A picture of a solid stone cross in front of a clear blue sky.

Weekly Musings

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. 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 

This past August, Fr. Greg Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me a link to a story from “CBSN: On Assignment.” The opening sentence of the story indicated that “With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.” In Iceland, close to 100 percent of those women who received a positive test of Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy. Unfortunately, other countries don’t lag far behind in pregnancy termination rates for those who received a positive test for Down syndrome. The report also stated that “according to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011).” 
 
One Icelandic health care professional, when asked about the high rate of pregnancy termination rates for those who have received a positive test for Down syndrome, said: “We don’t look at abortion as murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication …. preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as murder—that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.” 
 
Now certainly, the human condition is no stranger to suffering, and efforts to alleviate suffering are laudable. But we all know Down syndrome children and adults who live happy, productive lives. In fact, it’s safe to say that many lives are enriched when we experience the zest and resilience with which those with Down syndrome face life, despite any limitations it brings. Given this, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say that aborting Down syndrome babies prevents suffering. Further, from my perspective, the fact that the health care professional used the words “possible life,” demonstrates the fundamental flaw in their reasoning. In this regard, we need to be clear. Other than nutrients, nothing further is added to the fetus to make life. It isn’t “possible life.” It is life—plain and simple. 
 
The great lie to the above way of thinking is that children with Down syndrome are somehow inferior and undeserving of life. Quite frankly this is wrong. Life—all life—from the moment of conception to natural death is sacred: no exceptions, no exclusions, no qualifications. The sacred image we bear exists from the moment of our conception. We don’t grow into it. It cannot diminish with age. It is bestowed on us by the gracious favor of a loving God. Created in the image and likeness of God, and infused with a soul that seeks to know and love God, all human life is sacred and is to be respected. 
 
For many years now our Church has designated October as Respect Life Month. During this month particularly, we are called to remember and give witness to our belief that life—in all stages of development and in all its manifestations—is a gracious gift from a loving God. There are no qualifications or limitations to this belief. Because God is the author and source of life, all life is sacred. Our task, our challenge is to seek to promote and enhance life at every moment and in every circumstance. 
 
Human life is indeed a precious gift from a loving God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to show our respect and reverence for life in all we do. To the extent we fail to do this, we fail to give witness to our respect for life. To the extent that we do it well, however, we truly live up to our calling as people created in the image and likeness of God. 

My grandmother use to say that going to Mass on Sunday was like hitting the reset button. With 13 children at home, a farm to tend to, and my grandfather driving a semi cross country, I am sure there were plenty of times when a reset button couldn’t come quickly enough. 

As with many things my grandmother told me over the years I found this statement to ring true in my own life this past weekend. My husband and I were dragging our feet Sunday morning debating if we should try and make it to 11:30am Mass or wait and go to 4:30pm, a fairly common question in our house. In the end we ended up at 11:30am and I am glad we did. 

On this particular Sunday I needed to hit the reset button a little earlier. I am not sure I knew that when I arrived feeling a bit sluggish. However, seeing our community come together reminded me that although we are all on our own unique faith journeys, at The Basilica, our community is here to share encouragement, the sign of peace, and ultimately a shared hope for a vibrant faith community and a future full of hope. 

I left feeling renewed, proud to be part of the incredible community, and proud to support the wonderful work taking place 365 days a year. 

This isn’t the first time The Basilica has helped me hit the reset and I am sure it will not be the last. For the better part of the last decade The Basilica community has provided this gentle reminder to me often. 

I have seen our community come together to celebrate joyous moments of baptisms and weddings and difficult movements of loss and grief. I am reminded of it daily when a volunteer simply listens to someone who comes to our door in need of someone to talk to. I am reminded of it often by my fellow staff members who tirelessly provide comfort for those experiencing loss and sadness. I have seen volunteers spend hours counseling individuals in our employment ministry for weeks and months until they have found jobs. 

The Basilica’s valuable work in our community is possible thanks to parishioners of every age who have pitched in and pledged. These moments, along with essentials like heat, lights, ministries, music, and so many more are not possible without each and every financial stewardship pledge we receive. Because when our community comes together so much is possible! 

I hope you will consider a 2018 pledge today. You can pledge online at mary.org/donate, fill out a pledge form and mail it in, or bring it to Mass the weekend of October 7 and 8. You may also contact Stephanie Bielmas at sbielmas@mary.org or at 612.317.3472 for answers to any questions you may have about supporting The Basilica. 

Homeless Jesus Sculpture

Finding Christ

During the month of September, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast days of both Blessed Frederic Ozanam and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent de Paul, is well known to The Basilica, as he is the namesake of our ministries that serve those who are suffering, sick or poor. Blessed Frederic Ozanam is not as well known, yet equally formative to our work.

Blessed Ozanam lived in France during the middle of the 19th century. Studying literature and law, he organized discussion clubs that debated the issues of the day. Legend tells us, one day he found himself advocating the value and role of Christianity in civilization. Upon spouting strong, fancy words, a member of the club challenged, “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you.” This question stung, and it propelled Blessed Ozanam to action. Over time, he founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society and laid out a framework for securing justice for the poor and working class that continues to this day. 

Both St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam compel us to see Christ in those who are marginalized or vulnerable. Indeed, St. Vincent de Paul states that “the poor become our teachers and mentors, and we their servants.” We are urged to “Go to the poor and suffering; you will find God.”

This month, The Basilica will break ground for a public sculpture of a life-sized homeless Jesus lying on a park bench. Cast in bronze, it will be placed right off the main plaza in front of The Basilica Church on Hennepin Avenue. This sculpture has been placed in other cities around the world, and has elicited reactions ranging from awe to fear, compassion to anger. It stimulated conversation and conversion.

The Basilica is honored and excited to install this Homeless Jesus Sculpture. As a community, we are committed to broad and quality care and assistance to those in need. We are also committed to the prophetic and transformative power of art. 

Join us this Sunday at 1:00 for a wonderful presentation of the intersection of art and justice. Be present as we break ground for the sculpture. Look for the litany of program and ministry opportunities offered over the next two months—culminating in the installation and dedication of the sculpture on Sunday, November 19 at 1:00pm. 

Look for a Homeless Jesus prayer card in the back of church, and reflect on “Who is Jesus to me?” Join together in a novena for the homeless over the next nine weeks, praying for all those suffering and in need—and praying for transformation and conversion of all our hearts, helping us to be gentle, compassionate and patient to all.

The Basilica will receive the Homeless Jesus Sculpture mid-October. We will place it in The Basilica Church and we will bless it. It will be moved down to the Teresa of Calcutta Hall for several weeks before the installation outside in November. 

We are all invited to be challenged by the question put to Blessed Ozanam, “What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you.” Let us honor our faith and praise God by finding Christ and serving Him in the person who is sick, poor, or suffering. Vincentians believe that true religion is found among those who are often excluded—and as we attend to their needs, they inspire us and evangelize us. 

To learn more about opportunities to serve, call the Christian Life Office. 

What does it take to feel like you belong? Early in my career after college, I was in a new town and didn’t know anyone. One Sunday I went to the local Catholic Church. The Mass felt familiar and comforting, but I didn’t know a soul in that church. Nobody said hello and I left Mass that day feeling lonely. I wish I’d been confident enough to strike up a conversation. I’m sure I would have learned how much that parish community had to offer. 

Community. Does it remind you of your hometown, your co-workers, your health club, or your circle of family and friends? We sincerely hope it reminds you of your parish home. At The Basilica, we strive to make everyone feel welcome no matter where you are on your faith journey. We are committed to welcoming everyone with respect and dignity. 

We hope to provide a safe place for you to explore, question, and be nourished by your faith and inspired by God’s truth and beauty. In coming together as a parish community, we pledge to be advocates for positive change, work for justice, peace, and equality, and the protection of all of God’s creation. 

This work starts in our families when we are young and continues as we pray together and celebrate the Eucharist each week. Building on our faith, getting to know each other, and initiating relationships with those in our parish community make our aspirations a reality.

Sunday, September 10, we offer a simple, fun way to engage with our parish community. We hope you’ll make new friends or reconnect with past acquaintances. 

We invite you to join us at our Fall Festival for a simple meal and lots of fun after the 9:30am, 11:30am, and 4:30pm Masses. It’s a drop-in affair, so come and go as fits your schedule. It’s perfect for all ages, and promises great food (with no cooking or clean up). There are fun games for children, and it’s a relaxed easy way to enjoy some conversation and a meal with other members of our parish and their friends.

Staffed by volunteers who graciously have shared their time and skills to do the planning, they arrive early for set up, stay through the day to serve food and run games, and stay to clean up.

Our hope is you’ll join us. We’ve partnered with local vendors to offer wonderful fresh food. You’ll be treated to fresh grilled Minnesota sweet corn from Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm. Deutschland Meats is providing locally made brats and hot dogs. Our volunteers have cooked up homemade baked beans from favorite family recipes. And in case you are still hungry, we’ll have root beer floats made with locally brewed root beer from Vine Park Brewing

Just for children—there is a Fishing Game and Treasure Hunt. Win a cake baked by Basilica parishioners or local bakeries at the Cake Walk or play Basilica Plinko (and if you don’t know what Plinko is you have to check it out.) In celebration of Grandparents Day, we’ll have a special activity for Grandparents. Sunday morning we’ll be entertained with polka music and dancing on the front plaza, and after 4:30pm Mass, guests can dance to swing music with an instructor to help you learn the moves. 

Please, join us at the Fall Festival and help build our community together.

Judge Not

The column below was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Catholic Spirit. It was written in response to two letters to the editor that appeared in the August 10 edition of the Catholic Spirit.  

I hate waiting in lines. Unless there is just a single line for people who want to check in/out; get gas; pay for their groceries, or whatever, I always choose the wrong line. I inevitably end up behind someone who is sure they have the exact change—if only they can find it; or someone who can’t find their credit card; or someone who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t use a coupon that expired three weeks ago. 

Given my abhorrence to waiting in lines, you can perhaps appreciate how surprised I was to read the letters to the editor in the August 10th Catholic Spirit. (The newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.) The issue they were writing about concerned an Illinois Bishop’s decision to prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving communion or having their funeral in a Catholic Church. One of the writers was clear that God “does not have a place in heaven for those who decide his rules are outdated and don’t fit the current whims of individuals.” Another suggested that: “Those who claim they are loving others by allowing forbidden practices may just be loving them into hell.” As I read these comments I couldn’t help but think that these writers had found a way to expedite the judgement line at the end of world. 

This is pure genius. I am surprised that no one thought of this before. By narrowing down the issues that Jesus articulated in Matthew 25:31-46 to a single question: “Did you question/wonder about/believe in same sex marriage?”—in effect, by doing some pre-judging in this world—it will save God time at the end of the world. In fact, the line at the judgement at the end of the world should move along quite swiftly. We won’t have to worry about whether or not we fed the hungry; gave drink to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; clothed the naked; comforted the ill; or visited the imprisoned. Of course, though, if we narrow down the criteria for judgement to a single issue/question, it does make it difficult to explain why Jesus told that parable in the first place. 

We need to be clear. The idea that we can save God time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here is complete nonsense.  God searches our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and God—and God alone—is the only One who is qualified to do any judging. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect God is not all that appreciative of those who think it is right and proper to save time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here.   

As for me, I am grateful that judgement belongs to God alone, and that it is something God doesn’t need any help with—however well intended. I am also hopeful that at the end of the world God will grade on a curve.  I say this because the older I get, the more I realize how much in need of God’s mercy I am. 

Come and See

“Come and see!” These three words convey feelings of happiness, joy, wonder, and delight. They are a call to see a litter of squirming puppies, a brightly-lit Christmas tree, a giggling baby taking her first steps.

In the Gospel of John, the woman at the well enthusiastically cried to all who would hear her: “Come and see!” Her joy and delight following her encounter with Jesus are contagious as we read her story. Just like those who heard the woman’s call, you, too, are invited to “Come and see!” 

Have you ever wondered what the Catholic Church is all about? Are you an adult who would like to join the Catholic Church? Were you raised in the Catholic Church but for any number of reasons never followed through on confirmation as a child? Then “Come and see!” Through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA, anyone—the curious, the spiritual seeker, or those wanting to be received into the Church through baptism and/or confirmation—may encounter a place to find answers to their questions. No question is too simple, silly, complex, or controversial. Everyone is welcome. RCIA members come from all faiths and backgrounds—churched and unchurched, believers and non-believers. RCIA is a place where questions and doubts are encouraged, and there is never any obligation to join the Catholic Church. The environment is warm and encouraging, with no judgment or criticism. Many find they make new and long-lasting friendships during this time.

RCIA begins with a Period of Inquiry with an overview of the Scriptures and basic Christian teachings. One weekend is devoted to a relaxing and rejuvenating retreat where everyone has a chance to get to know one another better, building relationships over good times and even better meals. This section ends with the beautiful Rite of Welcome into the Church for those who desire it. This rite is a simple yet eloquent enactment of the Church’s welcoming nature for anyone wishing to step inside its doors. 

Next comes the Period of the Catechumenate, where the sessions go deeper into Catholic teaching, the Sacraments, and encounter the character of Christ through both class sessions and the Breaking Open the Word for the catechumens (unbaptized) during Mass. During the Breaking Open the Word, anyone not yet baptized gathers to discuss each Sunday’s Gospel readings on an intimate level, building even closer and sweeter relationships with Christ and one another.

That is followed by Lent and the Period of Purification where we more deeply encounter the person and character of Christ through the Gospels. Finally, with the Triduum, all the drama and passion of the three days leading to Easter is stunningly portrayed, culminating in baptism and/or confirmation of those who desire it. But there is never any pressure to take this step. The RCIA team recognizes that the decision to do so is deeply personal and is a call from God, and anyone who chooses not to do so is never shamed or questioned.

Finally, the RCIA year ends with the Period of Mystagogia where everyone gathers to reflect on the year and are offered ways to match their time and talent to become more deeply involved with the Basilica. A delicious pot luck caps off the year where everyone is encouraged to bring their favorite dish to share. 

If you or anyone you know would be interested in attending RCIA during the coming year, ask them to “come and see” if this is for them. Contact me the parish office to learn more. Sessions begin on Tuesday, September 12. 

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