Catholic Herald Staff
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of features on finalists for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2019 Pax Christi Award. Finalists were recognized at the annual convention in June.
Margaret Rasmussen very clearly remembers her “aha moment” experience of the presence of God. She was 9 or 10 years old and playing church on a spread-out blanket under a big tree in the front yard, as she would often do.
“Everyone once in awhile, you’d just have this feeling of real goodness,” she recalled.
On that particular day, “I stopped and thought, oh, that good feeling is God.” She realized and “just knew” the “need to want to feel good inside, and smile and giggle, was the presence of God.”
Decades later, the Pax Christi finalist and parishioner of St. Mary in Minong, is smiling and feeling good inside not only as she continues to feel the presence of God, but as she gets to share that with so many around her.
Rasmussen’s story is one many can relate to – parents who did their best to raise their children in a Christian home, but didn’t always have the means or knowledge to make faith an integral part of daily life.
She grew up in a poor family, about 15 miles from the nearest Catholic church. Her father, who had stopped practicing his faith, would make sure her mother, a convert, would take the children to Mass on Christmas and Easter. They also wanted the children in catechism classes, so they could make their first Communion.
“We didn’t have a lot of money for gas or car maintenance, so church wasn’t a regular thing,” she said.
As a girl, having had that strong experience of the presence of God, she sought relationship with him however she could. Rasmussen would occasionally go to a Protestant church with a neighbor friend. The closest Catholic family had nine children, and it wasn’t as easy to hitch a ride with them for Mass.
Another faith connection she maintained was participating in the “Good News Club” – a children’s Bible study she could attend weekly – that added to Rasmussen’s basic Christian formation. The only thing she asked for one birthday as a young teen was a Bible.
Rasmussen’s desire to know the God whose presence she had felt continued as she moved away from home. Nineteen years old and living in the Twin Cities, she pursued reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. The priest gave her a book to read as preparation, and that was that.
Even the dry pastoral approach didn’t deter the young woman from seeking to know more about God.
“I can honestly say most of my adult life, I wasn’t consistent with Mass, or well-catechized,” Rasmussen admitted.
She remembers how real the challenge was to get her own children to Mass. Raising a blended family, she had one or two, sometimes up to five children, at home on a given Sunday.
“Even only blocks from church, it was a struggle to get kids up, fed, dressed and to church,” she remembers.
“And then to leave Mass, telling the kids how badly they behaved,” she said, empathizing with and understanding parents who say they don’t make it to church as often as they’d like.
“I wanted it for myself,” Rasmussen shared, but bringing kids along felt restricting. Wanting faith for her children, she was more involved with their parish, but “It was hit and miss until retirement, six years ago.”
That was when a “whole new conversion” took place.
“Small churches have big needs,” Rasmussen said. When her parish in Minong needed help with children’s catechism, she jumped in.
Teaching catechism led to becoming a Lay Leader of Prayer, which led to helping with RCIA and prison ministry.
“I found that the more I did, the more I learned, the more that I studied. And the more that I knew my Lord, the more that I wanted to know. It’s just this unending thirst and hunger,” Rasmussen said.
“I really went most of my adult life being Christian but not living the Catholic faith,” she said, “because I didn’t understand it. Not that I ever will fully (understand it), but the Mass means so much more to me now. So many just lack understanding of what happens on that altar.”
Acknowledging that retired and as a grandmother she has “the pleasure and freedom” hard to come by in younger years, Rasmussen also gives credit for her spiritual development to her pastor, Fr. James Kinney.
Fr. Kinney invited Fr. Andrew Ricci to preach a parish mission last Lent. Rasmussen described her impression of Fr. Ricci as he approached the altar, walked up to the cross and touched it. She could sense his wonder and awe as he said (she paraphrased), “If you don’t understand that this man is present to you at his table, and if you don’t hunger for that, then you don’t understand what happens here.”
“Once you know what that is, the meaning and the significance,” Rasmussen added, “You don’t want to miss it!”
She told of how she tries to help her grandchildren to appreciate the gift of the Eucharist, making them aware of the moment of the epiclesis (when the Holy Spirit is called upon just prior to) and what happens at the moment of consecration during Mass.
“Isn’t that terrible we go through our lives believing that Christ is present in the Eucharist, but not understanding how he gets there?” she questioned.
Rasmussen misses the ringing of bells during those moments of Mass, the physical reminder of that extra special moment. Growing up with the Latin Mass, she didn’t know what they meant, but now that she does, “I am just filled with…”
Unable to finish her sentence, Rasmussen continued, “Tell your children what those bells mean.”
Transmitting the faith to children in her parish and family has enriched the Pax Christi finalist’s mind and heart. Having a soul sensitive to the experience of God, when her experience and the understanding came together, “it was life changing,” she asserted.
Her only regret is “it took so long get there.
“I have so much more to learn. But on the other end, we know we have eternity,” she said.
Rasmussen affirmed that moving into the Minong community has helped her experience “the fastest, biggest growth” in her faith life. She particularly mentioned the training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a religious education program based on the Montessori method, and the program used at her parish.
She also mentioned one other influential person by name – Mary Brand, friend, 2016 Pax Christi Award winner, and pioneer of the cluster’s Good Shepherd catechesis program.
“I felt so undeserving when they said I was nominated and a finalist for the Pax Christi Award,” she admitted sheepishly, “because there are people who spend their whole lives doing what I’ve done in the last six.”
“Pax Christi means the peace of Christ. That is what we say at the end of Mass – go in the peace of Christ – as we take Christ with us to share with everybody out there,” Rasmussen said. “All of a sudden, that medal meant so much more to me.”