A picture of a solid stone cross in front of a clear blue sky.

Weekly Musings

Last fall I made my annual retreat at the Guest House at St. John’s Abbey. I arrived Sunday evening in time to join the monks for evening prayer and then returned to my room to spend some time reading and praying before going to bed. Despite my best efforts to sleep in, I awoke early on Monday, so I joined the monks for Morning Prayer and then had breakfast. After breakfast I decided to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Now, at the Abbey church the Blessed Sacrament is in a small room near the back of the church. It is one of my favorite spots. The chapel is quiet, intimate and warm and you don’t have to worry about being disturbed by individuals or groups touring the Abbey church.   

Unfortunately, when I got to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel the doors of the Tabernacle were wide open and there was a sign that read: “Damage to the Tabernacle has required removal of the Blessed Sacrament.” As soon as I read the sign my heart sank. My first thought was: “I hope God isn’t trying to tell me something.” As it turns out I needn’t have worried. Actually the sign was a good reminder that God’s presence isn’t restricted to just the Tabernacle. The absence of the Blessed Sacrament challenged me to ask myself where and/or how God might be making God’s presence known to me in other ways. 

I suspect there are times for all of us when we go to the place where we are used to feeling God’s presence—and we don’t feel it. There are dry spells in each of our prayer lives. Sometimes too, Mass is not the spiritual experience it usually is. And sometimes too, it is difficult, if not impossible to recognize God’s presence in our brothers and sisters. For all of us, there are times when despite our best efforts we have difficulty feeling God’s presence.  

Whenever people tell me they are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence, I always suggest two things. First, I tell them to remember the last places they felt God’s presence and to spend some time in prayer with those memories. If we can remember where we have experienced God’s presence in our lives, that can help us believe that God is still with us, even though we are having difficulty experiencing his presence in the current moment. Our memories are a powerful guide when we have temporarily “lost touch” with God. They call us to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We just need to keep looking for God’s presence and not give up the search. 

The other thing I suggest to people who are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence is to look for God in new and unfamiliar places. Trying a different way of praying, or attending a different Mass, or volunteering in a new area, reading the Bible, or simply allowing ourselves to be caught up in the beauty of nature can be great ways of jump starting our spiritual lives and helping us to look for God in new or different places.   

God doesn’t have to break into our world. God is always present to us and to our world. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, we can have trouble recognizing God’s presence. When these times occur, we shouldn’t panic or feel that our spiritual life has gone off the rails. We simply need to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We need to trust that God has not abandoned us, and we need to believe that if we continue our efforts, God will help us discover anew God’s abiding and grace-filled presence. 

God's Abiding Presence

This past summer my best friend of almost 49 years passed away. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and chemotherapy proved ineffective. In the weeks and days before he died we had a chance to share many memories of our friendship through the years. As we shared these memories, we also talked about the fact that there weren’t all that many people in our lives we could presume on and take for granted—people we knew would be there for us in a difficult situation or in time of need. Other than each other, our respective families, and a few others, there really weren’t all that many people in our lives we could count on absolutely. 

I suspect the above is true for most of us. In each of our lives there are a limited number of people we can always rely on and trust, and know they will be there for us in our times of need. Usually these people are family members and/or friends who have seen the best and the worst in us, and who love us just the same.

We all need those people who are “there for us” no matter what happens. They might not be able to do anything to make a bad situation better, and they might not be able to solve any problems we have, but their presence, their care, their empathy, and their love help us to deal with or get through whatever difficulties or troubles we face. As I said, hopefully we all have these people in our lives. They are the people with whom we share love, and who enhance and nurture our lives.  

Now in mentioning this, I also would like to suggest that God is present in our lives in a way similar to these special people. God is there for us at all times and moments of our lives—both good and bad. God never abandons us or leaves us to face the difficulties and trials of life alone. In and through our prayer, we can feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. And as a result, we are strengthened and sustained as we go about our lives.

Sometimes, though, for a variety of reasons, we have difficulty recognizing God’s abiding presence with us. It is for this very reason that Christmas is such an important celebration for us. When we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that God loved us so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God has touched and continues to touch our world and our individual lives with God’s presence and grace. Jesus is the preeminent and enduring revelation of God’s love for us. He is the way God has chosen to dwell with us and abide with us always. 

Clearly we do not always live with an awareness of God’s presence with us. But when we can attend to God in our prayer, when we can make room for God in our hearts, this can and will make a difference in our lives. For when we do this, we will come to realize that no matter what, we are never alone. God is with us and for us. And ultimately like other old and good friends, God’s abiding presence gives peace to our souls, life to our lives, and joy to our hearts. 

My immediate response to this question is to name the people that live next door to me. But in scripture, Luke challenges us to look beyond the obvious in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and we are repeatedly called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

During December and January, we invite you to explore Global Stewardship and learn about the challenges faced by our neighbors who are refugees. Historically, Minnesota has been a place of welcome and safe haven and today, Minnesota is home to over 70,000 refugees. 

Our neighbors now include the largest population of Somalis and some of the largest Liberian communities outside of that country. Sudanese, Hmong, Ethiopians, Cambodians, Bosnians, and people from the former Soviet Union now call Minnesota home. They are being joined by refugees from Burma, Bhutan, and Iraq.   

You can hear some of their stories first hand by watching the short film, “Refugee’s Journey to Minnesota” here. Parishioner Dan Baluff embarked on his own journey to film interviews with refugees relocated to Minnesota. Through Dan’s work, you will be introduced to Mariam, Salim, Tha, Hakeem, Abdi, Ogang and others, all refugees who now call Minnesota home.

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Their stories compel us to consider how blessed we are and their journeys share many consistent themes. Can you imagine having to flee for your life on foot with only the possessions you could carry? Flight from civil war and violence. Homes being burned to the ground. Separation of children from their parents, of husband from wife. Not knowing where beloved family members are, or even if they are still alive. Years of hard life in refugee camps, where finding food and fear of violence were daily concerns. Children born and growing up in the camps.  Some compared these years in refugee camps to being in jail, with no work, no school, and constant uncertainty about the future.

As these new Minnesotans work to rebuild their lives and make new homes, courage, strength, determination and resilience are clearly in evidence. Like us, they are looking for opportunities and a little help along the way. Help learning English, how to ride the bus or find educational opportunities for their children and themselves, are some of the simple ways we can help make a difference as new refugees make their way in our community.

As we gather with our families to celebrate Christmas, take a moment to consider how we are called to welcome refugees. Are we ready to open our minds and hearts to the strangers in our midst? Are we afraid, or are we ready to help our new neighbors whose hopes and dreams much like our own, revolve around family, safety, education, and finding good jobs?

 

 

On more than one occasion, I have discovered that sometimes people assume that because we share the same religion, we share the same understanding of what our religion requires of us. While most of the time this is the case, it is not universally true. Within our church there are differences with regard to the acceptability of the death penalty and our obligations to the poor and marginalized. And if you really want to see differences, just bring up the issue of immigration among a group of Catholics. 

Now I believe it is important that we not gloss over our differences or pretend they don’t exist. It is equally important, though, that we don’t allow our differences to be a source of division and anger. In this regard, Jesus is a good model for us. In the Scriptures, we often see him disagreeing with people—particularly the Scribes and the Pharisees. For his part, though, he never let these disagreements become a source of bitterness or hostility. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Most often they were very antagonistic to Jesus. What accounts for the difference between Jesus and the Scribes and the Pharisees? Well, clearly it helped that Jesus was divine. I think, though, that as important, Jesus most often had recourse to prayer when he encountered difference and disagreements.  

In my life, I have discovered that prayer changes things—and the thing it changes most is me. When I have a difference or a disagreement with someone, and I take it to prayer, this often helps me to see things from a different perspective or to take into account new information. Now as I say this, I need to be clear. I don’t always take differences and disagreements to prayer. There are times when I want to hold on to my anger and resentment. There are other times when I take them to prayer, and my prayer is more a monologue about why God should see things my way. When I am able to honestly and humbly take things to prayer, though, it does make a difference. 

Prayer can help us understand that while our differences and disagreements are real, they don’t have to be a source of anger and division. Rather, with Jesus as our model, and prayer as our weapon of choice, we can remain in contact with each other and engage in a dialogue that is frank, honest, and ongoing.   

We may share the same religion, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily share the same understanding of what that religion requires of us. This doesn’t have to separate us, though. Through prayer and respectful dialogue we can challenge each other to hear anew, and strive to live out the challenge of Jesus to love our neighbor as our self.

Our Call to Welcome 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 the 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. Minneapolis, however, 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. Unfortunately, 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, among 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.

Luke Olson is a Basilica parishioner, choir member, and member of the Global Stewardship team. Luke graduated from the U of MN Law School, was recently married, and has joined the firm of Dorsey and Whitney in Minneapolis.

 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I find it easy to prioritize The Basilica community on my “thankful for” list. When people consider the “things” they are most grateful for, “things” rarely end up on the top of the list. Instead, it is health, family, faith, friends, and community.

I’ve heard time and time again of the gratitude felt for The Basilica community. Those most inclined to share this appreciation are the ones who have moved away, or find it no longer possible to be involved with The Basilica parish.

I’ve witnessed the sadness of those who have moved away as they search for a “Basilica” experience in a new city. It is possible to take for granted what is at your fingertips. I’m reminded of the special gift of The Basilica when I read the visitor comments from our guestbook, including:

  • “Beautiful church, amazing worship”
  • “As beautiful a church as any I’ve seen in Europe”
  • “The parishioners were so very welcoming!”
  • “Thank you for allowing us to visit and pray here! May God bless the parishioners.”
  • “Thank you for opening the doors to such a blessed and calm, beautiful place,”

What we experience here isn’t easy to find, or replicate.

This unique Basilica experience is created by a diverse and rich depth of opportunities. From the grand, yet warm and inviting space we have to worship, to the way we roll up our sleeves as volunteers, to the service to our neighbors who need help—these are only a few things that make what we have here so unique and special.

When you think about your abundance and the joy you feel from the gifts you have received, how do you prioritize? What do your belongings mean to you?  

Belonging to this parish is one of the greatest gifts I have received as an adult. This belonging is one of my greatest “belongings.” When I joined, I not only joined the parish, but I joined the Catholic faith. And it was a transformative experience. Today, this belonging has evolved into our “village” to raise our family. It provides a home for our faith and brings our faith home each Sunday.  

To say I’m grateful would put it mildly. There is no value that can be placed on this community that gives so much, to so many people. When you give to The Basilica, you feed the lives and hearts of thousands of people who are inspired by the liturgies, connected through the social gatherings, and enlightened by the learning opportunities.

This “belonging” of thousands of members and visitors likely has an exponential impact in our broader community as we strive to live out stewardship in our every day.

When you support The Basilica financially, you give The Basilica vital funding for essentials like heat, lights, music, and ministries. But even more importantly, pledging gives us the opportunity to express our gratitude. If you haven’t yet made a commitment for 2015, I hope you will consider a pledge today. Pledge forms are available in the pews, or you can pledge online. Thank you for your consideration and for being a part of this community that gives so much.

 

May They All Be One

As he lay dying of cancer, Pope John XXIII reportedly continuously whispered Jesus’ prayer: “May they all be one” (John 17:11). As a priest, diplomat, and finally as Pope, one of John XXIII’s aims was to reach across denominational barriers to re-establish the unity of God’s people. He once said: “Whenever I see a wall between Christians, I try to pull out a brick.” Along with Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII was canonized (named a saint) on April 27, 2014.    

I think John XXIII’s words about removing bricks from the walls that separate Christians are perhaps more important now than when he first uttered them. In our world today, there is much that would/could separate Christians. Divisions exist on almost every moral issue, and there is ongoing debate about major issues in our Christian faith—the ordination of women being perhaps the most notable.  

In addition to the differences that exist among Christians, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that differences also exist among Catholics. I don’t believe, though, that we should be alarmed or threatened by differences. Rather, I believe it is the divisions that arise from our differences that are the real source of shame and scandal. There is something wrong if we allow differences to turn into disputes and divisions.   

In regard to the above, I want to be clear. Acceptance of others doesn’t mean we agree with them. Dialogue with others doesn’t mean that we abandon our principles, and respect for others doesn’t mean endorsement of their beliefs. To lack respect for the differing position of others is to be haughty, ignorant, or both.   

Many years ago Dr. James P. Shannon was President of the then College of St. Thomas. He later became an auxiliary bishop in our Archdiocese and eventually left ministry. While President of St. Thomas, he wrote an essay in 1962 entitled: “The Tradition of Respectful Argument.” In that essay he wrote:  

The ability to defend one’s own position with spirit and conviction, to evaluate accurately the conflicting opinions of others, and to retain one’s confidence in the ultimate power of truth to carry its own weights are necessary talents in any society, but especially so in our democratic culture.

There is some evidence that these virtues are in short supply in our land. The venerable tradition of respectful argumentation, based on evidence, conducted with courtesy and leading to greater exposition of truth is a precious part of our heritage in this land of freedom. It is the duty of educated men to understand, appreciate, and perpetuate this tradition.  

If we can remember and put into practice the ideal of respectful argument, perhaps some day Pope John’s prayer: “May they all be one,” will become a reality.   
    

There seems to be a children’s book to address most childhood behavior issues, which is helpful because life with a two-year-old is unpredictable, and sometimes you need a little outside help. 

At Mass recently, our two-year- old daughter happened upon a few goldfish crackers left on the floor. As soon as she saw them she moved as quickly as possible and her little hands snatched them up just before I could get there. She proceeded to stuff them into her mouth and swallow. You don’t hesitate to eat off the ground when you are two. It was her own loaves and fishes miracle, right here at The Basilica.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Anything I needed to learn, I learned in Kindergarten.” I feel this common saying could be applied at The Basilica and interpreted as “Anything I hoped my children would learn, started at The Basilica.”  

My family has had many loaves and fishes experiences in this community, and there is an abundance of great gifts because of the generosity shown here. Witnessing this generous behavior provides an abundance of learning opportunities.

  • Even when my family is disruptive and our pew is messy, you smile. You welcome us—all of us—at our best and our worst. One of the first words my older daughter learned was “peace,” and it always warms my heart to hear her share it at Mass. It may have started with one word, but it means so much more.  And she learned it from you.
  • We sing together—young and old. Together, with the help of our choirs, we give thanks and praise in a beautiful, collective voice. My family sounds better at The Basilica than in the car.
  • We face challenges together, united in what we love at The Basilica. Coming together with encouragement makes us stronger, our faith assured and our blessings multiplied.  
  • We live out financial stewardship with great generosity. In good economic times and bad, you give. One parishioner I met with recently illustrated this beautifully. He described his approach to giving—and that it wasn’t ever optional—and his desire always to give as much as he possibly can. He made a pledge last year, and even in a year as a freelancer without clients for several months, and as he planned a wedding, he stuck to his commitment to The Basilica. His generosity, and all the ways our community gives, is a shining example of a lifestyle of gratitude for the next generation.  
  • All the lessons I want my children to know in their hearts as adults are right here at The Basilica, in many forms. When the crying babies at Mass today are adults, I believe that the great enrichment they receive here, today, will provide a foundation for their internal moral compass.

I’m reminded of Fr. Michael O’Connell’s inspirational words: “Give generously and graciously from what God has so generously given you.” It is that simple, and that complicated, just as so many of life’s little lessons prove to be:

  • Eat your food and be grateful that you have good food to eat.
  • Greet each other with blessings of peace, and share that peace with each other.
  • Sing your heart out.
  • We are part of a faith tradition that has no end, and we are not on this journey alone.
  • Giving generously gives happiness.
  • And know that when you give, you are really giving to God.

This fall, as you consider the blessings in our parish, please consider a Financial Stewardship pledge for 2015. Your pledge of any size will have a powerful impact—in your own life and in the life of The Basilica community. Please watch for pledge forms in your mail and in the pews.

Thank you for your consideration and for being a part of this community that gives so much.

 

Walking through the streets of Paris last week I could not but notice the many signs of Halloween in the window displays. As I asked a friend about this she mentioned how important Halloween had become in Europe and she admitted to decorating her daycare center for Halloween as well. “The children love the carved pumpkins, the masks, the ghosts, and the candy,” she explained. Apparently there even is a Halloween parade in my hometown and children have taken up trick-or-treating. Not missing a beat I asked her what she was planning to do for All Saints and All Souls Day. She was a bit taken aback as she confessed that, in fact she had no plans.

The world, it seems has been turned upside down. Today, Halloween has clearly overshadowed All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Whereas, growing up in Belgium we did not even know about Halloween. Our undivided attention was given to celebrating All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, two of my favorite days on the liturgical calendar..

On All Saints Day the entire family gathered at our parish church for a solemn liturgy celebrating all the Saints. Then it was off to my grandmother’s house for a day of festive leisure culminating is a sumptuous dinner. The highpoint of the afternoon was the simple play the children put together for the adults, illustrating the life of our favorite saints. My favorite Saints were the ones depicted with the child Jesus. So, I often played Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony and Saint Christopher, carrying the child Jesus (one of my cousin’s dolls) on my shoulders or in my arms, across the improvised stage.

All Souls Day was marked by a certain sober solemnity as we remembered all those who had died. After Mass we walked to the cemetery to place flowers on the tombs of our ancestors and to pray for them as well as for ourselves. The dinner that day was fine, but not nearly as festive as the day before. The stories around the dinner table were about the great or funny things our deceased ancestors did.

Thus these two days which are very intimately connected allowed us to tell the story of our beloved saints as well as the stories of our beloved ancestors while we looked at their portraits and paintings which were interspersed with images of the saints fastidiously collected by my grandmother. Though I did not realize it at the time celebrating these two feasts, the church and my family instilled in me that we are all part of the Body of Christ because all of us are one in Him, saint and sinner alike by virtue of our baptism.

As we rejoice in the Icons of the Saints placed in the Sanctuary this month, let us celebrate all the Saints, those who have gone before us, those who live among us and those yet to be born. As we write the names of our loved ones in the Book of Remembrance and place their photos on the side-altars let us celebrate their lives and remember that all of us are one. And as we celebrate Vespers for All Souls, let us pray that all of us may meet again before the Heavenly Throne at the end of time.

So, dare I ask? What are your plans for All Saints’ and All Soul’s Day? 

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. 

 

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