Janice Andersen

Director of Christian Life
Christian Life

Janice Andersen has been on staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary since 1994, working with programs that serve our community and advocate for justice.  She currently serves as the Director of Christian Life, overseeing ministries that provide charity and care, justice formation, and volunteer ministry. She began her work as the Director of Social Ministry, working with Basilica St. Vincent de Paul to collaboratively build programs that offer relationship and service to those in need, and advocate for justice.  Janice serves on the Boards of City House and From Death To Life. She holds Masters Degrees in special education and theology, and is a certified Spiritual Director. 

(612) 317-3477

Recent Posts by Janice Andersen

St. Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in those who are sick, poor, and suffering. Radically, he suggests that those who are struggling must become our teachers and mentors, and we—their servants. This is the heart of Vincentian spirituality. Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me” (Matthew 25). Vincentian spirituality recognizes that we are transformed as we embrace life on the margins: We honor God by serving God in the person who is sick, poor, or suffering. We are all called to serve, and to be served. Together, we become the Body of Christ. 

St. Vincent articulated five virtues that directed his life. We are invited to reflect on these virtues. How do they resonate in our life? How do they challenge our daily living? How are they supported in our community? This Lent, let us prayerfully wrestle with and embrace these five virtues. 

Simplicity
Simplicity is the virtue St. Vincent loved most. “It is my gospel,” he says. Listen to 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. Each of us, then, should take care to behave always in this spirit of simplicity, remembering that God likes to deal with the simple, and that he conceals the secrets of heaven from the wise and prudent of this world and reveals them to little ones. But while Christ recommends the simplicity of a dove he tells us to have the prudence of a serpent as well. What he means is that we should speak and behave with discretion. We ought, therefore, to keep quiet about matters which should not be made known, especially if they are unsuitable or unlawful … In actual practice this virtue is about choosing the right way to do things.

Humility
For St. Vincent, humility is the recognition that all good comes from God. It reminds us that we are not the originator of life. Humility recognizes that we all have gifts, but also limitations and faults. The Beatitudes tell us that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. St. Vincent calls us to stand before God humbly in our daily prayer, and have the attitude of a servant.

Meekness
Jesus identified himself as meek and humble of heart. St. Vincent believed this. He won the hearts of those who are poor because his meekness developed as warmth, approachability, openness, deep respect for the person of others. Although he tells us that he was irritable by nature, St. Vincent asked God to change his heart: “Grant me a kindly and benign spirit…” 

Mortification
Jesus calls us to follow him even unto death. A radical directive for our lives today, we are called to be willing to stand in God’s grace, even while absorbing the pain and suffering of our neighbor. St. Vincent embraced this challenge and gospel imperative. Consistently, he calls us to be faithful to our duties of serving those who are poor. Even more, he challenges us to 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…” St. Vincent challenges us to persevere as servants of the sick, suffering, and poor—while remembering that although the Lord asks us to cooperate in his work, it still remains His work. We must strive to live a balanced life, so that we might have the energy that nourishes zeal.

Prayer from St. Vincent de Paul
Lord Jesus, teach me by your example….Make me, through the vigor of my efforts and the power of your Spirit, set the world around me on fire. I want to give myself to you, body and soul, heart and mind and spirit, so that I may always do what gladdens you. In your mercy, grant me the grace to have you continue your saving work in me and through me.” Amen.

 

The character of our community is determined by the way we connect with one another. In our rich, as well as challenging relationships, we each contribute to the nature of our community by our actions. At a time when our local and world community experience deep division and tension, it is important for us to pay attention to the way we connect.

When considered through the lens of faith, our Christian Life offers three significant and distinct ways to connect with others. All three of these ways are important to building a community of hope, trust, and love. As people of faith, we are called to serve, to accompany, and to defend.

  • Call to Serve: With our focus on the common good and a particular care for the most vulnerable, we are invited to recognize and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. As we reach out to another, it is important that we recognize the times that we, also, need to be served. The words of the Servant Song, by Richard Guillard, seems particularly poignant: “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” Mutuality and humility are fruits of this service. We understand that everyone has something to teach and everyone has an important role to play in our community. Indeed, we get a glimpse of the community described in 1 Corinthians 12 when all rejoice and suffer together due to the inherent dignity of every part of the body.
  • Call to Accompany: There are times when things cannot be fixed or people changed. Sometimes the most important and compassionate thing to do is to be present with another. Recognizing that God is with us, we can walk with another, practicing active listening. We can know that we are never alone. We can know a deep sense of belonging and a transforming experience of acceptance and love. The call to accompany is hard, as it often bucks against our deep desire to fix and change. Yet it is transforming in its non-judgmental hospitality and acceptance.
  • Call to Defend: The call to defend is an important component to the way we connect in community. There are times when it is not enough to serve or accompany. There are times when we must defend. Pope Francis states that “True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer. And it asks us to ensure that no one ever again stands in need of a soup-kitchen, of make-shift lodgings, of a service of legal assistance in order to have his legitimate right recognized to live and to work, to be fully a person..” Am I ready to speak the truth to power and defend the oppressed? Am I prepared to protect the victims of violence and injustice? Will I put myself in an inherently vulnerable position as I seek to defend the defenseless? These are important questions for each of us. We are called to get to the heart of any reservations or fears, freeing ourselves to defend and protect in love.

Let us attend to our relationship with God, practice humility, and listen with our heart. Together, as we serve, accompany, and defend, we can build a community of love and compassion. Our prayer and actions call on the Holy Spirit to transform and heal the nature of our local and global community.

 

“Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere…for the solace to its troubles,” Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor).

It can be challenging to pay attention to what is going on in our world these days. We hear about war and unrest throughout our country and world. From violence in Iraq and Syria, to local demonstrations against racism and unfair wages, our communities are bubbling over with strife. It is tempting to turn off all media and put everything out of our mind.

Somehow our communities have regressed to a place that disregards respectful civil dialogue. The work that provides a glimpse of the kingdom promised “on earth as it is in heaven” is often hampered by power struggles, intolerance, and exclusion. Walls are built to keep people out. Communities are fractured. Lives are driven by the illusion of scarcity.

Our faith offers a framework to accept the challenges we face each day. Our faith offers us guidelines to maneuver those things that overwhelm us. It is not easy, but we are invited into the journey together, with the support and help of the Spirit.

First, we must pay attention to the world around us. We must know what is going on in our community so that we can respond appropriately and in love. If we don’t know the issues, we cannot be part of the solutions.

Next, it is important to identify and surrender our own biases about the issues in our midst. It has been said that “perception is reality.” In other words, what one perceives is often the reality that drives one’s life and actions. However, the “reality” that is shaped by one’s perceptions may have little to do with what is true. It may be distorted by assumptions that are false. It may be shaped by fear or ignorance.

We are called to look at the world as it is, and understand that our life experience shapes what we see. We are limited and cannot see the whole by ourselves. We are called to engage, learn, grow, and see more clearly.

Finally, our faith invites us to work toward a community shaped in every dimension by the Gospel of love. Can we imagine a world that has no political pressures distorting our discussion on poverty or hunger? Can we conceive of communities that are shaped by a concept of abundance? What would our neighborhoods look like? What difference would it make in our lives and our communities?

This fall there are many wonderful opportunities at The Basilica to learn about our faith. Consider attending the Sunday morning “Voices of Catholic Spirituality” series uncovering the teachings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna and Vincent de Paul. Growing in faith shapes our thoughts and actions.

This fall there are also powerful opportunities at The Basilica to learn about the world around us and engage in action shaped by politically unbiased and faith-filled discussion. Consider attending Basilica events on Economic Inequality in the U.S. and Creating A Climate For Solidarity.

We worship together and God’s love changes us. We open our eyes to the world around us, and courageously commit together to changing the world. This is our call. This is our challenge. This is our opportunity.

 

Breaking Down Our Walls

This June, I was privileged to join a group of women on a three-day retreat in northern Minnesota. This retreat brought together mothers of children who were murdered with mothers whose children are in prison for committing murder. They all carry deep pain in their lives. I was along as support staff, to cook and care for the women.

The three days began with awkward conversations and actions: Each woman trying to settle in, claim safe space, and be strong. They came from two different sides of a tragic experience. They held deep resentment and anger. They had great trepidation, yet, courageously choose to attend together.

Once everyone arrived, the first group activity was prayer. Trusting God, ground rules were set: the women were all in this together. The women were willing, and the retreat unfolded. In various forms, the women were invited to honestly and courageously share their story with one another. They were challenged to respectfully listen and hear one another.

Through the simple, yet profound experience of sharing stories and deep listening, tears were shed and walls broke down. I witnessed a transformation from division and brokenness to solidarity, love, and support. Each woman gained a deep respect and admiration for the other. Each woman understood that there was more in common than different. They were filled with compassion for one another. Bonds were formed that were deep and profound. Grace abound.

This retreat was facilitated by From Death To Life, an organization that brings families impacted by the tragedy of homicide together for healing and forgiveness. Their work offers hope to families and transforms the entire community through healing, reconciliation, and peace. You can learn more at www.fromdeathtolife.us.

The work of reconciliation and healing is happening all around the world. The Catholic Relief Services is doing powerful work in Rwanda with victims of genocide. They are bringing together Hutu with Tutsi to share stories, make amends, and heal communities. Through this sincere work, solidarity is born. You can learn about this incredible work at www.storiesofhope.crs.org.

Reconciliation and healing is happening in current war zones in the Middle East. Organizations such as Churches for Middle East Peace bring together Israelis and Palestinians to hear one another’s story and listen with respect. In this process, they find solidarity and compassion for one another. Participants speak about the power of understanding how the ongoing conflict undermines the lives and livelihoods of both peoples. They aspire to become an advocate for an end to the violence and better futures for all. Learn about this important work at www.cmep.org.

While the specifics of these situations are unique, the experience of division, resentment, or hatred is not. These can be found in our own lives. We all build walls around us to protect and separate us from hurt. Families can be estranged, and siblings can become alienated. Neighborhoods can be destroyed, and churches can become divided.

As we seek to make sense of a world of division and violence, let us look into our own lives and find healing and reconciliation. Where are our walls? Who are we keeping out? Whose story do we need to hear? And who needs to listen to our story? Healing and reconciliation are fruits of the Spirit. Let us be inspired by the women at the retreat. Let us all find ways to recognize our own anger and fear, yet, courageously choose to show up together. God will be there, waiting.

 

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. 

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