Weekly Musings

In just a few short weeks I will celebrate my 10th Basilica Block Party. In 2007 when I started as a wide-eyed Block Party intern I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was completely out of my depths. I had never even attended a Block Party and had no idea what to expect when the gates opened that first night.

Fast forward to today and even after all these years it still hasn’t lost its charm. It is still my absolute favorite event of the summer.

Over the years I have made countless friends by working on this event. I even met my now husband five years ago when working together on the Block Party committee.

The dedication and work everyone puts into this event is unparalleled. It is truly a collaborative effort, each person playing an important role in executing this summer tradition: from the 1,600 volunteers that do everything from scan your ticket on the way in to the green team, who picks up and makes sure every last bottle is recycled into the early morning hours long after you leave for the evening, to the staff and committees that plan for almost a full year to ensure a safe and successful event. Not to mention our partners and sponsors that we couldn’t do the event without.

Over the years I have also gotten to see some pretty amazing concerts and been exposed to bands that I would otherwise never have taken the time to see. In my opinion, there is no better way to spend a warm summer night in Minnesota then to be outside listening to live music with The Basilica as your backdrop.

It still gives me chills looking from our beloved Basilica back to the band rocking out on stage with a sea of people in-between enjoying what so many have worked so hard to put together. It is an incredible event and this year once again promises to be a great weekend of fun and music benefiting the efforts of The Basilica Landmark’s mission to preserve, protect, and restore The Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations and St. Vincent de Paul to help our neighbors in need.

I hope you will join us on July 7 and 8 for 2017 Cities 97 Basilica Block Party to celebrate this summer tradition with great food, good friends, and tasty beverages. And don’t forget the unbelievable bands including Brandi Carlile, WALK THE MOON, The Shins, AWOLNATION, NEEDTOBREATHE, Gavin DeGraw, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Walk Off The Earth, and many more!

Check out our Basilica Block Party website for ticket information.

 

A few months ago I got together for dinner with a friend. During our dinner conversation he told me that on a recent trip to the East coast, he had seen GOD’S truck on the highway. Since I am not one to be easily taken in, I asked him what he meant. He said that while he was driving to the East Coast to visit some relatives and friends, in the distance ahead he saw a truck with the word G O D written in large letters across its back doors. He went on to say that as he got closer to the truck he realized that it wasn’t really GOD’S truck after all. Rather it was a truck with very large lettering that announced: Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. As he told this story we both had a good laugh. I then suggested that he get his eyes checked relatively soon. 

As I reflected on my friend’s encounter with GOD’S truck, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a message in this experience. Specifically, it struck me that for most of us when we pray to God we often expect “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” in response to our prayers. We expect God to hear our prayers, to understand the wisdom, goodness, and unselfishness behind them, and then to respond to them completely, swiftly, and preferably overnight. The reality is, though, that God doesn’t operate according to our timeline and/or agenda.

 Certainly this can be frustrating and it can cause people to wonder why many times their best and most unselfish prayers go unanswered. In some cases people can begin to wonder if they aren’t saying the right prayers, or if they aren’t praying hard enough, or if they just aren’t holy enough. Sadly, for some people, it can even cause them to give up on prayer all together. 

The reality is, though, that it is fairly presumptuous of us to expect that God’s response to our prayers should take the form of “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery.” God is not under any obligation to respond to our prayers according to our timeline and in exactly the manner we want. This doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t respond to our prayers. 

More times than I can count I have realized (most often in retrospect) that God had responded to my prayers, but in ways I hadn’t imagined or in ways I hadn’t been open to at the time. Often times too, instead of doing things for me, I have discovered that God has given me the strength, the courage, ability, and the grace to do something I had been praying and asking God to do. 

God never promised Guaranteed Overnight Delivery in response to our prayers. If we can pray with open hearts and minds, though, and if we can trust and believe that God does indeed hear and respond to our prayers, we will discover that God has responded to our prayers. This response may not occur in the way we had wanted or hoped, but most certainly in the way we need.

After opening at the Vatican Museum in Rome, this unique Swiss Guard exhibit has appeared in only three US cities: Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington DC, and makes its last US stop in Minneapolis at The Basilica from June 3-July 30. 

Why stop at The Basilica in Minneapolis? In addition to his Basilica responsibilities, Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts Johan van Parys chairs the local chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. The Patrons’ mission is to promote, protect, and restore the art and artifacts of the Vatican Museums. With over 6 million visitors annually and one of the largest collections in the world, the Vatican Museums reach out to make their collection available to those who can’t travel to Rome. 

We are blessed with this unique opportunity to have the Vatican Museums come to us. Long time Patrons members, Jack and Cathy Farrell and Lydie and Jacques Stassarts helped sponsor the exhibit. The Basilica is doing its part by offering exhibit space in the church, St. John XXII Gallery, and Teresa of Calcutta Hall in The Basilica’s lower level. 

Vatican exhibit curator Romina Cometti is on hand to supervise the installation. While the truck has arrived, Johan van Parys shared his excitement to finally see items only viewed in the Exhibit Catalogue by saying, “While many of us know the colorful Swiss Guard uniforms, this exhibit takes us behind the scenes for an insider’s view into the lives of these young Catholic men who dedicate at least two years to protect the Pope.” 

Johan explained that this exhibit grew out of a one time shoot by photographer Fabio Mantegna, well renowned in Italy. Mantegna received permission for an extended behind the scenes photo shoot. His incredible photographs show these young men during their training, at prayer, working out, receiving their uniforms, and joining the Swiss Guard. 

Over 80 stunning photographs serve as the exhibit’s centerpiece and could stand alone, but much more is on display. Romina Cometti interviewed the young men about why they’ve chosen to join the Swiss Guard. Quotes from her interviews accompany the photos, and the exhibit also includes artifacts from the Swiss Guards 500 year history like uniforms and security gadgets. 

Founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, best known for commissioning the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, the Swiss Guard was given the express mission of protecting the Pope and the Vatican. Their historic multi-colored uniforms may distract from the seriousness of the Swiss Guards’ responsibilities. Early in the Guards history on May 6, 1527, the army of the Holy Roman Empire sacked Rome and two-thirds of the Guards were massacred defending the Pope. Succeeding in their mission, Pope Clement VII escaped with his life to Castel Sant’Angelo just outside the Vatican walls.

Today, new Swiss Guards are sworn in on May 6 to commemorate those Guards who lost their lives protecting the Pope.

THE LIFE OF A SWISS GUARD: A PRIVATE VIEW 
EXHIBIT: JUNE 3-JULY 30
RECEPTION & TALK: SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 1:00PM

Swiss Guard Exhibit Hours: Open weekends, or tours by appointment. Tours of the exhibit are not available until noon, Monday through Thursday. Tours available morning and afternoon on Fridays.

Register online at mary.org for a tour or call 612.317.3410. Exhibit catalogues will be on sale, along with a wonderful Swiss Guard cookbook which includes favorite recipes of the Guards as well as favorites of our recent Popes. 

In a few weeks, from June 18 - June 22, the priests of our Archdiocese will gather at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester for our biennial Presbyteral Assembly. Every other year, for many years now our Archbishops have asked the priests of our Archdiocese to set aside their parish or institutional responsibilities and gather together for a few days to talk about some specific areas of our lives/ministries. This year the various speakers will focus on the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood; Priestly Fraternity; and Affective Maturity. (I’m not at all sure what that last topic means.)

These gatherings are good and important. As priests, we gather in all our diversity and with all our differences, and spend time together in fraternity. During our time together we are well aware of the things that unite us as well as those things about which we disagree. And often times the things about which we disagree are brought up in very public ways. In fact, in the years I have been attending these assemblies, I have often been reminded of an old Phyllis Diller line from many years ago: “Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight.”

We priests are very much like most other Catholics. We don’t always agree with each other. In fact, if the truth be told, we differ; we disagree; and sometimes we argue. But through it all we stay together. We don’t walk away from each other. I believe the reason for this is that we realize that, at root, the things that unite us are more important than the things that might divide us.

Disagreement and tension have always been a part of the life of our Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul fought with Peter over the issue of Gentile converts. Moreover, through the centuries, disagreement and dissension have been part of more than one Council and/or Conclave. Yet through it all our Church not only has survived; it has thrived. I think the reason for this is twofold.

First, we believe that the Spirit of God has guided and continues to guide our Church. And with the guidance of the Spirit comes the promise and gift of Indefectibility. The gift of Indefectibility tells us that because the Holy Spirit leads and guides our Church, the Church cannot and will not deviate fundamentally from the truth of the Gospel, from the Mission of the Church, or from the Life of Faith. The guidance of the Holy Spirit ensures that despite disagreements that might arise, despite any appearance of division, our Church cannot deviate in fundamental and essential ways from the Gospel, the Mission that Christ entrusted to it, or from the Life of Faith.

The second thing that has ensured that our Church has thrived through the centuries is the grace of God poured out on the Church as a whole, and upon each individual member. I am more and more convinced that God’s grace has enabled and continues to enable us to identify, to discuss, to work through, and/or accept the differences and disagreements that exist within our Church. It is the grace of God that allows us to see beyond the differences that would divide us, to the many and foundational things that unite us. Our Church, both locally, as well as internationally, is very diverse. But diversity does not necessarily need to lead to division. Nor does diversity mean that we can’t stand on the common ground that is foundational for us and that ultimately unites us with God.

“Big God, Big Church” is a phrase that is really a mantra for me. It reminds me that the embrace of our Church cannot be anything less that the embrace of our God’s love. Occasionally all of us—even priests—need to be reminded of this fact. The things that unite us are far more important than the things about which we might differ or disagree. The challenge for all of us is to rely a little more on God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a little less on our own ideas and biases. As followers of the Lord Jesus this must always be our hope and our goal.

 

A few weeks ago the Gospel reading at daily Mass was John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s version we are told that Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. We are told further that after everyone had their fill, Jesus told his disciples: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (Jn. 6:12b-13) 

The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels. And while the details differ slightly in each account, there is at least one element that is common to all of them. In each Gospel, after the crowd had been fed, there were fragments left over that filled several wicker baskets. For some reason this detail caught my attention, so I spent some time reflecting on it. As part of my reflection, two things occurred to me. 1) When God is involved there is always an abundance; and 2) When God is involved nothing is insignificant or lost. I think both of these are important. 

Often in our world today and especially in our culture, people live with an attitude of scarcity. We wonder whether there will be enough of “whatever” to go around, and so we cling tightly to our “stuff” because we fear there won’t be enough or that we might run out. This can lead us to hold tightly to certain things because we worry they might become a scarce commodity, and if we let go of them, there might not be enough if/when we need whatever it might be. 

In regard to God’s love and grace, though, there is always an abundance. We never have to worry that there won’t be enough, or that someone else will get our share. God’s love and grace are not limited commodities. Since God is love and God is also infinite, it stands to reason that there is an infinite amount of God’s love and grace to go around. With God there is always an abundance. We need never fear that there is a limited supply of God’s grace and love. 

As importantly, though, when God is involved nothing is ever lost or too small to be of significance. We know this because God has told us: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget; I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name;” (Is 49:15-16) These words remind us that God’s love is so abundant that no one is ever beyond the reach of that love, or too insignificant or unimportant to be loved. God loves us even if/when we don’t love God. No one and nothing is ever lost to God. 

Too often, either consciously or unconsciously, we can believe that we are too insignificant to be known and loved by God. Jesus’ concern, though, that the fragments of barley loaves and fish be gathered up, reminds us that nothing escapes God’s notice and no one is ever lost to God. Such is God’s love. It is abundant beyond belief, and because of this, no one is ever beyond the reach of that love. 

Something that we, as Catholics, struggle with and find consistency in, is prayer. We come from a tradition that is known for its beautiful liturgy and rich, eloquent prayer that has been spoken and sung for centuries. The practice of praying on our own can be daunting to say the least. It is so tempting to compare our prayers to those found in our many worship experiences, but this is a comparison that does more harm than good. I believe that at the center of prayer is a most important relationship—us and God. In fact, prayer is the relationship.

The words that we articulate are only half the equation. Words are one of the ways we communicate with one another. When spoken in prayer to our God, they often fill what might seem to us to be empty space. There is definitely something more to the practice of prayer than the words. God doesn’t need our words. God already knows what is in the deepest corner of our hearts. The conversation and communion that takes place in prayer happens in the spaces between words. God more often speaks to us in the silence of our prayer. It is in the conversation and the communion that is created with God that is truly where we find God and, in turn, the peace we seek. There is beauty and clarity in this communion with God that allows us to see beyond this world and set our sights on a place of higher ground.

We are called to surrender ourselves to this relationship with God. All we have to do is show up, make time, and set aside 10 or 20 minutes to just “be” in God’s presence. We don’t have to say anything. We can just “be still” and know that God is God. God knows our heart; he knows our deepest desires. He hears our prayers for all of humanity. God always answers our prayers in light of what is the very best for us.

Prayer is a lot like riding a bike. It takes practice and it will not always be easy. It is a continuous process that needs to be addressed daily, just as you would work on your relationship with a family member or close friend. We can’t expect to pray once and have a relationship with God. It is a discipline that requires a lifetime of practice. If we put prayer time into each day, it will be like other relationships in our lives that grow and blossom. To continue with the analogy of learning to ride a bike, you may scrape your knee once or twice. But we need to get up on the bike again in order to learn how to ride it. So it is with our prayer life. We remember that we have a God that is all loving, full of great mercy, and is gentle with us. Jesus told us about God who finds joy in us. The reward at the end is great: a one-on-one relationship with our Creator. What peace and intimacy this relationship can bring to our lives.

 

Showing vulnerability builds bonds and grows trust. While our culture tends to deem it a weakness, experts frequently site it as the “key” to close relationships and a sign of strength.

I joined the staff fresh out of college in 2001. I was not Catholic, and knew very little about Catholic traditions, but I thought helping with the Block Party sounded like a great opportunity.

It wasn’t long before I realized this wasn’t going to be a typical “job” and The Basilica wasn’t a typical church community. Months after my first Block Party, as I was putting away the last of the supplies, I remember walking into the office and seeing a group of staff members huddled around a television. It was September 11, 2001, and the second plane just had hit the World Trade Center. By the afternoon, the staff had planned a community prayer service, where thousands would come together to mourn. It was then I discovered the extraordinary depth of compassion and engagement in our community, and I knew The Basilica would be more than just a job.

Sixteen years later, I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to witness the collaboration of thousands of diverse members, in times of grief and joy. The broad spectrum of perspectives and backgrounds combines with the common threads that unite us to create a beautiful tapestry. It is a community led by creative and intelligent hearts and minds.

The Basilica staff works tirelessly to inspire, educate, and promote social justice. They dedicate themselves to creating environments to inspire adults in liturgies and children in faith formation. They work passionately for social justice, and serve strangers who knock at the Rectory door. I love seeing the feasts they create for eyes, ears, and hearts in music and art. Their work is done generously with love and grace, giving back from the talents they were given.

I’ve enjoyed the privilege of getting to know people who choose to support our community. In our time together, a common theme usually emerges: gratitude. People share their personal stories, reflecting on their lives and work, taking little credit for their success. They return to the idea of giving generously, because they had been given so much. Their humility is inspiring.

I have also met many members of our community who are in need, unafraid to show imperfections, who have courageously chosen to share their experiences. I believe these vulnerabilities are the reason our parish continues to grow and brings our community closer together. Even in their struggles, many people still return to gratitude, asking how they can give back to The Basilica.

When I reflect on my time as a staff member at The Basilica, undoubtedly, I know it is the members, staff, and volunteers that unite to make it so special. Unafraid to show vulnerability, this community pours itself into passion.

Your generosity makes all of the good that happens at The Basilica possible. I’m grateful for the wonderful support I’ve witnessed and I hope you will continue to support the parish, our outreach ministries, and The Basilica Landmark. I invite you to continue your support of The Basilica Landmark through our annual fund and The Basilica Landmark Ball. This year’s Fund-A-Need is designated to improving the accessibility of the historic structure. The project encompasses exterior and interior improvements, including adding automatic door openers to the center east doors, to make The Basilica accessible, and ensuring our community is welcoming to all. 

As my time as a Basilica staff member comes to an end this spring, I leave my position knowing my heart is forever changed. I’m so grateful to have spent such a formative time of my life as a staff member, and look forward to continuing to share this Basilica journey with my family as a parish member in the years to come.

 

 

Divine Mercy Sunday

In the year 2000 Saint John Paul II designated the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this at the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish visionary whose mission it was to proclaim God’s mercy toward every human being.  Two years later, during his last visit to Poland in 2002, he said:  “How much the world is in need of the mercy of God today!” He then entrusted the world to Divine Mercy expressing his “burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love…may reach all the inhabitants of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.”  

As I was writing these words I learned that two Coptic Churches in Egypt were bombed during Palm Sunday services. The extremists of DAESH claimed responsibility. As is the case with the bombings we learn about almost every day, the death toll, physical harm and spiritual suffering were staggering.

Unable to continue my writing I went into our St. Joseph Chapel where our beautiful Icon of the Divine Mercy resides. I walked up to the Icon and looked Jesus square in the face and waited. I waited for an answer to all the evil in our world. Yet, Jesus remained silent. Somewhat frustrated I left the chapel. As I returned to my office the link to a homily by Pope Francis popped up on my phone. One passage caught my eye: “Jesus does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs... No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own… Jesus is in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.” Feeling duly chastised by the Pope and grateful for Jesus’ unexpected answer to my questions I returned to my column on Divine Mercy.

Jesus, who is known as the Divine Mercy is the very incarnation of God’s mercy. In Jesus, God embodied mercy as he went about forgiving sins, healing the sick, siding with the outcast. By these very actions Jesus affirmed that God’s mercy is present in the world, even and most especially in those places where God’s mercy seems lacking. 
The specifics of God’s mercy have been described in many different ways. The three languages that are important in the history of the Bible: Hebrew, Greek and Latin offer slightly different insights.

  1. The Hebrew Bible uses two words for mercy: hesed and rachamim. Hesed is the kind of mercy that is strong, committed and steadfast. Rachamim which has the same root as rechem or womb conveys gentleness, love and compassion. 
  2. The Greek word for mercy, eleos is related to elaion meaning oil thus suggesting that mercy is poured out like oil and has the healing qualities of oil.
  3. The Latin word for mercy, misericordia is derived from miserari, "to pity", and cor, "heart". It suggests that our loving God is moved to compassion. 

God’s mercy thus is strong and steadfast, loving and compassionate, healing and soothing. These are the divine qualities of mercy that are to be ours also since we are to be the embodiment of Gods mercy in our time. Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of God must be evident and everyone should find an oasis of mercy there.

As we contemplate our beautiful Icon of the Divine Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday and as we look one another in the eye, friend and stranger alike, let us give thanks for the mercy God has shown us. And in turn let us show mercy to one another for the world indeed is in dire need of mercy, both human and divine. Mercy given and mercy received, that is the motto of all Christians.
 

 

The experience of death and resurrection is universal. It occurs in every person and every community. Sometimes the “deaths” we experience are real and actual. More often, though, the “deaths” we experience aren’t actual deaths; rather they are death-like experiences, e.g. the loss of a job; the end of a relationship; the experience of physical limitations; the loss of a sense of security or belonging. In either case, though, they are painful, difficult to bear, and often take time to move through.

Sometimes the deaths we experience just happen. They aren’t our fault. We still need to acknowledge them, though, mourn them, and then begin anew. On the other hand, sometimes the deaths we experience are our fault. We screw up and a mess ensues. In that case, we need to acknowledge our fault, repent, dust ourselves off, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and try to fix what we messed up. 

What happens, though, when we don’t think we have it in us to try to begin anew after a death-like experience? What do we do when we can’t easily fix things or make them better? In these cases, we need to honestly acknowledge our situation, accept the fact that there will be times when there is no good explanation as to why something happened, and move forward in faith. 

How, though, do we move forward in faith after an experience that feels like death? Well, I believe we start with prayer. In and through our prayer we can experience God’s presence and love. In and through our prayer we can discover that we are not alone, that God is with us. And in and through our prayer we can open ourselves to God’s healing and strengthening grace. Now in saying this, we need to be clear that prayer may not change the situation, but it can and does change us. It can help us see things from a different perspective or in a new way. 

Once we have experienced God’s grace then we need to

  1. lament
  2. hang on (coping & hoping)
  3. and continue to believe that a new dawn will come eventually—even when or even though it may not be the dawn we were planning on. 

The Feast of Easter calls us to remember that our God is always offering us new life and hope in the midst of the sadness, sorrows, hurts, disappointments, trials, and pains we experience—the actual deaths, as well as the “little deaths” of this life. This new life enables us to continue when the way seems dark and uncertain. It allows us to live with the loss of our dreams. It gives us the ability to accept our human frailties and weaknesses and those of others. And it helps us to believe that after each death, the dawning of a new and glorious morning will occur. In essence this is the Paschal Mystery—that because of Jesus Christ—out of death comes new life and new hope. This is the message; this is the hope of Easter.

As we enter into the week of remembrance of the passion and death of Jesus, we come to a crossroads. Jesus, at the end of his ministry, proceeds towards Jerusalem where he will be confronted by the systemic evil of the day—the Roman Empire’s cooperation with the religious authorities to oppress the people of Palestine. Jesus preached and taught the message of forgiveness, love, and tenderness, often in opposition to the Law. The Pharisees were indeed upset with him. After witnessing Jesus’ miracles, his preaching in the Temple, and his large following, the Pharisees and Romans became threatened by his presence, his actions, and his message. Despite the fact that they wanted to kill him, Jesus knowingly continued on his journey to Jerusalem. This sealed his fate. 

During this holy week we must decide to either go with him to Jerusalem or remain where we are in our comfort zones. The systemic evil of our day is prolific. On a global level, we don’t have to look very far to be aware of what is taking place in so many countries today. The towns and cities where the pointless slaughtering of men, women, children, and entire families has been carried out. It is beyond heartless and inhumane. In many cases we know that this has caused widespread famine and flight to other countries. It has left the most vulnerable, our children, without parents and families to care for them.  

Jesus confronted the lack of forgiveness and love, the injustice, the oppression of the most vulnerable, throughout his life, right up until his death on the cross. He spoke against it. He acted in such a way that those who needed his love and forgiveness, were counted among those who received his compassion. He taught us by example. He told us that we would be blessed if we but remember with love those who are most in need.

If we are to walk this holiest of weeks along with Jesus, that means we must always be Jerusalem bound, just as he was. Sometimes it is a very long walk and it takes us places we don’t want to go. Sometimes it leads us right into the midst of power, not to become powerful, but to stand tall and speak truth to power. We walk along with Jesus to Jerusalem, to confront the systemic evils around us: war, poverty, hunger, homelessness, inequality. 

If we call ourselves Christian, then we must walk with Jesus wherever that takes us. We need to have our eyes and hearts open wide to hear the call of being this kind of a disciple. We need not be fearful or bewildered. We will be part of the Body of Christ to which we belong. We will never be alone. We will walk side by side with each other following in the footsteps of the One who promised to be with us to give us strength and hope. We will get to announce the Kingdom of God along with Jesus and a new world without unrest, control, war, oppression, violence and hatred. For this is what we all seek as children of God and heirs to heaven.

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