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These past few weeks I have had so many intense conversations with people about where they are in regard to their faith life. These conversations have been so rich and diverse and filled with wonderful stories of how God has interacted in their lives.
One such encounter was with a friend who is my age and who has gone through several tragedies in her life, the latest being the loss of a child. She told me she prayed and prayed for God to do something and heal her daughter; it did not happen and her child died a slow painful death. She was truly grateful for all those who were involved in her daughter’s illness from doctors to family members and friends. She was also grateful for her faith community that surrounded her but the one she had the problem with was God. She felt that God wants nothing to do with our lives and has just left us on earth to fend for ourselves. I tried to suggest to her that God works through doctors and the community that surrounded her with care and concern but she would have none of it. She said that they were responsible for all that, not God. It left me wondering about doubt and what we can learn from it. It also made me remember that sometimes it is easier to blame God than to just see it as part of life.
There is pain and suffering throughout everyone’s life. That is a very real part of life. Just listen to the news some evening and you will hear about the suffering of many. It seems so unfair and cruel for these things to happen to us. In our anger and loss it is so much easier to blame someone than to face the reality of what happened. I believe this response is part of the process of grieving and the stages of dying.
Acceptance of a loved one’s suffering or death comes much later on as we go through denial, blame and anger in the mourning process. We experience various kinds of loss—loss of control, loss of companionship, loss of a loved one, loss of trust and sometimes loss of faith. If we feel like we have lost our faith in God that can leave us feeling terribly alone and without hope.
All of these things that we may experience are very normal in the life of a Christian. Just because we have come to the point of thinking that we have lost our faith in God, doesn’t mean we really have. Being filled with doubt is common in many of the lives of the saints. Doubt can be an unforeseen gift…it takes us to the place of re-evaluating our relationship with God. In the darkness of doubt we can be confronted with either despair or hope…two very opposite places to be. Whenever I have come to this place in my life, I find it impossible to pray. Do I really believe that God answers our prayers?
Perhaps, the reason we pray is not because God needs it but because we do. Praying for ourselves or someone else really is about teaching us to get out of ourselves and think about someone else. It’s about turning our hearts towards loving someone else as much as we love ourselves. I need my faith community around me. Sometimes in the darkness it is my faith community that prays when I cannot. This is the power of community and being part of the Body of Christ. This is the reason why I can’t leave and I choose to stay.
As the snow gently falls outside my office window it is hard to imagine that come July 12 and 13 the snow on the east lawn will be replaced by concert goers, vendors, and back by popular demand the silent disco as our community celebrates the 25th anniversary Basilica Block Party.
In an era when new festivals pop-up weekly and just as many never make it to year two—25 years is a true accomplishment. This accomplishment is only possible because of some very visionary thinking—an incredible group of staff and volunteers both past and present, as well as all of you. The Basilica parish that has embraced this summer tradition for the last quarter century.
To celebrate, please join us as our community celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Basilica Block Party with a little pre-party on Sunday, June 2! After all of our Sunday Masses, you will have your one and only chance to buy fee-free tickets to this year’s block party, exclusive volunteer openings only for parish members, fun giveaways, and a chance to walk down memory lane with some of our favorite ad campaigns, t-shirts, and photos from years gone by.
Personally, this will be my 12th Basilica Block Party, something I could never have imagined when I started as a wide-eyed Block Party intern in 2007. Fast forward to today and even after all these year it is still hasn’t lost its charm. It is still my absolute favorite event of the summer.
Over the years I have gotten to see some pretty amazing concerts and been exposed to bands that I would otherwise never have taken the time to see. In my opinion there is no better way to spend a warm summer night in Minnesota than to be outside listening to live music with The Basilica as your backdrop.
It still gives me chills looking from our beloved Basilica back to the bands rocking out on stage with a sea of people in between enjoying what so many have worked so hard to put together. It is an incredible event and this year once again promises to be a great weekend of fun and music benefiting the efforts of The Basilica Landmark’s mission to preserve, protect, and restore The Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations and our St. Vincent de Paul ministry to help our neighbors in need.
I hope you will join us on July 12 and 13 for 2019 Cities 97 Basilica Block Party to celebrate this summer tradition with great food, good friends, and tasty beverages. And don’t forget the unbelievable bands including Kacey Musgraves, Jason Mraz, Semisonic, CHVRCHES, Dawes, HANSON, The Jayhawks, Metric, Anderson East, JOHNYSWIM, Flora Cash, Ruston Kelly, Lissie, and Yam Haus for two nights of amazing music.
Check out the the The Basilica Block Party's website for ticket information.
Our Homeless Jesus sculpture has received quite a bit of media attention recently. Apparently the press learned that an ambulance had been dispatched to The Basilica thinking that a person was sleeping on the bench. This story did not surprise me. I have personally witnessed first responders getting out of an ambulance ready to help the person on the bench, only to realize that it was a sculpture. I watched them use their phones to take some pictures, maybe to alert their colleagues.
The artist, Timothy Schmalz intentionally created a very realistic sculpture which he hoped would push us to face the persistent problem of homelessness. As I write this letter it is -28 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in these temperatures some people will have no choice but to spend the night outside.
I know that not everyone loves our Homeless Jesus. Some people think we should not represent the resurrected Jesus in the image of a homeless person. However, by depicting Jesus as a homeless person or more importantly, being asked to see Jesus in homeless people we simply illustrate the message of Matthew 25: ““Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Others have argued that the money spent on the Homeless Jesus should have been used to alleviate the suffering of those in need. The Basilica has a very strong commitment to helping all those in need. Our approach is two-pronged: alleviation and education. Thus, on the one hand we offer direct help to those in need and we work to change systems that cause and perpetuate poverty and inequality. On the other hand we are also intent on changing people’s heart and mind so that they too might be moved to help those in need. And that is exactly what the Homeless Jesus intends to do: change people’s heart and mind.
The sculpture is not so much about the bronze Jesus it represents, but rather about the suffering person in whom we ought to recognize Jesus. Many of us are a bit more like Peter than like Mary. Peter courageously declared to Jesus that he would never leave him, and yet he denied knowing Jesus after his arrest and he ran away when Jesus was crucified. By contract without making grandiose statements, Mary, the Mother of Jesus together with Mary of Magdala and John the Beloved stayed with him. They were not able to prevent his death but they stayed with him even as he was dying on the cross.
We received Homeless Jesus last November. Since then we have seen people quietly sitting on the bench next to him with their hands placed on his pierced feet. We have found flowers and a lit candle left beside him. And just a few weeks ago as the winter was setting in, someone lovingly covered him with a red blanket. It is our hope that the Homeless Jesus will move us to similar and even greater acts of kindness not just to the sculpture but more importantly to the people it represents.
The Basilica has spent the last year developing a strategic plan that will guide and sustain our community into the future. We have focused on what makes The Basilica unique and how to deliberately assess our work to ensure that we are meeting the objectives of the Mission and Vision of The Basilica. The evaluation and planning professionals who assisted us in our strategic planning encouraged us to answer the question: how do you know when you’ve met your goal? We are hard at work developing a system to assess our programs and ministries, so we can continue to invest our time and resources in what is working and “bless and release” what is not. This is hard work. Our programs and ministries were created to meet a specific need at a specific time. Staff and volunteers sustain programs because they believe in the ministry’s mission and are invested in its success. It can be hard to look at organizational practices objectively when it’s what you’ve always done, but we must assess strategically and prayerfully to thrive into the future.
I believe that our Archdiocese, the wider Catholic Church in America, and the Vatican need to undergo a similar examination. Earlier this year the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had a meeting scheduled to consider a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct (or the failure to address misconduct). Shortly before the meeting began, the Vatican instructed the group to postpone the discussion. The Vatican justified this request because they were working on a global policy that would circumvent any local or national policy. While I believe that a worldwide practice to hold bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope accountable for cover-up actions is needed, we cannot wait while the Vatican’s bureaucratic wheels slowly turn.
The USCCB’s proposed policies would remove a barrier currently being used as an excuse by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to not pursue allegations against former Archbishop Nienstedt. Current Archdiocesan leadership has declined to pursue allegations again Nienstedt because he no longer serves or resides in Minnesota. Additionally, Church leaders have refused to release the findings of an internal investigation into Nienstedt because they have no jurisdictional authority outside of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. These are old and unacceptable excuses. These are the kinds of excuses that led to years and years of abuse in the past. We need policies that protect our congregations everywhere. Many of the atrocities of the past could have been caught and ended quickly if dioceses across the country had shared information, worked together, and taken responsibility to police themselves and others.
The Basilica’s strategic planning group has also discussed how The Basilica does not operate in a vacuum. The work of The Basilica goes beyond our campus and there are other organizations who are engaging in similar work. We must learn to work in partnership or cede work to others who are better equipped. The larger Church also must do this. The Church is not a civil law enforcement agency, so when illegal activities are suspected or reported, we must work with those who are better suited than the church. The Church should also engage professionals to provide expanded professional training on the most recent research concerning abuse of priests, Church leaders, and seminarians of the Archdiocese.
Please pray for our local strategic planning committee as we continue to work towards a plan for our Basilica’s future and encourage our local and national Church leaders to put aside bureaucratic silos to build a better future for our Church.
Parish Council Chair
The Basilica of Saint Mary
In November 2018, the U.S. Catholic Bishops published a pastoral letter entitled Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—a Pastoral Letter Against Racism. Amid competing crises and issues demanding attention, the bishops of the Catholic Church rose to the occasion to address racism, “one particularly destructive and persistent form of evil.” Acknowledging that strides have been made in our country, they state, “racism still infects our nation.”
The issue of racism is understood in different ways. Here, in this call to healing, the U.S. Bishops explain, “Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful… Every racist act…is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God.”
Racism takes many different forms. “It can be seen in deliberate, sinful acts. In recent times, we have seen bold expressions of racism by groups as well as individuals.” It can be experienced “in the form of the sin of omission when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.” Racism can “be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture.” “Racism can also be institutional, when practices or traditions are upheld that treat certain groups of people unjustly. The cumulative effects of personal sins of racism have led to social structures of injustice and violence that make us all accomplices in racism.”
Despite previous work on racism, the Bishops state, “racism still profoundly affects our culture…. This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts… People are still being harmed, so action is needed.”
Conversion: The Bishops proclaim, “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and reform our institutions and society. …All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform.”
The challenges inherent in this conversion seem daunting. Yet our faith reminds us that God’s love is a reconciling love. God’s love is a forgiving love. God’s love is a saving love. Indeed, God’s love can help us press forward despite fear and division.
We Commit Ourselves to the Following Steps:
To move forward, the Bishops commit to specific actions. We are invited to join them—inviting the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and communities.
These actions include:
- Acknowledging Sins: as individuals and as communities, we are all asked to humbly and honestly see and acknowledge our sinful deeds and thoughts and ask for forgiveness.
- Being Open to Encounter and New Relationships: we are invited to “engage the world and encounter others—to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view.”
- Resolving to Work for Justice: both nationally and locally, love should move us to “examine where society continues to fail our brothers and sisters, or where it perpetuates inequity” and to take concrete actions to address those problems.
- Educating Ourselves: We are all challenged to learn more and to hear life-stories that “will help open our minds and hearts more fully and continue the healing needed in our communities and nation.”
- Working in Our Churches: We commit to working within the Church to root out vestiges of racist experience and celebrate the great cultural diversity of the Church. The Bishops recognize the unique role each person must play—including the important voice of Bishops and priests.
- Changing Structures: “The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society. Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality—economic and social—that we still see all around us. With renewed vigor, we call on the members of the Body of Christ to join others in advocating and promoting policies at all levels that will combat racism and its effects in our civic and social institutions.”
- Conversion of All: “Prayer and working toward conversion must be our first response in the face of evil actions.”
- Our Commitment to Life: “The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life.” Indeed, the Bishops “unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”
As Catholic Christians, we begin and end with wrestling with the incredible love of God. Our Bishops urge us: “Love compels each of us to resist racism courageously. It requires us to reach out generously to the victims of this evil, to assist the conversion needed in those who still harbor racism, and to begin to change policies and structures that allow racism to persist.” Indeed, love “is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”
The Basilica is committed to this work. Look for ways to engage in a partnership with Penumbra Theater in early Spring. For more information, call Janice at 612.317.3477.
“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.
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.
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.