Biblical Stewardship

Coming Together as Community

Growing up in a small town, everyone knew each other. In church, school or life in general, everyone was involved or things simply didn’t happen. When I left after college, I found myself with a new job in a new town and made my way to the local Catholic Church for Mass. It was a large community—much bigger than I was used to. People rushed in and out on Sundays and I came and went too and never really connected. No one seemed to notice me. No one asked me to get involved. It felt strange to feel lonely in the midst of all those people at Mass. I didn't feel like I belonged. 

As I’ve grown older, I realized that most often all you have to do is put your hand up and say ‘I'm interested’ or ‘I'd like to get involved.’ In most organizations, volunteers are desperately needed and you can find a place, and that’s definitely true here at The Basilica. But fresh out of college as a young adult, I was waiting to be asked.

At The Basilica, my sincere hope is that your experience is one of welcome and feeling a strong sense of belonging. For long-time parishioners, I hope we see our important role in welcoming newcomers, in greeting the strangers in our midst, and inviting others to get involved. 

As parish members, it’s our job to make everyone, guests and members alike, feel welcome and part of our community. We can’t function as a healthy, welcoming community without your active involvement. We need you to come together regularly in prayer and worship. We need your help as ministers and parish leaders to serve others in our parish and our city. We need your ongoing financial support to sustain the work of our parish community.

Why do I feel at home at The Basilica of Saint Mary? In some ways, it’s very different than where I grew up. It’s such a large, impressive building, and it houses a huge parish community—about 6,500 households with  over 12,000 people—our church is bigger than where I grew up. 

But big as it is, The Basilica also feels warm and inviting. In my earliest days at The Basilica, I was asked to help with hospitality after Mass. Back then we brewed the coffee in the back of the church while mass was winding to a close. After Mass people hung around in church to visit and catch up. Next I was asked to help blow up helium balloons for an event. Small ways of getting involved, but each time I helped, I met people and got to know them. Soon I was seeing familiar friendly faces whenever I went to church. Being part of a group felt good to me. In small ways, I knew I was making a difference and preparing the way for others. 

Belonging to a parish community, we are each asked to take part. That starts with coming together as a community for worship. It happens when we greet a stranger or welcome a new volunteer into ministry. It happens when we pray for the ill or grieving. It happens when we teach our children about their faith, when we sing or serve at Mass, mow the lawn, or shovel the snow. 

It happens when we make a financial commitment to sustain our parish ministries and the day-to-day work of our church community. I hope you will join me and make a pledged financial commitment to support our ministries and the ongoing work of our parish in 2015. 

When we come together as a community, we share common experiences like roots in our Catholic faith, and we share our differences too. When we worship and work side by side, we learn from each other’s journeys and experiences as we come together to live our faith every day. 

 

Every once in a while, you meet someone whose story has an extraordinary and immediate impact. I had the pleasure of such an experience when I met Bob Kleiber at a parish leadership gathering this spring. Bob is a member of The Basilica’s Finance Committee whose path to involvement and deeper stewardship is not typical.

In our visit, Bob openly shared the tragic story of losing his son, David, to suicide, as a result of mental illness. When he told me this story, something hit me in the gut and tore at my heart. As a parent, the thought of a broken bone is enough to make your stomach churn. The thought of burying a child is unfathomable. But through that loss and beyond his sadness, Bob found a deeper connection at The Basilica and with his faith. The value of community and of belonging increases greatly when you feel their support in a time of need.  

As he shared today, and as you can likely sense, even through his grief Bob lives a life of gratitude. This gratitude has guided stewardship in his life.  

He is an inspiration.

Sometimes, we all need a reminder about living a life of gratitude. Earlier this year, around the time I met Bob, I had a conversation with Fr. Michael O’Connell, former pastor at The Basilica. I had shared with him some of my challenges about how I was finding it to be difficult to juggle things. These “things” were family, children’s activities, my work, and other interests. It seemed I never had the time I really wanted to devote to each area of my life, which is a well-known theme for many working parents.  

When I started this conversation, I was counting on a clear direction of how I might make some adjustments and priorities could become clear. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I heard the one word that needed to be said:  Gratitude.

I didn’t love to hear it at first. Amidst my tension and personal stress, I had forgotten to look at these “things” in my life as the blessings of my life. And they are. God has given me more than I recognize and certainly more than I sometimes deserve.

I love all of it. Perhaps too much. I have a job that not only feeds my family, but feeds my heart and soul. I have a loving family. I have a faith that is constantly forming, on a journey where I’m supported at The Basilica.

Focusing on gratitude—and in Fr. Michael’s words, “Giving gratefully and graciously gives back what God has so generously given to us”—can change you.

The shift changed not only my heart, but it seemed to change my daily life. When you change your mind, the tone of each day is different.  

I hope you will consider your own gratitude when you consider supporting The Basilica this fall. Please consider a pledged commitment for 2015. Pledge forms are available in the pews, or you can pledge online.  Thank you for your consideration and know we are grateful for your generosity.

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm

Our Gospel this Sunday follows immediately after last Sunday’s Gospel in which Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”  Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.   In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells his disciples the “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  When Peter objected to this Jesus told him:  “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”   Jesus then went on to tell his disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. “  

In this Gospel Jesus is clear that his disciples should not expect a life free of difficulties or pain simply because they were his disciples.   Rather, we can expect our reward or punishment at the end of our lives. This is made clear in the last line of this Sunday’s Gospel.  “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”   

Our first reading this Sunday dovetails nicely with the Gospel.  The prophet Jeremiah is upset that his words of chastisement and rebuke have caused him to be beaten and put into stocks.  In a famous lament he says:  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”   Given this, Jeremiah vows not to prophesy any longer.  “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”    Clearly for Jeremiah, responding to God’s call was no picnic, yet he realized that ultimately in responding to that call he would find his salvation.

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  It shares the theme of the Gospel and the first reading.  Paul tells the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When have you had to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
2.  Have you ever felt like Jeremiah in our first reading?
3. What helps you discern the will of God in your life?  

In August and September we focus on the stewardship of our gifts at The Basilica. We encourage each and every member of The Basilica community to consider what gifts, talents, and skills they have been given, and how they might put those gifts to use for the betterment of our community — our parish, our city, and our world.

At The Basilica there are currently more than 1500 volunteers in more than 300 volunteer positions. As you consider how you might begin or continue your commitment to The Basilica in the next year, we would urge you to consider as a part of your commitment, how you might focus on enriching your own faith life. To fulfill your ministry to the best of your abilities it is essential that you nurture yourself spiritually. Will you commit to daily prayer? Will you attend a retreat? Will you commit, as part of your stewardship pledge, to attend a program or two within our ongoing adult learning offerings on Sunday mornings?

At The Basilica of Saint Mary we strive to provide opportunities for our community to learn and to grow by working with a number of speakers to offer programming on many varied topics. In the upcoming program year, we will learn not only about some of the great saints in our Catholic history, but also about contemporary leaders of social justice in our Catholic tradition. We will delve into end-of-life issues and offer programs on forgiveness, mindfulness, and meditation. We will offer programming on the Bible and the Qur’an and, during Advent, we will have a presentation on waiting for the Messiah from the Jewish perspective. We hope that you will consider these topics as part of your own growth and development in the faith this year and make the pledge to attend at least one. View the various offerings on our website and see what topics speak to you and participate in as many of these programs as you feel called.

Also, as you consider living out your call, you might consider reading the new book, Stewardship: Living a Biblical Call by Bernard F. Evans. Dr. Evans has spoken a number of times at The Basilica on topics of stewardship, and his latest book highlights the six stewardship themes of biblical stewardship that we focus on at The Basilica. The book “ties the Catholic invitation to stewardship to biblical foundations as well as the social teaching of the church.” Dr. Evans will be at The Basilica’s Parish Picnic on September 7 to sign copies of his book and has included a dedication to The Basilica of Saint Mary within his new book.

Please, take some time to consider how you might enrich your faith life in this coming program year and how you might share your gifts with your faith community. We look forward to our work together!

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071314.cfm 

This Sunday’s Gospel is the familiar parable of the sower and the seed.  We are told that a sower went out to sow and “some seed fell on the path, and birds come and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.”  But when the sun came out “it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.”  Some “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”   “But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”    

To understand this parable, it is helpful to know three things.  First, parables were short stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.  They were not meant to be taken literally.  Second, the impact of a parable occurs when our sense of what is proper/right is upended.  Third, it is helpful to know is that for the kind of sowing process described in this parable a harvest of 6% – 9% would be the best you could hope for.   Thus a harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold would be absolutely extraordinary. Taken together these things remind us that the message of the Kingdom of God goes out to all people, but is received in a variety of ways.   Ultimately, though, the Kingdom of God will flourish, despite any obstacles to its growth.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.  Through the Prophet Isaiah God reminds the people that “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth ………………… so shall my word be ……………… my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his faith in God’s ultimate triumph.  “I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”     

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Why do you think Jesus used parables?
2.  Have you ever been surprised at the effect God’s word has had on you or someone else? 
3.  What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the glory to be revealed for us?  

The Journey of the Refugee

When we envision the journey of a refugee, the most visceral images are fleeing a country in strife and finding refuge in a new place. But for many refugees, this is only the beginning and the end of a long journey. Many refugees are placed in refugee camps until their applications for asylum in foreign countries are approved. This can be an arduous process, because the majority of developed countries have a limit to the amount of refugees they can accept in any given year. For example, the United States accepted 76,000 refugees in 2012. There are currently roughly 10.4 million refugees in the world.  Given the disparity between the number of refugees in the world and the number that countries accept annually, many refugees have to wait in refugee camps, in limbo between their home country and their future home.

As a result, there are countless refugee camps across the world, some larger than Minneapolis, that host refugees until their application for asylum is approved. Dadaab, Kenya is currently the largest refugee camp in the world, hosting approximately 402,000 people. While the camp is meant to be temporary, there are now more than 8000 Dabaab grandchildren – children of children who were born in the camp. There is simply nowhere for these people – husbands, mothers, children – to go, as they wait for countries to approve their asylum application. 

There are thousands of stories in Dadaab, and millions of stories of refugees across the world that are displaced in refugee camps. There’s Meddy Okoth, who played for the Ethiopian national basketball team until he was forced to flee from conflict. He now hopes to play abroad and return to help those in his community. Or Opiyo Sufuri who uses spoken word poems to raise awareness amongst men in his community to equal rights for women. Or Mohamed Ali Ahmed, the father of nine children. He was a professional football player and coach before being forced to flee his home. He’s now the sole caretaker of his severely disabled son, Abidirsack, whom he adores. 

There are countless stories like this across the world, of people who have fled from their homes and are making due in refugee camps. Many of those in our community have spent time in these camps, waiting to start a new life in Minnesota. It’s important to know these stories of resilience and perseverance, so we can understand what those in our community have been through.

About the columnist: Luke Olson is a Basilica parishioner and choir member.  A third-year law student at the University of Minnesota, upon graduation Luke will join the firm of Dorsey and Whitney in Minneapolis.

 

Fleeing violence. This experience may seem far removed for most of us as we go about our everyday lives. If you had to escape to save your life and leave your home and all your possessions behind, what would you do?  Where would you go? 
Today, millions of people in Syria are struggling with these very questions. The New York Times has been covering and offering analysis of the Syrian refugee crisis and featuring compelling photo essays that provide an amazing visual perspective that takes you beyond the statistics. With the growing crisis in Syria, we still need to come to grips with the sheer numbers of people impacted.

Just a year ago, the Syrian refugee crisis affected about 270,000 people — compare that to the city of St. Paul which has about 290,000 residents. In recent months, the impacts on Syrian citizens have exploded and over 6 million people have been displaced.  

The entire Twin Cities metro area has 2.9 million people — about half the number of Syrian people who’ve been forced from their homes by war and violence. Just stop for moment and consider what it would be like if everyone in our 7 county metro area was on the move by foot, and taking only the belongings they could carry.  It’s staggering to contemplate. 

Of Syria’s 6 million refugees, about 4.25 million people are still in Syria, but are on the move, having been pushed out of their homes to save their lives. Another 2.2 million Syrians have fled their home country spilling across the borders into neighboring lands of Lebanon (almost 800,000 refugees), Turkey (over 500,000 refugees), Jordan (over 540,000 refugees), Egypt (over 100,000 refugees), and Iraq (almost 200,000 refugees).  

The governments of these countries approach the swelling numbers of refugees differently. Lebanon’s government has chosen not to build refugee camps — but the result sounds like what you might read in the Bible. One New York Times report described people finding shelter in over crowded apartments, partially built structures and in stables — which strikes a special chord as we consider the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem, and their flight to Egypt after the birth of Jesus. In Jordan the Zaatari Refugee Camp has grown so much, it is now their largest city. 

The United Nations has compared what’s happening in and around Syria to some of the largest crises in recent history — like the tragic impacts of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the  impacts on the Iraqi people during the war, and the violence that ended the existence of Yugloslavia. What makes the crisis in Syria stand out is the exponential growth in numbers of refugees over such a sort period of time. 

During December and January, our parish will explore the journey of refugees as part of our Global Stewardship initiative. We invite you to find our resource kit online and check out a documentary film made by parishioner Dan Baluff. Dan  sought out refugees and agencies in the Twin Cities that offer support. He conducted many interviews inviting people to share the stories of their journeys, their experiences, and how they came to arrive in the Twin Cities.  

You’ll hear stories of their persistence, extreme danger, acts of kindness, chance and survival. On Sunday, January 19 at 1:00pm, we’ll show clips from the documentary, and invite you to join us at The Basilica to hear a Speakers Panel who will share insights about their work in the Twin Cities and around the world to assist refugees.

The plight of refugees is one that should strike a chord with us as Catholics and as Minnesotans. After all, as Catholics we should understand the hardships of exile and persecution, for Christ and the Holy Family were persecuted and exiled from Jerusalem.

Our state of Minnesota is home to over 70,000 refugees from across the world, and that number is growing every year. Just this year, 268 individuals have arrived in Minnesota. It may seem odd that Minneapolis, with its harsh winters, is a popular location for refugee resettlement, but its strong advocate organizations and extensive social benefits make our city a great place for starting a new life. In fact, the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis is the most diverse neighborhood in the United States, with over 100 ethnic groups represented. 

However, the refugee community often remains fragmented from the greater Twin Cities community. Understanding the hardships of those who have faced persecution in other countries and have sought refuge in Twin Cities strengthens the bonds of our diverse and thriving community. 

A refugee is someone who has fled persecution in their home country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and because of that fear seeks refuge in another country. Refugees do not choose where they will be located; they are assigned to a city by the U.S. government. However, Minneapolis is a popular destination for assignment because of its strong network of volunteer agencies that help with resettlement. For that reason, Minneapolis has the largest Somali community in the United States and the largest Hmong community outside of Laos. There are also large Ethiopian, Cambodian, Bhutanese, Liberian and Vietnamese communities here. 

Such a diverse community helps make the Twin Cities a true proverbial melting pot of citizens. However, families that have sought refuge in Minneapolis struggle with a host of issues in integrating into our community. Language is often a visceral and difficult obstacle. To make matters more difficult, the current economic climate makes it difficult to find jobs, especially because skills and degrees often do not transfer to the United States. A recent study found two Iraqi refugees in Ohio with engineering degrees that were sweeping floors. 

The Twin Cities’ volunteer agencies work hard to make this transition easier. Local organizations connect refugees with English as a Second Language courses, set up social security applications, find and furnish housing, and help access medical care, amongst other efforts. But there are limits to funding and opportunities. 
As Catholics in the Twin Cities, it is imperative that we understand the hardships of the refugees in our community and strive to lessen them. Volunteer agencies can work hard, but we are called as a Catholic community to continue to make the Twin Cities welcoming and integrated. 

About the columnist: "Luke Olson is a Basilica parishioner and choir member. A third-year law student at the University of Minnesota, upon graduation Luke will join the firm of Dorsey and Whitney in Minneapolis."

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