Archives: June 2016

A Story of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070316.cfm 

In our Gospel this Sunday, we are told that Jesus appointed 72 of his disciples and “sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.”  (These 72 are in addition to the 12 disciples he had sent out in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel.)  In sending out the 72 he gave them clear and specific instructions.  “Carry no money bag, no sack,  no sandals; and greet no one along the way.”   Further, they were told: “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.”   When the disciples entered a town if they were welcomed, they were to “cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.”  If a town didn’t receive them they were to “go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’” 

At first glance, the instructions to take nothing with them and not to move around if they find better lodgings might seem a bit severe.   I think the reason for these instructions was twofold.  First, the disciples were to rely solely on God.  Taking nothing with them reinforced this.   And second, the reason for their mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God.   They were not to get caught up in their own needs and wants.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the final chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.   In the section we read this weekend, the message is clear.  Despite their exile, God continued to love and care for his people, and offered them another chance to live in the covenant God had made with them.  The people were called to “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her;  exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her………………...Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.”   

In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians.  In the selection we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his reason for rejoicing:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…………”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In our Gospel this weekend Jesus is clear that nothing is to hold his disciples back from proclaiming the Kingdom of God.   Is there something that holds you back from following Christ?  
  2. What does the Kingdom of God mean to you?  How are you called to proclaim it? 
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he talked about boasting in the cross of Jesus?   

Grace Over Vengeance

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

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

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

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

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

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062616.cfm   

This Sunday we celebrate the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.   Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two sections, and it is tied together by the overarching theme of “the cost of discipleship.”   In the first section James and John wanted to “call down fire from heaven” because a Samaritan village refused to welcome them.   Jesus rebuked them for this suggestion.  In the second section three people approached Jesus inquiring about following him.   They discover, though, that the cost of discipleship was perhaps too steep for them.   

The point of this Gospel is that following Jesus is not always easy.  There are certain “demands” that are part and parcel of a being disciple of Jesus.  While some of these demands are the same for everyone, (e.g. love one another, forgive our brother or sister from our heart, share with those who are less fortunate), some are specific for particular individuals.   The challenge for each of us is to be realistic and honest about what Jesus is asking of us if we are to follow him.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the first book of Kings.   It is the story of the call of Elisha to be a prophet to succeed Elijah.   It parallels the theme of the Gospel in that Elisha realized that being a “prophet” brings with it certain demands.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians.   In the section we read today, Paul responds to certain Christians from Jerusalem who have followed him to Galatia and have urged the Galatian community to adapt certain parts of the Mosiac Law.    Paul is clear and blunt: “For freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What specific thing(s) is Jesus asking of you in order for you to follow him? 
  2. Of the “demands of discipleship” that apply to all of us, what do you find most difficult? 
  3. In the closing sentence of today’s second reading Paul says:  “But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”    How does one know, though, that they are being guided by the Spirit?   

A brief history and current issues

In this Year of Mercy, the Basilica of St. Mary has partnered with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) to co-sponsor three refugee families.  Our first family arrived in Minnesota in February 2016.  Of Somalian descent, the family had previously lived in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, both of which are located in Kenya.  These camps were originally formed in 1991 to help Somalians fleeing the brutal civil war which had erupted in their country. 

Today, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world with over 330,000 inhabitants, most of whom are of Somalian descent (Rivett-Carnac, 2016).  Many of the people who came to Dadaab never left, living there as many as 25 years.   As life continues to go on, people have been born, married, had children and died within the camp.  Some families are now welcoming the third generation of their family to live in Dadaab (Hujale, 2016). 

In fact, for the first family the Basilica is co-sponsoring, at least three of the four children were born inside the Dadaab camp and, until arriving in the United States, they had never known life outside of refugee camps. On a recent outing with parishioners to the Como zoo, the parents of our refugee family were pointing out various animals to their children, showing them the types of wildlife that the parents remembered seeing in Somalia.  These animals were not present in the refugee camps and so the children were seeing these animals for the first time here in Minnesota.

However, life within the camps may quickly change as the Kenyan government has recently announced they will be closing the Dadaab refugee camp.  Kenya’s primary reason for closing the camp stems from security concerns related to multiple attacks that have been conducted by the Al-Shabab militant group within Kenya, including the 2013 Westgate mall siege in Nairobi and the 2015 attack at Garissa University that killed 147 students. 

According to the Kenyan government, Al-Shabab is actively recruiting and harboring terrorists within the camps (Mutiga, 2016).  The Guardian’s Murithi Mutiga reports that “refugees in the camp were especially shocked because the announcement followed recent improvements in security in Dadaab.” 

In speaking with people living in the camps, Mutiga interviewed “Fadumo Ali Noor, who fled from Baidow in south-western Somalia in the early 1990s [and] said: “I never slept last night after listening to the news on the radio.  We appreciate all the work Kenya has done hosting us, but we urge them to reconsider because this is the only home we know.”  Another gentleman that Mutiga interviewed said “This has been the home of three generations of my family for 25 years.  All my children were born here and my daughters got married and bore my grandchildren here.  I can’t see how I can build a new life in Somalia where the fighting is still going on.” 

As a first step in the closure process, the Kenyan government has disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which has traditionally handled the paper work for refugee registration (Kennedy, 2016).  According to NPR, the Kenyan government “provided no details about a timeline or where the hundreds of thousands of refugees would go should the camps be closed.” 

The Kenyan government has set aside $10MM dollars and established a committee to develop a plan and timeline for the camp’s closure.  The first committee report was due to be issued at the end of May 2016 (Mutiga, 2016) however, as of the writing of this post, no additional information has been publicly released. 

 

Sources:

  • Hujale, Moulid.  “Life in Dadaab: three gernations of refugees isolated from Kenyan society.”  The Guardian.  Guardian News and Media Limited, 2016.  Web.  27 January 2016.   <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/27/life-dadaab-three-generations-of-refugees-isolated-from-kenyan-society>
  • Kennedy, Merrit.  “Kenya Says It Will Shut Down The World’s Largest Refugee Camp.” NPR.  NPR, 2016.  Web.  7 May 2016.  <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/07/477141180/kenya-says-it-will-shut-down-the-worlds-largest-refugee-camp>
  • Mutiga, Murithi.  “Refugees urge Kenyan leaders to rethink closure of Dadaab camp.”  The Guardian.  Guardian News and Media Limited, 2016.  Web.  13 May 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/13/refugees-urge-kenyan-leaders-to-rethink-closure-of-dadaab-camp>
  • Rivett-Carnac, Mark.  “Kenya Is Planning to Close the ‘World’s Largest Refugee Camp.’” Time.  Time Inc., 2016.  Web.  12 May 2016. <http://time.com/4327239/kenya-close-refugee-camp-dadaab>

 

 

During this Year of Mercy, it seems particularly jarring to hear stories of families fleeing violence in Syria: The unimaginable terror at home turning into unimaginable terror on the trip toward safety. What state of desperation would lead a family on this journey? 

The whole experience of migration in the Middle East and Europe seems unreal, as I live safely in Minnesota. Vulnerable people fleeing for their lives. Countries welcoming—Countries closing their borders. Fear everywhere.

I want to help. But it seems unlikely that I can have any impact. So I wonder, what is the situation on the U.S. border? What is happening in my own country? How are we treating those escaping state sponsored violence or life threatening poverty?

To find answers to these questions, I joined a small group of Basilica parishioners on a trip to the Mexico/US border. We met with groups living and working on the border, and heard stories of people seeking shelter in our country. I learned so much about things I never hear on mainstream media. While I am still processing what I experienced, I am confident about two things: This is an issue our faith calls us to be actively engaged in.  And, this is an issue that is very relevant to us in Minnesota. 

To be sure, this is a complicated issue. The issue of immigration intersects with a myriad of laws and government policies. It taps into conflicting emotions on national identity. Yet, hearing people share their stories of desperation, and witnessing the physical drama of deportation, I became convicted of the simple truth that we must enter the confusion, learn, and get involved. We must act on behalf of the most vulnerable—to serve, accompany, and defend the migrants on our border. Complicated, yes. But through the lens of faith, a bit more clear.

I learned several things on this trip to the U.S. southern border:

I learned about harsh and punitive policies and laws the U.S. government has put in place, with the expectation that this will deter migration.

I also learned when one is desperate enough—fleeing violence or oppression—these policies or laws are not effective. It is absolutely beyond my imagination to understand the despair one must feel to cross the Mediterranean Sea, or the Sonora desert. Yet, this is the plight of our sisters and brothers all around our globe—including on our southern border. Our neighbors are desperate and need our help. How shall we respond?

I learned, while the Sonora desert is one of the most lush and beautiful deserts in the world, it has also become one of the deadliest corridors for migrants. Since the mid-1990s, at least 6,000 men, women, and children have died trying to cross the US/Mexico border.  In an attempt to deter migration, government policies have funneled migrants into the most dangerous and remote areas of the border.

I learned as immigration laws and borders have changed over time—it is now a felony to re-enter the United States without proper papers. A felony crime. As a first-generation American, I am troubled by the criminalization of migration. As a Christian, I am appalled. 

I invite you to join me over this next year to learn more about immigration, and to find ways to get involved. Together with migrant brothers and sisters in our community, we can work our way through this complicated issue. Pope Francis states, “Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others.” Let us live up to this trust. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061916.cfm

I suspect at one time or another most of us have been put in that uncomfortable position when someone asks us what people think of them or what people are saying about them.   These moments are awkward at best, particularly because most of the time the people asking the question suspect that something is amiss.   In our Gospel today Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”   I suspect the disciples were more than happy to fill Jesus in on the local gossip, particularly since it reflected well on him.  “They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”   Jesus, though, was not satisfied in knowing what others thought of him.   In fact, His next question was very personal.  “But who do you say that I am?”   Peter replied: “The Christ of God.”  Jesus then went on to tell them that he must suffer greatly and be killed.   He then told his disciples:  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

Jesus was clear with his disciples.   It is not enough to know what others are saying about him.  We are called to know Jesus in our own life.   As importantly, Jesus reminds us that the cross is not an optional part of following him.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah.   It is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death. “and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.”    It reminds us that Christ’s life, death and resurrection was part of God’s plan from the beginning of time.  

We continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians for our second reading this Sunday.   It reminds us that there are no distinctions or degrees among the followers of Christ.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. If Jesus were to ask you “Who do you say that I am?”  how would you respond? 
  2. Luke is the only evangelist who includes the word “daily” to Jesus admonition to take up your cross and follow him.   Why do you think this is? 
  3. Have you ever heard someone try to make distinctions among the followers of Christ?   

A few weeks ago I read, “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee for my book group. While much ink has been spilled in debating how it compares with, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” clearly that is not my area of expertize, so I will not venture into that discussion. I did enjoy the book, and it was a source of a good discussion for my book group. Very specifically, though, I was particularly struck by one sentence near the end of the book. Jean Louise was involved in a long conversation with her uncle Jack around the issues of race and prejudice. At one point her uncle, Jack, said to Jean Louise: “Prejudice a dirty word, and faith a clean one, have one thing in common: they both begin where reason ends.” 

When I read these words I was struck by their simplicity, but also their truth. Both prejudice and faith are not grounded in reason or logic. They are an act of the will that has no logical explanation. Now, I suspect some people would argue that with both prejudice and faith there is some rational explanation for them, or that they have their roots in experience and/or knowledge. I believe, though, that when push comes to shove, the proof for this position is elusive and vague. 

In speaking of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Faith is confidence reassurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice that there is no reference to reason or logic, no attempt to explain faith or give a rational explanation for it. Faith is not a “provable” proposition; it simply is. I think something similar is true in regard to prejudice. 

While there are times when I wish there would be some “proof” for my faith, I have come to believe that if this were to occur, I would be very disappointed. Because faith has to do with things beyond our human awareness and comprehension, by its very nature it can’t be proven or gotten to by reason or logic. Faith like prejudice begins where reason ends. 

On one level it does bother me a little that faith and reason have in common the fact that they begin where reason ends. On a deeper level, though, I am grateful that faith is not an easy or provable proposition. I want and need something to believe in that is greater than myself and beyond my comprehension. Additionally, though, I am also embarrassed that at times prejudice has crept into my life disguised as insight or knowledge. With both faith and prejudice, the challenge is not to try to use reason as their basis, but to remember that they both begin where reason ends. 

On a recent immersion trip to the U.S./Mexico border, a team of Basilica parishioners learned first hand about the realities of life in the shadows for those crossing our border seeking opportunity.  Hear about their experiences in the Arizona desert and Nogales, Mexico.  Parishioners share the stories about what they saw, who they met, and what they learned in a short presentation at 11:00 am on June 12.

Faced with fighting and uncontrolled violence, men, women and children are choosing to flee their homes in Central America only to face new risks as they attempt to cross the desert and the border.  If they make it, they face new dangers of deportation and forced family separations.  What does our faith call us to do? 

 

If there is one term that has defined Pope Francis’s leadership, it’s probably the word compassion. Amidst a contentious U.S. election cycle with explosive words towards immigrants, it’s refreshing to see a global leader speak with grace and compassion.

I was particularly impressed with his recent trip to Mexico where the Pope said Mass at a Mexican border city. And I was also impressed when he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican after a trip to Greece. He literally “welcomed the stranger.”

In a recent address to priests, he affirmed the need for mercy:

“Nothing unites us to God more than an act of mercy, for it is by mercy that the Lord forgives our sins and gives us the grace to practice acts of mercy in his name. Nothing strengthens our faith more than being cleansed of our sins.”

Mercy is not a real strong issue to run a political campaign on. Even though Francis is not up for reelection, it is refreshing to see a leader speak openly and freely about that issue.

There is tendency for the public to want a narrative condensed into easy-to-understand issues. With all the different issues facing the millions of displaced persons, a streamlined narrative is nearly impossible.

That’s why, in this Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church, it’s important to remember compassion in all of our dealings, especially with strangers

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