Stephen Miller blogs about his family’s adventures – and challenges – in attending daily Mass in a rural area. This is day one in a six-day series, as Stephen says, because “Sunday is a given.”
Blessed are you who live in close proximity to a church that offers daily Mass!
Every once in a while my wife and I attempt the holy grail of Catholics: to go to daily Mass. After all, as St. Bernard put it: “You will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.”
Since we live in a rural area our options are limited. None of the parishes within a half-hour driving distance offers daily Mass. So we map out our options. We find that if we draw a circle with a radius of 25 miles (or so) of our home we can find various churches that offer Mass on each day of the week. Unfortunately those churches within that radius do not offer Masses at the same time. Morning Masses at 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 10:00. Afternoon Masses at 4:30, 5:00, 6:30, 8:00. So not only do we have to map out daily Masses at a number of churches, we have to make ourselves available at that time on that day (did I mention that we have 6 kids and homeschool them all?). General Patton had it easier organizing the supply train for his troops!
Our monthly issue of the Magnificat will act as a sort of “Boedekkers Guide” for us (spiritual direction, as opposed to actual physical direction). So come with me as my wife and I attempt the greater good: going to daily Mass in rural Minnesota!
Statue of the Holy Family at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.
Up at the usual time, 6:30 am. Our Mass options: 8:00 am in Swanville (13 miles away), 7:00 pm in Flensburg (16 miles away), and 7:00 pm in Belle Prairie (28 miles away). Mondays have the least number of Masses offered in our area, and evening Masses are harder for us to schedule for than a morning Mass. So our choice is St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville.
It’s an easy drive down the Morrison-Todd County Line Road for us. This morning it’s just Jenna and I, since some of the kids are down with colds, and those who aren’t are taking care of the ones who are, while also trying to get their schoolwork done.
We leave at 7:30. It’s a beautiful morning: the sun is a welcome sight after days of rain. After 10 minutes we cross Highway 27 and see a sure sign of Spring in Minnesota. Lilac trees in bloom? No. Rhubarb springing up? No. Road construction? Yes! Welcome to Minnesota!
12 minutes later we park across the street from the church. As we enter the sanctuary we bless ourselves with holy water from a solid stone font. I guess the sponge is in the basin to keep you from dripping water on your forehead. Since I can use all the blessings I can get I’m tempted to dunk my head in the font, but decorum wins out and I simply dip in a finger.
Statue of St. John the Baptist at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy Stephen Miller.
There are 9 other people sitting in various pews, mostly toward the back of the church, reciting the rosary. We walk down the aisle as the 5th joyful mystery is prayed. We choose a third-row pew and kneel. I’ve heard it said that if you want to be closer to Jesus then sit nearer the altar. I’m in that club!
I seem to remember that this church and the church in Randall, St. James, were designed by the same architect. There are similarities: a lot of exposed wood, simple plain walls and no ornate decorations. Very 1960s Scandinavian design, which I like. There are two recessed grottos: one has a statue of St. John the Baptist and the other has a statue of the Holy Family. The grotto of St. John the Baptist is relatively unadorned, befitting the man who cried out in the wilderness. In contrast, the grotto with the Holy Family is bedecked with flowers, featuring a beautiful arch of flowers over their heads. It looks wonderfully celebratory.
A view of the altar at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. Photo courtesy of Stephen Miller.
Father Ron Dockendorf walks down the aisle. We stand and Mass begins. I’m reminded, being at a different church than my usual, of the days before Jenna and I were married, and well before my conversion to Catholicism. Out of curiosity, I would attend morning Mass at a Catholic church not far from my apartment in Alameda, California. I found the whole service confusing, but I was also fascinated by all of the rituals. Now, years later, I’m less confused but still fascinated.
The first Scripture reading is appropriate to what I’m attempting in this week-long blog. In the Acts of the Apostles 16:11-15, St. Paul describes the beginning of a long journey. And while Swanville is not exactly Phillipi, Father Ron spreads the good news with a quiet fervor that I think St. Paul would be proud of.
After Mass Father Ron stops and speaks with us. He recognizes us from when I worked at the library in Swanville and sometimes went to morning Mass at St. John the Baptist. I ask him if he still rides a motorcycle. He does, and he is looking forward to warmer (and drier) riding weather.
As we drive away (and after the almost mandatory after-Mass stop at a grocery store) we head north, back to our family, thankful for the quiet time we’ve had together.
-Member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Long Prairie.
-Not a native Minnesotan.
-Not a cradle Catholic.
-Likes kids, somewhat baffled by adults.
-Married to the smartest and most beautiful woman in the world with whom we have six astonishing children.