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“I think you missed the turn.” Those words were spoken to me by my friend as we were on our way to another friend’s home for dinner. And in fact, they were right. I had indeed missed the turn. In my defense, though, I had been paying more attention to our conversation than I had been to the directions. Fortunately, the missed turn was easily compensated for and we arrived at our destination on time.
This experience came to mind a few weeks ago when I was praying about a decision I needed to make. In my prayer, while I was trying to be open to God’s will, God didn’t seem (at least to me) to be particularly communicative. It occurred to me that it certainly would have been helpful if God had simply told me: “You missed the turn.” or “You’re headed in the wrong direction.” Unfortunately, neither of these directives was forthcoming.
I suspect there are times for all of us when we wish that God was clear and unequivocal in what God was asking of us or what God would have us do. If only God would be direct and unambiguous in communicating with us, things would be so much easier. And while on one level this is true, on another—and deeper level—it would negate our free will. And our free will is what defines us as human beings and distinguishes us from the other created beings on the earth.
Because of our free will, God doesn’t issue clear edicts or direct commands. Instead God communicates with us in much more subtle ways. God communicates with us through the movements of our spirits, in the longings of our hearts, and in the ponderings of our minds. In and through these things, God helps us to understand what God would have us do, or where God would have us go. It is always our free will, though, whether or not we attend to and follow these subtle promptings.
Three things that can help us be open to God’s subtle promptings are a fierce honesty in our prayer, an openness to various possibilities, and a willingness to change direction. Honesty in our prayer is needed because it is easy to come to prayer with a decision already made. We need, though, to be truthful about our personal biases and our desires because, unless we honestly acknowledge them, they can influence our decision making. Similarly, if we aren’t open to various possibilities, it is easy to take some things off the table without ever considering that they might be from God. Finally, in order to be open to God’s subtle promptings, we need to be willing to change directions. If we have already set our course on something, we can’t really be open to what God would have us do.
Certainly it would be clearer and much easier if God simply told us when we missed a turn or were headed in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, then our choices would not really be free. Given this, the only alternative is to continue to work to be open to God’s subtle promptings and to pray that if we take a wrong turn, we will notice it, correct it, and get back on course.
My grandmother use to say that going to Mass on Sunday was like hitting the reset button. With 13 children at home, a farm to tend to, and my grandfather driving a semi cross country, I am sure there were plenty of times when a reset button couldn’t come quickly enough.
As with many things my grandmother told me over the years I found this statement to ring true in my own life this past weekend. My husband and I were dragging our feet Sunday morning debating if we should try and make it to 11:30am Mass or wait and go to 4:30pm, a fairly common question in our house. In the end we ended up at 11:30am and I am glad we did.
On this particular Sunday I needed to hit the reset button a little earlier. I am not sure I knew that when I arrived feeling a bit sluggish. However, seeing our community come together reminded me that although we are all on our own unique faith journeys, at The Basilica, our community is here to share encouragement, the sign of peace, and ultimately a shared hope for a vibrant faith community and a future full of hope.
I left feeling renewed, proud to be part of the incredible community, and proud to support the wonderful work taking place 365 days a year.
This isn’t the first time The Basilica has helped me hit the reset and I am sure it will not be the last. For the better part of the last decade The Basilica community has provided this gentle reminder to me often.
I have seen our community come together to celebrate joyous moments of baptisms and weddings and difficult movements of loss and grief. I am reminded of it daily when a volunteer simply listens to someone who comes to our door in need of someone to talk to. I am reminded of it often by my fellow staff members who tirelessly provide comfort for those experiencing loss and sadness. I have seen volunteers spend hours counseling individuals in our employment ministry for weeks and months until they have found jobs.
The Basilica’s valuable work in our community is possible thanks to parishioners of every age who have pitched in and pledged. These moments, along with essentials like heat, lights, ministries, music, and so many more are not possible without each and every financial stewardship pledge we receive. Because when our community comes together so much is possible!
I hope you will consider a 2018 pledge today. You can pledge online at mary.org/donate, fill out a pledge form and mail it in, or bring it to Mass the weekend of October 7 and 8.
During the month of September, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast days of both Blessed Frederic Ozanam and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent de Paul, is well known to The Basilica, as he is the namesake of our ministries that serve those who are suffering, sick or poor. Blessed Frederic Ozanam is not as well known, yet equally formative to our work.
Blessed Ozanam lived in France during the middle of the 19th century. Studying literature and law, he organized discussion clubs that debated the issues of the day. Legend tells us, one day he found himself advocating the value and role of Christianity in civilization. Upon spouting strong, fancy words, a member of the club challenged, “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you.” This question stung, and it propelled Blessed Ozanam to action. Over time, he founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society and laid out a framework for securing justice for the poor and working class that continues to this day.
Both St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam compel us to see Christ in those who are marginalized or vulnerable. Indeed, St. Vincent de Paul states that “the poor become our teachers and mentors, and we their servants.” We are urged to “Go to the poor and suffering; you will find God.”
This month, The Basilica will break ground for a public sculpture of a life-sized homeless Jesus lying on a park bench. Cast in bronze, it will be placed right off the main plaza in front of The Basilica Church on Hennepin Avenue. This sculpture has been placed in other cities around the world, and has elicited reactions ranging from awe to fear, compassion to anger. It stimulated conversation and conversion.
The Basilica is honored and excited to install this Homeless Jesus Sculpture. As a community, we are committed to broad and quality care and assistance to those in need. We are also committed to the prophetic and transformative power of art.
Join us this Sunday at 1:00 for a wonderful presentation of the intersection of art and justice. Be present as we break ground for the sculpture. Look for the litany of program and ministry opportunities offered over the next two months—culminating in the installation and dedication of the sculpture on Sunday, November 19 at 1:00pm.
Look for a Homeless Jesus prayer card in the back of church, and reflect on “Who is Jesus to me?” Join together in a novena for the homeless over the next nine weeks, praying for all those suffering and in need—and praying for transformation and conversion of all our hearts, helping us to be gentle, compassionate and patient to all.
The Basilica will receive the Homeless Jesus Sculpture mid-October. We will place it in The Basilica Church and we will bless it. It will be moved down to the Teresa of Calcutta Hall for several weeks before the installation outside in November.
We are all invited to be challenged by the question put to Blessed Ozanam, “What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you.” Let us honor our faith and praise God by finding Christ and serving Him in the person who is sick, poor, or suffering. Vincentians believe that true religion is found among those who are often excluded—and as we attend to their needs, they inspire us and evangelize us.
To learn more about opportunities to serve, call the Christian Life Office.
What does it take to feel like you belong? Early in my career after college, I was in a new town and didn’t know anyone. One Sunday I went to the local Catholic Church. The Mass felt familiar and comforting, but I didn’t know a soul in that church. Nobody said hello and I left Mass that day feeling lonely. I wish I’d been confident enough to strike up a conversation. I’m sure I would have learned how much that parish community had to offer.
Community. Does it remind you of your hometown, your co-workers, your health club, or your circle of family and friends? We sincerely hope it reminds you of your parish home. At The Basilica, we strive to make everyone feel welcome no matter where you are on your faith journey. We are committed to welcoming everyone with respect and dignity.
We hope to provide a safe place for you to explore, question, and be nourished by your faith and inspired by God’s truth and beauty. In coming together as a parish community, we pledge to be advocates for positive change, work for justice, peace, and equality, and the protection of all of God’s creation.
This work starts in our families when we are young and continues as we pray together and celebrate the Eucharist each week. Building on our faith, getting to know each other, and initiating relationships with those in our parish community make our aspirations a reality.
Sunday, September 10, we offer a simple, fun way to engage with our parish community. We hope you’ll make new friends or reconnect with past acquaintances.
We invite you to join us at our Fall Festival for a simple meal and lots of fun after the 9:30am, 11:30am, and 4:30pm Masses. It’s a drop-in affair, so come and go as fits your schedule. It’s perfect for all ages, and promises great food (with no cooking or clean up). There are fun games for children, and it’s a relaxed easy way to enjoy some conversation and a meal with other members of our parish and their friends.
Staffed by volunteers who graciously have shared their time and skills to do the planning, they arrive early for set up, stay through the day to serve food and run games, and stay to clean up.
Our hope is you’ll join us. We’ve partnered with local vendors to offer wonderful fresh food. You’ll be treated to fresh grilled Minnesota sweet corn from Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm. Deutschland Meats is providing locally made brats and hot dogs. Our volunteers have cooked up homemade baked beans from favorite family recipes. And in case you are still hungry, we’ll have root beer floats made with locally brewed root beer from Vine Park Brewing.
Just for children—there is a Fishing Game and Treasure Hunt. Win a cake baked by Basilica parishioners or local bakeries at the Cake Walk or play Basilica Plinko (and if you don’t know what Plinko is you have to check it out.) In celebration of Grandparents Day, we’ll have a special activity for Grandparents. Sunday morning we’ll be entertained with polka music and dancing on the front plaza, and after 4:30pm Mass, guests can dance to swing music with an instructor to help you learn the moves.
Please, join us at the Fall Festival and help build our community together.
The column below was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Catholic Spirit. It was written in response to two letters to the editor that appeared in the August 10 edition of the Catholic Spirit.
I hate waiting in lines. Unless there is just a single line for people who want to check in/out; get gas; pay for their groceries, or whatever, I always choose the wrong line. I inevitably end up behind someone who is sure they have the exact change—if only they can find it; or someone who can’t find their credit card; or someone who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t use a coupon that expired three weeks ago.
Given my abhorrence to waiting in lines, you can perhaps appreciate how surprised I was to read the letters to the editor in the August 10th Catholic Spirit. (The newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.) The issue they were writing about concerned an Illinois Bishop’s decision to prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving communion or having their funeral in a Catholic Church. One of the writers was clear that God “does not have a place in heaven for those who decide his rules are outdated and don’t fit the current whims of individuals.” Another suggested that: “Those who claim they are loving others by allowing forbidden practices may just be loving them into hell.” As I read these comments I couldn’t help but think that these writers had found a way to expedite the judgement line at the end of world.
This is pure genius. I am surprised that no one thought of this before. By narrowing down the issues that Jesus articulated in Matthew 25:31-46 to a single question: “Did you question/wonder about/believe in same sex marriage?”—in effect, by doing some pre-judging in this world—it will save God time at the end of the world. In fact, the line at the judgement at the end of the world should move along quite swiftly. We won’t have to worry about whether or not we fed the hungry; gave drink to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; clothed the naked; comforted the ill; or visited the imprisoned. Of course, though, if we narrow down the criteria for judgement to a single issue/question, it does make it difficult to explain why Jesus told that parable in the first place.
We need to be clear. The idea that we can save God time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here is complete nonsense. God searches our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and God—and God alone—is the only One who is qualified to do any judging. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect God is not all that appreciative of those who think it is right and proper to save time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here.
As for me, I am grateful that judgement belongs to God alone, and that it is something God doesn’t need any help with—however well intended. I am also hopeful that at the end of the world God will grade on a curve. I say this because the older I get, the more I realize how much in need of God’s mercy I am.
“Come and see!” These three words convey feelings of happiness, joy, wonder, and delight. They are a call to see a litter of squirming puppies, a brightly-lit Christmas tree, a giggling baby taking her first steps.
In the Gospel of John, the woman at the well enthusiastically cried to all who would hear her: “Come and see!” Her joy and delight following her encounter with Jesus are contagious as we read her story. Just like those who heard the woman’s call, you, too, are invited to “Come and see!”
Have you ever wondered what the Catholic Church is all about? Are you an adult who would like to join the Catholic Church? Were you raised in the Catholic Church but for any number of reasons never followed through on confirmation as a child? Then “Come and see!” Through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA, anyone—the curious, the spiritual seeker, or those wanting to be received into the Church through baptism and/or confirmation—may encounter a place to find answers to their questions. No question is too simple, silly, complex, or controversial. Everyone is welcome. RCIA members come from all faiths and backgrounds—churched and unchurched, believers and non-believers. RCIA is a place where questions and doubts are encouraged, and there is never any obligation to join the Catholic Church. The environment is warm and encouraging, with no judgment or criticism. Many find they make new and long-lasting friendships during this time.
RCIA begins with a Period of Inquiry with an overview of the Scriptures and basic Christian teachings. One weekend is devoted to a relaxing and rejuvenating retreat where everyone has a chance to get to know one another better, building relationships over good times and even better meals. This section ends with the beautiful Rite of Welcome into the Church for those who desire it. This rite is a simple yet eloquent enactment of the Church’s welcoming nature for anyone wishing to step inside its doors.
Next comes the Period of the Catechumenate, where the sessions go deeper into Catholic teaching, the Sacraments, and encounter the character of Christ through both class sessions and the Breaking Open the Word for the catechumens (unbaptized) during Mass. During the Breaking Open the Word, anyone not yet baptized gathers to discuss each Sunday’s Gospel readings on an intimate level, building even closer and sweeter relationships with Christ and one another.
That is followed by Lent and the Period of Purification where we more deeply encounter the person and character of Christ through the Gospels. Finally, with the Triduum, all the drama and passion of the three days leading to Easter is stunningly portrayed, culminating in baptism and/or confirmation of those who desire it. But there is never any pressure to take this step. The RCIA team recognizes that the decision to do so is deeply personal and is a call from God, and anyone who chooses not to do so is never shamed or questioned.
Finally, the RCIA year ends with the Period of Mystagogia where everyone gathers to reflect on the year and are offered ways to match their time and talent to become more deeply involved with the Basilica. A delicious pot luck caps off the year where everyone is encouraged to bring their favorite dish to share.
If you or anyone you know would be interested in attending RCIA during the coming year, ask them to “come and see” if this is for them. Contact me the parish office to learn more. Sessions begin on Tuesday, September 12.
She was one of my favorite aunts: intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished. When she walked into a room everyone took note of her. The final two years of her life she lived with dementia. I remember my last visit with her very well. I went to her room in my hometown’s memory care center, knocked on the door, and entered. There she sat, by the window. She was beautifully dressed. Her hair was lovely and she even wore a little make-up. With her elegant hands she pointed at a chair and invited me to sit down.
She told me about her parents and her siblings. When she spoke about her favorite niece Jeanette, I mentioned that I was Jeanette’s son, Johan. “That is not possible,” she said as “Johan lives in the United States. He is some kind of a priest” she continued. “He is a very nice boy. Every time he comes to Belgium on holiday he visits me.” After that definitive statement she continued to talk about her past.
When I was ready to leave I asked if I could give her a kiss. She agreed. As I leaned down to embrace her she whispered: “and to think I did not recognize you.” We hugged and cried. By the time I put on my coat she had returned to the world of her past, unaware of the present.
“To think I did not recognize you.”
This phrase came to mind when I read today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). The apostles had been with Jesus for a while. Yet in this passage they do not recognize him. Granted, he came to them during the night, walking on water. So, they thought him a ghost.
But when he spoke to them they recognized his voice. Peter, the most impulsive of them all, jumped out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus. Yet, as soon as he realized he was walking on water, which is a physical impossibility he started to sink.
There are different levels of recognition. My aunt recognized me as a nice person but not as her nephew, until she did. The apostles first thought Jesus a ghost, then they recognized him as Jesus, but not as who he truly was, the Son of God.
Jesus comes to us even today. Sometimes we recognize him, most often we don’t because he comes to us in disguise. How can we recognize him? By looking with God’s eyes, for God sees past any disguise and recognizes Christ in each one of us.
God regards us with mercy, love, and tenderness. When we do the same then we will see as God sees and recognize Christ in one another. Sometimes this is easy. Most often, it is not. And it can prove to be particularly difficult when Christ comes to us as a person who is homeless, who is an immigrant, who is different from us in terms of race or religion. And yet, it is only when we recognize Christ in those who are most different from us that we will truly know Christ.
It is our hope that at the end of time when we see Christ face to face we will not have to say: “to think I did not recognize you.”
A few weeks ago I spent my day off with another priest. For lunch we bought some sandwiches and beverages, and found a park where we had an informal picnic. A few yards away from us, two small children were having a great time playing on the grass, laughing, and enjoying each other. I assumed they were related or that their parents were friends. At one point, though, their mothers came to collect them, and when they arrived at the spot where the boys were playing, they introduced themselves to each another. I was surprised that they didn’t know each other, and that the boys weren’t friends or relatives. It then occurred to me that such is the innocence of youth. When we are young, we don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about others. We don’t have to know much about them to interact with them and enjoy their company.
As we move along the road of life, though, at some point things change. We move from a childlike openness to people we don’t know, to being suspicious of them and/or their motives. On the one hand, there is some merit to this. If we naively assume that everyone is good and kind and nice, we are going to be disappointed, and even hurt. On the other hand, though, when we lose an openness to others, we can fail to see them as God sees them—as a beloved son or daughter.
It seems to me that we need to strike a balance between these two approaches. More importantly, in trying to find this balance we need to be willing to err on the side of love. In our world today there is much that can cause us to be suspicious and even anxious. And sometimes without even realizing it, and without it becoming a conscious choice, these feelings can move into animosity and hatred. At these times, we need to remember that in the parable of the last judgement, (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus taught us that He is to be found in every encounter we have with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy, the stranger, and the forgotten. We may not recognize him, but he is there.
Recognizing the presence of Christ in others is a challenge. In my own life I fail at it more often than I succeed. We need to remember, though, that God created us in God’s image and likeness, and because of this, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God—no exceptions, no exclusions, no omissions. If we allow ourselves to be guided by our better angels and if we are open to God’s grace, I believe we are more apt to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. And if we are able to do this with others, maybe, just maybe, others might recognize the presence of Christ in us.
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my appointment as pastor and rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary. And while I know I will never surpass Msgr. Reardon’s record of 42 years as pastor/rector of The Basilica, from my perspective 10 years is still a significant amount of time.
Much has happened these past 10 years. On the Archdiocesan level we have had three Archbishops. The sexually inappropriate behavior of many priests has been embarrassingly public, and our Church has had to candidly acknowledge our failings and errors of judgement. On the positive side, however, we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated. And while the Archdiocesan bankruptcy continues to be an issue, our hope and our prayer is that it will be resolved in the near future. Additionally, Archbishop Hebda is providing leadership that is practical, consultative, and pastoral.
In regard to our parish, during the past 10 years our parish has grown and remains stable at almost 6,500 households. Our membership reflects the diversity of both our city and our state. And although we no longer have an associate pastor, we are blessed by the services of Fr. Joe Gillespie as well as several retired priests who help us on weekends and during the week. Further, we have experienced remarkably little turnover in our senior staff these past 10 years. In fact, the majority of our senior staff have been at The Basilica longer than I have. Additionally, our parish has been blessed by the many, many people who have occupied leadership positions these past 10 years. They represent the best of The Basilica. These past 10 years, we have also continued to maintain, repair, and renovate the various buildings on our parish campus. We have also worked to build our savings, in case a financial emergency occurs. Additionally, with the help of a set percentage of the rental income from our school building, we continue to balance our budget every year.
During these past 10 years, the ministries, services, and programs at The Basilica have continued to grow, evolve, and develop. In a few instances, though, we have had to terminate some things that weren’t prospering, or were not doing what they had been designed to do. Additionally, we are always looking to improve what we do, as well as try to discern what new programs, ministries, and services are needed in our community. Perhaps most importantly, we continue to see the number of people volunteering to share their talents and abilities with our parish grow.
On a personal level, as I look back on these past 10 years, I must admit that being pastor of The Basilica is very different from being pastor of my two previous parishes. And in all honesty, these past 10 years have not been without their challenges, pain, and disappointments. Yet, more often by far, have been the times when I have been impressed by people’s generosity of spirit and humbled by their faith. More often by far have been the times when I’ve been witness to great hope in the face of a difficult situation, and great love in the face of indifference and even hate. And more often by far I have seen people live out their spirituality and faith in ways I can only hope to one day emulate. At these times, and many others, I have to admit that being pastor at The Basilica was not always what I had anticipated, but it has been more rewarding than I could have possibility imagined.
So, for weal or woe, whether it was by God’s design or the oversight of the Holy Spirit, I have been pastor of The Basilica these past 10 years. It was with great self-confidence and a sense of brash fearlessness that I undertook this responsibility 10 years ago. Now with the hindsight of 10 years, I realize that a little less self-confidence and a little more reliance on God might have been in order.
I am not sure what the future will hold for me or The Basilica, but I do believe in and have come to rely on God’s providence and grace. And I hold close and take great comfort in the words our God spoke centuries ago through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:11-14) Holding firm to this promise, I believe our future is bright.