Weekly Musings

During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has spent one Friday a month praying for those who are suffering throughout the world. Today, I watched a video clip of Pope Francis embracing 20 former prostitutes that had been forced into sex trafficking, had escaped, and were now residing in a Catholic Charities Center in Rome. This was part of his “Mercy Fridays.” You could see the tenderness he had for these women, kind of like I imagine that Jesus had for the prostitutes of his time. The Pope embraced them and told them they were loved. He apologized for not praying enough for them and he promised he would pray more for them. He listened to their stories and again told them how much God loves each of them. Then he blessed them and left. It was so touching to see him extend the mercy and love of God to them. I do not know about you, but this Pope constantly amazes me with his compassion and love for our world. I pray for all of us that we could be more like him and more like Jesus to those around us who are truly suffering.

For the past several weeks I have been meeting with folks who are interested in learning more about Catholicism. These people will make the journey through RCIA this year. Some will choose to become Catholic, while others will choose to move on. It is beautiful to hear their stories of their faith journeys thus far and what has brought them to this point in their lives. One thing I am sure of is that their faith is important to them. And they truly care about being the best people they can in this world no matter what path they take. I ask for your prayers this coming year as they prayerfully discern God’s call in their lives.  I do hope you get to meet them during the year. 

Many of us in my generation and the one after are attending Church regularly and have been for awhile. But many of us have not had any faith formation since the last time we attended CCD classes or religious education when we were in eighth grade, maybe twelfth grade. We tend to just go through the motions of our worship each Sunday without thinking about what we are doing and what the rituals throughout the Mass really mean. That is why we are beginning a new series this fall called, “Seeing with New Eyes: Rediscovering My Faith.” This program is for those who would like to revisit the basics of their faith in a six-week series. Some of the topics we will consider are: our image of God, our image of Church, what Vatican Council II has done for our church, scripture, and the sacraments. You might just discover some of the more beautiful truths of our faith. Postcards are in the pews during the next couple of weeks. Please take one and register for this series. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the parish office. 

We are all gearing up for a full fall lineup of events and programs that we hope will be fulfilling and nourishing to your spirit. A reminder to all: we are still moving through the Year of Mercy so some of our programming will reflect that intention. We ask that you prayerfully continue to live out God’s mercy to all whom you meet. We all need God’s mercy. Let us be generous to a fault with it in the coming days. 

A few weeks ago on the Friday evening of the Block Party, I got home a little after 10:00pm and being too wound up to go to bed, I turned on the television and read the paper. As I was flipping through the channels to see if there was anything worth watching, I came across an old episode of Perry Mason that was just starting. For those of you too young to remember, Perry Mason was a television show that ran from the late 50’s to the mid 60’s. The title character played a fictional attorney, who always got the charges (almost always a murder charge) against his client dropped. The show brought back a wave of nostalgia that swept over me. When I was growing up, watching Perry Mason was kind of a right of passage. It meant that you were too old for cartoons and were ready for more adult things. 

As I watched Perry Mason that night, not only did it bring back memories, but I was also struck by the fact that it was in black and white. I suspect at some point they switched to a color format, but this must have been one of the earlier shows. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that being in black and white was especially appropriate for Perry Mason. In the show there were good guys and bad guys, and there was never any argument about who was who. The good guys always triumphed and the bad guys were always exposed and punished. 

While there are times today when I would like to go back to that black and white world, the reality is that life was not and still isn’t that simple. Rarely are our motives and intentions entirely pure, and there always seem to be mitigating circumstances to explain inappropriate words and actions. Moreover, I think that seldom do people set out to deliberately do something wrong or bad. Rather we end up making bad choices that often have a negative impact on others. Sadly too, sometimes inappropriate words and actions follow from misunderstanding someone else’s words or actions, or misinterpreting a situation. 

Now certainly there are some things that are always clearly and demonstrably wrong. Taking an innocent life is always wrong. We can’t pretend otherwise. I have come to believe, though, that there are shades and hues in most of our behaviors and words that aren’t immediately obvious. And if we take the time to recognize and appreciate this we would be far more understanding and far more forgiving of others and of ourselves. 

The above is something I have been working on for a while now. Some days I think I am making good progress, but then I will find myself falling back into being judgmental or intolerant. I suspect it will be this way until the day I die. 

Living in a black and white world certainly can make our life easier, but that is not the world we live in. And so, while I suspect there will always be times when I struggle to understand another individual’s as well as my own actions. I trust that the God who created me knows my struggles, accepts my failings, forgives my sins, and continues to love me and all of us in spite of everything.

Several difficult days have turned into months. Many of us are confused and discouraged with the recent tragic events that have taken so many lives. It has frightened and divided our society. How does anyone react to fear? None of us does very well. I have noticed that when I am fearful, I react strongly to my environment simply because I am afraid of the unknown and of the future. Maybe some of us have the same common reaction. That is what I see happening in our world today. 

The divisions seem most evident on social media. There is a wide range of opinions. In the beginning, I read viewpoints on different sides and all I came away with was more confusion, so I stopped. I have settled with the thought that with any situation there are true and false statements on every side.

As Christians we have to ask ourselves, have I treated each person I meet with love and care as God’s creation? Have I been able to search for Christ’s face in each one? I know that for me this has not always been the case. There are many excuses that get in the way. I am sure everyone has made excuses for how you have treated others at some point. You see, the excuses do not matter. What matters most is the compassion and love we extend to others. 

In the gospel, Jesus loved to challenge those who were self-righteous, those who felt that they were right and everyone else was wrong. Why did he do that? I think it was because those who are self-righteous are the most difficult to reach and at times, that is you and me. When we get stuck on our side and we become close-minded and think that everyone else is wrong, we become self-righteous. Jesus is asking us to be open-minded and open-hearted and open to thoughts that differ from our own. Jesus is asking us to stay in the conversation and listen deeply to one another and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. Jesus is asking the most difficult of us to reach out in love to everyone around us and embrace each other in love, care, and dignity.

There is a beautiful quote by Glennon Doyle Melton about Mother Teresa, And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up or away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder, and better. What the gospel proclaims is hard, but better. I never thought that it was easy to be a Christian. I have always struggled with being a good one. But if I am to take seriously my vow to live the gospel SEEING THE FACE OF GOD everyday, then I must do this. I must succeed in seeing the face of God in the person next to me.

I end with this quote from N. Wright from Following Jesus, We don’t need Christians who project their own insecurities out on to the world and call it preaching the gospel. We need Christians who will do for the world what Jesus was doing. The Church must be prepared to stand between the warring factions, and, like a boxing referee, risk being knocked out by both simultaneously. The Church must be prepared to act symbolically, like Jesus, to show that there is a different way of living. The Church must be prepared to be the agent of healing.Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the Church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world announcing the kingdom, healing the wounds of the world.

During these difficult times in our world today, let us bring before God every face, every person we encounter, here and across the globe, every day. Ask God to show His face to us in and through these special gifts in our lives. Let us pray for each other and our world as we go forward.

A Story of Hope

If you have not heard, the Cities97 Basilica Block Party is next weekend, and there is still time to get tickets online. It is perfectly situated mid-summer, when the heat lends itself perfectly to a night of live music outdoors downtown. The event is an important fundraiser for The Basilica Landmark, with funds directed to restoration and renovation projects.

Each year while the bands warm up and volunteers set the stage, I have found a peaceful, cool place to stop inside our beautiful Basilica where each night, hundreds of guests take a tour, connecting the purpose of the party outdoors to the need inside. 

But, it is not only in the overwhelming heat of July that the church offers a respite. On the coldest days in January, people sit in the pews and find safety from the frigid cold. The Rectory doorbell rings often, with requests for a cup of hot coffee. Nearly every day of the year, we are open to those who seek shelter, those who enter carrying everything they own, and those who arrive empty-handed—leaving spiritually renewed. 

Just as it is impossible to tell the story of a house without the families who lived there, this is Marvin’s story, in his words. I believe this is a beautiful illustration of the manifestation of our love in The Basilica community.

They welcomed me with open arms. I was homeless for five years. I lost my apartment and was flying a sign to get money. That’s how I met most of my friends. They were doing the same thing to survive. They told me to go to The Basilica. The first time I went there, I was welcomed with open arms. There was food to eat and hot coffee.

Even more though, I found peace of mind. because it was somewhere to go when it was cold where I didn’t have people judging me. It’s also so beautiful and so pretty there. I kept going back, and they gave me information about shelters and food shelves. They gave me shoes, and a clothing voucher. If I needed to get somewhere and didn’t have the bus fare, they gave me tokens. My God, they help you with so much.

If they hadn’t done all that, I would have been into a lot of trouble…breaking into people’s houses. Stealing food to survive. What stopped me from doing those things was because The Basilica helped me. 

They helped me get an apartment and even though I’m not homeless any more, I still go to The Basilica for peace of mind. You know that everyone there accepts you, no matter what. I have a lot of friends who are still homeless, who I get to meet up with and have a cup of coffee. They still go, and so do I.

We are all in need. Those who ring the doorbell at the Rectory and those who volunteer to help answer it. Those who sit in the pews on Sunday and those who are still searching. You may even need The Basilica’s shelter more than Marvin ever did. 

The Basilica Landmark maintains our beautiful Basilica ensuring a home for all of the beautiful ministries and programs. When you give a gift to The Basilica Landmark of any size, you provide shelter in all forms. 

This year, with your help we will re-roof sections of the church and build a storage facility for our grounds equipment. In 2017, we look to add space on our campus for large groups to gather. Today, we are so limited that we cease program growth or take them off campus.

In this challenge, there is also good news. We have growing needs on our campus because our parish is vibrant and our services are growing. Looking at an average day on our calendar, there is marriage preparation, young adult retreats, service opportunities, lectures, employment, mental health ministries, liturgies and so much more. 

Grace Over Vengeance

On a warm and humid night a few weeks ago, I finally got around to viewing, “The Revenant,” starring Leonard DiCaprio. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is set in the 1820s and it follows a fur trapper and frontiersman played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after he was mauled by a bear. The cinematography was wonderful. It really captured the bitter cold of winter and the stark conditions of the frontier (although the night I watched the DVD was hot and muggy, it actually looked kind of inviting). The movie was a wonderful tale of survival. It really captured the desire to survive and the will to live. As a story of vengeance, though, it left me with questions and concerns. Perhaps though, that was what it intended to do. 

Maybe I have not been hurt deeply enough, but I have never had or felt a consuming desire for vengeance. To be sure, there have been times when my immediate response when someone has done something that has hurt or offended me was the desire to retaliate or get even with them. But those feelings/thoughts didn’t linger for very long, and I was able to move on fairly quickly. The overwhelming desire for revenge, though, is foreign to me. 

Now as I was writing the above, it occurred to me that perhaps I am letting myself off the hook too easily. To be honest, I have been known to nurse a grudge. And my old Irish pastor taught me that I should, “bury the hatchet in a shallow grave that is well marked.” I’d like to think, though, that there is a big difference between nursing a grudge and the overwhelming desire for revenge. Perhaps the difference is more in degree than type, but I think there is a difference. 

Specifically, I think that when we nurse a grudge there is always the possibility that God’s grace will find an opening, however slight, into our hearts. It seems to me, though, that a consuming desire for revenge omits this possibility. This might sound like I’m splitting hairs, but in my own life I have discovered that when I have been hurt or offended by someone, while this takes up a few bytes of memory, it is not ever-present and all consuming. The desire for vengeance on the other hand seems more intense and in its worst form can be overwhelming. And when something is that consuming, there is no room left for anything else even and perhaps especially God’s grace. 

God’s grace is always being offered to us. I believe this is particularly true at those times when we have been hurt physically, emotionally, or spiritually and we want to retaliate. At those times, if we can pray for an openness to the grace God wants to offer us, perhaps our hurt won’t turn into a desire for revenge. And maybe, just maybe if we continue to be open to God’s grace, one day we might even forget where we buried the hatchet. 

During this Year of Mercy, it seems particularly jarring to hear stories of families fleeing violence in Syria: The unimaginable terror at home turning into unimaginable terror on the trip toward safety. What state of desperation would lead a family on this journey? 

The whole experience of migration in the Middle East and Europe seems unreal, as I live safely in Minnesota. Vulnerable people fleeing for their lives. Countries welcoming—Countries closing their borders. Fear everywhere.

I want to help. But it seems unlikely that I can have any impact. So I wonder, what is the situation on the U.S. border? What is happening in my own country? How are we treating those escaping state sponsored violence or life threatening poverty?

To find answers to these questions, I joined a small group of Basilica parishioners on a trip to the Mexico/US border. We met with groups living and working on the border, and heard stories of people seeking shelter in our country. I learned so much about things I never hear on mainstream media. While I am still processing what I experienced, I am confident about two things: This is an issue our faith calls us to be actively engaged in.  And, this is an issue that is very relevant to us in Minnesota. 

To be sure, this is a complicated issue. The issue of immigration intersects with a myriad of laws and government policies. It taps into conflicting emotions on national identity. Yet, hearing people share their stories of desperation, and witnessing the physical drama of deportation, I became convicted of the simple truth that we must enter the confusion, learn, and get involved. We must act on behalf of the most vulnerable—to serve, accompany, and defend the migrants on our border. Complicated, yes. But through the lens of faith, a bit more clear.

I learned several things on this trip to the U.S. southern border:

I learned about harsh and punitive policies and laws the U.S. government has put in place, with the expectation that this will deter migration.

I also learned when one is desperate enough—fleeing violence or oppression—these policies or laws are not effective. It is absolutely beyond my imagination to understand the despair one must feel to cross the Mediterranean Sea, or the Sonora desert. Yet, this is the plight of our sisters and brothers all around our globe—including on our southern border. Our neighbors are desperate and need our help. How shall we respond?

I learned, while the Sonora desert is one of the most lush and beautiful deserts in the world, it has also become one of the deadliest corridors for migrants. Since the mid-1990s, at least 6,000 men, women, and children have died trying to cross the US/Mexico border.  In an attempt to deter migration, government policies have funneled migrants into the most dangerous and remote areas of the border.

I learned as immigration laws and borders have changed over time—it is now a felony to re-enter the United States without proper papers. A felony crime. As a first-generation American, I am troubled by the criminalization of migration. As a Christian, I am appalled. 

I invite you to join me over this next year to learn more about immigration, and to find ways to get involved. Together with migrant brothers and sisters in our community, we can work our way through this complicated issue. Pope Francis states, “Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others.” Let us live up to this trust. 

A few weeks ago I read, “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee for my book group. While much ink has been spilled in debating how it compares with, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” clearly that is not my area of expertize, so I will not venture into that discussion. I did enjoy the book, and it was a source of a good discussion for my book group. Very specifically, though, I was particularly struck by one sentence near the end of the book. Jean Louise was involved in a long conversation with her uncle Jack around the issues of race and prejudice. At one point her uncle, Jack, said to Jean Louise: “Prejudice a dirty word, and faith a clean one, have one thing in common: they both begin where reason ends.” 

When I read these words I was struck by their simplicity, but also their truth. Both prejudice and faith are not grounded in reason or logic. They are an act of the will that has no logical explanation. Now, I suspect some people would argue that with both prejudice and faith there is some rational explanation for them, or that they have their roots in experience and/or knowledge. I believe, though, that when push comes to shove, the proof for this position is elusive and vague. 

In speaking of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Faith is confidence reassurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice that there is no reference to reason or logic, no attempt to explain faith or give a rational explanation for it. Faith is not a “provable” proposition; it simply is. I think something similar is true in regard to prejudice. 

While there are times when I wish there would be some “proof” for my faith, I have come to believe that if this were to occur, I would be very disappointed. Because faith has to do with things beyond our human awareness and comprehension, by its very nature it can’t be proven or gotten to by reason or logic. Faith like prejudice begins where reason ends. 

On one level it does bother me a little that faith and reason have in common the fact that they begin where reason ends. On a deeper level, though, I am grateful that faith is not an easy or provable proposition. I want and need something to believe in that is greater than myself and beyond my comprehension. Additionally, though, I am also embarrassed that at times prejudice has crept into my life disguised as insight or knowledge. With both faith and prejudice, the challenge is not to try to use reason as their basis, but to remember that they both begin where reason ends. 

What does it take to change a life? One formula includes willing students, committed volunteer mentors and supportive administrators. Two years ago the Basilica entered into a new partnership called, “Hennepin Connections,” with our neighbor, Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). The premise was simple—pair one volunteer mentor with one MCTC student who had experienced homelessness or poverty.

Mentors were asked to provide support and encouragement to students to help them stay in school and graduate. In its initial year, nine volunteers participated. Students who completed the year received a $1,500 scholarship. The start-up was intentionally small in order to learn if this idea would work and what was needed by the volunteers and students for these relationships to be successful. 

In year two, the goal was to grow to 15 students. This May, that goal was exceeded when 17 students and mentors completed Hennepin Connections—now “the buzz” at the college. Andrea Nelson is the Advancement Officer for the MCTC Foundation and recently attended the closing gathering for mentors and mentees. Describing a powerful goodness in the room, Andrea was struck by the volunteer mentors’ comments. “They expressed gratefulness for the friendships and relationships they had forged, and they talked about building a relationship with someone that they didn’t even know a year ago. How often do people of different experiences and different ethnic backgrounds come together and share deep and meaningful conversations?” The surprise for Andrea was that the mentors learned as much as their mentees.

The success of Hennepin Connections means more volunteer mentors are needed. Mentors commit for a school year from September to May, and training and support are provided. Current mentors said it’s important to view the role as a guide, someone who assists as an advisor, and good listening skills are a must.

A volunteer mentor since the start, parishioner Steve Kattke is a strong advocate who actively encourages others to get involved. He shared that it may be hard to understand the barriers students are working to overcome and stressed that a mentor makes a difference. Students struggle with issues like transportation, a place to sleep, or finances while working to achieve their educational goals.

Parishioner Marsha Carlson was a new mentor this year. Last fall, after continuing to hear that students still needed mentors, Marsha joined after the program had begun and jumped right in. Marsha said, “It was easy. At first, we met at MCTC which is across the street the Basilica, and that is how we got to know each other. After that, we would meet or talk on the phone about once a week to check in on how things were going.”
Marsha knew when her mentee had tests and knew when she was struggling. As a mentor, Marsha offered resources and emotional support, and she felt a real bond with her mentee. Over Christmas, Marsha was out of town but kept in touch with her mentee. Her mentee was surprised that Marsha kept calling even while traveling. After the program ended, Marsha learned what meant the most to her mentee was knowing someone besides her family and friends cared about how she was doing.

Serving as a mentor opened Marsha’s eyes to the realities of homelessness. She watched students struggling to achieve their educational goals, but they also worried about where they would sleep that night. Marsha described being a mentor as an amazing experience and definitely worth her time. She plans to serve as a mentor again next year.

Are you called to consider serving as a mentor with Hennepin Connections? This one-on-one ministry is life changing for everyone involved. To learn more, contact Janice Andersen, Director of Christian Life.

A few weeks ago, while I was on my way to visit someone in the hospital, a car pulled in front of me that had a bumper sticker that read: “Got Jesus.” My immediate reaction was a strong sense of discomfort. Not being particularly pleased with that reaction, I decided the bumper sticker merited a little prayer and reflection on my part.

After spending some time reflecting on the bumper sticker, it dawned on me that the source of my discomfort was the fact that from my perspective it was asking the question the wrong way. The question should not be whether we have “got Jesus,” but rather has Jesus got us. From my perspective this is an important distinction.

Implied in the question of whether we have “got Jesus” is the idea that somehow Jesus is our personal possession. This in turn can lead us to make Jesus into what we want Jesus to be rather than allowing ourselves to be formed into what Jesus would have us be. In my own life, I have discovered time and again how easy it is for me to confuse God’s will for me with my will. If I let myself believe that I had “got Jesus,” I worry that my will and God’s will for me would be nearly indistinguishable. I suspect this is true for all of us.

On the other hand, when Jesus has “got” us, this causes us to see things from a different perspective, to acquire a new way of thinking. I believe this was what St. Paul was getting at when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. In that letter, Paul was urging the new Christians at Ephesus to live no longer as the pagans did. “That is not how you learned Christ! I am supposing, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus; namely that you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new person created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth” (Ephesians 4: 20-24).

We don’t “get Jesus.” Rather our challenge is to allow Jesus to “get” us. We will know this has happened when we find ourselves acquiring the fresh spiritual way of thinking that St. Paul wrote about.

 

Who doesn’t love Pope Francis? she asked. He has such an intimate relationship with God. I so envy him. Since I was young, I have always desired the type of relationship with God that is so close and loving on my part that I would never let go of it, and I would protect it all of my life.

She is a good friend of mine and I have always envied the relationship she has with God.  It’s funny how that works. She doesn’t even realize that she has it already.

This propelled me to look more closely into how Pope Francis speaks about God, and this quote struck me: This may sound like heresy, but it is the greatest truth! It is more difficult to let God love us than to love Him. The best way to love Him in return is to open our hearts and let Him love us. Let Him draw close to us and feel Him close to us. This is really very difficult letting ourselves be loved by Him. This is perhaps what we need to ask today ‘Lord, I want to love You, but teach me the difficult science, the difficult habit of letting myself be loved by You, to feel You close and feel Your tenderness! May the Lord give us this grace’.

Well, just how did Pope Francis develop his relationship with God or anyone we consider to be holy and close to God? First of all, it probably took a lot of practice in prayer. We often forget that our prayer life is equivalent to quality time spent with family members and friends. If we didn’t spend time with them, we certainly wouldn’t have a very good relationship with them. So prayer has to be the number one priority if we want God to be so much a part of us and everything that we do.

We need to realize that there are many different types of prayer and prayer forms. Explore them and find one that is a fit for you. Talk with people you know who have solid prayer lives, get their suggestions and seek their encouragement. Don’t lose hope. Prayer grows just as our relationships grow. The more time you spend in it, the stronger your relationship will be.

Find a time of day when you will feel least distracted. For some it may be the morning, for others it will be the evening just before they go to bed. Establish the best time for you and stick to it.

It is important to remember that prayer should be 10% talking and 90% listening. Listen with your heart. Quiet yourself and put all distractions aside for the few minutes you plan to be in prayer. Distractions are part of who we are. They will always be there. One wise person told me not to fight the distractions in prayer. Make friends with them and bring those distractions to your prayer.

One of the things I find beautiful about the above quote by Pope Francis is the truth in it. God wants to love us more than we will ever know. Giving God time to do that will certainly change us. Sometimes there are days when all I can do is say: Here I am, Lord. I open my heart to you. Just pour your love into my heart. Then I just sit quietly for a few minutes as I picture God pouring love into my heart. It’s a simple way to pray, but I have found it to be quite powerful. 

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to pray. It is your relationship with God that you are growing. The words aren’t nearly as important as an open heart and mind. If you have never had the discipline of a strong prayer life, make a promise to yourself to begin soon. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain a beautiful relationship with your God.

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