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January 14, 2018 is the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This Day invites us to attend to the needs and conditions of the migrants and refugees who have risked their life to flee war, persecution, natural disaster, and poverty.
Immigration—throughout the world and within the United States—is clearly a hot button issue, when addressed from a political perspective. However, it is also a perfect opportunity to experience grace in the tension, as we interpret our life through the lens of faith. From a secular perspective, this stance will appear radical. From a faith perspective, this stance will bring peace.
Pope Francis calls the situation of migrants and refugees “undoubtedly a ‘sign of the times’ which I have tried to interpret, with the help of the Holy Spirit… Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.”
On this 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis invites us to find solidarity across difference. “This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience.” He calls each of us, to “respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom, and foresight.” He states, “our shared response may be articulated in four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate.”
Welcoming suggests a personal encounter—focusing actions on the centrality of the human person. Pope Francis states, “Welcoming means, above all, offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally. “ He goes on, “collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.”
The call to welcome can be counter-cultural, given our political climate. However, it is rooted deeply in our faith—resonating with welcoming the birth of Jesus himself. The Basilica makes substantial commitments to welcoming through its wide range of Liturgies, RCIA, and St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. The Immigrant Support Ministry has welcomed five refugee families and supported several families seeking asylum.
Protecting calls us to recognize and defend the God-given dignity of those fleeing danger. Pope Francis states, this “may be understood as a series of steps intended to defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status.” This absolute acknowledgement of the dignity of the other, and the subsequent call to protection, can expose underlying division in our society. Grounded in our faith, taking the call of Christ seriously, we are invited to stand confidently and faithfully as we declare we will offer care to all—refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented alike.
What does this protecting look like at The Basilica? What does it mean for us individually and as a parish community? There will be opportunities for you to speak with our Parish Council members about how we live this out, in the coming weeks. Together, let us prayerfully reflect on this call.
Promoting calls for an intentional effort to ensure that all migrants and refuges—as well as the communities who welcome them—are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings.
Integrating calls us to consider the many “opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees.” We are called to foster a culture of encounter—actively embracing opportunities for cultural exchange, and recognizing the strength of diversity.
The call to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate is not easy. Yet, it is at the heart of the challenge of discipleship in our day. Let us wrestle together with how we can live this out at The Basilica. Let us share our hopes and fears, united in love and forgiveness. We are grateful for this opportunity.
This month marks the 45th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. Many people thought this decision would be the final word in the abortion debate. Instead, the issue of abortion continues to be part of our public discourse and debate. It is an issue that has divided our country, our communities, and in some cases, even families. At this point, there is no indication that this will change in the near future. People on both sides of the abortion question hold their positions with passion and tenacity. This is certainly true for me. I believe in and espouse a pro-life position with great zeal and firm resolve. I am more than willing to discuss the issue of abortion whenever or however it comes up in conversation.
In the past several years, however, I have noticed a change in the way the issue of abortion is discussed. By this I mean that when this issue comes up, one of two things usually happens. On the one hand, people change the subject. On the other hand, they divide into two camps and the discussion usually becomes fairly vocal, occasionally confrontational, and at times mean-spirited. What this suggests to me is that perhaps we have reached an impasse and need to change the way, the manner, and the form the discussion takes with regard to the issue of abortion. I say this because if we continue along the present track, I think it will be enormously difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a resolution to this issue. Given this, I would like to suggest that we frame the debate about abortion differently in the future. I would like to suggest further, that we who hold and espouse a pro-life position take the lead in this effort. Specifically, I see six things that need to be part of the way we frame the debate and talk about the issue of abortion in the future.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to tone down the rhetoric and eliminate the inflammatory language that increasingly has been a part of the discussion of the issue of abortion. I think those of us in the pro-life movement need to take the lead in doing this. It is too easy for people to dismiss our position on the basis of our sometimes volatile language. We need to invite people into dialogue so that they can see the wisdom of our words and come to understand the moral rightness of our position. In this regard, I believe we are far more apt to convince people than we are to coerce them. Using language that is simple, direct, non-inflammatory, and open to dialogue is a first step in this direction.
- Beginning now and in the future, those of us who are pro-life need to invite those who espouse a pro-choice position to help us look for common ground that we can all stand on—that we can use as a basis for reaching out to each other, and from which we can move forward together. In this regard, three areas come immediately to mind. The first is to ask what we can do to reduce the number of abortions that are taking place. Polls show that the majority of people think too many abortions are occurring. Let’s talk with each other about how we can reduce the number of abortions. Second, in a related vein, we need to talk about how we can provide better medical and social services to women and men in problematic pregnancies so that abortion will not seem to them to be their only option. While our Church, and particularly our Archdiocese, has done much in this area, imagine how much more could be done if we worked with those who advocate a pro-choice position. A third area has to do with the violence that in many cases has come to be associated with the issue of abortion. As people who are pro-life, our position needs to be clear. Violence is not and cannot be part of our cause. We need to talk with those on the other side of this issue to see what we can do together to eliminate the possibility of violence.
- Beginning now and in the future, as pro-life people we need to begin a dialogue with those who are pro-choice about the unresolved issues in the abortion debate. In this regard, two issues come immediately to mind. In the forty-five years since the Roe vs. Wade decision, many advances have been made in neonatal and in-utero medical care. These advances cannot be ignored. Let us talk with each other about what they mean for us and for the life of the unborn infant in the womb. Secondly, let us also talk with each other about when life begins. Perhaps I am naïve, or maybe I am deliberately obdurate, but no one has ever been able to convince me that life begins other than at conception. I think this is such an important issue that it both deserves and needs our best efforts at dialogue.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to continue our efforts to educate people’s minds, illumine their hearts, and challenge their spirits to see and understand what a truly wonderful gift life is. Over and over and over again, we must remind people that life is a gracious gift from a loving God. As pro-life people, our challenge, our goal, is to preserve, protect, and enhance life at all stages of development, and in all its manifestations. This activity needs to occur at all levels of our society, and it rightly includes participation in and trying to influence the political process. Wherever the opportunity arises, and whenever the occasion presents itself, we must freely, openly, and unapologetically speak of the value and dignity of every human life—from the unborn to the elderly—to the terminally ill. All life is a precious gift. This needs to be—must be—our unchanging message.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to say to our sisters and brothers who have been involved in abortions and are estranged from our Church and from our loving God, that it is time to “come home.” We need to remind them that God’s grace is more powerful than any shame or guilt they are feeling. We need to tell them that healing and hope await them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. More than this, though, we need to extend our most profound and deepest apologies to them for any judgments we may have made about them, any unkind words we may have spoken regarding them, any disdain we may have heaped on them, or any affront we may have given them. We need to say clearly so that no one will misunderstand, that we want and need our brothers and sisters who are estranged from our Church and from God to “come home.” Without exception or distinction, without reserve or hesitation, we invite and beseech you to “come home.” God’s love and grace await you.
- Finally, beginning now and in the future, we need to pray with, for, and sometimes in spite of, those who do not hold our pro-life position. I am more and more convinced that if we cannot pray with and for each other—despite our disagreements and differences—that it is only out of force of habit that we will dare to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has taught us that we need to pray together and for each other. Prayer unites us in the common belief that a hand greater than our own created this universe and sustains us even now. Prayer is our often feeble attempt to respond to God the Creator, and to try to understand the will and hope of our God for us. In our prayer, particularly with and for those with whom we disagree, we imitate Jesus, and open ourselves up to God’s grace so that together we might seek to understand and do the will of our God.
The above are my suggestions as to how, on the 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we might proceed into the future. I am sure there are many things I have missed, but I would like to suggest that if we are ever to come to a resolution with regard to the issue of abortion, this can only occur when we change the way, the manner, and the form in which we talk about this issue, and seek new ways and means to engage each other in dialogue. As people committed to life, I think we need to be in the forefront of this activity. I believe that ultimately it is only in this way that we can help others come to understand the value, dignity, and worth of every human life.
The Basilica of Saint Mary has a magnificent set of bronze doors. Monsignor Reardon commissioned them in the 1950s to replace the original wooden doors. They are grand and shiny and to most, they are inviting.
All kinds of people make their way through those doors. They vary in race and in age, in social status and sometimes in creed. Some people fling open the grand doors and bask in the beauty of the building. Others move slowly, bent under the weight of many burdens. They hesitantly open the heavy doors and quietly slip through them. For others yet the doors are a physical barrier that prevents them from entering. Thankfully, some of our grand doors now are accessible to all.
Having passed through the doors, some people simply pause in awe. Others walk a familiar path to a beloved shrine where they light a candle and kneel down in silent prayer. Some people slide into a pew, pull down their hood and take a nap. Some come here to hide from the cold, or even to hide from the world.
The Basilica doors not only allow access to our building, they also symbolize our entrance into the Church, the Body of Christ. Families walk through them as they bring their babies for baptism. Young people with families in tow enter to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. Excited brides and eager grooms pass through these doors separately to merge from them together after the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage.
Seminarians in cassock and surplice, deacons in dalmatic, priests wearing chasuble, and mitered bishops pass through these doors to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Ailing and burdened people pass through them seeking forgiveness and healing. And at the end of our lives, our bodies are lovingly carried through these doors for a last visit to the church before we are laid to rest. Most people however pass through these doors in search of much needed spiritual nourishment as we come to celebrate Eucharist Sunday after Sunday.
The Christmas season is a great time to meditate on the doors of our Church as we remember how Mary and Joseph found the doors closed to them when they were looking for a place to spend the night. Locked out, they were forced to retreat into a cave or a stable where Mary gave birth to Jesus, the one who became the door to salvation for all humankind.
During this season we are invited to open wide our doors. We are invited to open wide the doors of our souls to Christ. We are invited to open wide the doors of our hearts to all who need our love. And we are invited to open wide the doors of our homes to all who need shelter.
And as Pope Francis reminds us over and over again, the Church ought to do the same. Too often, the beautifully crafted doors of our cathedrals, churches, and chapels are closed to too many people, literally as well as symbolically. Christ, the one who found the doors closed to him yet opened his heart to all asks the Church to do no less than that: to open wide our doors and welcome all. No matter where someone is on their earthly journey, they are welcome in the Church as the Church is not a palace for the privileged and perfect but rather a shelter for those who are suffering and searching.
May the beautiful doors of our Basilica never exist to keep people out, but rather be a constant invitation to the entire Body of Christ with all its bruises and burns to enter and find hope and healing.
“It’s no big deal.” Those were the words a friend of mine used when I asked him to help me install a new garbage disposal. He went on to say: “It will take an hour—maybe two at the max.” Well, several hours, and a few trips to the hardware store later, the new disposal was installed and the clean up completed. As is often the case, what had initially seemed like a simple project had turned into a much bigger deal than anticipated.
I think we probably all have had experiences like this. Initially we thought something wasn’t going to be a “big deal,” but then it turned out to be a much bigger deal than we had expected or could have imagined. Sometimes too, something that we thought was no “big deal,” was in fact, a big deal for someone else.
I suspect the birth of Jesus was one of those things that, at least initially, few people thought was a big deal. Perhaps the shepherds and a few others in that locale realized its import, but for the most part I would wager that the number of people at that time who realized the importance of Jesus’ birth was fairly small. It is only in retrospect, and through the eyes of faith, that believers have come to realize the ultimate importance and significance of Jesus’ birth.
The birth of Jesus is the revelation of God’s love for us. It reminds us that God loved the world so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ. In the birth of Jesus Christ, we see God’s love made visible in our world. Because of the birth of Jesus Christ, the course of our individual lives and our world has been forever changed. And through the birth of Jesus Christ, we are invited into an intimate union with God.
Certainly to some the birth of Jesus Christ is no big deal. For believers, though, it is not just a big deal, it is an event of ultimate and everlasting importance. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us pause in wonder and awe before our God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to be our Lord and Savior. And let us rejoice in gratitude, exult in wonderment, and celebrate with praise and thanksgiving the greatness of our God’s love made real for us in the birth of Jesus Christ.
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.