Think Outside (or inside) the Box!

p9020005Last night, our small local convent community finally got together to exchange our own personal gifts and open those from “The Christ Child.”  It’s been a busy week, but we still got it in within the octave of Christmas.

This gift exchange is one full of traditions.  We begin by singing a Christmas hymn and reading the midnight Mass Gospel passage from the missalette.

We go on to voice our prayer intentions and have a little prayer prior to opening the gifts.

The packaging of these gifts also follows a set traditional pattern.  My gifts from the Christ Child are always placed in a red and white square box which once held a ham shipped to us by the generous niece of one of our Sisters.

Sr. Rebecca and Sr Elaine, on the other hand, have been passing a rectangular box back and forth from one Christmas to the next, since “time immemorial.”  Well, I guess it’s more like 30 years compared to the meager seven that I’ve opening mine.

My box, though, was far from “meager.”  Actually, this year, I got two boxes, filled with baking supplies.  There was flour, sugar, vanilla, and vegetable oil, as well as various baking chips, raisins, etc.

A verse from 1 Peter (4:10) seemed very appropriate here: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

My baking, along with keeping our residents happy, is also a way of using up the gallons pumpkin that we process in the fall.

My baking repertoire has been constrained to recipes that use pumpkin, and the more cups the better!  Now that I have molasses, heath toffee bits, and other special products, my horizons are expanding beyond my comfort zone.

Now I have to “think outside [or inside] the box.”

We (“my resident helper” and I) were all set to bake some delicious ginger mint cookies today, but alas, it’s too busy!

Between sing-along, newsletters, and an early New Years party, there are plenty of other distractions to keep her (and me) busy!

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“…I Played My Best for Him”

listen-013Christmas Eve, I returned to the convent house after working my shift at the front desk, helping deliver Christmas goodies to our neighbors, and catching up on some things in chapel.

Sr. Rebecca had a musical Christmas program on TV.  The singer was giving a beautiful rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.”

One line, though I’ve heard it many times before, struck me: “…I played my best for Him.”

It inspired me to think: “I want to ‘play’ my best for Him, too.  I want to do my best with my life to do what pleases Jesus.

Though it’s not the playing of a drum for the infant Jesus in Bethlehem long ago, I want to play my best, too.  I don’t want to take shortcuts miss any beats.

I am grateful for the opportunity that confession offers to “try the song over” when I haven’t “played my best for Him.”

This Christmas season, I pray for the grace to live in such a way that another phrase from the song may be appropriate to my life as well: “Then He smiled at me.”

Laundering Money?

image (8).jpgLast night,  Sr. Rebecca and I worked on processing returns from our annual mailing.

We were trying to get thank-you cards (and receipts) out to the generous people who responded.  Sr. Rebecca had a pile of checks in hand, and a basin of water on the floor.  (Due to a minor injury, foot soaking was also in progress.)

This is what led to what you might call “laundering money.”  At St. Anne’s, we’ve laundered money before…It’s happened that one of our gentlemen left his wallet in his blue jean pocket.

This billfold was not even close to empty, holding close to a couple hundred dollars.  Unfortunately, the presence of the wallet had remained unknown until after our aide had finished washing the load of clothes.

Consequently, the “laundered money”had to be laid out in the back of our main office to dry.

Last evening, a situation reminiscent of this occurred when Sr. Rebecca shifted her paperwork and the checks she held tumbled into the basin of warm water!

She quickly grabbed them out, and I helped her hang out the ones that were really wet. This morning, on entering our living room, one could observe books laying on the floor and a little plastic rack with checks dangling from its clothespins.

After joking with Sr. Rebecca about “laundering money,” I decided to do a little investigation of my own.  How did this phrase come into use?

My research, however, proved to be indecisive.  There are multiple theories regarding the history of this phrase’s use.  One theory is that mafia members would use laundry mats as the location of their shady financial undertakings.

Another theory is that “money laundering” is a process whereby money is converted into “clean money” and thus prevented from being traced back to the criminal source.

I have a hard time following all this as I know very little about criminal financial business.  Please rest assured, the donations we receive at St. Anne’s are put to good use and are not involved in business like that alluded to above.

When searching for any scripture verses that might be relevant to this little episode, I found the following passage from Hebrews (13), which I wanted to share:

Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you.”
Thus we may say with confidence:
“The Lord is my helper,
[and] I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

“…It’s Because You’ve Found Something”

aa524b5e46f8b791b2020a2f53ade925This past weekend, helping with a retreat for young people, I again watched the 1945 film The Bells of St. Mary’s.  

(Actually, I ended up ‘watching’ my towel as I embroidered for part of the time.)

During the course of the movie, I was intrigued by a little dialogue which took place between Patsy, an eighth grader, and the Sister Superior at St. Mary’s School.  I was actually edified by a remark the script writers put on the Sister’s lips:

Sister Mary Benedict: You don’t become a nun to run away from life, Patsy. It’s not because you’ve lost something. It’s because you’ve found something.

Wow…leave it to Hollywood to provide us with a beautiful, succinct reflection on the meaning of Religious Life!  I was impressed!

The only change I’d probably make regards the last word in the superior’s response to the distraught young lady.  She might actually have said: “It’s because you’ve found someone.”  

Too bad this message isn’t more well known to young people today!

North and South, East and West ~ Faith and Trust

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Reflection by Sister Elaine Marie Roggenbuck

All Administrators of North Dakota Long Term Care Facilities were asked to go to Bismarck, Wednesday, December 14, for a noon to 4 North Dakota Long Term Care Association Membership meeting regarding State funding for Long Term Care Homes.  This included Sister Rebecca, Administrator of St. Anne’s Guest Home in Grand Forks.

Usually on long trips like this I get to drive.  I enjoy driving.  Sister Rebecca rides on the passenger side, calm and quietly embroidering, operating the rosary and spiritual CDs and the radio.  She is not the back seat driver that I am.  I am terrible in this regard!  Just ask Sr. Rebecca.

Well, this time I was very nervous about this trip.  Normally, as the driver it is a mini-vacation for me. But this time, with all the winter weather reports, news of jack-knifed semi trucks, overturned cars, skidding on ice, and sliding on black ice, I was quite apprehensive.  Also, having bumped into items before because I could not stop on ice, having the experience of driving in white out conditions, and having rolled our van on black ice a few years ago, I was fearful.

Consequently, I asked numerous persons I saw in St. Anne’s to please pray for our safe trip to Bismarck and back.  It was consoling as people responded with a promise of prayer, praying an extra prayer as they attended Adoration in our Chapel, prayer board petition, and many wishing us a safe trip.  I knew we had the prayer backup of so many people at St. Anne’s and the community. Thanks!

Well, experiencing this in the quiet and calm of inside St. Anne’s is considerably different from hanging onto the steering wheel, searching for the two white lines on I-29 and I-94 with snow blowing across in areas, especially curves.  No cruse was programmed in.  It was foot driving.  I drive with both feet.  Then, there would be a good stretch of highway with no snow, and presumably no ice, and I did use the cruse.  But, it was released as soon as any semblance of snow came.

We made it to Bismarck, which had many ice-compacted streets. Three times, the brakes scraped the tires as I tried to stop at a red light.  Once we slid a little. Driving with both feet and having my left foot positioned to brake at any time as  needed, I got a charlie horse in my left leg entering Bismarck. Had to massage it.

Through all of this, I often felt tense.  Then I said to myself, “Sister Elaine, you have all these people praying for both of you back home.  Our Lord Himself, our Blessed Mother: Our Lady of the Highways, and your faithful Guardian Angel, all are helping you drive.  Goodness sakes!  Use your faith and trust.  That’s what it is for.”  And I did.

It worked!  I was calm, confident, peaceful, yet still careful and vigilant. God expects us to do our part, too.  He, our Blessed Mother, and your Guardian Angel, surely are trustworthy.  Trust!  It really works. God loves us all!

“For Where Two or Three…[or Eight]”

IMG_0897.JPGThis seems to be a time for ‘slim pickings’ for liturgical attendance at St. Anne’s!

Last night, for evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, there were only three of us!  The two other Sisters who serve here with me are out of town at a North Dakota Long Term Care meeting in Bismarck.

One of our residents who customarily prays with us was detained with business.  This left me and the married couple who has the 6 p.m. adoration hour on Tuesdays.

They took one side of the “choir” for praying the psalms and I took the other.

This morning at Mass, my other Sisters were still gone and there was only one outside visitor.  Hygiene needs, injury and other business prevented a few residents who are “regulars” from coming to daily Mass.  The cold weather and poor road conditions may have also taken their toll.  Consequently, there were only eight persons in our congregation on this cold morning.

Although I would like to see more people taking part in this beautiful gift we call ‘liturgy,’ there is something beautiful, too, in smallness.

Jesus said, “…where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20)

He did not require a giant congregation in order to be present.  The Last Supper, in fact, was a group of only thirteen.  We are graced with His blessed presence despite our smallness.

How many aspects of our faith, in fact, are small (or start out that way)!  Jesus also spoke of faith the size of a mustard seed.  He came as a small baby.  When He comes to us at Holy Communion, He is once again very small.

Sometimes I might be tempted to think that my feeble efforts are too small.  There are so many needs in our world – what can my weak efforts and prayers possibly do?

In all this, I am reminded that my own smallness does not mean worthless or unimportant.  I need to keep praying, keep trying and let God produce the growth.

Would You Like to Help Me Out?

IMG_0896.JPGI’ve been in the wonderful world of blogging for about two years now – or should I say, “not so wonderful”?

It started with our St. Anne’s Scoop late in November of 2014.  The following February, after discussion with our superior, Sr. Ann Marie, I began this blog, Our Franciscan Fiat.

Although I have a background in writing, writing these posts does not always come easily to me.

Sometimes, such as this evening, I want to post something to maintain my schedule, but I cannot find any inspiration.

So, I thought…why not ask YOU, my audience?

What do you think?  What would you like to read about?

I have created a handy-dandy form (see below) which I would encourage you to fill out for me.

PS: While I’m getting your help with the blog, might I also ask the help of your prayers or any pointers you might have on another topic?:

I’ve been asked to speak at a men’s and women’s discernment retreat this coming weekend and I am not accustomed to much public speaking.  We are to share our stories and talk about the meaning of religious life.  It is sponsored by the NDSU Newman Center, but open to men and women aged 18-30.

Thanks and God bless you!

“At the Court of Our King…”

IMG_0896.JPGTell us how your community celebrates Advent.

Gathered at table, the first candle of the Advent wreath lit, we wait in mild suspense.  Each Sister takes a turn drawing her items.  One of these is a slip of paper; this has the name of one of her fellow Sisters for whom she will pray especially during the coming liturgical year.

Another item, an envelope with a little money to use for little gifts for the person whose name has, may also be part of the collection each of us acquires.

The second, slightly bigger, paper with the verse: “At the court of our King Jesus, you shall have the office of being…” is also drawn.  Here we read which member of the nativity scene we will imitate this Advent.

For example, I may be “THE ANGEL WHO SINGS THE BABY TO SLEEP by [my] praise and gratitude toward God.” (Each Sister receives a slip mentioning a different figure (angel, shepherd, etc.)

As the angel singing, my practice would be to”Repeat often the Gloria Patri as thanksgiving for the Incarnation.”

Here at St. Anne’s, I’ve developed a different little practice here for our residents.  Each time they do something nice, or carry out the ‘advent action’ hanging near the dining room door, they are encouraged to color a piece of straw on the manger hanging in our activity room on the bulletin board.

Hopefully, by Christmas, we’ll have a cozy little manger for Jesus, representing hearts ready to welcome Him.

Another part of “how we celebrate Advent” is the beautiful little prayer: “Jesus, Jesus, come to me; make my heart a crib for Thee.”

St. Nicholas Day & Eve Traditions

(I’ve asked a few of our Sisters if they have any memories of traditions for St. Nicholas Day.  Lacking much response as of yet, I’ve been forced to include one of my own as well.)

6acfd277b52f162a63df49a215c0a2a2“I do not know any particular traditions of our Sisters, but here at Little Flower School, at one time they had a pastor with the name of Nicholas.  Msgr. Nicholas Cloos would see that the annual Christmas play was on the feast of St. Nicholas.  Following the play he would quiz children about the faith and throw peanuts to them when they answered correctly.  After that great excitement, school would be dismissed and the parents would take their children home early that day.”    ~ Sr. Jean Louise Schafer, OSF (serving in Rugby, North Dakota)

“Back home we used to always put out our shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day; they would be filled with treats and a tree ornament that evening.  In recent years, here at St. Anne’s Convent, we’ve revived the tradition and each sister puts a shoe outside her bedroom door for St. Nicholas to fill.”  Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF (serving in Grand Forks, North Dakota)

(Note: A couple of years ago, we had a little article on ‘The St. Anne’s Scoop’ about this special observance of St. Nicholas Day.)

“Oh Mylanta!”

img_0552I’m not sure how the expression “Oh Mylanta” ever got introduced around St. Anne’s.  Over the months of its usage here, the ‘oh’ has dropped out.  Now a simple grown of “My-lanta” is enough to communicate that “it’s been quite a night.”

Although the namesake drug is advertised as offering “powerful relief from heartburn, acid indigestion or gas,” the causes of this expression’s use are much more diverse than that.

Be further warned that this expression is not in vogue with all the staff here; there are just a few of us who have taken to using it, or referring to it, as in “We don’t want another my-lanta night!”

“So,” you may ask, “why all this rambling about the improper use of the name of a common over-the-counter drug?”  I would answer that it’s been kind of a “my-lanta day.”

This morning, I didn’t realize all the various projects that would come my way.  I’m just glad I didn’t have to deal with any residents having problems treatable by Mylanta.  (Tonight, I was the personal care aide, so I’d be the one cleaning up any bathroom messes.)

You may wonder, then, what triggers brought me to think about this mild expletive, which serves as a substitute for “Oh my gosh!”.

There was nothing earth-shaking (and I’ve definitely seen worse), but we’ll just say that the day developed quite differently than I had planned.

I had beautiful hopes for this day with minimal hours of receptionist duties.  I was going to clean house over at our convent.  Also, I even told someone who helps out in chapel that I was going to do dishes so she needn’t pour any whine in the cruet or put out a new purificator for tomorrow’s Mass – I would do that afterwards.

If she’s reading this, she’ll realize that those instructions were in vain and the bottle of Ivory dish soap never made it out of the sacristy cupboard.

Anyway, back to my explanation, right?

I ended up processing over forty items for Sr. Rebecca and posting a job opening in the morning.  In the afternoon, I became entangled in a battle with the printer.  I had been waiting a couple of days for a needed part before I could print our newsletter on the 11×17 paper that I use.  Finally, we got the part and were able to print, but the settings were not cooperative and the machine wanted to print it totally wrong – “My-lanta!”

Using a different computer, I finally was victorious and got all the newsletters printed and distributed to our residents.

The afternoon also included two more battles (with mixed results): one with a soap dispenser and the other with the cupboard door at our front desk.

In all this, I am glad to be able to say, with the psalmist: “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war; My safeguard and my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, My shield, in whom I take refuge.”

I find these words to be so beautiful and fitting for the battle of daily life, especially apropos when facing “my-lanta moments.”