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As we walk through Advent, we are invited to prayerfully consider how we prepare for and welcome Jesus into our lives. Looking back on the Christmas story, it is easy to fall into an idealized version of our actions: “If Mary and Joseph past by my door, of course I would have made room for you in my inn, Lord!” But where are those choices in our life today? Where are we closing the door to God in our life and community?
Each day, we are called to be disciples of Christ. We are called to make choices and act so that God’s love is made known in our world. How is that going?
The U.S. Catholic Bishops describe a disciple as those who “make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter what the cost to themselves.” This definition makes the strong assumption that there will be a cost. We will each experience some disadvantage from living our life as disciples. Where is this most true in your life?
Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel says, “An authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it” (#183). This gives the challenge of discipleship a profound social dimension. It is impossible to live out one’s faith and not get caught in the web of politics—local or global. We are called to enter this arena, and maneuver it with grace and love. We must not avoid it—personally or collectively.
In my experience, one of the biggest obstacles to discipleship today is fear. Fear drives division. Division drives exclusion and oppression. Oppression drives violence.
We can see the challenge of discipleship when we look at some of the hottest issues today. These issues call us to put our faith first—to start and end with a prayer to open our hearts and minds to the love of Christ, and close the door to fear, division, or exclusion. This sounds good, until we get specific.
Issues include: immigration reform, care for the environment, taxes and what Pope Francis calls an “idolatry of money,” health care, globalization and trade, racism, care for the most vulnerable, the seamless garment of life, and on and on.
As Catholics, at this critical moment in history, we cannot afford to proceed with business as usual. We must ground ourselves in our faith and join with people of goodwill throughout the world to transform society through the Gospel of love.
God has taken the initiative. God has come to us this Christmas.
Let us open our lives to the Spirit of love and reconciliation. Let us find a way to talk together and work together on the important issues of our day—to welcome God into our midst and experience the love of Christ transforming our life and community. And yes, we may put ourselves at some disadvantage. After all, we are disciples.
On Sunday December 3 we celebrated the first Sunday in the Incarnation Cycle thus starting a new liturgical year. As every New Year, be that liturgical or other this is a time for new resolutions and new beginnings. The Incarnation Cycle comprises Advent, Christmas and Epiphany ending with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Advent comes from Adventus Domini, Latin for the “coming of the Lord.” Thus Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Often, this is understood to refer to the first coming of Jesus, meaning his birth. However, Adventus Domini refers not only to the advent of the Lord in the past, but also his presence today, and especially his appearance at the end of time. The season of Advent, therefore is a season filled with anticipation, not just for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus but also anticipation of current, future and final manifestations of Christ in our midst. Admittedly, the current manifestations are the most challenging. Our new sculpture of the Homeless Jesus is a true witness to that.
Christmas of course is the heart of the celebration of the Incarnation. The Word Christmas is derived from the Old English Cristes Maesse which means the Celebration of Christ or Christ’s feast. This implies that at Christmas we celebrate the mystery of Christ in its fullness, i.e. his birth, life, death and resurrection. Some Icons place the baby Jesus in a small sarcophagus inviting the beholder to contemplate the mystery that this little child brought salvation to the world.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany marks the last Sunday of this year’s Christmas Season. The word Epiphany is the English translation of the Greek epiphaneia, meaning appearance or manifestation. Three of the great moments of said revelation are the visitation by the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding at Cana when Jesus performed his first miracle. On this feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate how Jesus’ was revealed as The Christ in the past and how he continues to be revealed to us in the present.
This year, the Incarnation Season ends on January 8 with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, one of the above mentioned manifestations of Jesus as the Christ.
The next day we will return our crèches to their bins and place the Advent wreaths and Christmas trees on the curb with a mix of sadness and relief. Let us encourage one another though to keep the enthusiasm and joy at the birth of Jesus and his manifestation as The Christ alive in our hearts and in our communities.
Even more importantly, let us commit ourselves to be the hearts and hands of The Christ in the world today revealing his message of love and compassion to all. This message is very much needed in our world today. Instead of being agents of anger, hatred and division let us be angels of love, hope and peace. After all that is the message of Christmas and it is our message.
Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!
Waiting. We’re not very good at that anymore. Perhaps we never were. In this “instant gratification” “gotta have it now” “why is that website taking forever to download” modern age, we get frustrated and irritable if we have to wait for any length of time. The other day I found myself not so silently criticizing the driver of the car in front of me because the light had turned green three seconds earlier and they had not moved. I mean really, I am sure most people would agree that three seconds is a long time for any sane person to wait.
I think the problem with waiting is that it feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have way too much to do. Every minute counts. It feels like we are squandering a precious resource if our schedule isn’t jam packed, and we aren’t racing from one good and important thing to another. And that is part of the problem. If we were engaged in frivolous or unimportant activities, it would be easy to cut back on them. But for most of us, the things we do have value and significance. We wouldn’t be doing them otherwise. And yet—at times I wonder if all this activity isn’t a way for us to avoid some of the deeper issues and concerns of our lives. Very specifically, I wonder if it isn’t a way for us to avoid having to pause and wait so we can become aware of God’s presence and open to God’s grace.
Now I know that most of us would not intentionally or deliberately try to avoid God. It’s just that God isn’t really good at small talk. Moreover, it takes a while, as well as some real effort, to tune everything else out so we can “tune in” to God. We all have schedules. So, it would just seem to make sense that if we could just sync up God’s schedule with our schedule everything would be so much easier. The difficulty is that God doesn’t work on our schedule, and so we need to find the times and tools that help us to slow down and wait on God. Advent is such a time.
The season of Advent is all about waiting. During advent, we are reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the times of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about “arrival” e.g. the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s birth, the waiting that marked the time before Christ’s birth, the waiting that the people of old experienced.
And so, maybe a little waiting is a good thing. I know that’s a difficult concept for some of us to get our minds around, but I think there is a profound truth to be found in waiting. And that truth is that God also waits for us. God waits for us to discern God’s presence, to be open to God’s grace; to respond to God’s love; and to let God find a home in our lives and in our hearts.
I think the season of Advent is a great opportunity to think differently about waiting. Perhaps the waiting we do during Advent won’t change the way we feel as we get caught in a traffic jam and have to wait, and wait and wait, but maybe, just maybe, it will give us the chance to view that time differently—possibly as a time to turn off the radio, put down the cell phone and spend a little time with God in prayer.
Several years ago I had a meeting with my spiritual director and in our conversation I mentioned an issue that seemed to crop up periodically in my life. He listened carefully and than suggested that it might be helpful if I asked myself a couple of questions on a regular basis—sort of a mini examination of conscience. The questions he suggested were simple. “Where have I been the bad guy in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?” “Where have I been a hero in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?”
These questions were and continue to be helpful to me as I look at where sin has found a foothold—or worse—safe haven in my life. They challenge me to look beyond my intentions, to the impact and effects of my words and actions on others. In this regard, it is easy for me to tell myself that since I didn’t deliberately intend to hurt someone, what I did or said couldn’t have been sinful. The reality is, though, that both intentionally and unintentionally we can be the bad guy in someone’s life.
On the other hand, it is also good to ask ourselves on a regular basis, where I might be the hero in someone’s life. Now we don’t do this to inflate our ego, or to give us something to feel good about. Rather, we do it to discover where we are doing something right or good and how we might do more of that.
Asking ourselves on a regular basis where we may have hurt someone or conversely where we may have helped someone is a good spiritual exercise. It can help us be more aware of where a pattern of sin may have entered our life, or where virtue is manifesting itself. Taking a look at the impact of our words and actions on a regular basis can spur our spiritual growth, and help us to be more attuned to God’s presence in our lives and more open to God’s grace.
Now while it is good to identify where we have perhaps grown lax in our spiritual life, or where we are manifesting virtue, it is important not to stop at that point. The next step is to ask ourselves what we need to do to root out sin, and/or where we can give better witness to our faith. In this regard, I have discovered that in my own life prayer and reception of the Eucharist are the things that help me to grow spiritually and to recognize where God is offering me God’s grace.
Now while the Eucharist and prayer have helped me to be a better person, they have clearly not eliminated sin from my life, or put me on the path to sainthood. They do help me, though, to be a better person than I otherwise might be. As importantly, they help me to remember that God is still at work in my life, calling me to do good, avoid sin, and to believe that God’s grace is always being offered to me to live as Jesus has called me to live.
On November 19, this year’s class of Inquirers will go through the Rite of Welcome, also known as the Rite of Acceptance. These Inquirers have already been attending RCIA sessions since September. During that time, some of them have experienced a conversion; others have deepened and strengthened their relationships with God in Christ, and still others have come to know and understand the Catholic faith a bit better. In either case, some of these Inquirers are now ready to publicly declare their desire to continue their journey towards full initiation into the Catholic Church.
During the Rite of Welcome, Inquirers enter at the back of The Basilica, standing between the doors and the baptismal font, symbolizing their initial steps into the community. They are introduced to our community for the first time and are asked to declare their intention and desire from the Church. They are then guided forward into the church where they will be marked with the sign of the Christian to remind them we are followers of Jesus Christ.
Although the Rite of Welcome is only one of the steps Inquirers take during their process of conversion, for many of them it is still a very emotional and spiritually rich step. Some Inquirers may face a lack of understanding or even rejection by friends and family for taking this step and being formally welcomed by its members brings a surge of love and relief. As one author has written, “…the church embraces the catechumens as its own with a mother’s love and concern. Joined to the church, the catechumens are now part of the household of Christ, since the church nourishes them with the word of God and sustains them by means of liturgical celebrations.”
But as meaningful as the Rite of Welcome is for the Inquirers, it also holds rich meaning for us who are life-long members of the church, giving us a chance to reflect on our own journey of conversion and ponder the rich gift of faith. It reminds us of where our love story began with Christ and where it has taken us in our own faith lived out.
The Basilica is an especially warm community, and past Inquirers always comment on the love and support they see in the faces of the congregation as they go through the Rite of Welcome, love and support that continues as many of them receive cards and letters from members of The Basilica as they move through their RCIA journey. And even though some Basilica members may never interact with an Inquirer on a personal level, their prayers nevertheless strengthen Inquirers along their journey of faith.
The Rite of Welcome ends and begins another stage in the process and is a powerful experience for Inquirers that clearly symbolizes that they have, at long last, been welcomed into a loving and spiritually nourishing home. Please be sure to be there November 19 at the 9:30am Mass to welcome this year’s group of Inquirers to The Basilica, and to offer your support through your smile and your prayers and your welcome as they continue their journeys toward Easter. This year’s class is a wonderful group of people, and your presence would be most meaningful to them.
My brother Hans proudly sent me a photo of the grave marker he and his children created for the tomb of one of our beloved aunts. I did not know he was doing this. In the past, we have always bought tomb stones or markers at specialty shops. This time he decided to do it himself. When I asked him why he did this, he mentioned that he wanted to create something special for my aunt and he wanted to do it himself. They had a special bond.
The marker is really striking and it is unique. It is large and covers the entire tomb. Made out of metal it frames a central cross. Carefully selected succulents were planted inside the frame around the cross. Seasonal flowers will be added throughout the year. The marker thus testifies eloquently to our belief in the resurrection.
There is something really beautiful about this marker and the fact that my brother made it. It is the perfect final gift my brother gave to our beloved aunt. And, he thoughtfully readied it in time for the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, the time when Belgians—like many others throughout the world—visit the tombs of deceased loved ones and decorate them with flowers.
Our care and continued love for our deceased relatives and friends is rooted in our belief in the Resurrection and the Communion of Saints. As to the latter, the oldest known reference to the Communion of Saints can be found in the writings by Saint Nicetas who was bishop of Remesiana, Serbia, at the end of the fourth century. He described the Communion of the Saints as the spiritual union which exists between all the members of the Church, both the living and the dead. This union is made possible through our shared membership in the Mystical Body of Christ. Saint Paul wrote in several of his letters that through baptism we become part of the Body of Christ with Christ as its head.
The fruit of this union are the blessings in which all members share. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the good of each [member] is communicated to all the others.” (CCC,947) Therefore, even sinners share in the Communion of Saints and benefit from it.
At The Basilica, we celebrate our belief in the Communion of Saints every time we gather for worship, for we believe that not only those present but all Christians, living and deceased, gather spiritually whenever we gather for worship. During the month of November, we visualize this reality by placing Icons of the Saints in the sanctuary and photos of our beloved dead on the side altars.
The very presence of these Icons and photos both expresses and refreshes our belief in the Communion of Saints, the Mystical Body of Christ with Christ himself as the head. For an Icon is not only an image of the Saint it depicts, the saint in turn is an image of Christ himself. Similarly, we believe that the photos are not only an image of our deceased loved ones but also of Christ in whose mystical body they participate through baptism.
One of the first things I do whenever I travel to Belgium is to visit the tombs of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in our town’s cemetery. I look forward to seeing the marker on the tomb of my aunt, so lovingly made by my brother and such a testimony to our faith. May my auntie and all our beloved dead whom we remember especially during this month of November rest in peace.
Recently I attended a lecture by author Kathleen Norris. During the course of her talk she shared a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher: “BE KIND for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I loved the simplicity of the words, but also the profound meaning behind them. I suspect all of us have “battles” we are fighting in our lives. They could be bad memories, addictive behaviors, physical or mental health issues, difficulties in relationships, financial problems, job concerns, etc. etc. The list could go on endlessly. Whatever battle an individual is fighting, though, it is very often unseen and in many cases known only to a few.
So, recognizing that everyone has their own personal battle they are fighting, the real question is how do we “be kind” to everyone? Well, I think this is easier than some might think. In fact, I think it can be boiled down to four simple things.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. It is easy for all of us to observe what we “perceive” to be someone’s bad mood or poor behavior, and then respond in kind. More often than I care to admit, when I think someone is being indifferent, unfriendly, or mean, I mirror that behavior in my response to them. We need to remember, though, that we are dealing with our perception, and perception doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. Perhaps the individual is just preoccupied with a difficulty or a problem they are dealing with. Or perhaps, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and aren’t ready to deal with the world outside themselves. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very simple way to be kind.
- Don’t take out your bad mood on someone else. Too often when I am having a bad day, or when I’m overly tired, or when I am worried about something, I can easily share that bad mood with almost everyone I encounter. The challenge for all of us is to recognize when we are “out of sorts,” for whatever reason, and then make a conscious choice to keep our bad mood to ourselves. I have a friend who regularly gives themselves a “time out” when they recognize that they are in a bad mood. It gives them time to think about what issue/concern is the source of their bad mood, and then find a constructive way to deal with that. Not taking out our bad mood on someone else is an easy way to be kind.
- Don’t talk about people behind their backs. When we criticize or denigrate others, particularly when there is no way for them to explain or defend themselves, this demonstrates a serious lack of charity on our part. In effect, we are passing judgement on them “in absentia.” Failing to honor the name and character of someone in their absence is always inappropriate. Not talking about someone behind their back is another easy way to be kind.
- Say a quick prayer. I suggest this because it never ceases to amaze me what a difference it can make to pause for a moment to pray for someone or to pray for myself. Prayer helps to take the focus off of me and my feelings, and reminds me that God is always offering us God’s grace to help us deal with, work through, overcome or forgive whatever is causing us not to be charitable. Saying a quick prayer for someone or for ourselves is an easy way to be kind.
Being kind is not always easy, especially when we don’t know what battle someone is fighting. Perhaps, though if we are kind to others, they in turn will be kind to us. And who knows, that kind of mutual kindness could even start a trend.
One of the greatest privileges of working at The Basilica is how many members of our community I have gotten to meet and how many Basilica stories I have gotten to hear over the past nine years. The Basilica is a diverse community made up of 6,500 households, just over 12,000 parish members. Each of you has your own Basilica story—what brought you here and why you have stayed.
Two weekends ago at Mass, we heard from two of those parish members, Scott Knight and Mary Gleich-Matthews. Each shared their Basilica story and why they have chosen this community to volunteer, to attend mass, and to support with their financial pledges.
Scott and Mary are at different stages in life. Mary is a young professional who found The Basilica, like many, after “church shopping” for the right fit during graduate school, and was recently married at The Basilica in 2016. Scott came to The Basilica in 1996 and now more than 20 years later is balancing life as the Police Chief of Chaska, husband, and father. Scott was diagnosed with stage four skin cancer in 2014 and has immense gratitude to The Basilica community that prayed for him and supported him throughout this battle.
Despite their differences both Mary and Scott shared how much they appreciate The Basilica’s hospitality and Fr. Bauer’s message that “all are welcome.” I frequently hear that this message resonates with so many members of our parish community.
At The Basilica, we recognize that faith journeys take different turns. Some of us are just starting out, establishing new faith habits as we launch careers or adult lives. Others experience faith against the backdrop of young families, work demands, empty nests, or well-earned retirements. Each member of our community brings value to make us stronger together.
The Basilica’s valuable work in our community is possible thanks to parishioners of every age who have pitched in and pledged support. Mary, finding a home and getting married at The Basilica, would not have been possible without financial stewardship pledges. Scott, feeling supported during his difficult battle with cancer, would not be possible without financial stewardship pledges. These moments and so many more along with essentials like heat and lights would not be possible without each and every financial stewardship pledge we receive. When our community comes together so much is possible!
I hope you will consider a 2018 pledge today. You can pledge online, fill out a pledge form and mail it in, or bring it to mass and put it in the regular collection basket. You may also contact Stephanie Bielmas for answers to any questions you may have about supporting The Basilica.
“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.