Friday, December 28, 2012

Letter to God

Dear God,

This is a great risk. Some will think that I am being very presumptuous, perhaps even arrogant. I do not intend it to be like that. I do this because of an inspirtation of Morris West and his novel, The Clowns of God. Jean Marie wrote letters to you, God. And so I thought about doing the same. I must admit that years ago some of my students used to do the same. The readers of this letter will not exactly understand everything until those readers really read West's novel, but maybe they will do that.

There was a time when I was called Johnny. It was when I was quite young. Now many do call me Padre Juanito or Pradrecito. But this last time that I read C of G, I have come to like the name Jeannot alot.

What I want to say to you is something that some of MM's former students do not totally understand. We call those former students -- alums. Many of them want to see their alma mater stay just the same as it was when they were students here. Those alums even want their sons to have the very same teachers that they had when they were here. They want their sons to have at least, similar experiences as they did.

But, you God, know all. And one thing you know very well is that no human can go on forever. There is a limit of time. And you God have created every individual differently and so another teacher perhaps cannot teach exactly the way the one before did. So dear, God, you taught Jean Marie a good lesson at the end of C of G. In the character of Mr. Atha, after Jean Marie has accepted him (Mr. Atha) as the Anointed One, Jean Marie begs Mr. Atha to teach others as he (Jean Marie) has been taught by Mr. Atha. But these are Mr. Atha's words: "No!... tomorrow I shall be gone about my Father's other business. You must teach them."

So dear, God, help me to make the alums understand that in many ways it is their task to pass on and in many ways they must TEACH them!!

And one more point that I would like to make is this. I tried to re-read this novel, God, during Advent to prepare for your coming among us at Christmas. I must admit that it was great preparation. But what was even greater was a request that I received from a man who helps me with the Farmers Market, especially at the time of the Fall Festival. His hame is Paul Wenninghoff. Many years he comes through with pumpkins which I do not grow. I try to return payment, sometimes monetarily as well as with prayers. This year Paul asked if I could celebrate the Eucharist at a special school for the intention of his child who is in heaven with you and for his family. The school is called: Madonna School. The children at this school are much like the little buffons that are in the C of G. So on Friday, December 21, I celebrated the Eucharist at this school for all there. Wow! It was awesome. There was a student by the name of Louis. (The name Louis is very  much in my family.) He was relestless until I started my homily. I did alittle singing and he became very calm. In fact, there was total silence among them all when I sang for them. Those children are so very innocent. And then there was one student who is autistic. He did an unusal thing that day. He walked up for a blessing. It was a very neat experience for me. It was so humbling. Dear God, I felt your presence ever so much there. Thank you, God for TEACHING us with these innocent creatures you have given us.

So this is about all I want to say to you right now, God. I know that I will come back again, but for right now this is enough.

Thank you for everything,

Johnny, Juanito, Jeannot

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holy Navtivity -- The Incarnation

The Christmas story never gets old and it is told so very many ways by every people of every nation.
Find some photos below of some Nativity scenes throughout Mount Michael of the year of 2012.

The following photos are outside, near the front entrance of the school building.

Night time scenes -- really cold this year! Wonder what the temperature was on the night of the actual birth of Jesus.

The photo below is the scene within the chapel.

Below are some photos of arrangements in the chapel. Br. Jerome has cleverly used alot of natural grasses, greenery, and vines that grow here at Mount Michael-- red dogwood, switch grass and bittersweet are a few of them. Mulhalls have donated poinsettias to us for many years now. We are grateful for their generosity.

The photos below are of the nativity in the front entrance of the school. All figures are black and the kings are very ornately dressed. It is a very beautiful nativity set.

The photos from below are scenes from the school library. They are Br. Luke's nativity sets. The two photos below are from a set this is Eskimo with a polar bear and seals!

Here is another scene in the school library.

The photos below are in the abbey recreation room.

The water color below was done by Helen Gloeb some years ago. It was our Christmas card that year. Note Mount Michael in the background.

The photos below are on the bottom floor in the abbey -- the dining room.

Joseph, Mary and child are woven of some type of reed or grass-- top floor of abbey building.

The following photos are of a nativity set made by Paul Dohmen.

The photos below are of Prior Richard's nativity sets. Note the little tractor in the first one and also the sheep in the last one. Prior Richard's family rasied sheep in South Omaha years ago.

This last one is in the abbey oratory where we pray night prayer.

A Blessed Christmas to all. Our Chritmas cactus is still blooming!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rolheiser - Revisited

I must admit that there have been thoughts rolling around in my head these days about possible blog topics. The Season of Advent is something that stirs up lots of things in me and the season is too short to get it all accomplished. However something that comes back to me time and time and time again is Rolheiser's, The Holy Longing. Part of it has to do with the word longing. Longing -- longing -- longing. Doesn't most of life, in all of its stages, have alot to do with longing?

Again this book has done wonders for me, as I have expressed in past blog entries. But I just want to put forth two other witnesses to this matter. They would Laurie Killeen and Yuan Zhou. Laurie is the mother of two of our alums -- Martin in 1998 and Addison in 2004. Yuan is a graduate of 2011.

When Addison was a senior, I was then teaching Social Justice and Peace, first semester and Christian Lifestyles the second semester. I had all the seniors every day in those days. Anyway, during Curriculum Night, when most of the parents where there in class, I suggested that they too read what the students were reading and The Holy Longing was on that list. Laurie Killeen was one of them who picked up The Holy Longing and really digested it. That Christmas, after the Eucharist, she told me how she had a much better understanding of the INCARNATION after reading Rolheiser's book.

She is so absolutely correct. So if anyone really wants something to help with the Advent Season and then get a handle on what is really important about Christmas, do what Laurie Killeen did. Pick up The Holy Longing!

The second witness I need to describe a bit is: Yuan Zhou. Yuan graduated in 2011. Presently, he is a student at Georgetown University. Being Non-Catholic does not excuse Mount Michael students from theology classes. And I must admit it was a great pleasure to have Yuan in my class. I would imagine his classmates would say the same. Yuan was one of those students who devours books. He is a great thinker. I knew that if I gave him something to read that would be called outside reading, he would do it. And so I suggested several books to him. One of those books was, of course, The Holy Longing.

The following is an exact quote from Yuan: "I used to be unfriendly and simply reject Christianity on the basis that it is just a different faith. But in this class, after reading the book (The Holy Longing) you gave me, I realized that I had fallen prey to my own close minded-ness. I had become the enemy I once hated. After realizing my own stupidity, I became even more thankful of this opportunity you offered me to understand something that is so different and foreign. For that, I shall forever be thankful."

I encourage my readers to read Ronald Rolheiser's spiritual books, especially The Holy Longing.  All life has to do with longing!

Christmas Cactus Blooming in the Abbey Entrance

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Immaculate Conception -- Another Painting

A few weeks ago I posted a blog dealing with Edward Hick's painting-- The Peaceable Kingdom. The past few days we have had another painting that has graced our chapel-- a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although this painting does not have a title or name, it has always intrigued me.

It was painted by a monk, orginally from Conception Abbey, Fr. Severin Foley. He is now deceased.  This painting was in our library for many years. Perhaps Fr. Severin painted it and and gave it to Fr. Robert Halter, our librarian here at Mount Michael for many, many years.

Here are several photos of the painting!

A close up of the painting below.

What I find so intriguing about this painting is the flow and movement of it. Obviously the painter intended the movement of the garments to be somewhat in sync to the movement of the background shapes-- those shapes are very serpent like. However, it seems that the background serpent has no affect upon Mary. I must say that the movement of this painting is the aspect of it that really attracts me to it.

Years ago when we were still a seminary, we used to go to our motherhouse, Conception Abbey, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The year that was memorable for me would have been my sophomore year in high school, 1964-65. And I would have to say that the most wonderful thing about the day spent at the motherhouse was the liturgy there at Conception. Of course, with the student body there and community and our student body and community we had nearly 500 male voices. The singing was nothing but awesome.

I also have a fond memory of the Concpetion monks that I met that day. All were incredibly friendly and hospitable.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Electronic Teaching & Discussion

In the spring of 2011, I decided to step away from the traditional classroom and teaching. I felt that the rountine of class presentations and the repetition of 3-4 classes was just too much for me. I have never been a teacher who sticks to written notes and I found myself losing it in regard to covering the necessary material in all classes as they followed one another. To me it was like giving the same homily over and over! Honestly, I have a hard time repeating a homily twice!

In teaching Social Justice and Peace, I will always remember the section of the textbook dealing with the elderly of society and how we treat them. As I grow older, I try to be honest about aging and what I can do and to be honest about what I really should be letting go. So I want to admit that there were actually days when I could not remember the names of some of my students sitting right in front of me. It was embarrassing, to say the least. When I have failure of memory now and it is happening more and more often, I try to say that I am having a senior moment. Most people are kind enough to help me say the word I am groping for or to remember a name.

However, since I have left the classroom, some alums are disappointed. Some want me to teach their own sons, so that father-son can have the same experience. Actually there are a few monks still in the teaching ranks that are having this very experience right now. Abbot Michael would be one of those teachers.

So eventhough I have been getting some "flack" about not being in the classroom any more, there have been some suggestions about doing something on line. In many ways, I have never left the classroom-- the classroom has just taken on a different meaning. One alum, who has kept in contact all these years, would be Dan Mulhall of 1980.Of course, since Dan is in the same business that I dabble in, gardening and landscaping, etc., we have had a natural connection. But Dan is the alum who keeps encouraging me to think outside the box in regard to teaching and to try something electronically. Dan has been an avid reader ever since I have known him. I do believe there is a point when many students surpass their teachers. He would be one of them. Over the years he has suggested many books to me and he continues to re-read books of his days here at Mount Michael. It has been a pleasure to exchange opinions and thoughts about an author or a particular theme or thought expressed by an author. Just this past summer, when it was so hot and dry, Dan sent me an e-mail message to enquire about how I was holding up in regard to gardening under such extreme weather conditions. In the same message he mentioned that he had just re-read Michener's CENTENNIAL. I will always have very fond memories of teaching that long, long novel. I think to this day, there are some alums who play a type of trivia game in regard to characters and material treated in that novel. Who could ever forget:  Pasquiel, my brooder--McKeag, Blue Leaf, Potato Brumbaugh, Rufus and on and on!

I must admit that there were some very memorable and wonderful moments in those literature classes over all those years. I am going to mention some names and I know that as soon as I do this I will miss some alums and some great discussions, however by doing this perhaps I can stir up some enthusiasm to go back to these pieces of literature and get alums and maybe even present students to do more reading. But before I start recalling classroom moments, I also want to admit that everything I did in the classroom was not always the best thing. When under strain and pressure I did not always response in the best way. I trust that I can be forgiven for those times. The old meaning of classroom is a closed chapter now and I want to move on to another one.

Here are just a few names an incidents that come to mind.

Brian Phipps -- INHERIT THE WIND -- Brian inspired me to teach that play -- I think Brian played Clarence Darrow in one of the drama presentations -- I always thought that it was rather tight casting for Brian was a perfect Clarence Darrow during the monkey trial, riddling William Jennings Bryan in regard the Bible.

Theodore Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY -- I can't believe that I pulled students through that long novel, but it seemed like I struck the nail on the head with some alums -- Tim Zach, Mike O"Neill, Pat Regan.

The play ON GOLDEN POND -- to liven up class, I decided it would not be such a bad thing to do some acting in class. Of course, that meant that some students had to be female characters-- Mickey Gotsch was an awesome Ethel Thayer! This was Mick's junior year -- you bailed after that year for Elkhorn Public!

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST -- lots of alums come to mind with this novel. But one who sticks out in my mind would be Mike Cizek. Mike, you aruged with me for a long time whether or not Cheswick took his own life-- remember that? What do you think now? And having just written this, my mind also runs back to Ryan Moody of the class of 1992-- maybe I am confusing who doubted Cheswick's demise-- just one more indication of loss of memory.

Fydor Dostovevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. That is another novel that I am shocked about pulling students through. But it was such a great success that I refused to repeat the experience. John Lumir Drahota -- you were in one of those classes of Elective Literature. Remember?

Eugene O'Neill -- LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT-- I am pretty sure that this play is the reason why Tim Dalton did so well on the AP English Lit Exam. I was very impressed with your free response essay on this play, Tim. It was awesome.

These are just a few that come to mind right now. Perhaps we can get much more going by reading and discussing in the future.

I will just finish this blog with a few memories about style in the classroom.

Journal writing and creative writing did wonders for lots of students -- this was mostly in the 80's. Admittedly, that some entries in your journals were alittle off color and weak, but there were some great ones as well. I wished I had those to go back to right now.

Of recent years in theology class (Social Justice and Peace and Christian Lifestyles) there were several methods that I used that seemed to work really well.
I will just list three and let you students take over from there.
2)Building community and unity in the class -- each student sitting on the throne and listening to each of your classmates tell you about 3 qualities of character that he sees in you!
3)Field Trip to Schuyler, Nebraska.

So to be concrete-- if you want to get involved with this, your homework is to read Morris West's novel, THE CLOWNS OF GOD. I just re-read it again this past week. It was as exciting as the first time I read it. And it is so appropriate for this time of the year. I would guess that it will make your Advent and Christmas season so much better if you do read it.

Blessings and I hope to be hearing from you.

Fr. John/Padre Juan

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mount Michael Christmas Gifts

                                         Christmas Cactus Blooming in the Abbey Entrance
Hello Holiday Shoppers,
I would like to remind you all of possible gift purchasing at Mount Michael Bookstore and Guest House.
This year there will again be Farmers Market items available.
Jam and Jellies: Rhubarb/Strawberry—Grape—Choke Cherry—Jalapeno—Wild Plum. All jams and jellies are in pint jars -- $5.00 per jar. There will also be some Kosher Dills available -- $5.00 per quart.
There will be pumpkin and banana bread available -- $3.00 per loaf. If you want large amounts, you should order in advance.
 Most of the Farmers Market Items will be available in the bookstore.
Bookstore hours are: Tuesdays – 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
                                       Wednesdays – 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm
                                        Thursdays – 11:00 am – 4:00 pm                
There will be some Farmers Market Items available at the Guest House, but there are lots of things available at the Guest House.
Guest House hours are: 10:00 am2:00 pm – Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays.
If you need any assistance don’t hesitate to call.

Saint Benedict's Gift Shop
Bro. Jerome Kmiecik OSB

Blessings to you all,
Fr. John

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Peaceable Kingdom -- Thanksgiving

For numerous years of the recent past, I used Edward Hicks painting -- Peaceable Kingdom-- to illustrate various points in my classe of Social Justice and Peace. I have always liked to use art work in teaching in the classroom. This particular print I have used is a decoupage done by Br. Peter Spurber. He is now deceased but he was a monk of Mount Michael when I first joined Mount Michael Abbey. Here is a photo of  the Peaceable Kingdom in decoupage by Br. Peter.

Here is a closer photo!

I remember drilling the seniors of the class of 2011 daily about who painted the Peaceable Kingdom. After weeks of this drilling Zach Loefellholz and Josh Mitten could readily answer what the painting was about and who painted it. At an alum gathering in Kansas City, Loefellholz told me that he had referred to the Peaceable Kingdom in a paper or a class that he had taken. My memory is that Grant Parr retained a lasting impression of this painting as well.

Br. Jerome, who has done the environment in chapel for many years, always brings out this painting at this time of the year-- just before Thanksgiving and it usually remains in the chapel for the most of the Advent season. The colors of this painting go well with the earth tones of the chapel and the season with dried flowers and grasses as well. The painting is based on the prophet Isaiah -- 11: 6-- why it is so appropriate for the season of Advent.

The painting does  speaks of peace -- not only in the animal kingdom but also in the human world with the treaty between the Native Americans and William Penn -- the individuals across the ravine or divide on the left side of the painting.

Edward Hicks painted this scene nearly 100 times. Although the animals began to look less peaceful, Hicks
never gave up trying to express the possibilty of the Peaceable Kingdom.

At this time of Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for all the we have been given. For if we are really honest with ourselves, we will be aware of how much we have all been given.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and lets try to work for the Peaceable Kingdom.