may be a faithful servant leading us higher up and deeper into the life and love of our Triune God.
Here is a photo of the chaperones from the eighth-grade class trip to Chicago. I still can get some air beneath me!
I should have folded my hands in prayer. It would have looked like I was kneeling and levitating.
Louisa May Alcott wrote, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
We have entered the season for potential severe summer weather. As much as they can disrupt our plans, who can deny that those summer storms also add to the season a nice dimension of beauty and a sense of awe for the mighty hand of God.
I heard a story told by somebody who attended World Youth Day in Spain with Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. One evening at 9:00 the Pope was scheduled to address the gathering of over one million young people who had come to Madrid from all over the world.
Just as the Pope was to begin his address an unforeseen cloudburst unleashed upon the gathering. Heavy rains drenched the unsheltered crowd and strong winds sent sleeping bags and other gear flying through the air.
After over a half an hour of a very heavy downpour the storm subsided. As Pope Benedict stepped forward again onto the stage one of his aids handed to him the address he had planned to deliver. The Pope, however, motioned it away. Instead of addressing the crowd the Pope simply knelt down and began a time of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Before long most of the gathered crowd of now soaked-to-the-bone young people also began kneeling, in the mud, and a sublime silence settled over the storm-ravished field. Many of the young people testified that this moment of post-storm quiet prayer before the Lord was one of the most moving and deeply spiritual moments of the entire week.
We all have our plans – but sometimes storms come along. What a difference it makes when we focus not on the storm or on our own thwarted plans but on God. When we do that we always can discover beauty and a sense of awe for the mighty hand of God.
My prayer for all of you this summer is that from time to time a forceful rain from God would fall over you – enough to interrupt what you are doing or planning – and that you would bow down for a moment of silent prayer and let God do something unexpected and beautiful for you.
Thank God for all of the unforeseen but deeply touching blessings God brings to us in any and every season.
Well, this could get interesting.
There is a young man who grew up in my hometown of Beaver Dam, WI, and who played for my alma-mater high-school football team, the Beaver Dam Golden Beavers. Last month he signed to play in the NFL -- for the Minnesota Vikings! His name is RJ Shelton – a former Michigan State wide receiver and most valuable player.
So when the football season kicks off in the fall emotions among my Green-Bay-Packer-loving-hometown family and friends might be running even higher than usual. Now that one of Beaver Dam’s native sons has signed to play with the archrival Vikings, the cheers and jeers could become more intense and even a bit conflicted. Somehow the good people of Beaver Dam will have to hold together the pride they feel for RJ and their hope to see him succeed with the animus they have always felt for his new team.
It’s a good example to keep in mind. We have entered into a season of conflicted emotions. These are the days of the bitter and the sweet. We are celebrating graduations throughout our parish. On the one hand we are very proud of our young people as they reap the rewards of their hard work and advance to answer a new call from God in their lives. On the other hand, there is more than a tinge of sadness and worry. We have to let them go a little more and that is not easy.
Yet our God has given us spirits that are created to hold together the full spectrum of life’s experiences – and to reconcile mysteries that at the same time can be joyful and sorrowful and glorious.
Watch a toddler who is learning to walk. She will very likely have a broad range of expressions on her face. One second her face will reflect a sober intensity as though what she is doing is the most serious of all tasks – one that demands her full focus and concentration. The next second the shock of fear will flash across her face as her whole body and world begin to shake. That very same face in just one second more will beam with the most joyful of grins.
You’ll notice that those same conflicting emotions are reflected in the face of her parents too.
One of the words I heard a lot in my seminary formation was “integration.” God calls us to be fully integrated humans. That means that all of the joys, sorrows, fears, and hopes inside of us somehow need to meld and blend together if we are to grow as healthy and holy people.
So, congratulations graduates! It’s going to get interesting, at every stage in life, but keep uniting your heart to the heart of Jesus and it will all meld together just fine.
As you have been hearing from me at Mass the past couple of weekends, we have kicked off a feasibility study here at Nativity of Mary. Thanks to all of you who have been or soon will be participating through the interviews or by filling out the questionnaires. We would like to hear from as many of you as possible as we discern whether this is a good time for a capital campaign at the parish.
One of the priorities of the campaign would be to eliminate $1.7 million in debt that we owe. Our Finance Committee regularly points out to me that, if we could eliminate the principal payments and interest payments that we pay each month toward our debt, we could free up a lot of funds that could better be used elsewhere.
In addition, we are hoping to make some enhancements to some of our parish and our school spaces. Many people have expressed to me a desire to “adorn” our current worship space – so as to heighten a sense of the sacred in our church. Beauty is the language of worship. Over a millennium ago the architect of Glastonbury Abbey in England wrote, “I want to build a church so beautiful that even the hardest heart will be moved to prayer.”
Others have impressed upon me how important it is to expand the current pre-school program so that we can welcome more families to our school. Some would like to see some improvements made to our parish and school kitchen – so that hospitality could be a stronger feature of our Nativity of Mary life.
The Holy Spirit may inspire other ideas too. That is why we need your thoughts and prayers to help us to identify and to prioritize what are the most important of the needs and goals for our parish and school at this time.
"Eye has not seen and ear has not heard… what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2 Cor. 2:9). We continue to commend the process to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. May we press forward in hope and may it be all for the glory of God!
I took advantage of the nice weather on Friday by crashing recess with the fourth graders. There we invented a new game they call "Swingzbee." Participants try to catch the frisbee while swinging. Now all we need are some rules... and a scoring system. Then maybe it's ready to be an Olympic sport. You saw it here first.
Our parish offers heartfelt prayers and gratitude to God for the young men from our Archdiocese who will be ordained as priests at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Saturday, May 27, at 10:00. I remember my ordination and what an electrifying and galvanizing moment it was to take that final leap and enter into the vocation.
Somebody recently described the steps to ordination using the image of Russian nesting dolls – those wooden dolls which, when each is opened, contains a smaller one and then a smaller one inside. As a man is proceeding along the path to ordination first he is installed as a lector, then on top of that he is installed as an acolyte, then he is ordained a deacon, and finally above all a priest.
So outwardly I am a priest, but inside I am still a deacon, and beneath that I am still an acolyte and also a lector.
That is a good way to think of how vocations should be discerned in everyone's life. God builds grace upon grace. First God creates us as humans – each with distinct and individual gifts, interests, passions, and potentials. In other words, first we are ourselves. That is a fundamental call in each of our lives. God calls us to be our true selves. It takes wisdom to discover, "Who am I really?" Much happiness is lost and frustration follows when we try to become what we are not.
On top of that we are baptized. We "nest" our unique selves within the life and plan of God through Jesus and His Holy Spirit. We go beyond ourselves and our own ego and discover ourselves as part of a larger plan and mystery. We propel our deepest identity forward and our true self is boosted, intensified, and developed.
On top of that God gives the grace to choose how we will configure ourselves and offer ourselves in a particular state of life – through consecrated vows of sacramental marriage or religious life. The life of love which has taken hold of us cannot offer itself sparingly. It longs to be poured out and it is through the pouring out of the life and love that the life and love is amplified and deepened even more.
On top of it all we are to take on our identity as saints. That is the final grace or nesting doll that binds it all securely together.
So congratulations to our amplified and boosted newly ordained priests. May they inspire us all to propel our deepest selves forward in God.
It's good to do a little research before traveling. Sometimes you can come across a hidden gem that is off the beaten path of places you plan to visit.
For example, I have learned that overlooking the city of Rome there is a priory on Aventine Hill (one of the seven hills of Rome) called the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. What makes the priory especially noteworthy is that, if you walk up to the door and peek through the keyhole, you get a remarkable view of three different sovereign states (the Sovereign Order of Malta, the Vatican, and the Republic of Italy) with the dome of St. Peter's Basilica as the center focus.
Nobody seems to know whether this stunning view-through-the-keyhole was planned when the priory was built and the door was set in place or if it was truly a heaven-sent coincidence.
In either case, imagine the feeling that would come across some unsuspecting tourist. He walks up to the priory door and feels a little nosy – so he peeks through the keyhole hoping at best for maybe a narrow glimpse of the priory courtyard. Instead, to his great surprise, a vista of grandeur spans before him. He might have the humbling sense that someone somehow knew that one day he would stumble across this place and thus had gone to great lengths to prepare for him a generous panorama of glory.
Sometimes our faith journey can be like that. It can be like going in for a quick peek through a keyhole and finding that someone has been there waiting and is looking back at you.
There are times when, as I read the Scriptures, it feels that Scripture is reading me. There is the sense that somehow Someone knew that on that particular day I would come to that passage and thus was waiting there to meet me with just the word or message that I needed.
If we're paying attention we all will have God moments like that. We might stumble unsuspectingly through our days but every now and then along the way we find that God has prearranged gifts and glimpses of glory that surprise us. There are moments that help us to know that there is a greater Someone who has been there all along who knows us and has been waiting for us and has planned something great to bless us.
There are all sorts of surprises off the beaten path of our spiritual journey. Hidden gems await those who will slow down, pay attention on the way, and let Someone else be the guide. Summer is coming. Travel well.
This week I am allotting my space to our Director of Pastoral Ministry, Erin Dobesh. She has an invitation for you to consider signing up for the Harry J Flynn Catechetical Institute. This year it is close by! The classes will be at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
I am writing to share with you about my two year journey at the Catechetical Institute. My hope is that as you read this you will open your hearts to let the Holy Spirit in and your ears will hear what the Spirit might tell you.
In the spring of 2014 I heard about the Catechetical Institute (CI) and the in-depth study of the Catechism. I had been doing some adult formation classes but was feeling inside that I needed something that went deeper. So, I looked into the CI but realized I has missed the deadline to submit applications. Then a few weeks later there was a blurp in our bulletin saying the deadline had been extended. I got excited, but hesitant. Then I learned that the name of the class was St. Gianna Molla and I knew that I had to apply. I have adored St. Gianna and all that she stood for…..it was God calling me. After my excitement subsided my belly got nervous. I had tried to read the Catechism before and it didn’t go so well. It is a very thick book with lots of pages! But I had to go. I was committed. Father Zehren had to write me a recommendation letter – I couldn’t back out. It is now three years later and I am so very glad I went!
If asked today what the Catechism of the Catholic Church is, I would reply, “A Story”. The rich story of a journey from “Blessing to Blessing”. A story compiled by, the Fathers of the Church & the Church’s Magisterium, from Sacred Scripture and the liturgy. The story of a loving and forgiving Master and Creator. The story of the human person of “divine” nature, and his total life giving sacrifice of redemption and forgiveness. The story of how we are to live & pray while on this journey, so that we can develop a loving relationship with our Creator. The story that ends where we want our journey to end, back in the loving arms of our Father in heaven. The Beatific Vision.
The Catechism starts out, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” This is the whole journey summed up. Everything that is and has been came from God and will return to God. From Blessing to Blessing.
The Catechism is divided into 4 Pillars: The Creed, The Sacraments, The Moral Life, and Prayer. Once you start reading it you will want to finish it! You study one pillar per module or semester. The four modules span two years with Fall & Spring classes and no summer. Every week you meet in small group to discuss the lesson and then join the large group for the lecture from one of the many wonderful Priests, Deacons or lay teachers from the diocese.
Two new classes will be starting in the Fall of 2017. Monday evenings at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, and Tuesday evenings at St. Andrew’s in Elk River. You can go to www.CIstudent.com to find more information and learn about the application process. The deadline for applications is July 1, 2017. Truly the two years go by fast! Please check it out.
To say after this intense two year study of, who created us and why, that I am not changed would be impossible. I can’t imagine that anyone could read the Catechism and walk away without some deep rooted feeling of unselfish unconditional love.
I was nudged not so gently by the Holy Spirit to start this two year journey not knowing what was to happen other than hopefully developing a more clear understanding of this deep seated faith that has stirred in my belly since being a young child. I have always felt it and knew it to be right, but I was at a point in my life that I wanted to really put the puzzle pieces together so that I could see where they all came from and really understand why. Do I have all the answers? No. I don’t necessarily see them all yet. What I do have is a better understanding of it all and the knowledge of where to go and search for the things that are not yet clearly seen. I have the ability and confidence now to share my faith more because even if I don’t “know it all”, I do know where I can find the story and the supporting parts that help us along the journey.
The formation I have received from studying the Catechism ignited a fire within me to pursue further formation in pastoral care so that I can do the work that I believe God wants me to do. God’s work of caring for and loving our brothers and sisters.
God is our magnificent Creator! God has our plan mapped out for us. We just have to be open to letting the Holy Spirit bring that plan into our hearts so that we can, hear it, feel it and apply it through the works that will make God happy. Where will the Spirit lead you???.........
Your sister in Christ,
A few years ago I took a vacation to St. Augustine, FL. While I was there I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.
"La leche" is Spanish for "milk." The shrine houses a statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus at her breast. Mary, under the title of "Our Lady of La Leche," has been invoked for centuries by couples who wish to conceive a child or are experiencing troubled pregnancies –or by women who simply desire to be good holy mothers.
Reflecting on my visit to that shrine has made me think of the countless titles that have been given to Mary over the centuries. Some of the titles of Mary are geographic – like "Our Lady of Fatima" recalling our Blessed Mother's appearance to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal (the 100th anniversary of that appearance is this year on May 13).
Other titles of Mary are dogmatic. They reflect truths that we learn through Church doctrine –like "Immaculate Conception" which teaches us that Mary was conceived without original sin. Some titles reflect aspects of Mary's life – like "Our Lady of Sorrows" which focuses on the acute suffering that Mary endured.
Still other titles honor a particular virtue or attribute of Mary, like "Mother, Most Pure" or "Our Lady of Peace." Some titles for Mary, such as "Morning Star" or "Star of the Sea," have a more poetic or symbolic significance.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that we "serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed." It is true that every new generation highlights a new aspect of Mary to admire and another reason to give devotion to her.
As we enter into the month of May, the month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, it might be fun and a good spiritual exercise to come up with your own personal title for Mary. What does she mean to you? What has she done for you?
I often pray the rosary in the morning. Maybe Mary is my "First Glimmer of the New Dawn" (Who can help me with Latin? Is that "Prima Aurora Lumen"? That's lovely!). Sometimes I pray with Mary when I'm especially restless or agitated. She is then my "Sedatis Mater Mea" or my "My Soothing Mother."
Again, don't trust my Latin. It's the tenderness of devotion that counts. Try it for yourself. Mary will be there to teach and help you. Blessed month of May!
Since the year 2000 the second Sunday after Easter has been celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. Some of you might remember however that, before that, this same Sunday was more commonly known as "Quasimodo Sunday."
"Quasi modo" is Latin for "just like." They are the first two words for the entrance antiphon for the Mass for the Second Sunday of Easter (You might have noticed that, here at Nativity of Mary, we have begun using the entrance antiphon at the beginning of Mass. The cantor has been reciting or singing it as part of the welcome).
Every Mass is assigned an entrance antiphon. The full antiphon for the Second Sunday of Easter is "Quasi modo géniti infántes, rationábile, sine dolo lac concupíscite, ut in eo crescátis in salútem, allelúia." The English translation is, "Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia."
Many people, when they hear quasimodo, think of the main character from Victor Hugo's classic novel, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." At the beginning of the story a Gypsy mother abandons her baby at the Cathedral of Notre Dame on Quasimodo Sunday – hence the baby was given the name, Quasimodo.
The baby, according to the story, was born with a hunchback and a large wart that covered his eye. The unfortunate child was described as "hideous" and a "creation of the devil."
Victor Hugo is highlighting a central theological truth with his novel. He reminds us that we, like Quasimodo the hunchback, have been hideously deformed by sin and have become "creations of the devil." Yet, as we are brought to the church we are re-created through the grace of Jesus. Through this saving gift we become "like newborn infants" – innocent, pure, and embarking on a new life.
I pray that we can grow in the Divine Mercy of our Lord throughout this life-abounding season of Easter. Jesus gives us a chance to a fresh new life. Then, as mercy we have received, so must we freely extend that Divine Mercy to others.
Easter and the new life have just begun. Let's grow in God’s grace by leaps and bounds!