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“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.
A few months ago, in an email exchange with another priest, he mentioned that he and his siblings had been busy helping their parents pack up their house as they prepared to sell it and move to a senior living facility. For those of you who have gone through this experience, you know that it is bittersweet. On the one hand it can be very sad because it marks the end of something important—not just the sale of a house, but the sale of a home. On the other hand, it is also a time of gratitude as you remember all the good times and the wonderful experiences that took place there. Those memories are precious gifts that help soften the sadness that these endings often bring.
One of my friend’s emails contained an attachment. It was a picture of the pencil marks indicating his height and that of his brothers and sisters at various times as they were growing up. In this case their growth was measured on the inside of their father’s closet. My friend noted particularly the time when he passed his older brother in height (an achievement that time had obviously not diminished). As I looked at the picture, it brought back memories of a wall in the house where I grew up where the growth of my brothers and sisters (and later, nieces and nephews) was recorded. That house was sold many years ago and unfortunately, unlike my friend, I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of the wall before it was sold. I suspect the new owner’s have long since painted over our wall of growth.
As I was thinking about this experience, it struck me that in each of our lives there are various ways we measure our growth or aging. Marks on a wall are one way, but it could also be measured by a widening waist line or a receding hairline, or wrinkles. Now, while we have lots of specific ways of measuring and recording our physical growth, there isn’t any instrument or tool (at least to my knowledge) that can measure our spiritual growth. And yet, I would wager that most of us are growing spiritually.
In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that while there may not be any external way of measuring our spiritual growth, there may be some other markers that could be helpful. Specifically, in regard to our spiritual growth, I think we need to take the long view. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: Am I a better person today than I was a year ago or ten years ago? Do I feel closer to God now than I did in the past? Can I identify occasions when I have experienced God’s presence in new and/or different places? Have I been surprised to discover God’s grace in unexpected ways? If we can say yes to any of these things then I think we are growing spiritually.
While we may not be able to measure our spiritual growth with marks on a wall, I do believe that it nonetheless does occur. We need only take some time to reflect on our life, so that we might discover that perhaps unbeknownst to us we have indeed been growing in our spiritual life, and, as importantly, that God is always inviting us to enter even more deeply into our relationship with God.
Events of this year, and particularly this summer, have gotten me thinking about how we, as Catholics, respond to all attacks on the dignity of human life.
Many times, I only hear Catholics speak about the sanctity of life regarding the abortion debate. I believe that we are called to support policies that promote and protect ALL life: life that is easy to protect as well as lives which are more complex to defend.
Jesus was clear about our obligations toward our neighbor. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he is clear that loving our neighbor even means caring for our enemy (Lk 10:29-37). Jesus also speaks of a rich man who finds himself in Hades for failing to care for the poor man at his door (Lk 16:19-31). Moreover, Jesus tells us that when we fail to help “the least of these” we fail to care for Him (Mt 25:31-46). As Christians we must allow Jesus’ teaching to form our consciences. Like every moral question, there are rights that must be protected as well as duties that must be observed.
The Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II. “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church now on the death penalty. Pope Francis declared on October 11, 2017 that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel.” He said that “however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”
Founded on natural law and enlightened by faith, the Church’s position on immigration also recognizes certain rights and obligations. These include the requirement to defend the right to life for all individuals, regardless of legal status.
The Church expects us to protect the right to life of those who cannot find work, food, or safety where they live. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The more prosperous nations are obliged to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (No. 2241). While nations are not obliged to have open borders, Christians are obliged to welcome those whose lives are in danger due to conditions such as violence or extreme poverty. To be pro-life means promoting consistent protection of those whose lives are in danger. Therefore, Christians must advocate that life should be the standard for immigration reform.
Because the family plays an important role in Catholic social teaching, the rights of the family must also be taken into consideration when looking at how Catholics should view immigration. The Church teaches that needs of the family precede the desires of the state. When we see families torn apart at the border and parents deported while their children remain in cages or foster care in the US, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to respect the sanctity of human life and families.
Human dignity must be under consideration in any implementation of new, or enforcement of existing, laws. Rules must be “aimed at protecting and promoting the human person,” said Pope Francis in 2014.
As we close this summer, The Basilica wraps up strategic planning for the next 3-5 years and as our country enters the contentious election season, I encourage you to consider what it truly means to be pro-life. Do we as Catholics defend life in all forms, in all places, regardless of our perception of “worthiness"?
Throughout my 40-plus years in ministry, some have asked me why I have worked for such a long time in the Church. I admit, this question always causes me to pause. It brings me back to the beginning days when everything was new and fresh and exciting. Since coming to The Basilica years ago, it is much like those beginning days. One never knows what each day will bring. Some days are filled with wonderful surprises while others seem laden with painful stories of long-lost faith or times of deep loss. We are all less than human at times and sometimes it shows through a bit more than we would like it to.
We all know this is not a perfect Church. Far from it. I don’t know of any other faith community that is without its own set of challenges. We all struggle with our growing pains as we journey through the ups and downs of life. Each Sunday when we come together for worship we bring ourselves as we are and sometimes that isn't exactly our best self.
Life just happens to each of us and we don't often react well to some of those many experiences that take place during the week. Yet we bring that with us each week as we gather, and in faith we know in some way that when we leave, we will be changed and nourished to return to the world and in some small way, bring the good news of our God’s love to those who cross our paths. For it is the very God whom we find in each other, whom we recognize in each other’s stories of triumph and failure, that keeps us coming back week after week.
We know we are not in this alone. All of us are there to offer prayer and hope to each other which enables us to carry the important message with us that we have a God who loves us enough to entrust us with each other’s lives. And that is the miracle of what happens each week as we celebrate Eucharist together. We are a privileged people. We have the responsibility of being Christ for each other.
So when someone asks me why I continue to work in the Church, it is quite simple. I need to encounter the God within you and you need to meet the God within me so that together, we will walk hand in hand to bring that God to those who so desperately need a sign of hope in the midst of the suffering and chaos of this world.
My journey with cancer began on March 26, Monday of Holy Week. It made for the most incredible celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Then, on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul I received the great news that after three months of chemo the tumor was gone. For the next five years I will continue to be monitored very closely to make sure the cancer does not return.
As I have mentioned before, this has been a physical and spiritual adventure of great proportions. I do not believe for a second that God causes us to suffer. Rather I believe that life may present us with challenges. And when that happens, our faith in God offers us the necessary strength to handle it and the much needed insights to find meaning in it. So I did not ask God the question “why?” Rather, I asked God for strength and for wisdom so this experience might allow me to grow as a person and as a believer. And God obliged.
On Pentecost, half-way through my treatment I was the Master of Ceremonies for one of our liturgies. When I looked out at our congregation and saw your faces I had the most intense experience of God’s presence I have ever had. Hearing my name spoken during the Intercessory Prayers I felt the power of prayer strengthening my body and nourishing my soul. By the end of this most beautiful Eucharist I was too overwhelmed to do my usual meet and greet. I needed silence and solitude to process what just happened and to stay in the profound experience of God’s love and the support of my sisters and brothers in Christ.
As I sat quietly and listened to my inner voice, I realized again how important Sunday Eucharist is for us. And I thought of the many people who have asked me over the years: “Why should we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday? What do we get out of it?” The answer I have given in the past all the sudden was no longer theoretical but thanks to my experience with cancer I found it to be very real.
Above all we gather to give thanks to God for the many miracles in our lives. We also gather so we might be changed in three profound ways. First, in the words of St. Teresa of Avilla, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be “all on fire with the love of God.” For indeed, when we are on fire with God’s love no fear can overcome us. Second, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be gathered into a “deep communion of existence” because in the Eucharist “the Lord joins us to one another.” It is this sense of community, the sense that we are never alone that gives us the strength to face whatever life brings us. And third, in the words of my late professor Mark Searle, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be rehearsed in what it means to live the Paschal Mystery. And if we do this well we will be able to say “I have lived the Paschal Mystery long enough not to forsake it or doubt it when it becomes most real.”
As we celebrate Basilica Day let us remember why we, like so many Basilica members before us have come together for the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. And let us gather with ever greater fervor and devotion so that when our time of sorrow or suffering comes we will feel strengthened by the love of God, we will feel supported by our community and we will be able to say: “I have lived the Paschal Mystery long enough not to forsake it our doubt it when it becomes most real.” But above all, in the Eucharist we are assured that God works miracles in our lives, even if we might not recognize them.
Thank you all for your great support during this incredible journey.
One of the priests I worked with when I was first ordained was a genial Irishman who seemed to have a saying for every occasion or circumstance. When an unlikely couple presented themselves for marriage he would say: "There's no pot so beaten out of shape that you can't find a lid for it." When someone's clothing choice was a bit questionable or problematic he would say: "They must have got dressed in the dark this morning." My favorite saying, though, was when he was confronted with a situation that defied explanation or understanding. In those cases he would simply say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense." This was his way of acknowledging that sometimes things just happen that are beyond our reason and over which we don’t have any control.
Now to be honest, I have used this saying on more than a few occasions. While it is nice when there is a logical explanation for the things that happen in our lives, this certainly is always or often the case. Now sometimes those unexpected or unexplainable things that happen are good e.g. winning the lottery. I suspect, though, that more often this is not the case, e.g. we face a sudden illness, or someone we love dies unexpectedly. At these times, while we can search for meaning or understanding, these often prove elusive.
The above is not a new problem. In the Old Testament the Book of Job dealt with the question of why bad things sometimes happened to good people. For Job's friends the answer was simple. Job must have done something wrong or bad to deserve all the terrible things that were happening to him. Job, though, knew that wasn't true. He knew he had tried to live a good life and that he didn't "deserve" what was happening to him. The resolution occurs in the final chapters of the Book of Job. God speaks and in essence says: I'm God; you're not. My ways are not your ways.
Now I realize that for some people this is not a very satisfying response. For me, though, it helps me remember that God is in charge, and that ultimately the ways and work of God are beyond my ability to comprehend or explain. It also invites me to believe that God knows what God is doing, and that I need to learn to trust that the God who loved me into being isn't capricious or aloof in continuing to love and care for me.
As there have been in the past, so there were will continue to be times in the future when things happen that cause us pain or anxiety, and over which we have no control. At those times we need to continue to pray. and to remember that it's okay to say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense."
There is a story about two monks in the Middle Ages (an older monk and one of the younger monks) who were traveling cross country for a visit to a remote monastery. At one point, the road they were traveling on came to a stream. There was a woman there who asked them if they could help her cross the stream. The older monk replied that he would be happy to help her and immediately picked her up and waded across the stream. When they got to the other side the woman thanked them and went on her way, and the two monks went their way. About an hour later the younger monk said to the older monk: “Brother, I don’t think it was appropriate that you picked up that woman and carried her across the stream.” The older monk replied. “Brother are you still carrying that woman with you? I put her down the minute we got across the stream. I’m surprised you are still carrying her.”
Like the young monk in the story above, I suspect that all of us “carry” things with us that we need to put down. It could be a grudge, an old hurt, a painful or embarrassing moment from the past, or a memory of something we did that was wrong. We hold these things close, and seldom, if ever, speak of them with others. These things weight us down and hinder our growth. They take up space in our minds and hearts and spirits, and in extreme cases can prevent us from moving forward with our life.
I’m not sure exactly why we “carry” around these things, but I do know that prayer can help us put them down—for a while at least—and eventually forever. The image I like to use is that of an ice cube. When you hold an ice cube in your hand for a few moments and the exterior begins to warms to the touch of your hand, if you put it down and then take it up again a few minutes later, a part of it remains on the surface where you placed it. While it may be only a drop, it is not as big as it was.
And so it is when we bring our cares, woes, hurts, grudges and pain to prayer. If we can leave them with God for a few minutes, while we may take them up again, a part of them stays with God and they are not as big as when we first brought them to prayer. And if we continue to practice bringing those things we “carry” around with us to prayer, we may discover one day that we have left them with God and we no longer carry them with us.
Like the young monk, sometimes we carry things with us that we shouldn’t be carrying and that we need to put down. Prayer is a great place to bring these things. And God is always ready and more than willing to take these burdens away from us.