Two Coins, God and Neighbor

Two coins, God and neighbor. The poor widow gave all she had for the opportunity to encounter God. Two coins, God and neighbor, finding God in my neighbor… Will I hang on or let go of what I have and others need?

Where does gratitude lead? When I was a child and grateful for something, it made me feel a sense of joy. Mostly the joy was for receiving something I wanted. As I matured, gratitude became something I noticed intentionally, that increased and filled me. Gratitude, particularly for the sense of the providence of our loving God. A heart robbed of gratitude is often filled with other “lesser gods” leaving us empty. In God’s wisdom, emptiness allows for new beginnings. Focus on myself leaves me empty. When serving with Love, a deep and quiet joy pervades. Despite all the practicalities of schedules and planning, serving fills the heart!

Thanksgiving and Advent are a seasonal time of gratitude and serving. This time helps prepare us to celebrate Jesus coming among us as a vulnerable human being with universal needs that we all understand. Empathy and compassion lead us to actions and service on behalf of those who, like Jesus, experience loss, poverty, separation, uncertainty, and fear in the current circumstances of their lives. We have opportunities to help open those dark places to the light of Hope.

The ways we reach out to encounter and support our neighbors in need are direct responses to the gratitude for the gifts God has offered to us. Gifts to be shared. Gifts of presence, and acknowledgment of the inherent value of people, beyond their current darkness.

These suggestions for reaching out of our abundance of gratitude, although familiar, have new ways of serving for our changing moment in time:

Adopt-A-Family is a cooperative effort to serve people in need with gifts for Christmas. These are folks who are not being served by other community Christmas programs. We, as a faith community, commit to buy, wrap, and deliver gifts to a designated pick-up location. Sign-up Genius for this way of giving.

Christmas Anonymous hopes to return to escorting families to “shop” for their gifts at Christ United Methodist Church. There are opportunities for donations and volunteering to make the December 11 “Store Day” happen. In the 2020 COVID variation, 639 families/1767 children were served. This ONLY happens with community support!!

Refugee Resettlement through Catholic Charities is offering community sponsorship of refugee families. St John is hoping to participate as a community sponsor which requires a team of people to offer their gifts in welcoming these new families to a strange new land and culture. Contact Mary at the Parish Center.

Family Promise serves families experiencing a housing crisis at the North Star House. Opportunities for involvement are rich, creative, and varied. It is a wonderful way to enter into the lives of these vulnerable families to encounter shared wisdom and support.

Jeremiah Program offers one of the nation’s most successful strategies for transforming families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. Here in Rochester, Jeremiah’s proven, holistic approach begins with establishing a supportive community for single mothers to pursue a career-

track, college education. Through a combination of quality early childhood education, a safe and affordable place to live, and empowerment and life-skills training, families find stability and a path out of poverty.

How will you choose to serve and give of yourself as Christ would? How will you reach out from an abundance of gratitude and experience the joy of giving? Two coins, God and neighbor.

Mary Vlazny Director of Social Action

Lenten Reflections
A Prayer for the Australian Bush Fires

Source: America Magazine Written by: Peter Bierer

How long, O Lord?

Every day, I see images and hear stories of the devastating bushfires in Australia. Raging fires, blackened forests, burned-out homes, ash-filled skies, scarred animals, traumatized children and communities.

I am filled with sorrow, my soul is heavy with grief.
How long will the fires last, O Lord?
How long will the destruction and death continue?
Where are you, God?

I am sad, O God.

I grieve for the loss of human life, of homes, animals, plants and trees, and the scarring of the earth. I am saddened for the original custodians of the land, the First Peoples of Australia, and the poor and marginalized disproportionately affected by the fires. As Jesus wept for Jerusalem and the coming destruction of the temple, I weep for Australia and the destruction of this sacred land.

Turn my sadness into compassion.

I am fearful, O God.

I am afraid because these fires are out of my control. I feel helpless and small. When will this torment end? How many lives will be affected by the fires? There is no end in sight. Will relief ever come?

Turn my fear into hope.

I am angry, O God.

I look for someone to blame. Whose fault is this? Scientists have warned for decades of the dangers of climate change, yet our leaders sit idly by, making promises with little to show in action. I am even angry with you, God. Can’t you stop the fires by some miracle? Are you even listening? I know that pointing fingers will not help, but I am upset.

Turn my anger into resolve.

I am ashamed, O God.

Am I partly to blame for these fires? I hold tightly to my comforts and conveniences which contribute to higher carbon levels in the atmosphere. I am ashamed because I do not know how to help.

Turn my shame into healing.

I am grateful, O God.

I am thankful for the firefighters who work tirelessly to protect your people and all creation; for the volunteers and those who donate money, supplies and their own homes to assist those in need; for the “good news stories” which spark hope. I am grateful for the rain when it comes.

Turn my gratitude into action.

How long, O Lord, how long?

I cry to you in my helplessness as I witness the tragedy unfolding in the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit, Enkindle in us the fire of your love fill the hearts of your people and renew the face of the earth.

Instead of bushfires, come with the fire of your love, Holy Spirit.

Fill us with compassion and mercy to stand with our sisters and brothers affected by the fires. Give us strength to join in their suffering and bear witness to their pain.

Instead of the driving winds that add fuel to the fires, come as a gentle breath.

Bring fresh air to drive away the toxic fumes and ashen skies. Breathe new life into us, inspire us with love to care for one another and the earth.

Come, Holy Spirit, as a refreshing rain.

Open the heavens, quench the flames, heal the parched land and nourish our souls, renew the face of the earth.

Come, Holy Spirit, with the peace of a dove.

Calm our anxieties and fear. Lead us from the temptation to blame one another and become divided. May we be bearers of peace.

Come as a balm, Holy Spirit.

Anoint and soothe the wounds of the victims, seen and unseen. May we be balm to one another.

Be our Advocate, Holy Spirit.

Listen to our inward groaning and give us words to speak in places of power. Speak through us that we may be prophets of love amid the kingdoms of selfishness and greed; that we may speak hope in times of despair.

Veni, Creator Spiritus!

Heal the land. Heal our hearts. Make us new again.

To you, O God, I entrust my sorrow, my fears, my anguish, as well as the people, the flora and fauna, the land of Australia.

Help me to find consolation and be grateful for the many gifts and joys present in the midst of this tragedy.

Reveal to me the path of life.

Fill me with love, guide me in hope, and lead me to act with mercy and compassion.



My Friends of Seeds of Wisdom in South Sudan, I was blessed to travel to Uganda with my friend and SJE parishioner, Wendy Shepherd, to visit our families, teachers and children in the refugee camps where they have been displaced due to the civil war in South Sudan. I didn’t know what to expect; it was a trip filled with happiness and sadness. Wendy and I met Fr. John Lasuba in Kampala where we were able to buy school supplies, soccer balls and volleyballs to take to the children and teachers. When we arrived in the camps, we were greeted with songs and warm soda. They were so happy to see us and took portions of their meager food stock to cook for us and used their shelters to keep us comfortable in the hot sun.

Our administrator, George Okot, has done an amazing job of finding almost all of our students, families and teachers in 3 different refugee camps. With the support of the Board, he started a tutoring program to supplement the refugee classrooms (which have about 300 students in a class)and we have progressed to actual camp schools where the teachers are able to offer a more complete curriculum. They are making the best of a very bad situation. The teachers help the children learn love and caring, along with their studies, but the environment they live in is one of anger, fear, hunger, and an uncertain future. They read us a poem they wrote:

Education, Education. Education.

We need education in our motherland South Sudan
Pukuka in particular.
We the children in Pukuka have 6 colors
White for the face of the dying
Black for the face of the orphans
Red for the blood of the wounded hero
Yellow for the burning of our houses
We are very sad for what is happening in motherland South Sudan
Pukuka in particular.
For all this time.
We are calling for peace and education to come and help us the young ones. Orange for the joy of life
Pink for good food and rest.
Oh, our motherland, Pukuka.

The children do enjoy their time with their teachers and fellow students. We purchased a few solar lights for the teaching center so the kids can come around after dark to read and visit.

As I traveled through the camps, the number one thing people said to me was, ”Please, don’t forget us and pray for our homeland, South Sudan.” We don’t know when the war will end but our faith in God continues to give us hope. We pray that God will move the leaders to find common ground and bring peace to this beautiful country.

Thank you,

Cindy Krueger, Board Member, Seeds of Wisdom in South Sudan

Fr. Jose Morales

Dear Friends in Christ:

In this opportunity that I am allowed to write another article with you I would like to share a little bit of why I am at the Mayo Clinic as a chaplain. In 2012 I was assigned as associate pastor to the parish of St. Francis in Rochester. I often went to the Clinic to offer spiritual and emotional support to mainly Spanish-speaking patients.

I was translating one of the verses for a patient and offering support. Without noticing, one of the assistant supervisors was also in the room and suddenly he asked if he could pray with us and to my surprise, he said it in Spanish. After that, he called me and told me that he liked the way I had offered support to the patient and his family and asked me if at any time I would like to become a chaplain.

So I started the whole process and after a while, I was hired as a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic. As a human being that has been called by God to minister to His people, I have been blessed to meditate on the experience of healing and the connection with God.

The mystery of Creation and Re-creation helped me to understand that God is universal and has no limits; God goes beyond our poor concepts and even experiences. God welcomes all His creation, nourishes it and constantly restores it. This is a call for me to have a sincere, real and compassionate encounter with each and every human being and even more with the patients I encounter.

The mystery of Incarnation is Jesus’ call to approach people in their own reality, where they are met with respect and compassion. His passion and death leads us to approach the reality of sin and frailty and to recognize the need for grace and freedom that come from the love and mercy of God. His sacrifice endows every human being with talents and gifts, a capacity and desire for service and charity.

The mystery of the Resurrection calls us to hope and to look beyond; it leads to belief in salvation and eternity; I share this message with great faith and understanding that the seeds of eternity are in every human being respecting the different ways of belief in the transcendent. I am grateful for the Catholic Church and the priesthood, and now for this blessing of being a Chaplain that took me to the experience of a real encounter with myself and God in the call. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

With appreciation.

Fr. Jose Morales
Mayo Clinic Chaplain

Mary Vlazny

Advent, the prelude to The Greatest Story Ever Told! Many of us are old enough to remember that movie, but it is today’s generations that I see living by faith now. It is my challenge to seriously pray hard for their future. Advent’s prophets help me if I am attentive – Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom, St Nicolas’ generosity to the poor, John the Baptist’s plea to stay awake and attentive, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s care for all peoples, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s life leaping for joy anticipating Jesus! The other prophets that lead me are those members of my family that have shaped my view of what makes the season blessed.

My Dad would take me with him when the Knights of Columbus would hand out toys to kids whose families could not afford Christmas gifts. We would also take meals to our elderly aunt and uncle who still lived on the farm. We were a bright spot in a very dreary, lonely living situation. Even though my aunt mainly fretted, lamentations are a part of life that allowed us to participate in her suffering. Did I enjoy that part, not so much, especially as a child. But I also remember the promise that Advent brought to me, the promise of great joy, candle by candle, week by week, brighter as we came closer to Christmas. I was confused as a child about the lack of Christmas decorations and songs at church when the outside world was swirling with lights and tinsel. As an adult, I have explored and now understand some of the mystery of Advent… Stay awake, pay attention to the needs of the world which waits for my response here with my faith community and outside the Church doors after Mass. Where will I see Jesus?

I have been profoundly shaped by the people with whom I have worshipped, served, laughed and cried, celebrated new life and life eternal here in this faith community. Generations of witnesses of belonging by which I am gifted. Gifted by years of building relationships through serving together! Now I am seeing new generations of young people participating in Adopt A Family and other giving and serving opportunities. They tell me how much they enjoy buying gifts for their adopted person, and shopping together, and buying for others before they buy anything for each other!

I look back and see the witnesses of belonging, but I look forward with Hope because of the way I see people caring for and helping others experience joy. This can be in offering gifts that give life and don’t take a toll on our common home…special food, shopping local, giving time together, donating to nonprofits in someone’s honor, or fair trade and sustainable gifting. Preparing our gifts, we can cut waste and have fun with re-usable wrapping; a basket, a special bag, recyclable decorated bags. Food is often the center of our celebrations, food that is special and wonderful. These foods can also be local, sustainable, organic, or fair trade.

Our Advent anticipation and our Christmas celebrations can incorporate simplicity and participation in preparations. There are simple ways of building relationships in conversations as we are building something, or playing cards, checkers, or another game. We may watch videos and music that uplift, tell a story, show a wonderous part of our world, make us laugh with each other and cry together. There are probably seasonal story books that we read together and share a message of caring and belonging. Simply sending a card or a call to someone who may need to hear from you speaks of the community of Advent and hope.

How many ways can I allow the wisdom of the Saints of Advent, and the saints of my life, to create a reality of life and joy for others?

Mary Vlazny
Director of Social Action

Season of Creation

“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ–and individually parts of one another.“
~Romans 12: 4-5 “…

‘Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism’. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” ~Laudato Si’ 92

Where do you see/experience the interconnection with God, with humanity, and with creation? Can you think of specific examples? Name these interconnections.

Mary Vlazny

Have you ever sat by the side of the road with a flat tire? Maybe with kids in the car? What an inconvenience you might mutter, along with other things (out of children’s earshot). And was it night, with cars whizzing by? And maybe winter with the snow piled up and piling up as you measure the prospect of being stranded? It is dark, and bleak, and the prospects of rescue are slim. This is one of the places where I seriously open the “prayer line”. I know in my heart this line is always open to God who loves and accompanies me, but I pay particular attention to the response in this dialogue when the chips are down. This is the same when I have visited with someone after Mass who is shouldering a burden that calls forth their response of love. I can help with their labor of love through prayer for their support and presence. This is similar to what happens with people who initially come to our parish for other reasons.

Each Tuesday and Thursday morning, people arrive at the St. John doors early, often before 7am. Some days it is dark, cold, snowy and they are waiting for the light to be opened to them, the doors opened, so they can come into a warm place. Some have spent the night outside or in some temporary shelter, like their car. They may be living in that car with other family members, even children. There are as many different experiences of want and need as there are people and they have heard that this is a church that helps. How wondrous that must sound to someone who is desperate for help! The Co-Cathedral of St John the Evangelist Catholic Church helps people!

The “first responders”, after Karlo the custodian opens the door, are parishioners who volunteer to make some coffee, offer a roll or goodie, and register people to visit about their needs. They provide a welcoming presence to an oftentimes bleak outlook. It may be the bright spot in a string of dark days. We cannot fix people’s problems, but we can offer a smile, a prayer, some refreshment and warmth. This is a ministry of presence. We listen to some stories and witness to other’s silence.

Over the years, there have been faithful people who have participated in this ministry for many years and folks who are new to this way of Christian presence. We welcome the poor and vulnerable who come to us for help and hope that we provide some refreshment of the soul as a primary component of healing and peace. Is everyone happy when they leave? Not always, but many we send forward with a blessing and often hope.

The people who come to St. John’s Door Ministry are seeking an answer to their need. We have helped thousands of people over the years by confirming the importance of presence as a component of helping and healing. We are grateful for your financial support of this ministry through gifts to our Charity Fund. Perhaps you are interested in becoming a part of this ministry on a Tuesday or Thursday morning. Open the door of your heart to see if you might be a presence of welcoming to our guests. For more information, or to volunteer, contact Mary at the Parish Center.

Mary Vlazny
Director of Social Action
507-288-7372 ext. 4511

Door Ministry Reflections

Every day I get up -“Thanks be to God”-make coffee, prepare some breakfast or just start the day with a prayer on the run. Does this sound familiar? I may have the grocery on my “to do” list, among other things. I may be mentally planning my route as I leave my driveway. I head toward work or errands but give little thought to other important needs that are not in question… Monthly bills are on “auto-pay” so my calendar takes the majority of my attention. In this short paragraph, here are the needs that are “invisible givens” –housing, food, car-Driver’s license/insurance/gas, work/school and how to find and pay for these necessities; clean clothes and how to make this happen for a family; utilities/lights/gas/phone/internet (especially in our overly connected society and world) and how to pay for all these; health insurance or not. These are basics that do not even relate to our other, very real, needs for love, companionship, compassion, presence, friendship, caring -PRAYERS.

Our St. John the Evangelist “Door Ministry”, funded by the Charity Fund collection September 15, is a ministry that brings the service of these needs together. Our primary reason for this ministry is that people have always and forever come to the local church when they are in need. It is our mission to serve the needs of people who find themselves poor because of circumstances of life, many of which are out of our control. Possibly our more life-giving, healing aspect is listening to people’s stories and offering a moment of refreshment. This is not always the case, nor is it what everyone is seeking, but the peace lands on those who seek and need it. Compassionate presence and an empathetic heart to greet our Door Ministry guests is what our volunteers offer twice a week.

Some of our volunteers reflect on their ministry:

I like to think the Door Ministry program at St Johns is a valuable program because it not only helps the homeless but it also gives to those who need that extra help, like someone working two jobs, who need a bus pass to get to those jobs!!! It also has opened my eyes to the beauty of my God’s work for them!!

I do believe there are people who truly need our program –laundry, gas cards, and food cards are needed by the majority that we see at Door Ministry.

I find it rewarding to provide beverages and pastries to people who are in need of immediate help, to be able to visit with them, and listen to them while they wait for their visit. Some are new to the community and know no one, and many times we are the only ones they have to share their current situation with. Even a smile, hot cup of coffee and a donut can start their day with some amount of comfort.Door Ministry is a gift in my life. As a Door Minister, I have the privilege of listening to life stories very different from my own. Those who seek help frequently share experiences that I can’t even begin to imagine. As a Door Minister, I have learned that though I can’t fix most problems, I can share a cup of coffee, LISTEN, and offer words of encouragement.

Door Ministry gives me the unique opportunity to see Christ in the faces of so many who suffer hardships and struggles. It is humbling, and I am grateful.Thank you for the generosity you are able to offer in support of this ministry of outreach! If you would like to be one of our volunteers, please contact me at the Parish Center.

With Gratitude,
Mary Vlazny