Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Importance of Grief

I remember in seminary, one of my professors was commenting on the modern funeral
liturgy, and made the comment that he wonders if we give people enough time to
grieve. His point was there is this emphasis on rejoicing and the resurrection (a good
thing) but we also sometimes might lose sight of the fact that loss is real. And while we
have the hope that our loved one is at peace and in heaven, we also have the reality of
still being here on earth and not having them with us physically, which is painful.

Admittedly, I think he’s on to something. For instance, we give people time off for a
funeral, but dealing with loss is tough, and sometimes we can both in the Church and in
larger society put so much emphasis on heaven, we forget about the here and now. And
that’s why it’s important to have the proper perspective on dealing with loss.

As I’ve shared, I recently lost my beloved dog Kirby, who journeyed with me for 7
wonderful years. Every day I grew accustomed to seeing him (though in our later years
it required opening the refrigerator door not just the house door for him to come running
up the stairs). Losing him pretty quickly (he got ill and died within a month as cancer in
dogs is so rapid) was a shock. The day I lost him was the first time I’ve cried in quite
some time. And then coming home that day, there was the added pain of seeing his
food dish; of going into the fridge where I had special meals I made trying to get him to
eat before I knew he had cancer of ground chuck and potatoes and rice; of putting away
his toys. And even a month later now, I still sometimes see a dog hair here or there, or
come home looking downstairs hoping to see a pair of eyes peer around the corner but
knowing that’s not going to happen. There will always be pain there, and on different
levels there’s also pain with the other types of loss. For instance in October, I’d love to
be watching baseball games over at my grandparent’s house with my grandpa Henry,
but I lost him nearly 17 years ago. And I’d love to stop by my grandma Pat’s house and
spend time with her as she insisted on making me a meal, but I lost her nearly 16 years
ago. With Kirby and my grandparents and so many other people in my life, there is on
the one hand an understanding that they are at peace, and they are also loved by God,
but on the other hand there’s also the grief that doesn’t have an expiration date. So I
think something good to think about is how do we as Catholics and humans deal with
this?

I imagine people wiser than me have covered this in many self-help sections at
bookstores, but these are just my musings as a member of the human race and as a
priest at what I do to move forward.

As a starting point, I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to cry. When Kirby
passed, and I was given the news that this wasn’t just some gastrointestinal thing but
something far more serious and that it was time to help him pass in peace, I cried at the
vets office. It was the first time I had cried in quite sometime; I couldn’t tell you the last
time that happened. And two days later, when I offered Mass and told the kids in my
homily how little things we do for others help so much, I cried again because I was
talking to them about the cards they made for me with Kirby’s photo on them that was the last photo ever taken of him. I do not like getting emotional (other than laughing) in
front of people. But if you saw that wonderful film “Inside Out” (great for adults and kids
alike) from Pixar a few years ago, who’s message is that all of our emotions matter,
even sadness, we have to be OK with grieving. And remember it does not have some
end point. I’ll probably cry again thinking of a loved one as something will trigger a
memory, and we have to accept that if Jesus can cry (as He does when informed of
Lazarus dying) we can too.

Second, I think it’s important to have a support network. Sometimes we can hold our
emotions in. Kirby for me was that in a lot of ways. Yes he couldn’t talk, but if you are a
dog owner you know what I mean. I’d tell him my problems or what was on my mind.
But we also need people who can talk back. It’s so important to have people you can
talk to about your emotions and can help you navigate through pain, both through loss
and through the other things life throws at us.

Third, remember we have a connection always to our loved ones. I say at most every
funeral Mass remember this person is not someone who once was, but is someone who
still is. I truly believe that while I can’t go over and watch the World Series with grandpa,
he is praying for me and he continues to inspire me to become a better person. So think
often about your loved ones you’ve lost; pray for them; visit the cemetery, and even talk
to them in your heart and know they will always be with you.

Fourth, don’t keep things hidden. With Kirby, there never was a bad day. Dogs just love
unconditionally. And even when he bolted out of the door and I had to chase him up the
block, or he decided to squat in the living room and do something we need not get into
detail about in this space, there was nothing he could do that would be remotely painful
to me. That’s dogs. Humans though are complicated. We can hurt one another. We can
say mean things. We can hold grudges. And odds are with even people we loved the
most, sometimes there may have been something they didn’t do right. Or maybe it was
more serious and they weren’t as loving as they should have been. It’s important to talk
about these things too to people, perhaps even a counselor. If there were some things
with a loved one that went unresolved, don’t bury these things but remember they are
important to talk about and work through.

Lastly, think about the good you were for your loved ones too. Of course we too can
think “I should have done this” or that with our loved ones. They knew you loved them.
But it’s important to also remember that so many good things were brought about
through your loving actions. And you’ll be reminded of this when you meet again in
heaven.

Life is a blessing, but it can also be very difficult. The journey does not end with death;
Jesus changed the meaning of that entirely. We move forward with hope and with the
promise of being forever in God’s love, which also helps us through the pain. But while
we have that hope, we also must acknowledge the reality of pain and loss too by not
burying it, but truly dealing with it in a healthy way knowing it’s truly okay to laugh and to be happy, but also quite okay to cry and grieve no matter how long it’s been since we
said a temporary good bye to physically seeing those who mean so much to us.

Blessings,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Some Favorite Places, Far and Near

Hard as it is to believe, it’s MEA break time coming up.

I actually don’t remember MEA as a kid in the 80s, but maybe it existed back then.

I also was surprised when I became a priest with a school how many people seemed to travel over the MEA break. By that point, the leaves are gone and we’ve kind of entered what I refer to as the lousy time of year in Minnesota, as much as I love it (sorry winter lovers, you’ll never find this guy saying anything positive about snow. Though I guess one positive with winter is owls show up in northern Minnesota to take pictures of, but I digress). The point is I figured not too many people would be traveling. We certainly never did; our vacation was going “up north” a time or two in the summer. And they were great vacations. But “up north” was a little chilly post fall foliage.

Now knowing that a lot of folks travel, the question is where should one travel to? Why should one travel?

Admittedly I write this article while traveling and doing so early for our wonderful bulletin editor Bobbi Neuens who will be – wait for it – traveling soon too. And I love to travel – sort of. I love road trips and being in my car. Airline travel? Well not so much.

As far as why I travel, believe it or not, it’s often a spiritual experience for me. I often travel alone (it’s great – eat when you want, go where you want, make better time, etc). But as I do so, I often find myself having a great appreciation for the amazing things that are around me. Some are the accomplishments that people can do when they use their gifts to glorify God; walk through Chartes Cathedral for instance, my favorite church that I’ve ever been in (well, excluding Saint Joe’s of course). Or look at the ceiling in the Sistine chapel. These were done by people using the gifts God gave them to glorify Him. And then there are places like Ellis Island, which make you think of the struggles immigrants went and still go through to find a better life; or the Statue of Liberty, the first thing people would see as a testament to the freedom we enjoy as Americans and cherish.

Where you should go is of course up to you. But what I’ve found in my travels so far is that there are many places that I’ve fallen in love with, both far away and closer to home. So in no particular order, here’s some places you might consider visiting.

Places a Little Father Away…

  1. Our national parks. When I really got into photography, national parks became a place that I really wanted to see. The first one I went to was Badlands National Park, taking a trip out there with my family shortly after I was ordained. It was amazing to see the rock formations and the color. Since then, I went to the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, and Everglades National Park. They are all wonderful, though if I had to pick just one on the list, Yellowstone. The beauty is you can visit there and drive – it’s about 20 hours and you can stop in Rapid City. Think of it as you can stand 20 hours in TSA line and fly, or just drive. I think the choice is clear.

    South Dakota. Badlands made the list above, but so much is in the Rapid City area. You’ve got Spearfish Canyon as well, along with Custer State Park which is great for it’s wildlife.

    3. New York City. Yes, that’s the place where they make the salsa that is not Pace, which is made in El Paso (if you remember that commercial you’ll get the reference.) On the one hand, New York is not my kind of town. I’m an introvert, I don’t much like crowds, and New York is a zoo. People are out everywhere at all times of day, and riding the subway is much like those Garfield cats you’d put on your car window. But nonetheless, it’s a city with such great history and so much to see that is a 2 1/2 hour flight. The photo ops are endless, and from sports to Broadway to just spending your time walking around and visiting museums or taking it all in, it’s a great destination.

    4. Rome, London and Paris. Admittedly I have no current plans to ever go back to Europe – too long of a flight, and again the crowds above. But having visited these cities, they are all full of history. Each has beautiful churches; going to King’s College in Cambridge for an evening prayer service was very moving. These are great destinations to take in not only Christian history but also to see so much of world history as you walk through the Louvre, or gaze upon Parliament and Big Ben in London. (Just always keep your hand on your billfold while riding subways!).

Places a Little Closer to Home…

  1. The North Shore. Were the distance not too far to visit family, I’d probably be a priest of the diocese of Duluth. Yes, winter is harsh, even harsher there. But it’s also beautiful, and close enough to where I grew up. Rosemount is 2 1/2 hours from Duluth and from there you can see so much; any one of the state parks, great wildlife areas, and of course the big lake. Such a great place to just get away.

 

  1. Red Wing to Winona. I love driving down here in winter on my day off, because this is a great place to watch eagles. Eagles are great to photograph, and the great spots, which are Colvill Park and Read’s Landing, are free to stop and enjoy them. You’ll also find other waterfowl in the open water. Southeastern Minnesota is also underrated for fall color – everyone seems to go north, but don’t forget go south too. Lanesboro is a great town to visit.

 

  1. Any state park. We have a great state park system. So too does our neighbor to the east, Wisconsin. So check them out. Nearby is Frontenac State Park, just south of Red Wing with great views of Lake Pepin and trails. Favorites in the state for me include Banning, north of Hinckley, which has beautiful trails and vibrant colors; Gooseberry Falls which is actually free; Split Rock Lighthouse Park with great views of the Minnesota Icon; Judge C.R. Magney which is across from the lovely Naniboujou Lodge which is a great place for a meal or just to check out the amazing architecture and walls and ceilings; Frontenac State Park near Red Wing and Grand Portage State Park on our border with Canada where you can view the high falls. Next door, great parks in Wisconsin include Wyalusing in the southwest part of the state, Amnicon Falls (due east of Cloquet), Copper Falls (just east of Amnicon) and Willow River (near Hudson).

 

  1. Como Zoo and Conservatory. Both are free and close to home. The conservatory is a great place to visit in winter to remind you yes you will see life again outside once the snow melts, and are great family options.

 

  1. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum located in Chanhassen. A three mile loop trail and ever-changing gardens make it always worth a visit.

 

  1. The Sax-Zim Bog. This area in northeast MInnesota, northwest of Cloquet, is known for it’s amazing birds. Warblers in summer; owls in winter. It’s probably my single favorite “go-to” spot in state as a photographer, but even if you aren’t into photography, consider driving the rural roads here to find some birds.

Lastly, don’t forget to choose your own adventure. You don’t have to go far or spend all that much. We are blessed with great local spots to go for a walk, from county parks to places that are just a short drive. As the saying goes, “stop and smell the roses.” It’s a big, beautiful world out there. And I think we sometimes spend so much time over-scheduling ourselves or our kids, or think we have to spend a lot of money to go far away, that we forget so much great stuff is right here. One of the things I appreciated with my parents is how we got to see so much in-state. I loved our trips to Duluth and “up north” but also the trips I took with my mom to the local park or just a day trip.

Oh, and one last thing (yes I know the previous paragraph says “lastly). Encourage the kids (and yourselves too) to put down the tablets and phones on road trips and to take in the beauty around you.

Have a great MEA break if you are taking some time away. But whether you are staying locally or going to MSP, never forget that all around is so much to see – so take it in and enjoy God’s beauty in Creation.

Happy Trails,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Balancing the Rights of the Accused & Need for Victim Protection, Empowerment

One of the unfortunate things with everyone having a phone with a camera, video capability, or access to social media is that in an instant, a person’s reputation can be quickly ruined. Sometimes it’s something taken out of context like a tweet or a remark on Facebook; other times it’s the small snippet of a video we see; or other times it is the poison of gossip which can spread like wildfire thanks to social media.

The point of this article is not to be political, but to discuss a current example that has been quite shocking to me how it has unfolded.

About a month ago, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to be on the Supreme Court. And recently, the debate has not been about his judicial opinions or actions as a judge, but about what may or may not have happened when he was 17 years of age at a party he allegedly attended.

One person claims an assault. The only issue is multiple people have refuted this. Judge Kavanaugh claims he was not even at the party. In fact, the person alleging the assault, Christie Ford, has no one to back up this claim. In fact, all of the individuals that she said were at the party, including Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, classmate Patrick Smyth, and her own longtime friend, Leland Ingham Keyser — have denied knowledge of the episode. Another accusation suddenly cropped up, from 35 years ago, about something that may or may not have taken place at a college party. Somehow these accusations never came up when Judge Kavanaguh was confirmed already as an appellate judge.

By all accounts Judge Kavanaugh, a Catholic, is an honorable family man; a lector at Mass; a youth sports coach; a volunteer at his parish in serving food for the poor.

Does this mean that something did not happen years ago? Not at all. The allegations may or may not be true. But unfortunately, it seems more a matter of partisanship, as the very people arguing against Judge Kavanaugh as being guilty don’t seem to be talking much about the allegations against Keith Ellison.

The situation which has been in the news is indicative of a greater problem that we have in society. Actually, it’s a two-fold problem. On the one hand, we have some who are accused quickly. Think for a moment if your entire life were caught on tape. Or if a person didn’t like you started making accusations against you on social media. It wouldn’t be long before your reputation too could be destroyed. But, on the other, we have people who felt silenced because they felt no one would believe them. So how can we have a balance that takes an allegation seriously, but also respects the right of the accused? If someone is exonerated can that person still be seen as innocent?

In a society that is based on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” it seems that this may be less and less the case. I am especially aware of this as a priest; as I’ve written before, it’s why I take extreme precautions never to put myself in an awkward situation. The confessional has a window; my office has a window; I’m never alone with a minor, and would only meet with someone of the opposite sex alone on parish grounds or in my office, unless of course it were a visit that were a sick call or to a hospital or family. But certainly there is the fear. What if someone did not like me to the point where they wanted to destroy me or level an accusation against me that was not true? To be sure there are people who hate priests out there; even in parishes, I would not put it past an angry or mentally unbalanced parishioner to do something like this because they thought I was too liberal or too conservative, or didn’t like some parish decision. (If you want to see an excellent movie about this, I’d suggest the underrated Hitchcock film “I Confess” from 1953. I’d also suggest “Twelve Angry Men.”). Many others find themselves in the same situation; police; teachers; public officials, youth sports coaches. Where does one draw the line and find the balance?

First and foremost, anytime we suspect abuse a person must be protected. Never for a second think “well he/she might not be guilty” if you fear someone might be in danger. Call the police immediately. No questions.

Second, it is very true that a person may have not reported something from years ago. Case in point, victims of clerical abuse. Anyone who abused should be brought to justice. And a person should not fear coming forward, even if it was many years later. One of the good things to come from the “MeToo” movement is that women who were victims of sexual harassment have felt empowered to come forward and say “I will be silent no more.” This should apply of course to all people, for abuse is not limited to gender or age. Certainly, if you were harassed or abused, report it. Seek therapy. And hold the abuser accountable no matter who they are. You are created in God’s image and should always be respected and treated as such. Abuse is abhorrent.

Third though, what happens when there is an accusation? (And I’m not just talking abuse, sexual harassment but with anything such as a drinking problem, infidelity, etc). My hope is that clear heads will prevail. The accusation should be taken seriously. But there is a reason news media, at least until recently, did not name people who were not charged with a crime. Unfortunately I think what can happen is a personal opinion of someone can influence how they see their guilt or innocence. If the accusation has merit, there should be an investigation. For instance in cases of clerical accusations, there is a report to the police, and also an investigation by the archdiocese official, Tim O’Malley. But I truly believe that the Kavanaugh accusations are more about politics than anything else; and were the tables reversed, and he were a Democratic-nominated justice, I would not at all be shocked to see Republicans on TV claiming “well he’s probably guilty of something.” But this also applies at the micro level; there are people we just might not like. Maybe a person got a ticket and does like the cops; maybe a parent has a teacher they think are “out to get” their child; or maybe a person really never much cared for their neighbor. If any of these people were accused of something, being human our personal feelings about them could easily cloud our judgment.

In the Old Testament, I always found it interesting how much the name of God was respected; no one speaks the name of God; it’s why to this day Jewish people typically do not use “Yahweh.” A name was sacred; to know a name implied power over that person. Our names are sacred too. And sitting on both sides of the confessional as a confessor and a penitent, I can attest that people do things they are not proud of, including the author of this article. We must hold people to a high standard. We must make sure any victim is empowered to not be afraid to speak up. But we also must remember that our judicial system is based on a presumption of innocence, and more than an accusation is needed, namely evidence, and that goes for things that never make it to a courtroom.

My hope is that Judge Kavanaugh is given that opportunity for any accusation to be proven. But as I said, this article is not about Judge Kavanaugh. It’s about the importance of finding the proper balance between a rush to judgment and a need to make sure victims are empowered to not be silent. I don’t have all the answers, but hope that we can as a society find the right path.

Blessings,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Discerning God’s Call

As I write this, I am preparing to head out west for a vacation. I’ll be going to the Badlands, on to Yellowstone, then down to Grand Teton National Park, back up through Devil’s Tower, visit Custer State Park and then head home. The trip was supposed to take place in June, but a rather unfortunate encounter with a deer when I was coming back from photographing loons one evening caused a delay. It’s actually a good thing though, as wildlife “action” is far better in fall, and you get the turning leaves.

I was bit by the photography bug about 10 years ago, and quickly fell in love with nature photography. But while I love to photograph, I also love to be out in nature, because it is a place where one can truly encounter God. (Small wonder mountains are so often a part of the Bible where a prophet finds his call or encounters God.). In the silence, or praying alone, I can often feel closer to God, and hear what God is telling me.

This in part was how I discovered my vocation. I had thought about priesthood as a child, and then thought surely I’d want to be married, but towards the end of college was thinking about priesthood again. I remember going to a dinner held at the Archbishop’s residence, and getting there early going to the cathedral. I sat quietly in prayer before the Sacred Heart statue, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace that this was what I was called to do. About 7 years later, I stood in front of that same statue, this time giving my first blessing to people as a priest.

Of course one does not become a priest when entering seminary. The discernment process continues. You study theology, but also get a feel for parish life and the daily life of a priest. And as I entered into the routine of seminary, while there were some challenges as there is in anything we do, there was also a sense of peace and knowing that this is where God was calling me. Following ordination, while there have been again many ups and downs, what there also is is happiness and fulfillment. While I could see myself doing other things like wedding photography or owing a photo studio, or working in the private sector, I would not feel truly happy because I would not have followed my true call.

In the first reading for this weekend, we hear “The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.” Now odds are the Lord is not going to speak to you or me in this way, but the Lord is trying to speak to us all. And a big part of that I think is using silence, and discernment so that like Moses we can determine what to do with our vocation but also with other things in our lives.

With respect to the decisions in life, such as “should I volunteer for this” or “how should I handle this situation with this person or family member,” I think silence can be very helpful. It’s one of the reasons someday I’d love to see an adoration chapel at our parish, where people can come and go 24 hours a day to gaze upon our Lord in the monstrance. Just letting God speak to us can give us clarity.

With respect to our vocations though, we can also get clarity through the silence, but action is of course also required once we get a sense of what to do. So how do we discern we “got the message right” whether it’s to handle a work or family situation or enter a seminary?

I think the keys there are looking for happiness, peace and contentment. If, after making a decision, it seems to bring peace, then odds are you made the right decision. Not every day as a priest, a parent, a married person, etc is going to necessarily be an emotional high. But there’s a certain sense of peace in doing what you are doing you are called to do. And if you run from that when you have a bad day or things don’t seem to be going right too quickly, what you’ll find is that contentment is gone.

So in discernment, I think there are four steps:

  1. Prayer and reflection: listening to what God is calling us to do.

    2. Action: Taking the steps. Think of Moses going towards the burning bush. If God is calling you to say try a new job, you apply; or perhaps you feel called to marry someone. You begin dating. Or if you are called to religious life, you apply.

    3. Seeing the big picture and not making snap decisions based on emotion. Any vocation is tough; there are good days and bad days. But if this is what God has called you to do, it’s important to stick it out.

    4. Happiness. Are you really happy? It’s important to ask if you are considering marrying someone, in a career or considering a change. While I have ups and downs as a priest, I can honestly say I am very happy despite what individual days may bring. If you find that peace, then odds are you are in the right vocation.

    If you are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, please contact me and I’d be happy to help you in the discernment process. Perhaps you might consider diaconate, and we have two wonderful deacons in Steve and Gordon who would be great to talk to.

    I remember in seminary I had a professor who commented that some people just drift along like logs going down a river day to day. I like to do that when I’m taking it easy or maybe on a vacation, but in life I know that God has a plan for me. He has a plan for you too, so listen to what He’s calling you to do. He put you here for a reason – so listen to what the plan might be, be patient, and carry it out, never forgetting the difference you can make when you take the time to discern God’s plan for you.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Simple Acts go a Long Way

As I shared at Mass, a couple of weeks ago I lost, as I would typically refer to him, my “number 1 fluff ball buddy” Kirby. Kirby is a sweet, gentle dog who came into my life just over 7 years ago.

I’d wanted a dog since I was about 4. There was a neighbor who had a friendly German Shepherd called Clyde, whom I’d feed cheese treats to. Outside of Clyde marking his territory one day and me being in the line of fire (a story my mom still gets a laugh out of to this day as my reaction at the time was shock apparently saying “I thought you were my friend” but the friendship was quickly reconciled) I loved Clyde, and have always loved dogs. Finally when I became a pastor and was going to live alone in a rectory, I had the opportunity to get a dog.

After doing some searching I was put in touch with RAGOM, “Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota.” They are great people. They care about the dogs so interview the perspective human friend, tour the home, and make sure the dog will be cared for and be inside the home, which is important for goldens. It wasn’t too long before a “foster mom” (the rescue stays with a person who often has other dogs too so they can be assessed for the right home) got in touch with me and told me to meet Kirby. I drove down to Eden Prairie, and the big guy jumped up on me. My first words were “hey bud, would you like to live with me?” After getting the food dishes, a bed (which he never used), some toys, I waited a few days and Kirby was dropped off at the house.

He promptly found the backyard area, as I bought a fence for the back. He ran around and had fun, and again marked his territory. He’d do that again inside later, but that’s what cleaners are for so no big deal. We quickly settled into a routine, and it took a little while but I could finally give him free reign of the house. I’d let him out each morning, we’d go for a walk, sometimes jogging, and spent countless hours on the couch, where he would also serve many days as my spiritual director and personal therapist. Of course there were meals too where a paw on my lap ensured a little bit of ham or turkey for him. Kirby was of course great with the school kids too. He loved being surrounded by kids, and felt loved and calm, and he had a calming effect on people.

It was in early August that Kirby’s eating habits changed suddenly. He lost interest in his dog food. I got him another, and he lost interest in that too. Taking him to one vet, she felt it was something gastrointestinal, so a third food caused him to get sick, and several meds also did not work. A second vet also had the same opinion. But when he was turning down hamburger meat and potatoes and rice that I was making for him, I knew something was wrong seriously. He also had more and more issues going to the bathroom, and it got to the point where he’d have to go out repeatedly but not be able to go. I took him in again right away when he could not urinate, and an ultrasound revealed likely cancer near the prostate (even though he had been neutered). This was preventing him from passing fluids and solids, and the poor guy was just miserable. After counsel with the vet I was told it might be best to let him peacefully pass on.

As you might expect, I was pretty emotional at that moment and in the days that followed. I returned from the clinic with some vestments and Mass items as I actually had to leave Kirby there while they tested him because of a nursing home Mass I offered that day for my grandma at Saint Therese (she turned 101 that day!). When walking out, several staff sensed something was wrong, and I told them the news. They were very comforting. As were people on my Facebook page. But word also got to the kids at the school, and each grade kindly made me a card that they signed expressing their condolences and how much they too loved Kirby. On top of that there was a card from the staff.

I talked in my first school Mass homily that week about how simple actions can do so much, reading a story about a man who thinks no one cares about him who is changed through a simple note he’s given that says “Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch.” As I did this, admittedly I also got emotional, as the kind gestures of all those kids combined with the intense emotion at saying goodbye to my best friend got to me. But if Jesus can cry, I think it’s OK if we do too.

I’ll miss Kirby the rest of my life, and odds are down the road there will be another fluffy companion running around the rectory and visiting the school. But the point is that through a simple action, we can do so much. What made Kirby so wonderful were the many simple things every day; the couch time, the walks, the giant head laying on my lap or shoulder. He was just there for me. And in a tough moment, those kids, the great people I work with, and many others were there for me too.

As our lives go by, there are many moments that come up that are simple things we can do to change the lives of others. A kind word here; a phone call; a visit; the gift of our time; or taking the time to write a note or card; or giving someone a hug or just listening to them. Simple gestures that create memories that last a lifetime; simple gestures that make such a difference.

I’ve been blessed with many of those from Kirby, but from so many great people over the course of my life and priesthood. And you add all these things up, and what a difference they make.

Dogs in their special way I think remind us of this importance to just love one another, for they are just happy to see you and be around you. Kirby indeed taught me the importance of the “little things” that make such a difference, as do so many people who fill my life.

So never forget what a big difference a simple gesture can make. People might not remember you for your job, your wealth, or your status – but who cares about that? They will remember though the difference you made in their life by doing something ordinary that in the end was quite extraordinary. So be an entrepreneur and look for new ways each day to bring God’s love to someone who needs it, because you just might change them in ways you couldn’t even imagine.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: So Much to Celebrate and Be Thankful For

Well after a year of planning and hard work from Bridget Samson and the Harvest Festival Committee and many volunteers, our big weekend has arrived to celebrate 150 years as a parish.

Apparently Coach Mike Zimmer has a crystal ball that was given to him by an area psychic in his office. I’m not sure if it actually works though. I do not have a crystal ball, though I do have a Magic 8 ball somewhere in my parents basement. Needless to say I can’t tell at the time of this writing how the festival went, but I feel pretty confident that it will have gone amazingly well. And that’s because of the hard work of so many to make it a success. While it raises funds for the parish, more importantly it gives us a chance as a parish to come together and celebrate as a family.

I’ve been a part of the parish for just over 3 years now, and as I’ve shared in this space before, I could not be happier to be a part of Saint Joseph’s. As for what I personally find so uplifting here? It’s a long list, but here’s just a few:

1. The staff. I’m blessed to work with a great team who cares so much about the parish. They’ll put in a lot of hours. They never complain. They think of new ideas to help the parish forward. And I see us working so well as a team together. Admittedly in some parishes you can see animosity or unhealthy competition and poor communication. That’s certainly not the case here. We support one another and ultimately put the needs of our parish first.

2. Communication. One of the problems in some parishes can be a lack of communication. For instance, anytime a priest has someone come to his office and say “a lot of people are saying…” it usually is translated “I really feel strongly about this but it sounds better if I imply a lot of people agree with me.” Other times you hear about things “through the grapevine” but never directly. Here at Saint Joe’s, one of the strengths is the commission structure and our weekly staff meetings. Through commissions, parishioners are able to suggest ideas and they can be discussed. I also get great feedback and input from our trustees, parish council, and parish director. People are also willing to speak their minds, and talk to you, rather than about you. As such, we’re able to know what others are thinking and talk about our ideas through the use of a consensus model.

3. All Hands On Deck. As I’ve shared in homilies, people are incredibly giving of their time and talent at Saint Joe’s. Just look around the Harvest Festival this weekend. There’s bingo callers, ushers, servers, a clean-up crew, people running the games, and staff as well. Sometimes parishes it’s so difficult to find people to help, because everyone is busy and has no time for things other than Mass. At Saint Joe’s, people consistently step up to the plate.

4. Vibrant Liturgies. The Church has a rulebook of sorts for Mass – it’s called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Sometimes though in parishes, things get added into Mass that really should not be there. Or other times things get skipped, so the Mass becomes a bit too unique. It’s a joy to work with Bill Bradley who directs worship here and leads music. I love the music at Mass, and liturgies flow well. We have dedicated Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors and Altar Servers who come together to make Mass a truly uplifting experience that helps bring people closer to God each week.

5. Lack of “Tribalism.” An ongoing problem in parishes can be “tribalism.” It takes many forms. In years past, it was common for people of different ethnicities to go to certain parishes. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, what it sometimes led to was animosity between parishes, or the message “you’re not welcome here because ‘your people’ go to the parish a few blocks down the street.” Other times parishes become splintered between the “liberals” and “conservatives” or the “school people” and “non school” people. Here, there is a real sense of putting the “we” before the “me.”

6. A willingness to give. One of the things I least enjoy as a priest is talking about money. I am fully aware people are stretched thin – mortgages, car payments, school and sports expenses, utility bills, etc. And I’m also aware that people have given a lot to their parish here – we’ve gone from a deficit of $16 million to $4.7 million in just 15 years. And there have been several capital campaigns, including a new one just beginning. But you know what I do not get here? Emails and letters that are complaining that “all you do is talk about money” or “I’m so sick of giving” or “why don’t you close the school, or reduce the staff, because I don’t have kids in the school and it costs us money.” In 3 years, I can’t recall a single complaint about giving, and I think that’s because people understand this is their parish. It was built 150 years ago by immigrants who were often struggling financially themselves, because they wanted a place to grow in their faith. And my sense is people take ownership of their parish because they love being here and it helps them grow closer to God.

7. Support. Finally, I’d like to also thank the people of the parish for the support I get personally as a priest. It’s hard sometimes to be a priest, particularly a pastor because you are a public person. And with such partisanship these days, this spills over into the Church. People can sometimes be critical of how you say Mass, how you preach, etc. And while at times it’s an honest, friendly suggestion, others will judge you for how “orthodox” they perceive you, or how liberal or conservative they perceive you, and can be genuinely mean. Others take a decision that occurs in a parish personally, and take it out on the pastor, and other times gossip can be a problem. After 3 years, I can truly say that I feel welcomed here as part of a family. People are supportive of one another, including the parish priest. I’m well aware everyone has different traits they like or don’t like in priests or in a parish, and some will like my style, others not so much, but overall I don’t feel the need to pretend to be someone I’m not – I’m accepted as I am, and people are also accepting of the fact that I am a human being, meaning I make mistakes and learn from them too. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you can “be yourself” and are accepted as you are.

Our parish celebrates 150 years this week with a wonderful festival. But I have to say I have a lot to celebrate too, namely being part of a great parish surrounded by great people. And because of that while our past was great, I’m confident our future will be even better.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Harvest Festival: A Testament to 150 Years of Community

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to do a few interviews with local papers along with Bridget Samson and John Loch, a parishioner who is a local history expert, particularly with respect to the history of our parish. Reporters have asked us questions about the upcoming Harvest Festival, and also on the history of the parish.

  While I’ve only been pastor for a whopping 2.2% of the history of the parish, one of the things that I’ve learned about our history from these conversations is how throughout this time, so many people have come out to do so much for the parish and for one another. From the building of the churches, to the volunteer activities, to helping others in need, this has been something that has gone on unchecked for 150 years, and will continue to do so as so many have a remarkable attitude of being thankful, and wanting to give back.

  Needless to say, next weekend is a big weekend coming up. While I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the Harvest Festival by this point, I’d like to use this space this week to give one last push to this big event by reminding you to please come.

  The fun begins Friday night with our Oktoberfest Night as a tip of the hat to our German Heritage (those of you of Irish decent don’t stop reading). We’ll have brats, kraut, homemade pretzels (and most importantly, ketchup for the brats) and French fries. There’ll be a craft fair that night with 30+ crafters and  entertainment by the “Jolly Zuks Band.” Once upon a time when I was in college and in seminary, a place I loved to visit was Gasthof’s in Nord’East Minneapolis. It’s been about 15 years (though I still have my glass boot I won) but “Jolly Zuks” was the resident accordion player there. I can assure you Friday night will be a lot of fun. We’ll also be having a wine toss and an unveiling of our time line as well as the histroy DVD. So too will there be all sorts of games and inflatables for kids, Bingo ongoing (this is a Catholic festival after all!) and of course a beer hall too. Don’t forget the raffle, the dart game, the country store, pull tabs and punch wall. This will also be going on Saturday too.

  On Saturday we will have a “fun run” (is running ever really “fun” though? It’s fun when it’s over, but I digress). This will be a 3.10 mile run (or 5K, but as an American, I refuse to go metric). The 5K run is first at 9am followed by the kids at 11am.  I’ll be jogging in it as well, though I’m pretty sure my t-shirt has an orange triangle on the back for “slow moving vehicle” so the faster runners can pass. Stay after the 5K Run and enjoy the Craft Fair from 9-3 pm with over 30 Crafters showing their creations.  As the day goes on you can get the Knights of Columbus famous “Pork Chop on a Stick” from 11 to 2pm, and then concessions will be available in the evening (not to be confused of course with confessions, which will be at 4 p.m. in the Church, festival and non-festival weekends).

  At 5 p.m. we welcome the Archbishop (please say something nice about the pastor so he is not transferred to Green Bay, he doesn’t like the team there). Seriously it is quite an honor to have Archbishop Hebda with us, and it has been a real joy as a priest to get to know him a bit. He communicates well with the priests and has a servant’s heart, and we are so blessed to have him as the shepherd of our local church. He will preside at Mass which will have “Polka Music.”  Following Mass, at 6 p.m. we’ll have our delicious chicken dinner. And then you can take in the “Chimielewski Funtime” Band from 6pm to 10pm. And all the other fun activities for the kids and the grown ups with the bingo, inflatables, punch wall and other events will be ongoing too. We’ll end Saturday with a fireworks display starting at 10:15 (Kirby my dog is not too happy about this, so he’ll be staying at the house for that one).

  Sunday, prior to the Vikings defeating the Packers, we’ll be having our usual three morning Masses. “Sister Tree” Duo will be providing live entertainment as well from 9:30am to 10:30am and again from 11:30am to 1:00pm. In between Masses, you can join us for a complimentary continental breakfast too.

  Needless to say it’s a huge festival, and I’d just like to close by pointing out again how so many people here work together for the greater good. I think if you knew very little about our history, one thing that would stand out was how people of Irish and German decent worked together. You sometimes did not see that, particularly in the era when the parish was built. While we come together often and America is a “melting pot” where we all are Americans, in some parishes there has been an unhealthy separation that reared itself and went beyond rivalry. I’ve seen none of this here at Saint Joe’s, because it speaks to this remarkable selfless attitude. People here “get it.” They realize that when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, that is what we are called to do. They are committed to their parish. People here don’t do things with a “whats in it for me” mentality or to be seen. They may be Irish, German, or of many backgrounds but they primarily cared about service to God and one another no matter who they were. Most importantly people take ownership of their parish. They love to serve. This wonderful festival is a testament to that fact – it’s being put on by an army, has been in the plans since last fall, and has so many working behind the scenes who want nothing more than to help us celebrate 150 amazing years.

  So, I hope you’ll help us to do just that next week. And again, thank you for helping make not just this festival possible, but this beautiful parish possible. As Saint Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:9, we are God’s co-workers and God’s building. Thank you for helping to build something beautiful, and as we look to the past and celebrate our history, we also look to the future which I see as incredibly bright because of so many here responding to the Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus, “love one another as I have loved you.”

Many Blessings,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: An Attitude of Generostity

Every so often, every pastor has to talk about money. For me, that is right up there with going to the dentist. While I love the ministerial parts of priesthood and celebrating the sacraments, the financial and administrative parts certainly aren’t all that enjoyable.

  Of course though as a non-profit Church, we require money so we can serve the needs of the faithful. Our budget covers the costs of the building; the salaries and benefits of a staff; an investment into a school so we can educate both mind and soul, and numerous other areas all centered around one word: “ministry.” Our goal is to create saints and to help people on their faith journey. This we do through our time, talent and treasure.

  In coming weeks as we head into fall, we’ll be discussing the budget a little bit more, and ways of future giving to the parish so we can continue to provide for the needs of the faithful. But I thought I’d devote a little space to the topic this week because as we mark Labor Day, the labor and the fruits of labor that are shared with Saint Joseph’s do so much, and that’s something to think about.

  First, there is the generosity of those who work our parish. I’m consistently amazed at how selfless our staff is. It really feels like family when you go into the office. On top of this, there is this remarkable attitude of service. There are some in the world who view a job as a stepping stone to a higher paying or more “important” position; others are just there for a paycheck. And in some places, even in Catholic parishes, there can be in-fighting on a staff and it can be toxic. But the staff here at Saint Joseph’s is so remarkable in how they care so deeply about the parish. There is never a “what’s in it for me” kind of mentality, and even when things can become overwhelming at times in the parish office (for we could certainly have plenty to do for a much larger staff) there is never complaining or bitterness. I see the same thing in the school. We welcomed back our teachers last week and this week is of course the start of the new school year. We are blessed with a remarkable team who is dedicated on helping children grow and give so much to their vocation. I have to tell you, it’s a great feeling to come into the office every day and know you are surrounded by a supportive, hard-working team. Our parish is so blessed with the great people who work and serve us.

  Second, there are those who labor by volunteering. I was reminded of this when I stopped in to Kayla Rooney’s office, who heads up our lifelong faith formation program. I asked about catechists for this year, and Kayla shared with me how so many were willing to give of their time to teach the faith to our young people. That’s amazing. I did that once upon a time too, teaching 8th grade faith formation in my college years. It was a little intimidating, but rewarding too. Of course beyond our catechists we have the money counters, the funeral lunch crew, commission members, the gardeners., many committee members,  persons who tend to the flower pots and shrubs and more.  What I’ve found in all of our volunteers is, just as with our staff, there is never a focus on the self, but on the whole.

  Lastly, there is the giving. People here are quite generous. Sometimes on the national level, it can be disheartening when you hear of a situation where people want to “punish” the Church by not giving, but I can assure you donations do not go to some slush fund to pay off lawsuits. Like all parishes, we pay an assessment of our income to the archdiocese because the archdiocese provides things that all parishes need. This covers the salaries of people who work for the archdiocese and serve all the parishes, along with the Marriage Tribunal, Worship Office, Communication and Parish Services offices which benefit all parishes, along with the infrastructure and technology used at the central offices. As I preached on last week, the archdiocese has done so much to be vigilant in combating abuse and creating a safe environment through programs like VIRTUS and the hiring of a full time staff for Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. The assessment is 8% of our Sunday income. There is also the Catholic Services Appeal, an annual fundraiser to support various ministries and programs of the archdiocese with a big chunk of that going back to help the parishes in the form of parish rebates. What has been uplifting is how people are generous here with their financial resources. They want to pay down the debt, to maintain our campus, provide ministries and services for one another. People here truly take ownership of their parish, and I’ve yet to meet a person who wants to be known for how much they give, or who has come into the office willing to give a big donation if in exchange the parish will do something for them. Instead, people freely give.

  So on this Labor Day, I’d like to say “thank you.” It’s such a joy to be a pastor here at a parish where people have a real attitude of gratitude. The civic holiday reminds us of the importance of work and the difference it makes in building our nation. Through our labor, we participate in God’s creation and building up of the world. And in so many ways, I’ve seen people freely give so much to our parish who want to continue to build it up too. Thank you for your generosity, and for always giving with no strings attached. No matter how much or how often you give of your time, talent and treasure, never forget what a lasting impact you leave on your parish – may God bless you for your kindness.

God Bless,   ~ Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: “…And the Gates of the Netherworld shall not Prevail against it”

Last week I had the chance to write a light hearted article about my fondness for the State Fair. Then after the bulletin went to press, a major news story comes out that brings to light more wrongdoing by clergy in the Church, specifically in the state of Pennsylvania over a number of years.

Needless to say, my guess is one’s first reaction when reading what happened there was one of sadness, shock, anger and bewilderment at how something like this could have happened. But my hope is that as people think through the situation, they understand something as well: namely that good will ultimately prevail, and that grace, love and charity are so much more powerful than sin. And that is what we see in our universal Church.

Not too long before I was ordained, then auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates gave each of us a framed quote. It was from Saint John Henry Cardinal Newmann. Part of it states:

Trust the Church of God implicitly, even when your natural judgment would take a different course from hers, and would induce you to question her prudence or her correctness. Recollect what a hard task she has; how she is sure to be criticized and spoken against, whatever she does; recollect how much she needs your loyal and tender devotion. Recollect, too, how long is the experience gained in eighteen hundred years, and what a right she has to claim your assent to principles which have had so extended and so triumphant a trial. Thank her that she has kept the faith safe for so many generations, and do your part in helping her to transmit it to generations after you.

It’s a good quote because as members of the Church, when people in the Church make mistakes, and in some cases very serious ones, it can challenge our faith. But my hope is that we also realize that there is no one in the world without sin, and that despite the sinful actions of the few, the good actions of the many ultimately will triumph.

A couple of weeks ago, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a comprehensive study over a period of many years of the Catholic Church in that state. Sadly, what it found was that there were a number of clergy in that time span that abused children. On top of this, there were some bishops who were silent about the abuse, perhaps fearful of what it would do to the Church if known (which is what also will often occur in family situations of abuse). And so what transpired was a colossal failure to protect minors, and sinful and criminal actions continued.

Pennsylvania is of course not an isolated incident. In our own archdiocese, we emerged from bankruptcy after settling cases stemming from over 50 years ago, and other dioceses around the world are doing the same thing.

When something like this happens, inevitably the faithful may ask “what is going on? How could this happen?” So what can we cling to when those who are meant to guide us not only let us down, but cause scandal and harm to people? How does one move forward and see the hope, rather than the pain?

As a starting point, we must remember again that Christ Himself founded our Church; every other one broke off from our Church. Our Church is made up of imperfect people however. Jesus Himself was betrayed by the first pope when He was denied. The others were cowardly and long gone by Good Friday. And then there’s Paul who became a great leader, but for a while helped kill people who were Christians. These were the founders of our Church and our first bishops. What a way to start. And yet the Holy Spirit helped them, and Jesus saw their potential. This should be something we think seriously about.

Over the years, there have been many, many scandals. Popes and bishops have committed many sins from those sexual in nature to murders, persecutions, you name it. But also through all of this, the Church has thrived, and also grown stronger, and done so much good.

When something occurs like what we have witnessed in Pennsylvania and in other areas, what is important is to continue to trust that God is still there to guide the Church. But what is also important is that those who are impacted by sin must see God in the faithful. The Church has strived to respond to these victims, but we of course know it should have been done much, much sooner. While we cannot change the past, I am glad to see how much the Church has done to reach out to those who have suffered so greatly. Obviously whenever we encounter people who have been impacted by sin, we must do all we can to help them.

A few other things to consider:

  1. Abuse most commonly occurs within family situations, and it impacts other religions as well. Within the family there are the same things; use of power, silence, etc. From a Newsweek article: “based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.”

 

  1. Of the priests accused, many are dead, and the vast majority of these cases are from many years ago. This is not to diminish the gravity of what happened, but the point is over the past two decades, the Church around the world has made great strides. Years ago there was little psychological profiling or oversight in seminaries of people’s backgrounds. Now there is that, along with background checks, safety training to protect minors, steps in place for mandated reporting and so many things. We’ve come a long way and learned from this. The point is that abuse suspicions are addressed quickly and there is adequate training and as such what you see is a much better environment today than we had years ago.

 

  1. As a priest, I am impacted too. I deal with the silent stares, people wondering about my orientation, silently thinking “is he one of the bad ones” and all that. But I have no qualms about wearing my Roman collar in public. Even from years ago when you had these predators who were in the priesthood along with the silence of some bishops, there were also many good clergy as well doing their job and serving the Church, and the good far outweighed the criminal predators.

 

  1. My sense is some bishops panicked and were worried that what happened was so bad it would further damage the Church, or that they did not know the full scope of what was going on, or talked themselves into thinking it was not as big of a problem as it was, thinking a predator could be “cured” through therapy. Of course this was wrong and sinful – and we have to call it what it is, sinful and criminal.

 

  1. Again, I’d urge you to look at where we are in 2018. The actions of sexual abuse and silence were awful – but if you look at cases reported over the last decade, you see a sharp decline. That data proves this. And that’s because the right steps have been taken to ensure that kids are protected.

With this, the situation has made it more difficult to serve as a priest, because you sometimes have to worry about being suspected and as such are reluctant to even hug a child when they run up to you, or if a priest is accused there is this rush to judgment – a priest can be quickly pulled from ministry during an investigation and have no means to defend himself in the court of public opinion, and returning to ministry can be tough as there is gossip, rumors, etc. I know of one man who was forced out of ministry for an incident that happened years ago that was not abuse but an imprudent action (no charges were ever filed) and sometimes as a priest you feel like you walk a tightrope without a net, and wonder if you were accused of something would you be supported by people or your diocese. It is so important to protect children, but there also must be due process as well.

  1. I think it would be good for the Church to have a commission made up of clergy and laity to do a comprehensive study on where we were and where we are at. However in many dioceses, this has taken place already. But again, I truly believe where we are at is the silence of some bishops is not there anymore – cases of suspected abuse are quickly turned over to authorities. In our own archdiocese, we have a full time former law enforcement officer on staff who investigates any matters of misconduct and abuse as well.

 

  1. The media has reported on what has happened, but I do not believe they have adequately reported on the response. It is also important to note leaders of other religions have used faith as a weapon too; from extreme Islamic terrorism, to Protestant ministers, etc. Religion is used as a tool by some to corrupt others, take advantage of them, steal from them, etc. But the vast majority of people in ministry across faiths are there to help people. That being said you cannot get around original sin’s effects – people in all religions will sometimes choose to do evil acts, and once one is done, it can form a cycle or habit. However, the Church is also responsible for so much good and that does not get reported.

 

  1. Again, trust Jesus – He knew what He was doing when He made one Church, not multiple ones. He knew what He said when “the gates of hell will not prevail against Her.” These were horrible things that happened, no one can deny that. But hearing confessions for 10 years and going to confession for about 33 years now as a penitent, I can assure you people commit all kinds of sins. Bad things happen in people’s lives, and families. You can give your money to this Church because we are the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We are a Church that gives education, provides health care and hospitals, and helps people on their faith journey. The charitable activity of the Church and the good work done by the Pope, Bishops and local parishes is truly amazing. That will go unreported.

 

  1. Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough: from this we have learned the importance of protecting people from abuse. But there is so much more work to do. We must continue to reach out to victims and help them in any way. When we suspect something, we must alert the authorities and always err on the side of caution, not telling ourselves a parent maybe just “had a bad day” or “it’s none of our business.” We need to not only continually examine the Church and ask “are we doing enough” (which I truly believe we are doing so much so in this archdiocese) but also always ask that of ourselves and of our own families. And if we know of someone who has been hurt and has not had justice, or still carries pain within them, we need to reach out to them as well in any way to let them know we care and are there for them to help them in any way.

Yes, with 2000 years of history, a billion members, and an estimated 414,313 priests in the Catholic Church throughout the world, some of those people will do some very evil things. Some of them will betray just as Judas did. Some of them will cause pain. It’s okay to be hurt, angry, and frustrated. But if you think the answer to being guaranteed to be free of sinful leaders is found elsewhere in another faith, or in the secular world, that’s just not going to happen because original sin’s effects are there and always will be there. But so too will be grace and the love of God, which is far more powerful and the people who see this, who far outnumber those who do not. We cannot deny what has happened, but as we look to the future we must also have the hope and trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide and strengthen our Church and leaders as we journey forward as the people of God. I hope and pray we have learned as a Church from recent scandals, and pray for all of those impacted, and hope you do too. Don’t look to the past at the actions of some and think God abandoned His Church. Rather look to the past and learn from what was done (and not done), and look to the future by trying to ensure the love of God shines through you through your actions, knowing that the Church is there to guide and help you each and every step of the way.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Think Little

Hard as it is to believe, this week marks the beginning of the Minnesota State Fair.

The Fair is something that is truly engrained in me. I have gone every year since I can first remember. In fact, if someone says they aren’t going to the Fair, I might give them the “oh that’s nice” Minnesota line, and wonder if perhaps they are from Wisconsin or out of state. Not go to the Fair? By choice? How is this possible?

In all seriousness, I get the Fair is not for everyone, and it can also get a bit expensive especially if you are going with a lot of people. But one of the reasons I look forward to it each year is for the simple things that it brings that are wonderful to enjoy.

For one there is the food. One need not get into the strange stuff, the best things are the foot long hot dogs, cheese curds, and the malts, and an amazing Iowa import called the “gizmo,” an Italian beef with mozzarella you can find near the Pet Building (you’ll thank me when you find this wonderful stand).

Then there are the photo ops. The Fair is a favorite subject especially at night, because I love photographing the Midway (though the last time I was on a ride was a very long time ago), and the various food vendors who are all lit up after dark.

And of course there’s the booths with the literature, the pens and the things that will go in a bag and sit someplace in my home until they are thrown out mid-October. And the people watching too, along with the media and local celebrities and daily parade and of course Fairchild the Fair Mascot.

Indeed, each year is the same. I take it all in, often sit for a while on a bench, and think “this is great.” My Fair Day usually is about 9 hours at minimum, and some years entails two trips. It’s well worth it, even if my heart sinks a bit as I leave knowing I am saying farewell for another year and soon to my favorite time of year, summer.

This year, I was fortunate to be selected to have a photograph displayed at the State Fair in the Fine Arts Building which is also for sale there (I’ll have another copy I’m donating along with others to the parish for the Harvest Festival). It’s not of the Fair though, it’s of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was part of a trip I was on last fall, and I returned there and to New York a couple of weeks ago too again taking a number of pictures. And it got me to thinking about why I fell in love with not just the Fair but photography, and that is I hope to help people enjoy the simple things more. By this, what I mean is that there are so many things that go by each and every day, and we miss them because we are too busy or over-scheduled. What I try to do through photography is capture things that make people think a bit and see the beauty that is all around them; from the glory of the Brooklyn Bridge, to the birds in their back yard, to a tranquil waterfall or the stars in the sky above them. Indeed, there’s so much out there. You look at something like the Brooklyn Bridge, or walk around New York City, and you think to yourself “wow what an amazing place to just take in and enjoy.” But for that to happen, one has to open their eyes to what is around them.

So whether you intend to go to the Fair or not, or whether you enjoy photography yourself or aren’t that into it, one thing I hope you can truly do each day is try to stop and smell the roses, and take in the beauty that is the world around you. I think it’s especially worth remembering as summer wanes and we head into what can be a busier time of year with school starting in a couple of weeks, fall activities, etc. Value the daily little things and make time for them in your life. Have a family dinner. Go for a walk. Spend some time in the yard. Watch a sunset. Have an actual conversation and not a text message back-and-forth. Play a game with your children or grandchildren. Count the stars in the sky. And in all things, give thanks. Bring these things to prayer too, and maybe along with asking for needs and help, give thanks to God for the blessings in your life, and keep a copy of that list to look at for the moments when you might be tempted to think you are a lot worse off than others who seemingly have it so much more easier or so much more than you.

I have not seen the film, but I saw a poster with the characters from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books promoting the latest film about a grown up Christopher Robin who apparently has become so busy with life he’s forgotten about his childhood friends and needs a reminder of how to live again and find happiness now with his own family instead of being a miserable busybody. The line on the poster from the rotund little bear was “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing.” Apparently the full line from A.A. Milne is: “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Some pretty good advice. We all have to be busy and do things and work – that’s important too. But so too is looking at all that is around us every day. You don’t have to go to the Fair or New York to find beauty in the world or in your life, it’s all around you in the simple things, so take it all in and give thanks for it, because it’s a true blessing.

Hope you have a Fairly good week ahead,

Fr. Paul