Weekly Musings

Many years ago just after I was ordained I had a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer leaving behind a wife and small daughter. On one of my visits to the hospital as he was dying, his wife said to me: “Father, I must not be saying the right prayers or maybe I’m not praying enough because God isn’t answering my prayers.” I assured her that it wasn’t her prayers that were wrong, but rather it was our limited vision as to how God might be responding to her prayer. Sometimes God responds to our prayers in ways that are not evident or obvious, and/or not in the way we had hoped. 

I have trouble with the notion that when our most sincere and heartfelt prayers go unanswered or seem to fall on “deaf ears,” that we are praying wrong or that we aren’t praying enough. I also reject the idea that God is capricious in the way God responds to prayer—answering some, but not others. Now certainly it is our firm and abiding belief that our God is all loving and all powerful. Given this, when our best and most fervent prayers go unanswered we are left wondering why. 

There is no simple or satisfying answer to the question of unanswered prayers. I believe, though, that when we are talking about God and our relationship with God, there will always be an element of mystery involved. For as God has reminded us through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways," declares the LORD.” (Is. 55.8) The ways and work of our God are not always—or even often—comprehensible to the human mind. And while this can be frustrating, when you stop and think about it, this is the way it should be. God is divine and as such is beyond our words, our images, our imaginings and yes, our comprehension. 

Now while God is beyond our comprehension, God is not beyond our experience. We experience God’s love and grace-filled presence in a multitude of ways in our lives. And because of this, while we may not understand the ways and work of God, we do believe that God abides with us and we are always held firm in the embrace of our God’s love. 

While I wish it were not so, unanswered prayers are a mystery that I have learned to live with. I take comfort, though, in the fact that God has loved our world into existence, and that God continues to abide with us and shower us with God’s grace. I have also learned that in regard to God, “mystery” will always be an element of my relationship with God. And it is a mystery that will never be resolved or answered in this world. 

 

In this “Year of Mercy,” we are called to choose love first. Active love, not passive. Personally, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt a time in my life when this concept has been easier to claim and admire but harder to live. Love? Yes. I’m on board. How can you argue against choosing love? It seems the hard part is living this calling in our full everyday lives. We live in a time when we feel like we have all the information at the tip of our fingers but instead of feeling enlightened, we are burdened by our realities. Perhaps this is why the knowledge that comes with age makes it difficult not just to choose love, but to even see it through these realities. Each day, when we read the headlines or face our own challenges, it can be really easy to become angry, jealous and bitter.

I find myself easily distracted, both by this busy life but also the heartache that surrounds us. I watch friends work tirelessly to give their families every opportunity they can afford but still come up short as they struggle to make ends meet. My heart breaks knowing of the inequity and the startling acts of violence that plague parts of our city. And as a parent, I’m terrified as school shootings are no longer shocking and we hear constant stories of children abused or abandoned. Day in and day out, Basilica staff members see the need as temperatures drop and our doorbells ring more often from those in need.

Yet in this grey area, and because of this, we must be active in choosing love. Our world needs it. When you witness those around you choosing to lead a lifestyle inspired by love, it creates ripples and inspires others to do the same. I see this everyday at The Basilica. Love is choosing to live a life of gratitude over anything else. It’s choosing charity over fear, giving of ourselves even when it’s hard, knowing that the fulfillment will make a difference. 

I’ve seen this at The Basilica when a staff member shares their own lunch, a book or even some tissues with someone waiting outside as they make their way into the office. It’s the beauty of the human spirit when we see one another rise to the occasion, choosing love helping a stranger in need instead of passing by, or dropping everything to be there when a friend faces a loss. This is a lifestyle of generosity, and choosing active love.

This fall, The Basilica will ask you to participate in our Financial Stewardship campaign. This is an invitation for choosing active love as your gifts ensure that every day, our community will create justice and spread love through Basilica ministries that serve the unemployed, the grieving, the homebound, those dealing with mental illness, and those who simply need a caring, compassionate, listening ear. 

We can do so much when everyone takes part. At The Basilica, stewardship pledges provide 81% of our operating budget. Every time we gather for Mass, send volunteers out with meals, gather children for religious education, and support families in times of grief or joy, someone’s gifts have made it possible. And each time these ministries or programs happen, love is spread throughout our community. And this love has ripple effects, and can make a difference as we face the real challenges we see each day. 

I hope you will consider a 2017 pledge today, and be a part in this beautiful cycle of choosing love. You can pledge online, fill out a pledge form and mail it in, or bring it to Mass next weekend. You may also contact Stephanie Bielmas for answers to any questions you may have about supporting The Basilica. 

Generosity truly is an act of faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

I wish God would be clear about what He wants me to do. These words were spoken by a friend of mine a few months ago when I was talking with him about a decision he needed to make. He went on to say that he had been praying and praying for guidance and direction and nothing was happening.  He was feeling more than a bit frustrated. I knew there wasn’t anything I could say that would be very helpful, so instead I gave him a prayer by the late Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin entitled "Patient Trust." It begins with the words: Above all, trust in the slow work of God. I have used this prayer in my own life at times too numerous to mention.  It has helped me to continue to move forward when clarity has been lacking, and I am feeling frustrated and confused.

I think clarity is something all of us have longed for at one time or another. It would be great if God gave us a clear set of expectations and directions for what we are to do in specific situations, instead of the generic: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Now certainly we also have the 10 commandments, but they tell us more what we aren’t supposed to do, rather then what we are supposed to do. Many times, though, and in various circumstances, the direction we should take or the decision we should make isn’t at all evident and we are left feeling confused, and praying for clarity.

Now, clearly knowing what we should do in specific situations would be much easier if we were faced with a choice between a bad thing and a good thing. Too often, however, our choices are between doing this good thing, or that good thing, or another good thing. In these instances clarity from God would certainly be welcome and would make our lives much easier. Why then, doesn’t God give us the clarity we often long for, especially when we are praying for this clarity with great sincerity?

I believe the reason God doesn’t give clear and specific direction to us despite our sincere and heartfelt prayers has to do with our free will. One of God’s great gifts to us is our free will. This gift allows us to make our own decisions and to set our own course in life. If we didn’t have free will, if God simply told us what to do, we would be automatons.

Our free will, though, allows us to make are own decisions both good and bad. Free will is one of the things that defines us as humans and sets us apart from the other creatures on our planet.

Does the above mean that we are left rudderless and on our own in regard to any guidance and direction from God as to how we are to live? Absolutely not. God is always offering us God’s grace. God does this, though, in subtle and gentle ways so as not to overwhelm us and negate our free will. And so, when we pray for clarity and guidance we need to trust that God’s hand is guiding us. Certainly it is not always easy to trust in the slow work of God. I am convinced, though, that it is the way that will ultimately bring us the clarity we seek. 

One of the core elements of our Basilica community is the mission and work of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. In many ways, each member of our parish community is part of St. Vincent de Paul at The Basilica. Whether you volunteer, donate money, pray for the ministry, or simply live the mission in your caring response to our neighbors who are suffering—you are part of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. We are all Vincentians.  

Vincent de Paul faced challenges we can relate to. His life brought him both success and privilege. Yet he also experienced doubt and darkness. He came to intimately know we find Christ in the suffering and poor. He knew the joy and challenge of life choices that bring us toward Christ. Indeed, Vincentian spiritually invites us to see those who suffer as our teachers and mentors. Vincentians believe true religion is found among those who are often excluded—as we attend to their needs, they inspire us and evangelize us.

Vincent de Paul articulates five virtues that help us live the Gospel:

Simplicity
This is the virtue St. Vincent loved most. “It is my gospel,” he says. Hear how St. Vincent describes simplicity: “Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God.”

Humility
The Gospels teach the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. Provocatively: God resists the proud and raises up the humble. Vincent reminds us to stand before God humbly in our daily prayer, and have the attitude of a servant. Humility is understood as standing in awe and wonder. It is a stance where we can learn from everyone. 

Meekness
Meekness is often construed as weakness. Yet Jesus challenges—the meek will inherit the earth and find joy. St. Vincent takes this to heart and teaches that meekness develops as warmth, approachability, openness, deep respect for the person of others. Vincent tells us that he was irritable by nature. Continually, he implores God to change his heart: “Grant me a kindly and benign spirit…” 

Surrender and Willing to Sacrifice
Jesus calls us to follow him even unto death. He asks us to die to sin daily. St. Vincent challenges us to be faithful to our duties of serving those who suffer—to the point we prefer them when they conflict with other more pleasurable things.

Zeal
Vincent loved, with a burning love. “Let us beg God to enkindle in our hearts a desire to serve him…” We are called to persevere as servants of those who suffer—remembering always we are cooperating in the work of the Spirit. We must strive to live a balanced life, so that we might have the energy that nourishes zeal.

Together, we strive to grow in faith and live boldly the Gospel of love. We are all Vincentians. 

Our building is big and our parish is large. It might feel overwhelming to know how to connect. It’s easy to come to Mass and leave without really getting to know anyone. Some parishioners have shared that they just don’t know how to get involved, or who to call. Are you wondering how to find your way in our parish? 

Please know, there is a place for you at the Basilica and we’d love to help you make connections within our parish community. Your involvement and engagement make it possible for The Basilica to carry out its mission and to seek the well-being of the city. 

Many people tell us once they got involved as a volunteer, they started to meet people and see them at church. Their initial involvement led to exploring other interests and opportunities, and making new friends. Some described it as a “snowball” effect. Once they got involved, it wasn’t long before The Basilica started to feel like their spiritual home. 

The first step? Simply let us know you might be interested in getting involved:

  • Contact Ashley Wyatt, our Volunteer Coordinator at 612.317.3417 or if you know what you’d like to do, reach out directly to our staff. 
  • Check out ways to get involved online at mary.org/volunteer, or pickup a newsletter at church. You can look for current openings that fit your schedule, interests and availability. 

If you want to get involved, but aren’t sure what you’d like to try, consider meeting with a volunteer from our Gifts Leadership Team. Their volunteer commitment is to meet with new members and help connect them to opportunities to get involved. You’ll get to know another parishioner, and learn more about the many ways to get involved tailored to your interests and availability. 

Want to volunteer for a one time activity? Events and activities come up all year. You don’t have to make an ongoing commitment. We’ll advertise one time opportunities, like decorating for Advent and Christmas, the Parish Picnic, Basilica Block Party, Community Service Sundays and more. All you have to do is sign up when you are free to help. One time events are a great way to meet new people, and for families or groups of friends who want to volunteer together. 

Coming to Mass on the weekend, and want to include volunteering in one trip? It takes hundreds of people to make our Liturgies happen. Often, commitments are once a month and happen at Mass or after. You’ll serve with a wonderful team of people and training is provided. Whether it’s helping greet people as they arrive at Mass, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, or helping serve donuts and coffee after Mass, there’s a place for you. 

Consider joining one of our many Outreach Ministries, Refugee Committee or delivering Meals on Wheels. We need people to teach our children and adults about their faith, greet visitors at the Rectory, or join a choir. One volunteer team cooks and serves Sunday brunch monthly for our new members. Music lovers enjoy serving as concert ushers. Other volunteers take photos, write articles, and help with graphic design. Groups of volunteers help garden and mow the lawn. 

All these opportunities and many more are critical to carrying our mission in the city. Just let us know your interests, and we’ll work with you to help find a fit for your availability, gifts and skills. 

During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has spent one Friday a month praying for those who are suffering throughout the world. Today, I watched a video clip of Pope Francis embracing 20 former prostitutes that had been forced into sex trafficking, had escaped, and were now residing in a Catholic Charities Center in Rome. This was part of his “Mercy Fridays.” You could see the tenderness he had for these women, kind of like I imagine that Jesus had for the prostitutes of his time. The Pope embraced them and told them they were loved. He apologized for not praying enough for them and he promised he would pray more for them. He listened to their stories and again told them how much God loves each of them. Then he blessed them and left. It was so touching to see him extend the mercy and love of God to them. I do not know about you, but this Pope constantly amazes me with his compassion and love for our world. I pray for all of us that we could be more like him and more like Jesus to those around us who are truly suffering.

For the past several weeks I have been meeting with folks who are interested in learning more about Catholicism. These people will make the journey through RCIA this year. Some will choose to become Catholic, while others will choose to move on. It is beautiful to hear their stories of their faith journeys thus far and what has brought them to this point in their lives. One thing I am sure of is that their faith is important to them. And they truly care about being the best people they can in this world no matter what path they take. I ask for your prayers this coming year as they prayerfully discern God’s call in their lives.  I do hope you get to meet them during the year. 

Many of us in my generation and the one after are attending Church regularly and have been for awhile. But many of us have not had any faith formation since the last time we attended CCD classes or religious education when we were in eighth grade, maybe twelfth grade. We tend to just go through the motions of our worship each Sunday without thinking about what we are doing and what the rituals throughout the Mass really mean. That is why we are beginning a new series this fall called, “Seeing with New Eyes: Rediscovering My Faith.” This program is for those who would like to revisit the basics of their faith in a six-week series. Some of the topics we will consider are: our image of God, our image of Church, what Vatican Council II has done for our church, scripture, and the sacraments. You might just discover some of the more beautiful truths of our faith. Postcards are in the pews during the next couple of weeks. Please take one and register for this series. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the parish office. 

We are all gearing up for a full fall lineup of events and programs that we hope will be fulfilling and nourishing to your spirit. A reminder to all: we are still moving through the Year of Mercy so some of our programming will reflect that intention. We ask that you prayerfully continue to live out God’s mercy to all whom you meet. We all need God’s mercy. Let us be generous to a fault with it in the coming days. 

A few weeks ago on the Friday evening of the Block Party, I got home a little after 10:00pm and being too wound up to go to bed, I turned on the television and read the paper. As I was flipping through the channels to see if there was anything worth watching, I came across an old episode of Perry Mason that was just starting. For those of you too young to remember, Perry Mason was a television show that ran from the late 50’s to the mid 60’s. The title character played a fictional attorney, who always got the charges (almost always a murder charge) against his client dropped. The show brought back a wave of nostalgia that swept over me. When I was growing up, watching Perry Mason was kind of a right of passage. It meant that you were too old for cartoons and were ready for more adult things. 

As I watched Perry Mason that night, not only did it bring back memories, but I was also struck by the fact that it was in black and white. I suspect at some point they switched to a color format, but this must have been one of the earlier shows. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that being in black and white was especially appropriate for Perry Mason. In the show there were good guys and bad guys, and there was never any argument about who was who. The good guys always triumphed and the bad guys were always exposed and punished. 

While there are times today when I would like to go back to that black and white world, the reality is that life was not and still isn’t that simple. Rarely are our motives and intentions entirely pure, and there always seem to be mitigating circumstances to explain inappropriate words and actions. Moreover, I think that seldom do people set out to deliberately do something wrong or bad. Rather we end up making bad choices that often have a negative impact on others. Sadly too, sometimes inappropriate words and actions follow from misunderstanding someone else’s words or actions, or misinterpreting a situation. 

Now certainly there are some things that are always clearly and demonstrably wrong. Taking an innocent life is always wrong. We can’t pretend otherwise. I have come to believe, though, that there are shades and hues in most of our behaviors and words that aren’t immediately obvious. And if we take the time to recognize and appreciate this we would be far more understanding and far more forgiving of others and of ourselves. 

The above is something I have been working on for a while now. Some days I think I am making good progress, but then I will find myself falling back into being judgmental or intolerant. I suspect it will be this way until the day I die. 

Living in a black and white world certainly can make our life easier, but that is not the world we live in. And so, while I suspect there will always be times when I struggle to understand another individual’s as well as my own actions. I trust that the God who created me knows my struggles, accepts my failings, forgives my sins, and continues to love me and all of us in spite of everything.

Several difficult days have turned into months. Many of us are confused and discouraged with the recent tragic events that have taken so many lives. It has frightened and divided our society. How does anyone react to fear? None of us does very well. I have noticed that when I am fearful, I react strongly to my environment simply because I am afraid of the unknown and of the future. Maybe some of us have the same common reaction. That is what I see happening in our world today. 

The divisions seem most evident on social media. There is a wide range of opinions. In the beginning, I read viewpoints on different sides and all I came away with was more confusion, so I stopped. I have settled with the thought that with any situation there are true and false statements on every side.

As Christians we have to ask ourselves, have I treated each person I meet with love and care as God’s creation? Have I been able to search for Christ’s face in each one? I know that for me this has not always been the case. There are many excuses that get in the way. I am sure everyone has made excuses for how you have treated others at some point. You see, the excuses do not matter. What matters most is the compassion and love we extend to others. 

In the gospel, Jesus loved to challenge those who were self-righteous, those who felt that they were right and everyone else was wrong. Why did he do that? I think it was because those who are self-righteous are the most difficult to reach and at times, that is you and me. When we get stuck on our side and we become close-minded and think that everyone else is wrong, we become self-righteous. Jesus is asking us to be open-minded and open-hearted and open to thoughts that differ from our own. Jesus is asking us to stay in the conversation and listen deeply to one another and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. Jesus is asking the most difficult of us to reach out in love to everyone around us and embrace each other in love, care, and dignity.

There is a beautiful quote by Glennon Doyle Melton about Mother Teresa, And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up or away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder, and better. What the gospel proclaims is hard, but better. I never thought that it was easy to be a Christian. I have always struggled with being a good one. But if I am to take seriously my vow to live the gospel SEEING THE FACE OF GOD everyday, then I must do this. I must succeed in seeing the face of God in the person next to me.

I end with this quote from N. Wright from Following Jesus, We don’t need Christians who project their own insecurities out on to the world and call it preaching the gospel. We need Christians who will do for the world what Jesus was doing. The Church must be prepared to stand between the warring factions, and, like a boxing referee, risk being knocked out by both simultaneously. The Church must be prepared to act symbolically, like Jesus, to show that there is a different way of living. The Church must be prepared to be the agent of healing.Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the Church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world announcing the kingdom, healing the wounds of the world.

During these difficult times in our world today, let us bring before God every face, every person we encounter, here and across the globe, every day. Ask God to show His face to us in and through these special gifts in our lives. Let us pray for each other and our world as we go forward.

A Story of Hope

If you have not heard, the Cities97 Basilica Block Party is next weekend, and there is still time to get tickets online. It is perfectly situated mid-summer, when the heat lends itself perfectly to a night of live music outdoors downtown. The event is an important fundraiser for The Basilica Landmark, with funds directed to restoration and renovation projects.

Each year while the bands warm up and volunteers set the stage, I have found a peaceful, cool place to stop inside our beautiful Basilica where each night, hundreds of guests take a tour, connecting the purpose of the party outdoors to the need inside. 

But, it is not only in the overwhelming heat of July that the church offers a respite. On the coldest days in January, people sit in the pews and find safety from the frigid cold. The Rectory doorbell rings often, with requests for a cup of hot coffee. Nearly every day of the year, we are open to those who seek shelter, those who enter carrying everything they own, and those who arrive empty-handed—leaving spiritually renewed. 

Just as it is impossible to tell the story of a house without the families who lived there, this is Marvin’s story, in his words. I believe this is a beautiful illustration of the manifestation of our love in The Basilica community.

They welcomed me with open arms. I was homeless for five years. I lost my apartment and was flying a sign to get money. That’s how I met most of my friends. They were doing the same thing to survive. They told me to go to The Basilica. The first time I went there, I was welcomed with open arms. There was food to eat and hot coffee.

Even more though, I found peace of mind. because it was somewhere to go when it was cold where I didn’t have people judging me. It’s also so beautiful and so pretty there. I kept going back, and they gave me information about shelters and food shelves. They gave me shoes, and a clothing voucher. If I needed to get somewhere and didn’t have the bus fare, they gave me tokens. My God, they help you with so much.

If they hadn’t done all that, I would have been into a lot of trouble…breaking into people’s houses. Stealing food to survive. What stopped me from doing those things was because The Basilica helped me. 

They helped me get an apartment and even though I’m not homeless any more, I still go to The Basilica for peace of mind. You know that everyone there accepts you, no matter what. I have a lot of friends who are still homeless, who I get to meet up with and have a cup of coffee. They still go, and so do I.

We are all in need. Those who ring the doorbell at the Rectory and those who volunteer to help answer it. Those who sit in the pews on Sunday and those who are still searching. You may even need The Basilica’s shelter more than Marvin ever did. 

The Basilica Landmark maintains our beautiful Basilica ensuring a home for all of the beautiful ministries and programs. When you give a gift to The Basilica Landmark of any size, you provide shelter in all forms. 

This year, with your help we will re-roof sections of the church and build a storage facility for our grounds equipment. In 2017, we look to add space on our campus for large groups to gather. Today, we are so limited that we cease program growth or take them off campus.

In this challenge, there is also good news. We have growing needs on our campus because our parish is vibrant and our services are growing. Looking at an average day on our calendar, there is marriage preparation, young adult retreats, service opportunities, lectures, employment, mental health ministries, liturgies and so much more. 

Grace Over Vengeance

On a warm and humid night a few weeks ago, I finally got around to viewing, “The Revenant,” starring Leonard DiCaprio. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is set in the 1820s and it follows a fur trapper and frontiersman played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after he was mauled by a bear. The cinematography was wonderful. It really captured the bitter cold of winter and the stark conditions of the frontier (although the night I watched the DVD was hot and muggy, it actually looked kind of inviting). The movie was a wonderful tale of survival. It really captured the desire to survive and the will to live. As a story of vengeance, though, it left me with questions and concerns. Perhaps though, that was what it intended to do. 

Maybe I have not been hurt deeply enough, but I have never had or felt a consuming desire for vengeance. To be sure, there have been times when my immediate response when someone has done something that has hurt or offended me was the desire to retaliate or get even with them. But those feelings/thoughts didn’t linger for very long, and I was able to move on fairly quickly. The overwhelming desire for revenge, though, is foreign to me. 

Now as I was writing the above, it occurred to me that perhaps I am letting myself off the hook too easily. To be honest, I have been known to nurse a grudge. And my old Irish pastor taught me that I should, “bury the hatchet in a shallow grave that is well marked.” I’d like to think, though, that there is a big difference between nursing a grudge and the overwhelming desire for revenge. Perhaps the difference is more in degree than type, but I think there is a difference. 

Specifically, I think that when we nurse a grudge there is always the possibility that God’s grace will find an opening, however slight, into our hearts. It seems to me, though, that a consuming desire for revenge omits this possibility. This might sound like I’m splitting hairs, but in my own life I have discovered that when I have been hurt or offended by someone, while this takes up a few bytes of memory, it is not ever-present and all consuming. The desire for vengeance on the other hand seems more intense and in its worst form can be overwhelming. And when something is that consuming, there is no room left for anything else even and perhaps especially God’s grace. 

God’s grace is always being offered to us. I believe this is particularly true at those times when we have been hurt physically, emotionally, or spiritually and we want to retaliate. At those times, if we can pray for an openness to the grace God wants to offer us, perhaps our hurt won’t turn into a desire for revenge. And maybe, just maybe if we continue to be open to God’s grace, one day we might even forget where we buried the hatchet. 

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