Weekly Musings

The Catholic Church recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis—a centrist who masterfully challenges the extremes of the Church to avoid unhelpful reductions – has exhorted Catholics to eschew “worldly progressivism and backward-looking traditionalism.” Both of these movements to the extremes, embraced often by the most vocal Catholics, contradict the true nature of the Church, which is at the same time, both traditional and progressive. The Church, which is called to adhere to tradition, is also called to follow the Spirit which leads the Church to reform, to greater freedom, and to new ways of following the call of Christ to spread and live the good news. A Catholic Church freely and fully alive, embraces the future with both humility and confidence, knowing that the Lord is always out front leading us where God bids us to follow.

Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Church leaders, particularly Archbishop Hebda, has exhorted our local Church to follow the Spirit and to listen to the voices, dreams, and concerns of Catholics, as we discern what God is calling us to, consistent with our mandate to announce the saving love and mercy of God. There has been significant planning, dialogue, prayer, and now preparation that has marked our synodal process as a local Church in the Archdiocese. Attendant to this call, all Catholics are called to freely take up the Lord’s invitation to give testimony to what, and more importantly, in whom we believe. At Mass for the Thursday of the 31st Sunday in ordinary time, we hear the fiery words of St. Paul who calls us all to seek the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ. So, how do we know Christ? W. Through Scripture, the sacraments, the natural world, one another, and always in the poor and marginalized.

Pope Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis have embraced the synodal way—a way of humility that listens, learns, serves, and accompanies all on our journey of faith. The predominant image of the Church at Vatican II was the People of God on a pilgrim journey of faith. This image continues to resonate powerfully with Catholics as we walk together on our journey of faith—a journey that humbly follows the path laid out before us by God. Soon, Archbishop Hebda will promulgate a new pastoral letter which will mark both the process of fruitful listening to God’s people, and which will set a course for our future as a local Church. I look forward with anticipation and eagerness to Archbishop Hebda’s pastoral vision, borne of dialogue, accompaniment, and openness to God’s liberating Spirit.

At The Basilica of Saint Mary, consistent with the vision and values of our local archdiocesan synod and also consistent with the synodal way inaugurated by Pope Francis, I plan to initiate listening sessions and opportunities for dialogue with parishioners and friends. Our parish council has expressed support and eagerness to help me put this together. As a new pastor, I would like to know what are on the minds and in the hearts of all of you. I would like to know what fills your heart about being Catholic and what are the challenges you face in living out your Catholic faith. In addition, I would like to hear from you about the strengths of our Basilica community and ways in which we could better meet your spiritual needs and accompany you on your journey of faith. A synodal Church is one that is open to the Holy Spirit—a synodal Church is a Church that listens, accompanies, and heals. I look forward to these opportunities to enter into dialogue and share our common hopes and dreams as we continue our journey of faith together at The Basilica.



Crucifixion Processional Cross, Icon, Deb Korluka

Noon Masses November 7-11

All Mass recordings can be found at Mass Recordings.


Monday, November 7

Tuesday, November 8

Wednesday, November 9
Feast of the Dedication of The Lateran Basilica in Rome

Thursday, November 10

Friday, November 11 


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“Realities are more important than ideas.” I have been confronted with this line from Pope Francis a few times lately. The first time I encountered it was several years ago when I read the Pope’s letter The Joy of the Gospel with the parish staff I was with at the time. I recall that many of us struggled initially with exactly what Pope Francis was talking about.

More recently, it popped up in one of the writings our Basilica small faith community is using on Tuesday evenings, Fr. Daniel mentioned it in a staff meeting, and I mentioned it again at the Basilica Young Adult fall retreat a few weeks ago.  Most recently, I had just finished a wedding rehearsal and was starting to prepare for another one when a gentleman came in and started looking around.  Eventually, he came to me and started asking questions about our beautiful Basilica. His first question was about our Baptism font, and early in our conversation he mentioned he had no faith background at all but was drawn in by the beauty of the space, as many are. We ended up walking around for a while and I tried to point out some of the many highlights around the church, trying to explain who Jesus was, who Mary was, why Jesus died on a cross, who the apostles are around our sanctuary, etc. It’s never easy trying to crystalize the great Mysteries of our faith in just a few sentences!

Eventually, he had to go check out another local landmark, the Mall of America. I invited him to join us for Mass that weekend before he had to travel back home to California, but he would not be able to come back. In reflecting on this time spent with him, I realized a few things. First, my admiration for our staff and volunteer docents who know so much about our lovely space was reaffirmed; I know just enough to usually refer people to our wonderful self-guided tour booklets. Second was a growth in my understanding about what Pope Francis meant in saying that realities are more important than ideas.  I was able to point out some facts to him about our Basilica and the many ways it teaches us our Catholic faith, and for where he is at in his spiritual journey, it may have been helpful. However, if those ideas never become realities for him, if he only knows about Jesus Christ but never recognizes the experience of having an encounter with Jesus, he will always at best be stuck with an idea.  Now, it’s a pretty great idea, but it’s nothing like the reality of knowing Jesus Christ.

This encounter led me to have a powerful examination of my own conscience. How much do I really seek the kind of experiential encounter that Pope Francis is referencing? Am I more comfortable with the idea of God, rather than seeking an actual encounter with God through prayer, participation in our sacraments, and/or encounters of service that lead me to those who are on the margins of our society? The Saints we honor in our icons throughout our sanctuary this month lived out the truth that realities are more important than ideas; perhaps we can all learn from them and follow their example. 


Eugenio Scalfari, a noted atheist, and the editor of La Repubblica, a daily newspaper in Rome was stunned when he heard the voice of His Holiness on the other end of the line. Pope Francis said, “I am calling to fix an appointment for us to meet. Let me look at my appointment book. I cannot do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you?” Say three P.M. at my place?” The lengthy interview between the Pope and the publisher ended in a draw. Neither converted the other into becoming a believer or a nonbeliever, but they embraced and agreed to meet again. Accompanying Eugenio to the car, Francis raised his two fingers in a blessing and said: “Next time we will discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember, the Church (in Italian, la Chiesa) is feminine.”

The meeting between the Pope and the atheist sounds like the beginning of a good joke. An imaginative scenario between the church and the real world might prove helpful in establishing a conversational connection between believers and non-believers. Given the traditional clericalism that has encapsulated the hierarchical structure of the Church, it is not easy to establish a critical dialogue that embraces change, with or without humor. It was heartening to note in the Pope’s interview with Eugenio Scalfari, Francis was critical of the Roman Curia. He said that a long history of narcissists in the Papacy had obscured the wider mission of the universal Church. In a shocking metaphor, Francis referred to The Curia as “the leprosy of the Papacy.”

Unfortunately, over the centuries the Vatican centered perspective has neglected the struggles of the world in favor of sustaining a plethora of clerical sycophants who impede change. “I do not share this view,” the Pope said, as he removed Cardinals who were persistent in their sabotaging attempts at resisting reform. Pope Francis’ pastoral message remains: “The Church must become a community of God’s people and the care of souls must be oriented to serving the people of God. Change is an integral reflection of the continued revelation of the Spirit of God in the world.”

The readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time substantiate the theological thinking of Pope Francis. His preferential option for the poor (the widow and the orphan in traditional biblical terminology) is clear in his preaching and ministerial practice. Reminiscent of Jesus, St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi, Francis’ guiding moral principle can be found in his proclamation of “The Year of Mercy” (2015-2016) and the gifts of joy and mercy found in his early encyclical, “Laudato Si.” Francis challenged the world community to maintain an inclusive dialogue regarding the common care of the world’s environment.

In our first reading from The Book of Sirach (35:15-17, 20-22), a book belonging to the collection of biblical texts known as the Wisdom literature, the Lord will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. “The Lord will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.”  In Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy (4:6-8, 8, 16-20), he is clear about the need to persevere in the service to the community: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have kept the faith. The Lord has stood by me and gave me strength so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Paul was conscious of those who helped him and those who impeded his ministry. However, without seeking revenge, Paul continued to be a witness of the gospel so that it might be made available to all, including the Gentiles.

It is in this witnessing to the Gentiles that Pope Francis has oriented his mission to the world. In restructuring the Curia, Francis has discussed the Vatican’s troubled administration and has implemented pastoral changes in the church. “I am not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and holiness, but I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. My appointment of new Cardinals to help me govern are wise people, not courtiers. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down, but also horizontal.”

Today’s gospel from Luke (18:9-14) provides a reasonable insight into prayer that is surprisingly simple. Jesus offers a parable about a tax collector and a Pharisee who go into the Temple to pray. Contrasting the negative approach of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income to the Temple.” The tax collector simply says: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Justification based upon the need to trust in the absolute forgiveness of God is far more effective than the self-reliant, moral superiority approach of the Pharisee. Jesus presents a startling conclusion to the parable: “Whoever exults himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” From a cultural perspective where honor and shame were the operative theological controlling forces, this wonderful insight is paralleled in another parable of Jesus regarding where people get to sit at banquets (Luke 14:7-14). These stories of “divine reversal” are God’s way of tempering human pride.

In many respects Pope Francis is leading the Church by upsetting the Vatican status quo. Confronting clericalism (think elitist) and ephemeral anachronistic rituals, Francis has led by example. His refusal to live in the traditional Papal apartments or to wear the cumbersome ceremonial robes has offered a breath of fresh air in a clerical culture priding itself on order, control, and tradition. Francis is not an iconoclast seeking to destroy the Church, but one who is attempting to resuscite those who have suffered theological oxygen deprivation from lingering too long in musty sacristies. Clarifying problematic issues with truthful solutions requires tough love. Moving beyond the “quid pro quo” rhetoric of sleazy political compromises and intransigent religious dogma, we must be willing to risk shedding light on the hermetically sealed darkness of clericalism. Given the fact we are all sinners, we need the grace of the Holy Spirit to name, claim and tame the problems that stifle creative change in the Church.

When asked by a reporter if he said that he was a sinner, Pope Francis simply said, “Yes.” Naively the reporter chastised the Pope saying,” You are the Pope. Popes are not sinners.” Smiling, Pope Francis said: “Obviously, you haven’t read any history.”

Hello, this is Pope Francis speaking! Are you listening? Well, are you? Believe me, this is not a rhetorical question!


Peace, Fr. Joe Gillespie, O.P