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Friends proudly posted a great picture of Pope Francis on Facebook. They took the picture on August 21 as they walked by Casa Santa Marta, his residence just inside Vatican City. It shows him standing in the doorway. He has a beautiful broad smile and his right hand is raised as if he is motioning my friends to join him for a chat. This unexpected encounter must have made their visit to Rome.
That same day, early morning visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica undoubtedly experienced a similar thrill as they made their way to the Presentation Chapel for Mass. Praying before the tomb of Pope Pius X was Pope Francis. Even Mgr. Lucio Bonora, the priest who was scheduled to celebrate Mass was taken aback. Noticing Pope Francis Mgr. Bonora immediately offered to step aside so the Pope might celebrate the Mass. The Monseigneur was told to continue as previously arranged. To everyone’s surprise, Pope Francis joined the assembly for the entirety of the Mass even lining up with them to receive Holy Communion.
For a pope to participate in the Mass with the assembly may raise an eyebrow or two. To be sure, there are good liturgical and ecclesiological reasons why one would expect the pope to be the celebrant of the Mass. Attending Mass “in the pews” is highly unusual. But then again, this is not the first unusual thing we have witnessed during this papacy. We have almost come to expect the unexpected. It all started when he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica dressed in a simple white cassock on the day of his election. After some brief words he asked everyone to pray for him as he humbly bowed his head in a moment of silence.
Since then he has done many unexpected things. He has washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday. He uttered the now famous words: “Who am I to judge.” He speaks of the sacraments as medicine for the sinners rather than an award for the saints. He prefers unity over uniformity. He encourages a culture of encounter and describes the church as a field hospital. He is not afraid to speak off-the-cuff and follow his heart. And when unsure asked a specific question he readily admits that he needs to study the matter in greater detail.
When I meet with people, be they parishioners or not the subject almost always turns to Pope Francis and what a blessing he is for the Catholic Church and the world. They mention his simplicity and humility. They don’t see him as a distant figure, rather they see him as one of them. They see him as the guy who stands in his doorway and waves at passers-by; the guy who sits next to them at Mass; the guy who washes everyone’s feet, no matter who they are; the guy who is comfortable meeting presidents but prefers to hang out in the favelas; the guy who challenges all of us to be better and does not humiliate us when we fail; the guy who never tires of calling us back no matter how far we have strayed. And he does all this because he believes this is what he ought to do as the Vicar of Christ in our world today. Moreover, he asks all of us to do the same as we too are called to be Christ to the world.
I am not sure if Pope Francis indeed motioned my friends to come over to him. And if he did I am not sure if they accepted his invitation. Regardless, looking at the picture I see Pope Francis motioning to me and to all of us inviting us to join him and live out the Gospel message in our world in all humility, with deep faith and profound love. Isn’t it amazing what a simple picture can evoke?
On his recent trip to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay, Pope Francis answered questions from journalists who were traveling with him on the flight back to Rome. One of the journalists on the flight asked him if he would study American criticisms of his critiques of the global economy and finance before his trip to the United States in September. Pope Francis replied: “I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States—I've heard that—but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well. If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism,” he said, “I don't have the right to comment on what that person is saying.”
Once again I am impressed with Pope Francis. He could have responded to the journalist’s question dismissively, or suggested that those who critiqued his words were ill informed or just plain wrong. Instead, he said that now that his trip to South America had concluded he must begin studying for his trip to America and that his preparation would include a careful reading of the criticisms of his remarks about economic life. I find this enormously refreshing. In our world today it is so easy to pigeonhole people with whom we disagree and/or simply dismiss them out of hand. How refreshing it is to find someone who says he needs to study the criticisms of those who disagree with him so that he can enter into dialogue with them.
I think Pope Francis’ non-dismissive attitude is very Christ-like. In the Gospels we often find Jesus at odds with people—most frequently with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus, though, never dismissed them or refused to engage them. Time and time again he entered into dialogue with them. And even when they were trying to trap him with a contrived question or fabricated situation, he never rebuffed them or declined to talk with them. Instead he allowed them to be in his company and he continually sought to enter into a dialogue with them.
In our world today where more and more often people seem to talk “at” each other rather than talk “to” each other, it is good to be reminded that this wasn’t the way of Christ. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to try to lead by example and to engage others in dialogue and civil discourse. I believe this is especially true about those with whom we disagree or where common ground seems lacking.
Now the above is not to say that we need to abandon our convictions or keep our beliefs to ourselves when we engage in dialogue with others—particularly those with whom we disagree. It is to suggest, though, that as Pope Francis said “If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism, I don’t have the right to comment on what that person is saying.”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
After reading from the Gospel of John for the past few weeks, this Sunday we return to the Gospel of Mark. In our Gospel this Sunday we find a scene that is often repeated in the Gospels. Jesus is at odds with some of the Pharisees and the scribes, who were strict adherents to the law. Now, in and of itself, adherence to the law is not a bad thing. In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, however, it was problematic because in many cases their relationship with God had taken a back seat to their adherence to the law.
The issue is our Gospel today had to do with the fact that Jesus’ disciples “ate their meals with unclean, that is unwashed hands.” Prior to eating, Jews were supposed to purify themselves. These and other “rites of purification” were prescribed for Jews, and yet Jesus’ disciples were ignoring them. Jesus challenged their position and reminded them that what “defiles” people does not come from outside, but from within a person. If our hearts are set on God the appropriate actions will follow accordingly.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses reminded the people of the “statues and decrees” they had been given by God. “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God is to us whenever we call upon him?” For Moses, the law was to lead people to God, not take the place of their relationship with God.
Our second reading this Sunday is from the letter of James. We will read from it for the next four weeks. In the section we read today, James reminds us that we are to “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever allowed “following the rules” to take the place of your relationship with God?
- When have you called upon God and felt close to God?
- How do “doers of the word” act?
Sunday, August 16, 2015 marked one hundred years since the dedication of The Basilica, which also happened to be the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. With special permission from the Archbishop, this year, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary was transferred to Sunday, August 16, allowing us to once again celebrate the Assumption and our 100th Anniversary since our Solemn Dedication on the same day. Nearly 900 people joined us for after Mass hospitality, delicious ice cream, and activities for children and adults. Here are a few pictures from the event!
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyAltar adorned with flowers from the Feast of the Assumption and the celebration of 100 years since our Solemn Dedication.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyA parishioner prays the rosary before the Mass at The Basilica Aug. 16. The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 100th Anniversary of the Solemn Dedication were celebrated together on this day 100 years ago.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyA procession begins the Mass Aug. 16 at the Basilica of Saint Mary. The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 100th anniversary of the Solemn Dedication were celebrated on this day 100 years ago.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyThe Basilica Brass Ensemble returned to the Basilica Aug. 16 to help celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 100th Anniversary of the Solemn Dedication.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyFather John Bauer, pastor of The Basilica, celebrates Mass Aug. 16 to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 100th Anniversary of the Solemn Dedication of the Basilica.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyChoirs returned from their summer break Aug. 16 to sing for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 100th Anniversary of the Solemn Dedication at the Basilica.
Photo provided by:Anne Courtney-EighmyGuests enjoy ice cream, crafts, and activities during after-Mass hospitality Aug. 16. It was on this day 100 years ago that the Basilica was solemnly dedication.
Landing back in the Twin Cities in the fall of 2002, Anne Jaeger moved into the Walker Art Center neighborhood and she loved walking to Sunday Mass at The Basilica.
At church, Anne heard the plea for financial and volunteer stewardship. As a U of M student, she wasn’t in a position to give money, but she was strong, had a flexible schedule and knew she could give her time. She joined the parish Shoveling Team. “If it snowed on your assigned day,” Anne explained, “you reported to The Basilica and helped shovel.”
As an outdoor lover, the Shoveling Team was a great fit for Anne. She described it as her “first step into The Basilica’s inner world.” After hearing about an after-Mass panel discussion on energy conservation, her interest was peaked again. She attended and met Janice Andersen, The Basilica’s Christian Life Director. “Janice was so welcoming, and immediately invited me to an upcoming event.” This led Anne to meet Colleen Maiers, parish leader of Pax Cum Terra, a group focused on justice, peace, and the environment (now our Eco Stewardship Team). Finding this work right up her alley, Anne commented, “the hooks were set.” She still remembers meeting Colleen the first time over coffee after Mass. Anne experienced a feeling of familiarity, mentioned it, and found that Colleen felt it too. They found past connections at both Holy Angels and Annunciation, and Anne learned that at one point, Colleen had been her babysitter. They’ve stayed in touch ever since.
As Anne’s involvement grew, she joined Dennis Hoffman as co-leader of the Blessing of Bicycles, an event she loves. After a few years, she needed to step back from leadership and tried to find a volunteer leader but wasn’t successful. She announced that she would lead for another year and then step down, but no clear leader emerged. However, more volunteers stepped up and owned various components of the event. Eventually, a great team emerged who shared responsibility and made the blessing happen.
Anne also served for a year as Facilitator of JustFaith and led others to explore social issues and justice through the lens of Catholic social teaching. Drawn to be most active with Christian Life ministries, Anne recently served as the elected Christian Life representative on the Parish Council.
As a Saturday Shoe Ministry volunteer since 2010 (part of our St. Vincent de Paul outreach ministry to those in need), Anne helps set up and provide shoe vouchers to families whose children need new shoes for school, or people starting new jobs who need new footwear.
She remembers starting in this ministry when our U.S. economy was tanking. “Every Saturday there were long lines of people waiting for us to open. Often, volunteers worked longer hours to try and talk to everyone who had waited in line for help.” Over time she has come to measure swings in the economy by the people waiting in line on Saturdays.
Clearly moved by her experiences, Anne had tears in her eyes as she spoke. “I’m struck by the deep faith of the people I meet. People often ask me to say a prayer for them, or sometimes they ask me to pray with them. It’s so simple,” said Anne. “It’s a very brief interaction. The people who come to St. Vincent de Paul trust that they will receive help—but what they may not know is they always leave something of themselves behind.” Serving in SVdP has expanded Anne’s own feelings of gratitude. While her job is to give shoe vouchers, Anne said “what this SVdP ministry truly provides is hope.”
What does Anne get out of volunteering at The Basilica? At the heart of it is community and friendship. She’s met amazing people who have inspired her to stretch and grow in her spirituality and faith. Meeting these individuals has challenged her to look at the world in new ways.
“Some people may find The Basilica to be very big initially,” Anne commented. “Simply following my own interests led to meeting just the right person which gave me an instant link to the parish.” Anne got involved and enthusiastically describes her volunteer engagement as “super fulfilling.” She encourages everyone “to make that first connection, and just lean in.”
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below and copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082315.cfm
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Often it seems like our lives are just one decision after another. Some are minor: What should I wear today? What should I have for breakfast? Some are major: Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? In our Gospel this Sunday “the Twelve” are faced with a major decision. This Gospel follows immediately after Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Many of Jesus disciples misunderstood these words and “As a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Peter answered him ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
In our first reading this Sunday the tribes of Israel also faced a decision. We are told that Joshua gathered the people and addressed them in these words. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The people responded: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
The decisions we have to make about following the Lord are usually not as dramatic as those faced by the Twelve or by the tribes of Israel. Yet each day we are faced with decisions both small and large that ultimately will determine whether we will follow the Lord or chose another path.
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. In the section we read today Paul reminds us that, as Christians, our relationships with one another must have Christ as their model. “For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever had to make a life changing decision to follow Christ?
- What small decisions have helped you to follow Christ?
- When have you not used Christ as your model in the way you have treated someone?
In a letter dated August 5, 1905, Fr. Cullen wrote about the Pro-Cathedral, now known as The Basilica of Saint Mary: “May this temple which will soon be dedicated to his honor be an earthly center from which the Word of God will be in perpetuity preached, the sacraments holily received, and public and private worship faithfully and uninterruptedly offered. May the cross which tops its massive dome preach constantly to all our citizens the significance of Calvary’s tragedy and the love which through it was affirmed for men, and may the Holy Sacrifice be daily offered as long as our city lasts, for the living and the dead.”
As I write this column, exactly 100 years later I am inspired by his prophetic words. More importantly, I am edified by the thousands upon thousands of parishioners who made his vision come true. For indeed, since the very beginning the members of our community have dedicated themselves to preach the Word of God both in word and in deed. The sacraments have been celebrated with great care and devotion. And The Basilica has been a place of public and private prayer in times of personal trials and triumphs as well as in times of local, national, or international accomplishments and disasters. All of this happened under The Basilica’s massive dome topped by the cross, which proclaims God’s everlasting love and never-ending mercy.
Our rich archives are a true treasure trove of the stories of our forebears in the faith who laid the groundwork for our Basilica as we know it today. At first there were the Irish and Sicilian immigrant families. They not only paid for the building but built up the community. Their descendants still consider The Basilica their home though they may have moved away, even out of state. Successive families have taken up the torch and continued to build on the vision laid out by Fr. Cullen. Today, we come from far and wide; from north and south, east and west as we represent the colorful and rich tapestry of Catholicism at work in the world. And we, too, continue the vision of Fr. Cullen, our first Pro-Cathedral pastor.
During the dedication of the Pro-Cathedral on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August 15, 1915, Archbishop Ireland who conceived of this church some 12 years earlier exclaimed: “Cities and nations honor their heroes with statues and paintings, with lasting memorials in brick and stone, and literature. Who would not bare his head when he stands at Mount Vernon, before the tomb of the honored father of this country? What true American does not feel his soul thrilled when the Star Spangled Banner, the emblem of this country, is raised to float on high? Who would deem it wrong or out of place to salute this banner? In the same spirit we are gathered today to dedicate this Pro-Cathedral to the honor of the saints of God.”
One hundred years after these daunting words were spoken we have much to celebrate because since that very day, The Basilica of Saint Mary has honored the saints of God by inspiring devotion, instilling faith, and evoking prayer. Therefore, we celebrate the building, the faith it represents, and the community it houses. I know of no better way to do that than by recommitting ourselves to the vision expressed so eloquently one hundred years ago. Let us preach our common faith with renewed vigor in our actions and in our words. let us celebrate the sacraments often and with great devotion. And Let us pray both individually and together for our own needs and for the needs of the entire world. Thus, we will indeed be a living testament to the very “cross which tops the massive dome” of our beloved Basilica as Fr. Cullen and Archbishop Ireland wished and prayed for 100 years ago.
Normally this Sunday we would celebrate the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. However because this weekend we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Mass of dedication for the Basilica, we have received permission to use the readings from the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for these readings.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven celebrates our belief that Mary’s body, because she was the mother of Jesus Christ, did not suffer the corruption of death. Rather, because of her unique role in God’s plan of salvation, we believe that Mary now shares eternal life with God in heaven body and soul. While some may wonder about this belief, it is for us, as Catholics, both a sign and a promise of the destiny that awaits all of us who believe in and seek to follow Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel for this feast records Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and Mary’s song of praise (the Magnificat) for the wonders that God has done for her: “for his has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed.” Clearly Mary was aware of God’s gracious favor to her. In this she is a model for us. Because of this she is truly: “Blessed among Women.”
Our first reading for this feast is taken from the Book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature. It is highly stylized and filled with vivid images and symbolic language. It was meant to convey hope to a people experiencing trials or difficulties. The section we read today tells us that “a great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet…….” We are told that a dragon also appeared and “stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.” But “her child was caught up by God ………..and the woman fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.” This vivid language is meant to remind us that God is charge and will always have the final word.
Our second reading this weekend is from 1Corinthians 15: 20-27. It reminds us that Christ is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and that “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for ‘he subjected everything under his feet.’”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Many years ago on retreat my director asked me to compose my own hymn of praise to God --- my own Magnificat --- for all that God had done for me. It was a marvelous experience. What would you include in your hymn of praise to God?
- In light of what would happen in her life some people might question why Mary could call herself blessed. How would you respond to these people?
- Why would Paul refer to death as the “enemy”?
A few years ago one of our priests delivered one of his strongest homilies ever using only a minimal number of words. After proclaiming the Gospel he walked down to the communion rail and demonstrably closed the bronze gates thus separating the sanctuary from the nave of the church. Standing in the sanctuary behind the closed gates he said. “This is who we used to be.” Then he opened the gates as wide as he possibly could and walked into the nave saying “This is who we are today.” Without another word he walked to the celebrant’s chair and sat down. In response, the congregation stood up and burst out in applause. Now, I am not a great lover of homiletic props but in this rare case it worked and I will never forget the message.
The profound desire for an inclusive church expressed in this homily and echoed by our community was once again affirmed this week by Pope Francis. During this Wednesday’s general audience at the Vatican he referenced his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” saying: “No closed doors! No closed doors! Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community.” And alluding to the Gospel of St. John, chapter 14 he continued: “The Church is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.”
In her short story "Revelation" Flannery O’Conner went even a step further turning our pre-conceptions about church membership and salvation upside down. Mrs. Turpin, the main character has a frightful and disturbing vision of heaven. In it she sees the redeemed souls wind their way to heaven. To her dismay the souls who arrive first are those whom she has always considered unworthy. She is shocked to see herself and her “proper” Christian friends at the very rear of this colorful parade of souls. Though she does make it to heaven she clearly is not happy that those she always considered unworthy made it there too. Worse, they made it ahead of her.
Maybe salvation is not as clear cut as some of us desire it to be and participation in the church is not as exclusive as some of us believe it to be, for indeed we are a colorful bunch.
We are a poor, we are rich and everything in between;
We are over-educated, we are under-educated and everything in between;
We are conservative, we are liberal and everything in between;
We are young, we are old and everything in between;
We are differently able;
We are male, we are female, we are gay, we are straight;
We are single, we are couples, we are families;
We are native-born, we are immigrants;
We have black skin, we have white skin and everything in between;
We are strong in our faith, we are weak in our faith and everything in between.
We are an extremely diverse tapestry of humanity in search of salvation. We are the church on a shared pilgrimage in unity, not uniformity. We welcome one another. We dialogue with one another. We help one another forward on this Christian journey of ours. The doors are open. All are welcome and who knows who will be first in heaven. Like Mrs. Turpin, we might end up being surprised, very surprised indeed.
This past Memorial Day weekend one of my cousins organized a group of cousins to meet on Saturday morning at Calvary cemetery in Anoka to clean up the gravesites of our various relatives. All the branches of the Bauer family were represented by at least one cousin, so there was quite a group of us. All told, among the Bauer’s—and the in-laws from various families—we cleaned up twenty-six graves. And with each grave we told stories, sometimes shed a tear or two, took a picture to send to the cousins who couldn’t make it, and remembered each individual with love and gratitude.
Tending to graves has a long history in my family. Back in the early 1930s my mother’s parents lived in Roundup, Montana, where my grandparents owned the general store. My mother had one sister and one brother. She was the youngest. Unfortunately, my uncle died of Spotted Mountain Fever when he was about twelve or thirteen years old. It was a devastating loss for my grandparents. The loss was compounded by the fact that as a result of the Great Depression people couldn’t pay their bills and my grandparents lost their store. They had to move to Minneapolis where my grandfather was able to find work—leaving behind the grave of their only son. Until her death my grandmother would send money every year to a friend in Roundup so her friend could “fix up” my uncle’s grave.
Now, my grandmother had a deep and great faith. She was not afraid of death, and in fact I think she looked forward to what came next. She truly believed in Christ’s promise of eternal life. The reason she wanted my uncle’s grave “fixed up” each year was not because she didn’t believe that he was in heaven. Rather, I think it was her way of remembering him, as well as reminding her grandchildren that he was a part of our lives and our heritage even though we never had the chance to meet him.
There is something consoling about visiting a cemetery or cleaning up a grave site. It reminds us that the person(s) who died, while no longer physically with us, still has a place in our lives and in our hearts. Our memories of them remind us how important they were and still are to us.
Remembering the dead, praying for them, visiting their graves and perhaps shedding a tear for them does not diminish or negate our Christian faith. In fact, I would argue that it is part of our Christian faith. It reminds us that those who have died are still a part of our lives. They live on in our minds and hearts, in our memories and feelings. We also believe, though, that they live on in the presence of our eternal God. Wonderful as this is, though, there is even more. For we also believe that if we follow Christ in this life, so we too will come to share eternal life with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
Tending to a grave is, I believe, an act of faith. It gives us consolation in the face of death, comfort in our loss, and hope that one day we too will come to share eternal life.