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It’s been a hair over two years since I made a four-day, solo, cross country road trip from my home in Ohio to Seattle, Washington for my oldest daughter’s wedding. It was a wonderful trip full of natural beauty, solitude, revelations and spiritual opportunities.

Perhaps the most exciting part of that trip for me as a new Catholic, or, to be more precise, a new Christian, was seeing the world from an entirely different point of view than I ever had previously. I had driven across the country many times prior to this but had never thought of its beauty as a creation and gift from God. Likewise, my faith not only opened my eyes to the scenery, but opened my mind and heart to the people and events that crossed my path.

My experiences on the trip urged me to blog about them. Each day I would stop at a McDonald’s and use their free Wi-Fi to publish my thoughts and events from the last twenty-four hours. During those four days I published: Miles, God Moments and Mosaics; Corn, Confession, Cathedrals and Car Trouble; Bolo Ties, Rosaries and Rainbows; and Miracles and Memories. It was fun and worth the extra hour or so each day.

Last week I got home from a similar two week road trip. For this year’s vacation I drove to Red Lodge, Montana to meet my daughter, son-in-law and nine month old granddaughter, for five days of relaxation, fly fishing and enjoying each other’s company. This trip, though, was a little different in that I had two passengers – my wife, Melinda, and Flat Francis.

#Flat Francis

#Flat Francis

Flat Francis is a caricature of Pope Francis and is a spinoff of the Flat Stanley project practiced at many grade schools around the country for a summer assignment. (School children take Flat Stanley on vacation with them and take photos with him at points of interest around the country.) The organization Catholic Extension came up with the idea for Flat Francis to help show Pope Francis the enthusiasm of American Catholics before his visit to Philadelphia in September.

On Saturday, 27 June we drove to our daughter’s house in Olathe, Kansas as our first way point. Then, Sunday morning we (my family and Flat Francis) attended 9:00 a.m. mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe. The second reading this Sunday was from 2 Corinthians 8:9-15:

9“For you know the gracious acts of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  13Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality 14your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.  15As it is written: ‘Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.’”

In contemplating St. Paul’s message, I couldn’t help but think about the mission trip several of us would take later in July with Hand in Hand Ministries to Appalachian Kentucky. In comparison to many, I know I have been graced with a surplus of talent and treasure. But, I know from my experience on last year’s mission trip that the surplus of gratitude I received from those whom we helped equaled or exceeded that which I brought to the table.

I said a short prayer asking the Lord to help bring more adults to our ministry and to let those who can’t find it within themselves to offer a donation. Then, as I read from the Gospel, Mark 5:36, when Jesus told Jairus with regard to his dying daughter, “Do not be afraid, just have faith”, I knew the Lord would provide all we would need for this mission trip. (At the time we had seven people signed up and very few donations. As of this writing, one day before our trip, we have 12 adult volunteers and donations to Hand in Hand Ministries equal to almost 150 percent of the cost of the trip! Thank you, everyone!)

 #Flat Francis at Prince of Peace, Olathe, KS

#Flat Francis at Prince of Peace, Olathe, KS

The priest at Prince of Peace, Fr. Wiesmann, was visiting from the Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica. He was on his own mission to raise money to help improve the living conditions of the Jamaican people in his Diocese. The living conditions he described in his homily were clearly visible in my mind’s eye and I couldn’t help but feel compassion for them. And, I couldn’t help but open my wallet and make a generous donation.

After a couple days at Lisa’s we drove on to Rapid City, South Dakota to spend a day with more family, and then on to Red Lodge, Montana (with a short stop for a photo-op with Flat Francis at Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota) where we met up with my daughter, Sara, Andy, her husband and Elsa, our granddaughter.

#Flat Francis at Wall Drug

#Flat Francis at Wall Drug

We enjoyed a fun four days there (more on that in another post) and on Saturday evening we found ourselves at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Red Lodge.

St. Agnes is an old parish in a small but relatively new church building. There were about 40 of us in attendance. Most were regulars but it looked like there were a few visitors like us. We learned that the priest was visiting from nearby Bridger and, unfortunately, we learned it was because the pastor at St. Agnes had passed away the week before.

In my travels I visit a lot of churches and I usually remember something unique about each of them. The thing I will remember most about St. Agnes was the music and the cantor. The cantor was an elderly, grizzled gentleman who looked as though he had pushed a few dogies in his time. He played his guitar and he sang. Each hymn, the Gloria, and the responsorial Psalm were all played with the same four chords and the same 4/4 rhythm. He played in a Western style that was pure cowboy music. It made me think I was at a Riders in the Sky concert. He wasn’t the best singer but it was the most unique music I’ve ever heard at a Catholic mass.

#Flat Francis at St. Agnes, Red Lodge, MT

#Flat Francis at St. Agnes, Red Lodge, MT

The other thing I will remember about St. Agnes was my concern for the well-being of their parish. I noticed in their bulletin that the weekly collections were less than half their budget. This, combined with the loss of their priest, appeared to me to be casting a gloomy pall over their parish. I said a special prayer for them and hope you will, too.

After tent camping a couple nights in Custer State Park, S.D., and another visit at my daughter’s in Olathe, we returned home safely two weeks after we left. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road again to Auxier, Kentucky for our mission trip. And, yes, Flat Francis will be accompanying us.

God bless you all.

(#Flat Francis Takes a Road Trip was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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