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Archives: December 2018
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 Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” meaning manifestation. In the Western Rite Catholic Churches this Feast is celebrated as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East.
On this feast we always read the Gospel story of the visit to the new born Christ child by astrologers or magi from the East. If you read the Gospel text carefully, however, you will notice that the magi are never identified as “kings” and their number is never specified. (We presume there were three, because there were three gifts.) The three “kings” we sing of comes to us from our verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
The message of this feast is important and it is stated well by St. Paul in our second reading today. “………... the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.” In essence Paul is saying that Jesus came to save all people for all time. His manifestation to the magi (being Gentiles, not Jews) reminds us of this most basic fact.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It speaks of the restoration of Jerusalem, when the Israelites will return from their exile. The new Jerusalem will be a light to the nations for the Lord will shine upon it.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- While there have been and will continue to be dramatic and powerful epiphanies of our God, I also believe that subtler epiphanies take place all the time. Can you remember a time when you experienced an epiphany of God’s presence and grace?
- If Jesus Christ came to save all people for all time, why do you suppose some people want to put limits on God’s salvific will?
- Can you find the Epiphany stained glass window in the Basilica?
“The world must be educated to love Peace, to build it up and defend it.”
Pope Paul VI, 1968
In 1967, Pope Paul VI established a special feast day dedicated to universal peace. Each year, on January 1, the Pope offers a declaration that articulates important and relevant social doctrine for our day. This World Day of Peace Message addresses issues that resonate with specific struggles of our time—imminent crisis in the lives of people throughout the world.
With classic prophetic insight, we are challenged to see what we want to ignore. We are invited to enter into the struggle that pollutes our lives and threatens our humanity, today.
Historically, issues addressed in the World Day of Peace Message include themes of human dignity and common good in society. Grounded in a deep knowledge and commitment that every facet of our life intersects with our faith, the World Day of Peace Message calls us to open our hearts and minds to God’s love and mercy—both personally and collectively. We are guided on both a political and pastoral level, as we confront the issues in our life that are barriers to peace.
The World Day of Peace Message is an opportunity to re-center our lives and hearts—to identify that which is broken in our world community, and actively work to repair, reconcile, and rebuild.
In the World Day of Peace Message on January 1, 2019, Pope Francis calls us to embrace a deep conversion in our public dialogue and civic life. In his message “Good politics is at the service of peace,” Pope Francis compels us to understand that “Peace, in effect, is the fruit of a great political project grounded in mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings.”
Pope Francis encourages us: Political responsibility belongs to all citizens. Every person has an obligation to engage in dialogue and action to safeguard the ultimate dignity of every person. When “one out of every six children in our world is affected by the violence of war or its effects,” how do we stand up against corruption, fear, oppression or dishonesty? “When the exercise of political power aims only at protecting the interests of a few privileged individuals,” how do we change the politics to foster trust and work together for the common good?
Pope Francis compels everyone to be engaged in the work of advocating for and with those whose voices are marginalized. He encourages us to work to ensure the protection and fulfillment of the most vulnerable. “If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.”
“Good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”
“Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home.” This collaborative commitment and participation builds trust, removes fear and rejects isolation. “Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction.”
Ultimately, Pope Francis states this “great political project” of peace “entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal; and it has three inseparable aspects: peace with oneself…; peace with others…’ peace with all creation.” This New Year, let us commit to clothe ourselves with our Lord’s peace, and enter into the fray of political life—armed with God’s love, and embolden with God’s promise of forgiveness.
A few weeks ago, after the meeting of U.S. Bishop’s in Baltimore, I received an email from a friend. He was distressed and angry that the Vatican had intervened and asked the U.S. Bishops not to develop specific recommendations for how to handle malfeasance among their ranks. The Vatican asked them to wait until a meeting of the heads of the various bishop’s conferences from across the world that will take place in Rome this coming February. While my friend understood that it was perhaps better to deal with the issue of malfeasance on the part of bishops on a worldwide basis, he didn’t understand why the U.S. Bishops didn’t at least discuss the issue, without coming up with specific recommendations. Frankly, I think my friend has a right to be angry. At a minimum our bishops should have discussed this issue in a public forum. Once again, our bishops have failed to provide leadership at a critical time in our church—most specifically the church in the United States. And as a result more people are heading to the door on their way out of the church.
While I understand and respect people’s decision to leave—or at least take a break from our church—I would like to suggest that, from my perspective, they are leaving the church for the wrong reasons. Certainly our bishops have been a disappointment, but they are only a small part of our church. More important for us as Catholics is that we know and believe in Jesus Christ and his message of love, peace, care, and compassion. More important are the sacraments and especially the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. More important is our belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God that speaks to our lives today. And more important is our belief that whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Christ. These are the things that define and maintain our church.
Our church is much bigger and much better than the members of the hierarchy who have ill-served it. Yes, these men have had a very big and a very bad impact on our church. BUT, they are just a small part of our church. While their actions and their inaction have been and are very public and very problematic, they are just a small part of the church. From this perspective, I would like to suggest that it is the organization of our church, most specifically the hierarchy, and not our church, that people should be upset about. Catholics went through one crisis of faith when they discovered they couldn’t necessarily trust priests who ministered to them. We are now going through another as it becomes clear that many bishops have not fulfilled their duty to hold abusers and their enablers accountable. People have a right to be angry, disappointed, and upset about this.
The words transparency, openness, and honesty are much in vogue lately. Their high fashion status, though, doesn’t diminish their importance or necessity. In regard to our church, they call our bishops to a high standard of accountability. Certainly for some time now our leaders have failed to meet this standard. For this they need to confess their failings, repent, and establish clear standards of accountability. And they need to work with others, most especially the laity, to do this, and thus to provide the leadership we deserve. If they can’t do this, or are unwilling to do this, then they shouldn’t be surprised if people simply stop paying attention to them.
This year, as we celebrate the great Feast of Christmas, I extend a welcome to all those who, despite their discouragement, disappointment, and anger, will join us for worship at The Basilica as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The many and diverse people who fill our church are a visible reminder that we have a big God, and so we need a big church. A church that is much bigger and much better than our bishops. This Christmas especially, this is something for which I am particularly grateful.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/123018.cfm
This Sunday we observe the Feast of the Holy Family. This Feast celebrates Jesus’ birth into our world as a member of the human family of Mary and Joseph. It also reminds us that the Holy Family is a model for our own families.
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 had to continually expand my understanding of family. I say this because I have come to realize that families come in all shapes and sizes What is most important in regard to families (of whatever configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships. At their best they are marked by lives lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community. Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.
Our Gospel this Sunday is the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple. This story illustrates well the relationship of love that existed in the Holy Family. Note that there is no display of anger, no recriminations, and no resentment. Rather there is mutual respect, an effort at understanding, and above all love. Would that all families manifested these qualities.
There are two options for our first reading this Sunday. The one we will use at the Basilica is from the book of Sirach. This book is part of the Wisdom literature included in our Catholic Bible. If it is included in Protestant Bibles it is usually under the heading of “apocrypha books”. Following the theme of the Gospel, the section we read today reminds us of the ideals of family life: honoring and reverencing parents, caring for them, and exhibiting love and kindness toward them.
We also have two options for our second reading this weekend. The one we will use at the Basilica is from the First Letter of St. John. In this reading we are reminded that “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I once heard a speaker say that families should be defined by bonds of love versus bonds of relationship. Do you agree or disagree?
- How would you define a family?
- Have you ever thought of yourself as a child of God?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we read the familiar story of the Visitation --- Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Each of their lives has been touched by God’s powerful grace, and now both women are with child. The story is brief, but important. Mary has learned through the angel Gabriel that in her old age her cousin, Elizabeth is pregnant. In response to this news: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Elizabeth responded to Mary’s greeting by crying out in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” At the close of their encounter Elizabeth’s words to Mary are a message to all believers: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Clearly both Mary and Elizabeth were keenly aware of God’s work in their lives, and they rejoiced together in this shared knowledge. In this they are a model for all believers. They call us to believe in God’s ongoing and abiding presence in our lives and our world, and they remind us that we too will be blessed if we only believe that God’s promise to us will be fulfilled.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Micah. It contains the promise of a messiah made to the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity. “Thus says the Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be the ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
For our second reading this weekend we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews. It speaks of the new “covenant” that is offered to us in Jesus Christ. “He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you felt God’s grace touch your life?
- How did you respond to God’s grace when it touched your life?
- Paul says we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to you to be consecrated?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Many of you have reminded me that our Church needs to face today’s challenges with more direct action. Changes must be made that will prevent regression to old ways. I am taking additional steps in this Archdiocese to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.
A new position has been created in the Office of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment to ensure that the voice of survivors of clergy sexual abuse will be regularly heard within Archdiocesan leadership. To strengthen that voice, I want to say again today that any survivor who at any time entered into a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality provision is released from that provision. I also reiterate my pledge to meet with any survivors who would like to do so. I am leaving open all Friday afternoons in February, March and April for that purpose. Meetings at other times and places will still be available as well. Planning for spiritual outreach in 2019 is also underway. It will include opportunities, both at the parish and Archdiocesan levels, for reparation, spiritual renewal, and prayers for healing.
I also want to share a few thoughts regarding bishop accountability. This was a major topic at the recent meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As mentioned before, I strongly favor the creation of a lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop. It is clear to me that expanding meaningful lay involvement is essential for us to accomplish cultural change and put in place a credible and lasting process. In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons. The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.
I remain troubled by the failure to bring closure to the 2014 investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct with adult males leveled against my predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt. You will recall that Archbishop Nienstedt had delegated the investigation to his senior auxiliary bishop, who in turn sought the assistance of two separate law firms. In 2015, the investigative materials were submitted to the then-Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Also in 2015, the investigation’s underlying allegations were provided by the Archdiocese to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. As far as I know, any effort by the Vatican to further address the allegations was suspended in June 2015 when Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his office. Thus, the matter remains unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public. I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.
I am also aware that resolution of the 2014 investigation would, in itself, no longer fully address the question of Archbishop Nienstedt’s status. After the Archbishop had already resigned and left Minnesota, a separate allegation emerged. In 2016, Ramsey County shared with us and made public an allegation it received that in 2005, then-Bishop of New Ulm Nienstedt, while at a World Youth Day event in Germany, had invited two unaccompanied minors to his hotel room to get out of the rain and wet clothing. It is alleged that he then proceeded to undress in front of them and invited them to do the same. Archbishop Nienstedt denies this ever happened. My opinion is this allegation needs to be fully addressed before a definitive resolution of Archbishop Nienstedt’s suitability for ministry can be made. For that reason, I transmitted Ramsey County’s documentation concerning this allegation to the Nuncio in 2016.
I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedt’s ministry. My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I have no general juridical authority over Archbishop Nienstedt or any other bishop outside the Archdiocese.
I can, however, exercise some control over the types of public ministry permitted in this Archdiocese. With all of this in mind, and in the hope of advancing a resolution to this matter, I am taking the following steps:
- The Archdiocesan Ministerial Review Board has recently recommended that I publicly clarify that Archbishop Nienstedt, like any priest facing similar allegations, would not be free to exercise public ministry in this Archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved. I concur. As is true in similar cases involving our priests and deacons, this is not intended to convey an indication or presumption of guilt. While this may cause some pain, my hope is that this decision prompts further action by those with authority over Archbishop Nienstedt to resolve this question.
- Further, I will continue in the near term to advocate for the creation of an independent review board. In this way, my hope is that resolution of the allegations and any additional investigation can be handled in a way that is fair to all and worthy of public trust.
- Finally, I am publicly committing to transmit the entire 2014 Archdiocesan investigation to whatever national or regional review board is created.
I share the disappointment of many that more progress has not been made at the national and international levels to address bishop accountability. It is my prayer and hope that the February meeting Pope Francis is convening with bishops from around the world produces tangible results. We need a review board at the national or regional level - similar to our local Ministerial Review Board - with the authority and credibility to address allegations of misconduct against bishops and make fitness-for-ministry recommendations to the Holy Father.
As we continue our preparations this Advent for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ, I ask you to join me in praying for peace and healing for the men and women who have been abused, along with their families, friends, and communities. These are our brothers and sisters who deserve our prayers, love, and support more than ever.
With every good wish, I remain,
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Download the letter in PDF format.
My early years in Minneapolis were not always easy as I greatly missed my family and friends in Belgium. Christmas time was particularly difficult. So, I was very glad to host my late parents in December of 1996. They had never experienced the amount of cold and snow we get in Minnesota. We actually had to get them some appropriate coats and hats and mittens. Surprisingly, they took to it and showed me to find joy in every season, even in winter. They returned every year for a visit until my father’s death in 2002, albeit never again in the winter. My dear friend, the late Fr. André Laurier, S.M.M., spent Christmas 1998 with me. He too liked it here, no matter the season and returned many times. That Christmas André taught me a lesson which I treasure to this day.
André arrived the Friday before Christmas. On Saturday, we spent the day decorating the Christmas tree in my house. It was a lovely robust and fragrant blue spruce. Carefully unpacking each ornament, I told its story. Many stories resonated with André because he knew the Belgian people and places I was talking about. When we were all finished we went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. From the kitchen, a terrific noise called us back to the living room where we found the tree on the floor surrounded by shattered glass. André quietly cleaned up, carefully gathering the ornaments that had survived and collecting the pieces of those that shattered. Heartbroken, I needed to excuse myself. When I finally emerged from my room-and my sour mood—I found the tree back in place, the surviving ornaments ready to be hung, and the table set. We had a quiet dinner together and talked of all things Belgian.
The next day, when I returned home from Sunday liturgies, I found the tree decorated with the surviving ornaments and some new ornaments ready to be hung. Cleverly, André had bought some clear glass ornaments which he filled with the remnants of the broken ornaments.
Later that day, as we sat down to admire the tree, André noted that the many memories had proven too much for the tree and that maybe it was time to let go of some old memories in order to make room for new ones. “It is not that you have to let go completely” he said, “you can hold on to bits and pieces, but you need to make room for more.” And so I did!
My Christmas tree today is adorned with many ornaments. Some of the ornaments are old, reminding me of Belgium, but many of them are new, bearing the memories of my travels, my friends, and my Basilica life. And, still to this day, I treasure the clear glass ornaments filled with bits and pieces of old and treasured memories. Had it not been for André, who has since died, I wouldn’t have learned this great lesson of embracing and letting go; of seeing in the broken, the beauty of the future.
And though I still miss my Belgian family and friends at Christmas, I have totally embraced my new family and friends here in Minneapolis. I am so grateful for all of you, especially this Advent Season.
May you and your loved ones rejoice in the many blessings this season brings.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121618.cfm
What do you think I should do? I would guess all of us have asked this question at some point in our lives. This was the question the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John the Baptist in the first part of this weekend’s Gospel. In his response John didn’t propose that any of these individuals do anything difficult or unusual. Rather, he told them to do those things they already knew they should be doing. And so it is with us. As followers of Jesus we are not asked us to do anything extraordinary. Rather we are called to live in common care and concern with each other, and to be the face and hands of Christ to those we meet.
In the second part of this weekend’s Gospel we are told that the “people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” John had a clear sense of his mission and role, however, so he was able to tell the people: “one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. In it, Zephaniah reassures the people of Judah that if they remain faithful to God, they will have no reason to fear. “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.”
In the second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds the people of Philippe that: “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In our Gospel for this weekend, various groups asked John the Baptist what they should do. If you were to ask John this question, what do you think he would tell you to do?
- John the Baptist was clear about his role and mission in life. What do you think your mission in life is?
- In the first reading this weekend, Zephaniah told the people the Lord was in their midst. Paul told the Philippians that the Lord was near. Where do you find God close to you in your life?
Archbishop Hebda invites young adults (ages 18-39) of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to join him for listening sessions regarding the abuse crises in the Church.
Archbishop Hebda will respond to the open letter young adults of the archdiocese sent him this fall, and listen to their ideas for creating and maintaining safe environments, healing the Church, and moving forward together.
- Monday, December 10, 7 – 9 p.m. Archdiocesan Catholic Center (Saint Joseph Hall), Saint Paul.
- Wednesday, December 19, 7 – 9 p.m. Basilica of Saint Mary (Teresa of Calcutta Hall), Minneapolis.
I once heard someone say, “You have to die a little each day so that when death comes, you are ready.” This perturbed me a bit when I heard it. Do I do this each day? Do I give in to my selfish desires or choose to put what I want aside instead? Am I willing to place my trust in the unknown, knowing that the worst might happen? Can I be the one who stands up for someone who is being marginalized, even though I will be rejected? Am I filled with fear when I realize I am not in control of my life? Do I always have to have the last word to show someone else I have power over them? Can I put aside my opinions and ideas to allow someone else to share theirs even though they are different than mine? Do I have to respond in anger when someone says something I don’t agree with? Am I transparent in all my relationships or do I just let others see what I want them to see? Am I always honest, really honest, with myself and everyone in my life?
During this season of Advent, it might be a good time to think about dying, even though we are preparing to celebrate a birth. In order for something or Someone to be born in us, we have to make room in the inn of our hearts. That means letting go, releasing, surrendering, relinquishing, giving in, submitting, renouncing, conceding.
It isn’t easy. In fact, it is probably the most difficult thing to do and that’s because of our strong egos. We resist the right thing to do. We are afraid to be different. We are afraid to go against the tide. We want to be liked by others around us. We take pride in our many accomplishments that we think set us above those around us.
But here we are in Advent. The season of waiting. Waiting for what? I don’t like waiting. Maybe you don’t either. But there are so many things in life we have to wait for, i.e. for the light to turn green; for a test result; for your birthday; for tomorrow to come, etc., etc. We are asked to wait during Advent. We are asked to be patient in our waiting and to be watchful because we know not the day nor the hour. We are asked to stay awake and to be on guard. So we wait. We wait in anticipation and joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into our very broken world. We need Jesus to come. This is what we wait for in Advent. Let us hope we are truly ready for his coming.