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

Weekly Musings

One does not have to travel to the churches mentioned in the Da Vinci Code in search of intriguing stories. Every cathedral, church and chapel has its own secret codes hidden in the building, even The Basilica.

As you walk around you will notice that every chapel has a small wall carving announcing which saint is honored there. A burning heart surrounded by a crown of thorns leads to the Sacred Heart chapel. A star, symbol of Mary leads to the chapel of St. Anne and Mary. A lily, symbol of St. Joseph leads to the shrine of St. Joseph. Strangely, near the chapel of St. Anthony, patron saint of Italy you will find  a clover and snake, the symbol of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Might this chapel have been intended for St. Anthony and was the wrong symbol carved in the wall? Or was the carving correct and did the parish have a change of heart in terms of selection of saints?

In his 1932 book entitled, The Basilica of St. Mary of Minneapolis, longtime pastor, Mgr. Reardon mentions the St. Anthony of Padua Chapel.  Research in the archives, however reveals that the relic buried in the altar is not of St. Anthony but rather of St. Patrick.

This seems to indicate that the chapel was intended for St. Patrick while today, St. Anthony is honored there. Might this chapel reveal a bit of competition between the Irish and Italian founding families? Today, St. Patrick’s symbol and St. Anthony’s statue coexist peacefully.

Whether there was friendly feuding between our founding families or not, we are deeply grateful to them. Since they celebrated the first Eucharist on May 31, 2014 (Pentecost) over 100,000 Masses have been celebrated at The Basilica while 11,908 couples were married and 26,456 babies have been baptized in our church.

Our community has grown in so many ways since those early days. From a couple hundred families we have grown to over 6000 households. From an Irish and Italian church we have grown to reflect the world church as people from all parts of the globe have joined our church. And from a church marked by an active clergy and passive laity we have grown to be a church where both clergy and laity fully, actively and consciously participate in the life of our church.

On June 8, 2014 (Pentecost) we will mark the centennial anniversary of the first Eucharist celebrated in The Basilica. It will be a celebration of the accomplishments of our founding families. It will be a celebration of all the people who have made us who we are over the course of these 100 years. It will be a celebration of who we are today: great in number, rich in diversity and strong in our faith. And most importantly, it will be a time to call down the Holy Spirit once again to give us the peace, the wisdom and the strength to continue on this rich path for many more years to come.

So, do join us for the celebration of Pentecost on June 7/8. We will have extra music at all Masses followed by festive hospitality. And please wear your favorite red outfit or best ethnic garb.

Come Holy Spirit, Enlighten our hearts and our minds.

A few weeks ago, I texted a friend of mine to ask how his mother was doing. She had some surgery and had experienced some complications after surgery. He texted back that his mom was doing great. In his text message he went on to say: “God is so good. He has bedbugs (sic) so good to her and our entire family.” Now I was pretty sure that he meant to type that “God has been so good to her and their entire family,” but I texted him back just to be sure. He claimed he was a victim of his phone’s autocorrect program, and having myself fallen prey to autocorrect, I could certainly understand how that could happen.   

When you are typing fast, and if you have chubby fingers, it is easy to mistype a word. And with autocorrect, you may not even realize your error unless you proofread your message before you send it. Most of the time, when I am sending a text or an email, because I know what I intend to say, I just expect it to be there. I have been surprised on more than one occasion, though, when I mistyped a word, that autocorrect had changed it to a word I hadn’t intended. And in most cases the new word had changed what I intended to say.  

I would guess that 95% of the time autocorrect is a good thing. It can save time and effort in our communication efforts when we don’t have to go back and correct typos. Occasionally, though, it can be problematic, especially when a mistyped word is changed by autocorrect into something we didn’t intend, as was the case with my friend’s text message. This experience has been a good reminder to me to always proofread my texts and emails before sending them.

While there are times when autocorrect can change the meaning we intended, we are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about this in regard to our prayer. As we are reminded in Psalm 139, “Before a word is on my tongue, behold O Lord, you know the whole of it.” (Ps. 139:4)  Having created us, our God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows our needs, our wants, our heartaches, our joys, our sadness, our sorrows, our every thought. In prayer we don’t have to worry that we will get it wrong, and/or that God won’t understand what it is we are trying to say. God knows what is on our mind and in our heart without our ever having to give voice to it. Knowing this, we need to trust that the God who loved us into existence, will continue to hold us in that love regardless of the words we use in our prayer. 

It is very comforting for me to know that on those days when I’m a bit tongue-tied or the words don’t come out as I want, that God knows and understands my prayer. I don’t need to worry that anything will change the meaning or intent of my prayer. This is true for all of us. Before ever a word is on our tongue, God knows the whole of our prayer. And while God does not always answer our prayer in the way we had anticipated or hoped, God does hear our prayers, and will always give us the grace we need in our lives.  

Being Called to Love

I am inspired on Holy Thursday, as I witness and experience the sacred act of washing one another's feet: All types of people of all ages—being served, and kneeling in humble service. This year, my experience at Holy Thursday Mass was compounded when I connected with Jackie—a homeless woman I have known for close to twenty years (name changed for privacy). Jackie and her fiancé sat down in the pews, and I joined them.

When I first met Jackie, she was living with her children and sister under the highway directly across the street from The Basilica. They came to The Basilica every morning. I could smell gasoline on their bodies—gasoline, seeping down from cars passing overhead on highway 94, being absorbed by their bodies and clothes.

Over these twenty years, Jackie and her family have experienced frequent homelessness. She is homeless again, and has cancer. She is in pain and afraid. As I held Jackie at Mass on Holy Thursday, she wept and repeated a question that she asks a lot lately, "What should I do, Janice? What should I do?"

As Jackie struggled with grief and despair that evening, my heart wanted to respond, “Love, Jackie. Love yourself, love your family, love your friends, love God.” Ultimately, we are all called to love. Love: so easy to say, so hard to live.

Jackie is a good woman. She has a sparkle in her eye and a contagious laugh that exposes a deep joy amid incredible suffering. Deeply committed to her family, she has witnessed tragedy since she was a child, moving to Minneapolis from the Red Lake Reservation. She knows tremendous grief, having lost several children to death on the street. She is a matriarch to a struggling family. What will happen when she is gone? 

Jackie asks a question we are all to ponder this Easter Season: What are we to do? When death and betrayal can be found around us each day, what will we do? What will mark our lives, our actions, our attitudes, our choices, our thoughts, and our assumptions? What difference will it make that we have been given the gift of new life through resurrection?

As we washed one another’s feet, my experience with Jackie raised deep and difficult questions in my heart. Brought face-to-face with my own judgments, biases, and fears, I wrestled with reconciling the life I have watched Jackie live and my own actions—as well as the actions of our community.  

What does love look like in our community? Our faith calls us to acts of charity and justice. We are called to hold Jackie when she is afraid. And, we are also called to advocate for more affordable housing. This may be the harder part. There are not enough shelter beds, and not enough affordable housing in our community to protect Jackie and her family. We must join the advocacy efforts of Minnesota Coalitions for the Homeless and St. Stephen’s Human Resources to provide safe and secure housing options.

Pope Francis encourages us to “Let the joyous wonder of Easter Sunday radiate through your thoughts, looks, attitudes, gestures, and words.” Let us be inspired by Jackie, and live a life of joy through charity and justice. 

A few weeks ago I updated the instructions for my funeral. It definitely was time to do this, as a few of the priests I had suggested as homilists have left ministry to marry. Now please don’t worry or start celebrating, I am not sick and/or dying. Rather, priests of our Archdiocese are asked to plan their funeral so that if we should die suddenly there is clarity about our wishes and intent. It also helps our families who would otherwise be left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out what we would want in regard to our funeral. I think my instructions are fairly simple and when the time comes, I hope they will be honored. I just hope Johan can find the elephants for the procession on short notice. 

It is a sobering task to plan one’s funeral. And I did shed a few tears in the process. If the truth be told, however, there was also a certain “rightness” to this task. It was very faith affirming. I say this because it reminded me that while funerals are a celebration of a person’s life, they are also — and from my perspective more importantly — an affirmation of our faith. For our faith calls us to believe that death is not the end; that because of Jesus Christ the promise and gift of eternal life is offered to all believers.    

In one of the Prefaces (the prayer that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy) for the Mass of Christian burial we hear the words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” I like the idea that at the time of death “life is changed, not ended.” For me this speaks powerfully not just of our belief in eternal life, but in the idea of the “communion of saints”  —our belief in our fellowship in Christ, not only among us believers here on earth, but also between us and those who have died marked with the sign of faith. We don’t lose those who have died; rather our relationship with them takes on another dimension as we now share the life of Christ with them in a new way.     

Certainly the time of death is a time of sadness and sorrow as we mourn the loss of someone who was a part of our lives. For believers, though, because of our belief in the promise of eternal life, it is also a time of hope and faith. On this great Feast of Easter as we remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also remember and celebrate his promise of eternal life which he offers to all those who believe in and seek to follow him. For it is the promise of eternal life that gives us comfort and consolation at the time of death, and hope as we continue our lives in faith.   

As we celebrate the spectacular celebration of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we are given an incredible opportunity over the next seven days, the holiest week of our liturgical year – an opportunity to live our faith through Jesus and to reflect on what Jesus’ journey means to us. 

On Palm Sunday, we are immersed into the Passion of the Lord. Hearing the Passion each year on Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus, during his life of selflessness, ended up on a cross. We wave palms on this day in remembrance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem to embrace whatever was to come. We leave today’s Mass with these palms that we will keep with us in our homes over the next year as a reminder of this sacred celebration and what it means to us as Catholics.

Spiritually, the celebration of Palm Sunday reminds us that through the crucifixion of the Son of God, we are all given the gift of our salvation and forgiveness. Through our faith, we not only have the opportunity to reconcile ourselves with God in the missteps of our own humanity, but also to forgive others, including our loved ones. This gift, this capability of forgiveness, is central to us as humans and as Catholics. At The Basilica, we will celebrate Reconciliation with a Taize Prayer Service on Tuesday evening.  

As we move through Holy Week, we begin the Triduum on Holy Thursday. On this night we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and are invited to wash one another’s feet. The act of washing one another’s feet is a reminder that to follow in Christ’s footsteps means to serve one another. It is in serving one another that we further immerse ourselves into the Paschal Mystery of our faith.

On Good Friday we are invited to commemorate the suffering of Jesus, followed by his crucifixion, ultimately leading to our salvation. The Basilica celebrates three services on Good Friday – Stations of the Cross at noon, a Communion Service and celebration of the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon, followed by the Tenebrae service in the evening. These services are filled with many multi-sensory symbols that bring the story of Jesus’s passion and death to the forefront in the history of our salvation.

Holy Saturday marks the Easter Vigil which is the greatest feast in our church. We celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. This Mass begins with the Easter fire outside the church, around which all are invited to gather and celebrate the new Easter Light. As the RCIA Elect and Candidates receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as a part of the Easter Vigil we celebrate that life has overcome death. 

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate. We celebrate that Jesus has risen from the dead. We celebrate our salvation, our joy and our faith. We celebrate with friends and family. We celebrate all that is good in our world. We celebrate the joy in our own lives. And our celebrations last during the entire Easter season.

This Holy Week, may you participate fully and experience all that is Holy in the Catholic faith. May your faith deepen and may you be filled with joy as you celebrate our risen Christ this Easter. 

Our Basilica church and its campus  inspire beauty, art and spiritual growth and are home to outreach, community, interfaith dialogue, centering prayer, education, amazing volunteers and worship.  Entering this magnificent space, I am reminded of  why I joined the Catholic Church, because this community exemplifies and affirms all that is good in the Church. The building embraces and centers our  prayers, music and fellowship. I’m grateful to be a part of it, as a parishioner and staff member.

The Basilica Landmark
Outstanding leaders are committed to the mission of The Basilica Landmark to “preserve, restore and advance the historic Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations.”  On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to share some exciting updates.

Masqueray Ball
The annual Masqueray Ball will be Saturday, May 3, and we would be honored to have you attend.  Co-chairs Jack and Laura Lee promise  a fun evening of socializing and celebration!  

Basilica Block Party
The Basilica Block Party will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12 and we would love to have you join us. 

Matching Challenge
An anonymous donor has offered The Basilica Landmark an unprecedented $2,500,000 matching challenge gift!  New donations of at least $1000 will be matched, as well as increased gifts from current donors.  On April 26 and 27 we will have a second collection for The Basilica Landmark annual fund and hope you will consider a special gift to be matched by this inspirational challenge. Meeting the matching challenge will allow us to modernize our campus buildings, enabling our parish to meet the current and growing needs of our community.  

Landmark Projects
In 2013 and 2014 The Basilica Landmark will spend more than $4.5 million on projects, led by The Reardon Rectory Accessibility project, with  an addition to the building and new elevator, the new copper roof for the school,  replacing the 1913 church and school boiler system with a highly efficient hot water heating system,  adding central air conditioning to the school,  and removing current window units resulting in  significant annual energy savings.  

The Landmark will remove insulation from the stone walls above the nave’s plaster ceiling, material that for decades  has held moisture, accelerating the decay of our church. Drying the stone will make possible  a future interior restoration of our beautiful Basilica, our long-term vision.

Only five years ago, our goal was to “keep the building ahead of the curve.” Today, we have turned a corner.  Through the generous challenge of the match, we are able to address the crucial needs of our parish today and in the future.  

Find more information at www.thebasilicalandmark.org. I feel deep gratitude to our community for your ongoing investment in our beautiful historic landmark and campus projects and I ask for  your generosity to meet the matching challenge. You will make a great legacy possible, ensuring  that The Basilica of Saint Mary and its campus are  preserved for all generations.

There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.   

I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.  

Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.  

It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying. 

Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.

The American writer, Flannery O’Connor, once said: “Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing:  If an idea does come between 9 and 12, I am there ready for it.“ I think those words are a great description of prayer — or at least my prayer. I say this, because I have come to believe that one of the things that can help our prayer the most is setting aside a regular time and place for prayer so as to  make ourselves available to God. 

Many years ago when I was first ordained, I would pray Morning Prayer before Mass, but then would set aside time additional time for prayer in the late afternoon. This routine had served me well in the seminary when my schedule was very predictable. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that life in the parish doesn’t always follow a routine. After a few years I realized that my afternoon prayer time had become rushed and hurried, and on some days was given over to what I thought were more pressing matters. 

When I talked about this with my spiritual director, he suggested I try to spend more time in prayer in the morning. I pleaded that I wasn’t a morning person, but he pressed the issue and suggested I at least try it.   And so at his strong urging, I began to set my alarm clock a half hour earlier. I eventually began to set it for forty-five minutes earlier, and the past few years I’ve taken to getting up an hour earlier. I spend this “extra” time in prayer. 

Now in mentioning the above, I need to be clear. I am still not a morning person. I hate it when my alarm goes off in the morning. And while I am embarrassed to admit it, there are times when I shave a few minutes off the hour because I have pushed the snooze button one too many times. And to be completely honest, I have to admit that occasionally during that hour I will doze off. There are other times, though, when I feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. These times are not under my control.  They simply occur. I have come to believe, though, that at least part of the reason they occur at all is that I have made myself available to God.   

Flannery O’Connor became a great writer because she regularly made time available for ideas to come to her. I believe if we regularly make time available for prayer, we will know God’s presence and experience God’s grace. Certainly this is not going to happen each and every time we go to prayer, but the chances are greatly increased that it will occur, if we regularly make ourselves to God.  

The challenge for all of us is to regularly set aside a time for prayer, so those times can occur. If we can make ourselves available to God in prayer on a regular basis, I am convinced that God will indeed come and make God’s dwelling with us — maybe not every time we pray, but certainly often enough that we’ll keep coming back for more.

 

As a child, my approach to Lent was pretty straight forward. I gave up candy, and so did all of my friends. As an adult, I’d like to suggest a different approach to you this year. Paula Kaempffer, The Basilica’s Director of Learning, challenged me to consider doing something extra to explore my faith this year during Lent. Honestly, giving up precious time may be a more challenging and more rewarding approach to Lent. At The Basilica, there is no shortage of options to help do something extra.

Fridays in Lent:

Consider committing part of Lenten Friday nights to participate in 5:00pm Mass or in the very moving 7:00pm Stations of the Cross.  There’s a free soup supper in between — so you can spend time in quiet, prayerful reflection, and spend time getting to know others in our parish community over a bowl of soup.

Some other alternatives for doing something extra in Lent are our wonderful Learning offerings. 

Lenten Faith Sharing Groups:

Wednesdays, 7:00 – 8:30pm

Parishioner Tricia Burns leads our small Faith Sharing Group. This is an opportunity to pray, discuss the Sunday scripture readings and support one another as we travel on our faith journey. Reflect on how the scriptures relate to our everyday life, and be enriched by the diversity of each member of the group.  Consider taking a moment to share your life, your faith, and your values in a Lenten Faith Sharing Group.

Redeeming a Prison Society – A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration

Sundays March 9, 16, 23, 11:00am – 12:30pm

You’ve read the statistics about how many minority and economically disadvantaged individuals end up in prison. Have you considered the injustice of locking up more than 2 million of our neighbors in jail? Dr. Amy Levad, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at the University of St. Thomas, will lead this series and help us explore the causes and effects of mass incarceration and alternatives to jails and prisons. She will also share how the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation ground us in a moral vision for justice on par with the Civil Rights movement to redeem our prison society.

Examining Atonement – Justice, Nonviolence and the Cross

Sundays March 30, April 6 and 13, 11:00am – 12:30pm

How did the cross, an instrument of torture used against political prisoners and other criminals during the Roman Empire, become a central symbol of our Christian faith? Over 3 Sundays, explore the emergence of the cross as a symbol in Christian history.  Examine the development of the Church’s doctrine of atonement and grapple with understanding how salvation is won by Christ’s incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection. 

Led by Dr. Kimberly Vrudny, an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas, this series and help us consider some contemporary issues in atonement theology.

 

The Way of Jesus

A few weeks ago a former parishioner of mine told me she was taking a break from the Catholic Church. With the recent and seemingly endless revelations about our church’s mishandling of the sexually inappropriate behavior on the part of various priests, she didn’t feel that, at the present time, the Catholic Church was a place where she could pray and experience God’s grace. She was clear that her decision was not irrevocable, but — at least for now — she was going to look elsewhere for spiritual strength and guidance.

As we talked, it was clear that while she was angry, perhaps the overriding emotion for her was disappointment. And while she was able to make a distinction between the Church and its all too fallible ministers and leaders, she couldn’t understand why no one seemed to be held accountable or was willing to accept responsibility for the current crisis. She felt that the Church, as an institution, had failed her and others who called the Catholic Church their spiritual home. This was tough for me to hear. As our conversation ended, though, we agreed to stay in touch and to continue the conversation another day. 

Now while I could understand my former parishioner’s reasoning, and in part could agree with it, I also know that for me there is no other spiritual home I could imagine for myself than the Catholic Church. With all its warts, with its imperfect and flawed ministers, the Catholic Church is where I am meant to be. I echo Peter’s words when Jesus asked him if he also wanted to leave: “Master to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).      

Now while I am joined at the hip with the Catholic Church, I don’t think it is acceptable simply to write off anyone, who, for whatever reason, has left or taken a break from the Catholic Church.  Especially at this time, I think that I, as your pastor, as well as our entire community, need to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: Who are those people who no longer worship with us? Who feels alienated or estranged from our Church?  Are we comfortable that people no longer choose to join us for worship? 

Sadly, I think it is all too easy for us to simply let people leave our Church without making an effort to talk with them or ask them to stay. This needs to stop. It is not enough simply to tell people they are always welcome to come back. Instead, we need to help them find a reason to stay, or at least a reason to keep the conversation going. In the Gospels, Jesus had ongoing and serious disagreements with the Scribes and Pharisees, yet he never stopped talking with them. He never stopped trying to engage them. I think this is a good model for us. We need to invite people to continue the conversation and not just leave. 

Our Church has been around for over 2,000 years. During this time, it has faced innumerable divisions and controversies; it has had poor and ineffective leaders; it has engaged in activities that were questionable at best and cruel at worse, and yet it remains. At its best, our Church is a place of God’s presence and grace, and a beacon of hope and a spiritual home to many. Certainly our local Church has not been that lately. For this reason I can understand why some people might choose to leave. I would hope, though, that, as individuals, and as a parish community we would not be comfortable if or when people choose to leave, but rather that we would engage them and offer to keep the conversation going. This was the way of Jesus. It needs to be our way as well.

 

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