I feel so excited and blessed to be at Nativity of Mary. So far, I have had such a warm and genuine welcome from everybody and I'm really looking forward to getting to know everyone. I was born and raised in Saint Louis Park, so after a few years up in North Saint Paul at the Church of Saint Peter, I'm really pleased to be on the west side of town again— much closer to my parents and extended family! I grew up attending Holy Family Church, and it was there that I began my path with church music. I started out playing flute for the adult choir there along with my two older siblings, who are also musicians (horn and violin). We are all pianists as well since my mother is a piano teacher, so eventually, we also began to play organ for the liturgies. My primary instrument then was the flute, and the orchestra was my first great love. I pursued a career in an orchestra, first in an undergraduate degree at Boston University, then a Masters from Boston Conservatory.
After graduation, I was auditioning for orchestral jobs, but continued to play at Holy Family...and the organ grew on me. I fell in love with the relationship the organ has with the congregation in the prayer of the Mass. Eventually, I had to acknowledge the path God was laying out before me, and I began to formally study the organ and also to develop my singing abilities. My pursuits lead me to study liturgy at St. John’s University at the School of Theology. The more I learn about theology and the relationship between how we pray and what we believe, the deeper I fall in love with the beauty and wisdom of our Holy Mother Church.
Outside of the church, I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, both near and far. I’m a proud “Auntie” to my godson, niece, and another nephew in Denver. Thus far, I’ve been lucky enough to get out to Denver to make many elaborate birthday cakes for my godson (he gets to pick the theme!). I love to bake, and tend to do so for important people in my life—generally the more extravagant or experimental, the better! (I may or may not have a photo album dedicated exclusively to my baking creations….) This coming year is very special because my niece Kate will be confirmed in May, and my godson Timothy will be confirmed in November—and he has asked me to be his confirmation sponsor! I also have two nephews in Innsbruck, Austria. My father is actually from Austria, so half of my family lives there. Having grown up with lots of exposure to my Austrian heritage, I developed a strong interest in languages and all things linguistic. I speak German fluently (preferably in the Austrian dialect of my father!), but have also dabbled in a number of other languages. When I get the chance, I love to travel and have spent quite a bit of time in Europe. I also have two birds--Indian ring neck parakeets--whom I find to be pretty hilarious. They are both named after French Catholic organists and composers: "Marcel" after Marcel Dupré and "Ollie" after Olivier Messiaen. Alas, they haven't learned to whistle any works by their namesakes just yet, but there is still time...!
So far at Nativity, I've really enjoyed how well you all sing! It’s so wonderful to hear a congregation lift up their voices together with full voice in song, and it’s such a beautiful expression of our unity as a Church. I mentioned earlier that the orchestra was my first love, but the organ has surpassed that in many ways: I have a veritable orchestra at my fingertips, and the best part is when all of your voices join in with the organ. Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke about the theology of the pipe organ and how it so beautifully reflects the Body of Christ: the organ has many pipes that make many different types of sounds, and yet together it can create this majestic sound. And so it is with the voices of all the people of God: we are all unique and have our own voices, but united in mind and heart in song, we offer our glorious sacrifice of praise to our Lord.
Please feel free to come up and introduce yourself after Mass! I look forward to getting you know all of you!
We often hear the term “conversion” in the Catholic life. It is a term that comes from the Latin mean, “turn about.” It is a term that seems simple at face value. When I am driving, to change direction, I simply turn the steering wheel and I am now driving in a new direction, toward a new destination. If I am going to change directions in my studies at college, I simply fill out the forms and enroll in new classes, then I am directed toward a new career.
At the beginning of Lent, we often take a similar approach. Often, when we begin our season of Lent, we make beautiful resolutions and intentions with the Lord to eliminate certain vices and practice certain virtues. We intend to sin less and love more. It’s as simple as turning the steering wheel...right? Unfortunately, it is not. For to have a conversion of heart and soul, it is more than a singular moment like driving or enrolling. Spiritual conversion happens not in a moment, but over a lifetime. It is much more like the constant course corrections that are needed by a sailing ship at sea. When a ship is at sea, it may begin by having a certain trajectory, however, as it sails along, winds blow swells in the sea rise and fall, sometimes the horizon disappears. If the captain of the ship is not attentive to the instruments or the visual cues, the ship can easily fall off course, or even be headed toward dangerous rocks. This is why course corrections or conversion is continually necessary for ships...and so too with our spiritual lives.
It is very easy for us to forget to pay attention to the trajectory of our spiritual lives. We have many events in our lives that can cause us to drift off course. Some by our own making, some by forces outside our control. Regardless of their source, they cause our souls to go adrift from the direction that is needed for our fulfillment, for our salvation. It is in this moment where we reach out to the true guide, the real “captain” of our lives, Jesus Christ, and seek that course correction that is needed. Jesus is the one who will tell us which direction we need to go, what we need to remove from our lives, what we need to embrace, and he will even give us the grace to make these changes. We need only be open and seeking his love and mercy on a daily basis, because that is the ultimate conversion: Allowing myself to be loved by Jesus and loving him all the more.
As we continue to sail through our Lenten journey, let us not simply pass by the buoys that are there to guide us, but heed their direction and embrace the conversion of our souls so that we might be open to the love of Jesus more than ever before and love him in return.
If you are like me, I often fail at my new year's resolutions. I have tried to change my diet, I have tried to exercise more, I’ve tried to give up watching Star Trek (actually, I’ve never done something as silly as that). I have failed at all of these. And then, typically, I resign myself to my old habits and wait for the next new year’s to make another attempt.
Unfortunately, Catholics will often approach Lent in the same manner. We attempt to change our ways, to pray more, to sin less, to take on a penance. And if we have failed once at these spiritual endeavors, we then resign ourselves to not even trying and often then indulge in our sacrifices.
I would propose a different tactic. Remember that our Lord is forgiving and merciful. He wants us to be holy. He also knows that we are a work in progress and thus we will regularly fail. What God does expect of us is to keep trying to pursue holiness, even if we have failed. That is the beauty of our God. He does not expect us to be born perfect, nor is God’s policy a “one strike and you're out” approach. Rather, like a loving Father, he accepts his children's’ failings, but also will not let them cease trying to improve and grow.
So if you have failed in your Lenten practices, or have come up short, do not believe the lie that now you should give up. Do not give into the temptation to despair that it is pointless to try again because you don’t have a perfect record. Rather, ask forgiveness from God, receive his grace and pursue the good changes you have already attempted.
God wants you to grow in holiness and Lent is the grace-filled season where this is our goal. Let us not focus on our failings in this noble pursuit, but move forward with God’s grace, mercy and love.
During the season of Lent, many Catholics make sacrifices. We sacrifice meat on Fridays, we sacrifice entire meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We even take on other sacrifices of pleasurable things that we “give up.” As we make these sacrifices, it is very tempting to focus on the sacrifice itself. We can be tempted to notice only that which I’m giving up and then it will encourage bitterness and frustration. However, what we ought to be doing is paying attention to not what we are giving up, but we ought to pay attention to the one for whom we are making these sacrifices, namely God!
When a couple is in love, they will make sacrifices for each other on a daily basis and it brings them joy. From where does this joy come? It is not from the sacrifices they make, but rather the joy comes from seeing the other whom they love while they make their sacrifices. And so it should be for us this Lent. As we make our sacrifices, great or small, let us not focus on what we are giving up, but focus on the one for whom we are making our sacrifices. When we choose this focus in our hearts, we will see that not only are we sacrificing out of love for God, but He is sacrificing out of love for us.
This Wednesday, Catholics throughout the world will begin our great period of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is modeled after Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the desert. The Gospel of Matthew relates, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and he fasted forty days and forty nights" (Matthew 4:1-2). During this time, Jesus prepared himself through these actions to embrace his mission as savior. And so too, we enter into our own 40 days in the desert with the intention of removing that which is an obstacle to our relationship with God and embracing that which makes us more Christ-like in our lives.
As Catholics, there are certain requirements as well as suggested practices that we observe during Lent. First, the requirements: Fasting and abstinence from eating meat. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent.
All Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting, in this case is defined by the United State Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.” If a person has a medical condition that necessitates eating, such as diabetes, that would be permitted along with medications. These are the minimum requirements for all of us Catholics during the season of Lent. There are, also, areas of recommendations to engage Lent in deeper spiritual way. This would be the common practice of making an extra penance and extra prayers during the season of Lent. For example, it is recommended that Catholics “give up” something that is pleasurable for Lent. This helps the person enter into the spiritual desert with Jesus as well as helps us to order that pleasure. For example, a person may enjoy eating White Castle and while White Castle is very tasty, by sacrificing White Castle for Lent, the person is reminded that all we truly need for ultimate happiness is the love of God, just as Jesus relied only on the love of God during his time in the desert. So it is highly encouraged for Catholics to make an additional sacrifice during Lent.
It is also recommended to add more prayer to the season of Lent. While Catholics should respond to the statement from St. Paul that says we ought to “pray without ceasing” (1 Theselonians 5:17, which I will write about in a later article), we ought to increase our prayer life in some way so that we deepen our relationship with God who is are beginning and our end.
As you prepare for Lent, I pray that you make it a spiritual journey with our Lord that deepens your love for Him who is our savior and our life.
This weekend we begin our 2019 Catholic Services Appeal. While it is tempting to simply hear that it is the “usual request” and either simply give out a sense of routine or to perhaps even pass it off as the usual “ask” that occurs annually. I encourage you to resist this temptation and prayerfully examine the request.
This appeal, as they often state, is designed to assist in the areas of ministry that are not able to be supported by one parish. For example, this annual appeal supports the Archdiocesan mission parish located in Venezuela. Since 1970, the Archdiocese has assisted in this poor region of Venezuela with at least one priest as well as building connections to our Archdiocese. No single parish is able to support this mission, though collectively, we are able to reach out to assist Venezuelans during this significant time of crisis with their spiritual and physical needs.
Also, this mission appeal assists the two seminaries that we have in the Twin Cities. These seminaries are not attached to any single parish and thus do not have the typical consistent donations to aid them. The Catholic Services Appeal aids them in their mission to prepare young men to become priests.
A third, but not final ministry is that of the hospital chaplaincy. In the Twin Cities area, we are blessed with many quality hospitals. It is during those times of illness that we can often feel alone and disconnected from our parish communities. While most of the parishes work to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners who are in hospitals, sometimes the priest or other ministers are unable to be there immediately in a moment of crisis. As a result, we have hospital chaplains who work to meet the spiritual needs. These priests and lay people give of their efforts to help those suffering to be united to Jesus Christ.
There are a total of twenty different ministries that are supported through this annual appeal. It is important for us to approach this request with prayer to the Lord. He will be the one to guide us in our use of our resources for the continuing mission of our parish, our Archdiocese, and the entire Church. May God bless you for your generosity to all.
Click here to watch the 2019 Catholic Services Appeal Video
Click here to help the poor.
Even as a young child, I was interested in bigger questions. As I would mow our yard I would think about deeper questions such as, “What is it that makes humans different from animals?” “Do other material beings have thoughts like we do?” It may have been these types of questions that led me to enjoy both science fiction TV shows as well as philosophy. One question I remember thinking about is “What is time?”
If one turns to multiple sources for a definition, we do not find a single, universal response. However, the general ideas shared in the definitions is simply: A measure of change. Time is a tool by which we measure the changes in the physical universe.
So how ought we understand time in light of God and in light of stewardship?
When God created human beings, He made us to live in time. And what we discover is that time is actually a gift from God. All that we have and all that we are is a pure gift from God, including time. If we think of time as a measure of change, time allows human beings to grow, mature, and actually become better than we are right now. Every second of each day that we have on earth is an opportunity to either become better or become worse than we are at this very moment. So when we think about time in the light of our God, it is such a gift because now we can become more like Jesus each day by our decisions and our actions.
To speak of time in light of God and our idea of stewardship, we ought to see time as a gift for me to use as God desires: Using it to help me become the person I ought to be...become better at loving God and loving my neighbor. This is why we must be people of prayer. We must return to God and ask God how He wants me to use my time this day. Sometimes it is obvious: getting the children to school on time, going to work, returning home to the family. Other times, it’s not as clear: I have a free afternoon, how should I use these couple of hours to become an even better person? How can I use this time to become a saint? This is part of being a good steward of our time.
Time is a gift from God and we are called to be good stewards of even this gift from our loving God. Let us always use this gift in a way that helps us become the people we know we have been made to be, let us use this gift like saints.
When I was young and going to mass on Sundays, I had only met one religious sister in my life. Her name was Sr. Pascaline. I thought she was the last religious sister on earth and once she passed away, I imagined that there would be no more religious sisters on the planet...I was completely wrong. While the numbers of religious sisters and nuns (yes, there is a difference) has been waning, the Holy Spirit has still been actively calling women to the consecrated life...and young women have been responding.
One example of this response is the new religious sisters that have moved into our neighborhood. As many of you know, the Poor Clare religious sisters have had a presence in Bloomington dating back to the large expansion in the 1950’s. Their numbers diminished over the years, yet the sisters played a powerful role in our community. A few years back, the Poor Clares decided to share space with the Franciscan sisters in Rochester, while maintaining their contemplative life. This meant that they needed to discern what God wanted for their convent, located near 88th St. and Penn Avenue. In God’s amazing plan, a group of religious sisters from Peru had begun ministering in the Twin Cities. The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters were praying for a place to live and pray. And behold, by God’s grace and the generosity of the Poor Clares, the convent will continue to be just that...a convent for religious sister.
The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters will sometimes attend daily mass here at our parish and can be found in the neighborhood. On February 17th, they will be having an open house convent from 10:30am to 1pm. You will be able to meet our new neighbors, have a tour and connect with the wonderful Catholic tradition right here in our own backyard. I pray that many of the families of our parish will be able to meet these sisters and perhaps even the seed of a religious vocation may be planted in the hearts of some of the young ladies of our parish. Please join me in praying for an increase of vocations to the religious life.
A few months ago, we had the first part of our stewardship campaign here at Nativity of Mary. At that time, we focused on the “treasure” portion of stewardship. This weekend, we are focusing on the “time and talent” portion of stewardship.
As you may recall, stewardship is not merely the idea of giving. Rather, like all things in our Catholic life, it begins and ends with God. When we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find that the word “stewardship” is used in several different passages: No. 859, “[The Apostles are] ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’”; 893, “The bishop is the steward of the grace”; 952, “A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods”; 1117, “The Church . . . is the faithful steward of God’s mysteries”; 2238, “God has made [those in authority] stewards of his gifts”; 2280, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us”.
Notice, that in all of these cases, it all starts with God. To be a steward, one must recognize the truth that all we have comes from God, and this includes our time and our talent. When this recognition happens in our minds, we think about our time and our talents in a much different way: We want to use them properly, we want to care for them and use them with love.
I often liken it to that recognition of all that my parents have done for me. My parents gave me a house to live in, food to eat, the time to play with my friends, the education that I received. If not for my parents, I would not have survived. Because of this recognition, I not only have a greater appreciation for their gifts, but I want to use them in a way that respects why they gave them to me. My parents did not help provide for my housing so that I could use the house in any way I wanted. They provided housing so that I would use it properly, keeping it clean, making my bed, putting away my laundry. My parents did not provide dental care so that I could treat my teeth in any way I desired, but rather, I now had a duty to brush them daily, floss, and visit the dentist every six months (can you tell my mom was a dental hygienist?).
In a similar way, and perhaps a more real way, this is how we are to treat our time and our talents. We should be a people who recognize just how much God has given us out of love. God has blessed each of us in these special ways. And now, we have a moment where we turn to God and ask Him, how do you want me to use my time and my talents.
This week, you have been given a time and talent letter and the purpose is not simply to fill it out, but rather, for it to become a tool for prayer. It is important to turn to God and ask God to show you how to use your time and talent. Perhaps there is a talent that has been hidden in you that God now wants to bring out. Or maybe your life has changed in the past few years and now there is new time available that God is asking you to put to service in a new way.
Each one of us has been gifted by God and we are now stewards of these gifts, meaning that we are not the source nor the end of that gift. Rather, we are caretakers of these gifts and realize the love that is found in each gift. Let us respond to that love by turning to God
It is now the heart of the winter. I, for one, enjoy the winter. I find the snow and the cold exciting, I enjoy getting out to ice skate and play hockey, I like the beauty of a soft snowfall, I get excited when my nostrils freeze together (well, maybe not that part). However, I realize that there are those who do not enjoy winter as much as I do, and thus they like to escape to warmer climates. Many couples will get away for a few months and there are families that travel during spring break. As a society, we travel quite a bit.
One temptation that can occur when we travel is to forget about the importance of prayer. Because we are out of our usual setting or away from our routines, we can be tempted to miss the prayer that needs to be a part of our lives, even when we are away from our homes.
The reality is that God is everywhere and God’s love is everywhere for us. We need to respond to that love in prayer. So here are a few suggestions for continuing to pray while you travel.
First, remember that traveling with others is a great time to pray together. We often pray alone, but when we are traveling, we typically travel with others. This is a great time to practice praying with other people. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matt 18:20). We have been designed to pray together. It can be a simple prayer each morning as your start your day or a prayer to St. Christopher for safe travelers (he is the patron Saint of travellers). Regardless of how you do it, it is good to pray together.
Second, schedule time for mass. Vacation from work is not a vacation from God or His call for us to attend mass. It is essential for us as Catholics to attend mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. So when you travel, look up the local Catholic churches and their mass times. If you do not know how to find the parishes, you are in luck: www.masstimes.org is an incredible website that will help you find masses using the zip code or address. If you use your cell phone, you need only push the button and it will use the GPS to find your location and the closest churches and their mass times.
Finally, bring your rosary. I travel with my rosary and it is a beautiful simple prayer that you carry in your pocket. It has even been cleared by TSA on all of my air travels. When you are on the plane, put away your electronics for just a few minutes and pray the rosary. If you have forgotten your rosary, good news: God gave you ten fingers and you pray the rosary that way! The rosary is the traveling prayer. It is also a good reminder to pray when you keep it in your pocket. You may put your hand in your pocket looking for your keys and you feel your rosary: That might be God reminding you to pray that day.
People enjoy traveling and it is easier than ever for us to explore this amazing world that God has given to us. As we travel creation, let us not forget the Creator and make time for prayer.
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl