Archives: December 2014

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. 

The Basilica offices will be closed in observance of the New Year's  holiday on Wednesday, December 31, 2014 and Thurday, January 1, 2015.  A vigil Mass will be celebrated in the main church in anticipation of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God at 5pm Wedneday, December 31. The Mass for the Holy Day of Obligation will be celebrated in the main church on Thursday, January 1 at 10:00am.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.   The word epiphany means an unexpected manifestation/revelation or a sudden intuitive leap of understanding.  Our Gospel for this feast is the visit of the Magi from the East to the new born Christ child.  The Magi were Gentiles not Jews, so this Gospel celebrates the manifestation of God in Christ to the whole world.   It reminds us of the universality of God’s savific will --- that God wants everyone to be saved. This was St. Paul’s message in our second reading today from his letter to the Ephesians: “………the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”     The universality of God’s saving will would have been a startling idea for the Jews, as well as for many of the early Christians.   And yet, God planned this from the beginning.   Thus, this feast celebrates not just a past event, but an ongoing reality.  God continues to offer salvation to all people for all time.  

On a tangentially related note, the Gospel story of the visit of the Magi has through time been infused with more details than perhaps any other story in the scriptures.  Over the centuries we have made the Magi all men.  We have made them Kings.  We have said there were three of them, and we have even given them names.  None of these details, however, are part of the original story.  This should remind us that when we read the scriptures we need to be open to what they really say and not what we think or want them to say.  

In our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet offers a message of hope.   Jerusalem’s time of exile will come to an end, and the glory of the Lord will once again shine on her.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  I believe that epiphanies or experiences of God’s presence still occur in our world and in each of our lives.  When have you felt God’s unexpected presence in your life? 
2.  How would you respond to someone who suggested that God’s offer of salvation was limited to just a chosen few? 
3.  Were you surprised that in this Gospel, the Magi weren’t Kings, that there may have been more or less than three of them, and that they didn’t have names?   

My penchant for collecting religious art is nothing new. It all started with the three porcelain Infants of Prague I received when I celebrated my first communion. I placed them on the dresser in my bedroom and thus my home altar and religious art collection was born. Though my tastes may have changed and the original Infants of Prague may have been lost in the attic I continue to collect.
Among the early statues was a porcelain blessed mother painted in pastel colors and equipped with a music mechanism which rendered “Immaculate Mary” beautifully. I have written about her before. Another favorite was a holy family that was part of the same porcelain collection though without the music box. It portrayed a very serene Holy Family. Mary was seated with a scroll in her hands teaching the young boy, Jesus. Joseph, depicted as a carpenter was standing behind both of them. 
I loved the warmth and dedication of Mary and the protective presence of Joseph. To this young beholder, the statue embodied the perfect family. I totally identified with the young Jesus and wanted my mom and dad to be like Mary and Joseph. Though I consider myself very lucky, having grown up in a loving family there were moments when we strayed from my ideal. At those times I would go to my room, overcome with feelings of guilt and disappointment and would gaze upon the Holy family asking that my family be just like them. 
Once I entered my teenage years I boxed up my religious art collection and put it in the attic. Posters and paraphernalia of Alice Cooper took its place, not so much because I liked Rock and Roll but rather because I felt the need to fit in with my classmates. When that did not work I gradually returned to my religious art collection. However, the porcelain ideals I had collected as a young boy remained in the attic, where they are still today. I had come to realize that the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph could not have been purely pastel and porcelain. If they were truly human, there must have been moments of disagreement, anger, misunderstanding, etc. because that is what real people do. We laugh together and we cry together. We lift one another up and we put one another down. We take pride in one another’s accomplishments and at times we disappoint one another. Family life is not just pastel and porcelain, it is filled with ups and down, leaps forward and setbacks. Family life is real, not ideal. This holds for our nuclear families, our extended families, our neighborhoods, our Basilica community and the church at large.
The feast of the Holy Family celebrates the notion of family as it was realized in the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and not the porcelain and pastel caricature we have made it out to be. The Holy Family reminds us that family life and all Christian relationships for that matter are pathways toward holiness. The feast celebrates that holiness is attained in our day-to-day relationship with others. The feast affirms that all of us are called to holiness, no matter how far we might think ourselves removed from holiness and no matter how little we resemble the porcelain and pastel image of the Holy Family.  
I have a new sculpture of the Holy Family in my collection. Rather than porcelain and pastel the new one is made our of partially glazed clay, and semi abstract. When I am disappointed in myself or others I spend some time with this new sculpture of the Holy Family and I console myself that it is holiness we are after, not perfection.


Yesterday, an electrician stopped by to do some repair work. He commented on the many nativity scenes that are exhibited in the house. Never had he seen anything like it. He asked how many I had and where they were from. We walked around the house to view all crèches. With the help of my catalogue I was able to talk about each one of them. When we were done I invited him to go to The Basilica to see the many crèches we have on exhibit in the John XXIII Gallery.

All these crèches together make for a great collection. Some of them are carved in wood or stone, others are made from scrap materials such as newspapers, bottles cap or soda cans. Some are made of fired clay, either colorfully painted or not at all. One of my favorites I found in a small town in Provence. The artist uses pebbles found in a local river. On them she paints the figures of the nativity.

What is remarkable about each one of these handmade crèches is how individual artists have represented the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in their own image. Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the other figures in the scene often look like the artist who made them. As a result we have African, American, Asian, Australian and European versions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The animals surrounding them usually are the sheep we read about in Scripture. Sometimes the artist augmented or even replaced the sheep with more local animals such as llamas, warthogs or lions. In some of the crèches the artist has traded the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for gifts that are more typical to the culture of the artist such as monkeys and an armadillo which are given to Jesus by the Magi of the Amazon.

As he left my house the electrician asked me why I collect nativity scenes. I told him that beyond the fact that all these crèches are exceedingly beautiful and interestingly diverse they also pointedly testify to the reality of the Incarnation which we celebrate during Advent and Christmas. At the beginning of time we were created in the image of God.  In Jesus, God took on our image and became one of us so we could be shown how to become more like God. This is really the essence of what we celebrate at Christmas: Jesus became one of us so we might become like him. This is what these crèches are all about. They show Jesus as one of us in our great diversity so all of us together may become like him. And that, I told him, is why I collect them.

He looked at me with a slight sense of bewilderment. Then he smiled, shook my hand and without asking any further questions went on his merry way.

Thank You for Giving Joyously and Generously…

During this season of giving and thanksgiving we would like to recognize the generosity of our community.  The spirit of The Basilica is strong because so many people believe in it and actively support it with their time and financial contributions.  

As we look ahead to The Basilica’s future, we plan for growing programs, ministries, and outreach.  We plan for all of our members to continue to find support and opportunities to grow spiritually.  We plan for beautiful music, inspiring liturgies and hospitality.  All of this and so much more are possible because of your generosity.  

People give for many reasons: the feeling of making a difference, a sense of Christian responsibility, or the feeling of belonging to a great Catholic community at The Basilica.  Maybe someone you respect asked you to give. Maybe you give to make the world a better place.  But what ever the reason we thank you - The Basilica would not be the same with out your help.

Year End Giving…

We are so grateful for your financial support throughout the year.  If you are able please prayerfully consider these holiday giving opportunities

  • Make a pledged financial commitment to The Basilica for 2015. Your pledged commitment helps us budget for the coming year. Pledge forms are at the back of church, or pledge online.
  • Consider a special Christmas gift to The Basilica. Beautiful music, incense, candlelight, and special prayers all make Christmas at The Basilica a moving experience. Your special gift helps us provide a meaningful Christmas for thousands of members and guests.  Christmas envelopes can be found in the pews or you can donate online.
  • Make a year end gift of stock, bonds or mutual funds.  Please contact Audra Johnson or 612.317.3422 for more information.

You may also contact Tim DeCelle or 612.317.3472 for answers to any questions you may have about supporting The Basilica. Your contributions are greatly appreciated!

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  This Feast reminds us that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born into the human family of Mary and Joseph.  

When I was growing up it used to be very easy to say what a family was.   It was a mom and dad and any number of kids. Through the years, however, I have seen that families come in all shapes and sizes.  As a result, I have had to continually expand my understanding of family. What is most important in regard to families, though, (whatever their configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships, that are lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community.   Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.   

Our Gospel for this Sunday is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.   We are told  that to fulfill the prescriptions of the Jewish law Mary and Joseph  “ took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord,”  After they had “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”  

There are different options for our first and second readings for the Feast of the Holy Family.  For the first reading this weekend we are using the reading from Sirach.   This book offers practical guidelines for the Jewish people of that time.  In the section we read today we are reminded that “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”    In our second reading for this Feast we use a section of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  In it Paul offers practical advice for the followers of Jesus.   “Brothers and sisters:  Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  In our Gospel we are told that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the law.  Are there any customs/traditions that are followed in your family?  
2.  How do the qualities/characteristics articulated by Paul in our second reading today find expression in your relationships? 
3.   What is your definition of “family?”   

The Basilica of Saint Mary has a magnificent set of bronze doors. Mgr Reardon commissioned them in the 1950s to replace the original wooden doors.  Twice a year they are waxed so they retain their sheen. They are grand and shiny and inviting. Weather permitting they are open.

All sorts of people make their way through those doors. They vary in race, age, gender, creed. Some almost run up the majestic stairs toward them. Others approach them very hesitatingly wondering if they will be allowed inside. Still others move slowly, bent under the weight of many burdens. Once inside they stand in awe, kneel down in payer, light candles, bless themselves in the baptismal font or simply lie down in a pew to take a nap or hide from the cold.

There was a time when only Catholics in good standing would dare to enter through these doors. Today we are much more inviting and welcome anyone who is in need of prayer, quiet, rest or solace. There was a time when our majestic doors stood as a warning to all who were about to enter, today they are a shiny symbol of our commitment to hospitality.

During this beautiful season of Advent we mediate on the fact that the doors were shut on Mary and Joseph as they were looking for a place to spend the night. They were forced to retreat into a cave or a stable which they shared with farm animals. The one who became the door to salvation for all humankind found the doors closed to him

As we mediate on what happened to the Holy Family, Advent thus offers an invitation to all of us to open wide our doors: the doors of our souls to Christ, the doors of our heart to all who need our love and the doors to our homes to all who need shelter. And our church is to show the way by example. Too often, the beautifully crafted door of our cathedrals, churches and chapels have closed to too many people.

Christ, the one who found the doors closed to him yet opened his heart to all asks us to do the same. As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus let us take Jesus’ example to heart and open wide the doors of our souls, our hearts and our homes.

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. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser 

In our Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we read the story of the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”   Mary did not reject the Angel Gabriel’s words or ask for more information. Instead she asked a very practical question.  “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  In reply the Angel Gabriel said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.   Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”    The confirming sign that God would make this happen is the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren.  Mary’s response was one of complete faith.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”    

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, our Gospel today reminds us that we are called to imitate Mary, to be open to God’s work in our lives and to make a home for Christ in our hearts.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the second Book of Samuel.   King David “was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies.”    Since David was settled in his palace, he wanted to build a suitable place for the Ark of God.  God, though, had other ideas: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”   God wanted to be clear that God was in charge and that it was by God’s doing that David’s kingdom would endure.  “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,………………Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;  your throne shall stand firm forever."   

Our second reading this Sunday is the closing verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In is a hymn of praise.   “To the only wise God, though Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever.   Amen."   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

1.   Like Mary, have you ever felt that God was calling you to do something? 
2.   What do you need to do to make a home for Christ in your heart this Christmas?
3.   What causes you to give glory to God?