Skeleton Man or “Faithful” Servant

If you’ve ever traveled in Europe, you may have noticed, as I did, the visibility and plenitude of bodies and crypts in the churches there.

franciscan associate 011Actually, last spring when we were visiting Germany for our Congregation’s anniversary celebration, a Church we frequented had a skeleton preserved up front.  It was on the left-hand side as we faced the altar.  This “Studientkirche” was actually the site of the special anniversary Mass.

To specify where, within the church, we were to be seated for the special day, we teasingly said “toward the front, by ‘Skeleton Man.”  This nickname we had given to the remains held there for veneration.  Little did I know that this was actually the Franciscan, Saint Fidelis!

Once I realized this, I dropped the nickname from my speech – it did not seem appropriate to refer to a canonized saint in such terms.

Now, as we mark his feast day (April 24), I am reminded of this, and think, too, of our Sr. Fidelis who would be celebrating her name day were she still living.  The name they share fittingly means “faithful.”

franciscan associate 011This dear Sister of ours, who lived to be well over a hundred, actually immigrated from Germany herself, answering the call to serve in America.

She had to study the English language and then spent decades teaching young people in Minnesota and North Dakota.  She actually went back to school in her eighties to receive computer training so she could teach this specialty as well.

Like her namesake, who was himself a German native, Sr. Fidelis strove to love God throughout her life and to spread His love to the young people in her care.

Toward the end of her life, she is actually quoted as questioning herself: “Have I loved God enough?”  I take this as a real challenge.  As I live my daily life, am I doing my utmost to love God and serve Him faithfully?

An Easter Rosary?

17505056_1452496018123615_9110413917490671142_oSo, during Lent we focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries when praying the rosary, but what about during the Easter season?

While the traditional answer would probably be: “the Glorious, of course,” I take a different route.

Although it’s unconventional, I often use different “mysteries” altogether.

Rather than jumping right into the Ascension, Pentecost, and Our Lady’s Assumption and Coronation, I like to linger a bit on the resurrection during these forty days.

What I like to do is take a different resurrection appearance of Our Lord for each of the five decades of the Rosary.

These Easter gospels are so beautiful and fruitful for meditation.  I’ll list them here in case you’d like to use them for your prayer as well.

Here is a list of resurrection appearance scriptures which you may find helpful.

I find this is a beautiful way of meeting our Risen Lord with Mary.

Barely Scratching the Surface

PA230022.JPGWhew….

We just finished the hustle and bustle of Holy Week!

I really love these beautiful commemorations, but as a sacristan who has to coordinate things, I am always relieved Easter Sunday morning when it’s all behind me for another year.

This time of “the last three days of Holy Week” is such a special one.  Yesterday, as this time of silence and reflection was nearing its end, a realization settled upon me:

In this period, I had barely scratched the surface.  I had tried to reflect upon all that Jesus did for us, but the mystery is so deep, so profound.  In a year’s time, we hardly even get started in grasping it.

Even a lifetime of Holy Weeks won’t be enough.

Maybe each year, as we prepare throughout Lent and then delve deeply into the mystery during the Triduum, we can at least increase our love and appreciation for Christ’s passion.

Furthermore, I hope, that all my busyness during Holy Week doesn’t hinder my ability to go deeply into this mystery.  I hope I don’t let these precious days pass by without growing in my appreciation for this mystery.  I want to delve as deeply as possible into it, not hindering or ignoring the movement of God’s grace within me. Now, may the same be the same during the 50 days of Easter.

I pray that all of you who read this have a very blessed Easter season, that you may be enriched as you delve now into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection.

Would you please pray for me as well?

Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF

A Heart for Holy Week

dscf0019Holy Week has always been special to me.  Back home, growing up, it was made special with beautiful customs, from attending Holy Thursday Mass to dyeing eggs on Holy Saturday afternoon.  (I am not trying to put these on the same plane.)

Now, since I’ve come to St. Anne’s, this annual commemoration has only grown in significance for me.  I’ve even developed traditions of my own, including making hot cross buns, ironing curtains for the Altar of Repose, and several others.

Many of these are linked to my assignment as sacristan here, which I was asked to take up several years back when our Sister Annella retired to our provincial house.

A week before Palm Sunday, the famous brown suitcase comes down from the cupboard above a closet in the sacristy.  It contains cloth covers for the crosses and other items used at this time of the liturgical year.  It will sit on a chair in our conference room until Easter.

Along with the special baking, ironing, and liturgical planning which take place during these holy days, extra cleaning has also become customary for me during the latter part of Holy Week.

We have Eucharistic Adoration (Exposition) in our chapel during the week, normally.  However, during the Paschal Triduum, this does not take place.  I use this time to do some thorough cleaning which I do not like to undertake when people are there, including polishing the woodwork, cleaning the vigil light stand, and cleaning candle holders.  (In typing this, I just reminded myself of some of the work that’s ahead.)

palm trimming

We trimmed the palms I and wrapped them in damp towels overnight.

All these tasks and considerations can be a little overwhelming.  However, they are good exterior elements to correlate with interior dispositions at this time.

As I prepare the chapel for these important commemorations, as I bake hot cross buns for our residents, as I clean and iron, I think of the Holy Women who accompanied Jesus on His way and I pray that my own heart (and not just our chapel) my be cleansed more and more.  I pray that it may be close to His.

(Please Note: Due to the solemn nature of these holy days I will not be posting during the Triduum.  We have a custom of observing silence from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil, which my oft-typing fingers will strive to maintain as well.)

Hot Cross Buns…One a Penny…Two a Penny

I went out shopping with Sr. Elaine last night to get yeast. I’m getting ready to make hot cross buns again this year. I hope and pray all goes well.

I thought I’d share a post this morning that I wrote a couple of years ago.  It includes some interesting details from the history of this Holy Week tradition.

Our Franciscan Fiat

Hot Cross Buns

I just finished mixing up my dough.  In the almost six years that I’ve been here at St. Anne’s, it’s become tradition that I make hot cross buns to serve for our residents’ snack on Holy Thursday afternoon.  Actually, they have traditionally been a food for Lent and Good Friday especially.  However, serving a special homemade treat seems more appropriate, to us here, for Holy Thursday rather than during the solemn fasting of Good Friday.  Also, Holy Thursday is the day we gratefully remember the first Eucharist, when Christ gave the “Bread from Heaven” for the first time.  To me, it seems fitting that residents enjoy these little breads on that day.

This time of the liturgical year is busy and a bit stressful since I serve as sacristan here, but I still like to take the time to make Hot Cross Buns.  It’s a kind of neat way of keeping our Catholic cultural…

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Life’s Uncertain; Eat Dessert First!

sister with silverwareAlthough we are in the heart of the Lenten Season, this little quip, sometimes quoted by Sr. Elaine (with whom I live), was as bit appropriate once again.

I was reminded of it as I left our residents’ dining room this evening at suppertime.

I am working the front desk over supper and had sneaked in to see what I could find for nourishment in the long evening ahead of me.

The staff, however, were still serving supper to the residents, so the timing was not good for “sneaking through” at the serving counter.  I did see, though, the dessert cart with pudding and other items, which could easily be accessed without interrupting the dietary staff’s work.

I decided to grab a pudding and head back to the front desk, remember Sr. Elaine’s little comment about eating dessert first.  I would come back later for the main meal.

The first part of the sentence was also appropriate: “Life’s uncertain.”  A few days ago, I thought I would be working the night shift, but this ended up being unnecessary.  Tonight, however, it seems quite certain that this will be required of me.

I had no idea this morning that this would be almost a 24 hour work day for me.  (I did sneak in a 15 minute nap this afternoon, though.)

Actually, it may end up being a little shorter since we’re training someone new in.  I may get to go home for some ‘beauty rest’ a bit earlier tomorrow morning since there’ll be an extra person around.

Stairs for Lent?

PA100002.JPGLast evening, I went to bed at 6:45, anticipating working a night shift.  One of our aides had called earlier in the day, home with sick children.  By early evening, neither she nor I had been able to find another staff person to fill in.

The decision was made that, unless we heard anything, I would just plan on working ‘nights’; I did not have a heavy work schedule on the morrow and could easily catch up on sleep.  Plus, knowing in advance, I’d have a chance for a “long [spring] nap” before hand.

Although I went to bed, I had a tough time getting to sleep.  What sleep I did get was fitful.  Then, at 9:15 p.m., I heard the phone rang.  One of the night staff had got his message and had called that he would come in to work; I would not need to fill in after all.

I didn’t quite know what to think.  I should be relieved, I guess, to have the night off and some sense of normalcy, but I couldn’t just go back to bed and sleep until 5:18 a.m., as normal.

Plus, I had a couple of details to attend to, which I had planned on taking care of after the shift started at 10.

I re-dressed, went over to my workplace, and took care of business.  I thought, however, that I’d better exert some physical energy if I wanted to get a good night sleep the second time my head hit the pillow.

After a few jumping jacks in a private, tucked away corner by the stair well, I had a better idea:

I remembered that, as a kid, my dad had sometimes done “stairs for Lent,” undertaking an activity which, for him, was both penitential and healthy.

(He would walk up and down the stairs repeatedly  Minnesota winters are not conducive to outdoor exercise.)

I thought that, on this occasion, “stairs” would be a good idea for me as well.

I know the days of Lent are supposed to include some form of penance.  This Thursday of the Fourth Week had really not involved anything for me along this line.  “Stairs” would be perfect, both fulfilling my obligation to do some penance and helping me sleep this night.  Plus, exercise is healthy, right?

After “doing stairs” for several minutes, I decided that “enough was enough.”  Plus, I didn’t want to cause any disturbance for our residents who might be resting.  Nor did I want to raise any eyebrows.

After a quick visit to chapel, I got ready for bed, sleeping until my alarm want off at 3:35 a.m.  (I had already gotten a couple extra hours of sleep and really didn’t need to sleep in until my normal hour of morning rising.

Here I am now, at 6:01, prayers said and sacristy work done.  I have a jump start on this new day!

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

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Sister Flintstone?

715820-2Please don’t get me wrong – I mean no disrespect for the deceased, but we have begun praying for “Sister Flintstone.”

In our Activity Department, here at St. Anne’s, we were just finishing up “Bedrock Days,” a week with Flintstone-themed activities.  This even included a dance, complete with costumes and pterodactyl drumsticks (pretzel logs covered in caramel and cocoa pebbles cereal).  I had a little part in the fun, printing Flintstones pictures for them and helping recruit dance attendance by playing “Meet the Flintstones” over our PA system, etc.

We received an email from Germany late last week with the obituary for Sister Wilma.  (Upon receiving such an email, we pray for the deceased for one week, using Psalm 130 followed by a special prayer.)

Most often, the names are not familiar ones for us Americans since the Sisters are from Germany and Brazil, mostly.  It can be helpful, if we want to remember who we’re praying for, to use little cognitive tricks to jar the memory.

Having read that a Sr. Wilma had died, and having just enjoyed a pterodactyl drummy myself, I spontaneously mentioned to Sr. Elaine: “We’ll have to pray for Sr. Flinstone now.”

[Please rest assured, we don’t call her “Sr. Flintstone” in chapel, but revert back to her proper name.]

Que Sera Sera

P1010031“When I was a little girl” we sang this song in our school music concert.  My younger sister and I, then, acquired the habit of dancing as we sang it, twirling at the words: “Que sera sera.”

I don’t know what ever impelled us to do this, but the memory remains with me to this day, especially due to recent circumstances…

Last fall, Sr. Jean Louise had invited me to join her and Sr. M. Ruth in Bismarck toward the end of March for the University of Mary’s second annual “vocations jamboree.”

With encouragement from my supervisor and superior, I was eager to go!  Surely, there would be someone coming from Grand Forks.  The matter was set aside.

As the date got closer, I looked into the matter, trying to see if anyone was coming from “the Valley” with whom I could catch a ride.  (Due to a vision impairment, I’m unable to drive.)

As the date drew nearer, I found that there was only one registrant coming from Grand Forks, and his schedule did not fit my needs.  However, one of our Sisters from Hankinson was tentatively thinking of attending.  I could ride with her, if I could catch a ride to Fargo to meet her (and a ride back again).

When you can’t drive, you end up being a bit resourceful.  I found someone I know who was planning a trip down there Friday morning!  Yeah – she would be happy to have me ride with her!

Another lady who comes to chapel here was planning a trip to Fargo for Saturday.  I could hook up with her on the way back.

Things were shaping up that maybe I could go to this gathering after all!

To make a long story short, throughout the course of the day and evening yesterday, both of these rides fell through.

From one hour to the next, I didn’t know whether I was staying or going.  In the end, the Sister from Hankinson had to cancel her plans as well.

With rapidly changing plans, I could be likened to that little girl twirling around to the words of the beloved song. “Que sera sera; whatever will be will be” is very apropos.

In a way, although I had really wanted to go, I was happier once things were settled.  I remember, too, that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” as St. Paul wrote to the Romans (8:28).