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A few weeks ago Johan van Parys, our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, wrote an excellent column for this space articulating why he is staying in the Catholic Church. His words prompted me to reflect on why I to stay in our Church, especially in light of the fact that many people have left or are at least taking a break from our church.
In most cases the reason people have left, or are taking a break from our Church, has to do with the handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis by the leaders of our Church. Over the past many years, hundreds, if not thousands, of priests have engaged in the sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults. Others have sexually exploited or harassed adults. Worse, many bishops and others in leadership positions covered up this behavior or turned a blind eye to it. Worse still, it has come to light that some bishops have also engaged in this kind of behavior. Worst of all, though, is that now that the actions of these bishops have come to light, the leadership of our Church still hasn’t developed a comprehensive plan to respond to the sexually inappropriate behavior of their fellow bishops.
Until and unless the leaders of our Church acknowledge their failures, and put forth a concrete, specific plan for their future accountability, our Church will continue to be embroiled in the sexual abuse crisis, and people will continue to leave our Church in frustration and anger. People have been deeply wounded by individuals they have trusted. In many cases, those in positions of authority allowed this to happen. These same leaders must now commit themselves publicly to openness, transparency, and honesty. This is called accountability. People should not only expect it; they should demand it.
Despite the failures of many in leadership positions in our Church, however, and despite the fact that many people have left our Church, I chose to remain. While the reasons I stay are many and varied, there are two primary reasons.
I stay in the Church because I need the Eucharist. As Catholics we believe that in the Eucharist we celebrate and share, that Jesus Christ is really and truly present—not present just in memory, not present just symbolically, and not present just spiritually, but really and truly present. We offer no proof for this. There is no logical or rational explanation for it. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of faith. And it is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that I hunger for and that sustains and nourishes me in my life. As I tell the children at First Eucharist every year: I know that I am not the best person in the world. I am a sinner. But I would be far worse without the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes me be a better person than I would otherwise be. I cannot do without it, and I cannot accept a substitute for it.
The second reason I stay in the Church is that I need a community of faith that both supports and challenges me. I believe we do this especially well at The Basilica. Here at The Basilica we welcome all those who come through our doors. Not only do we strive to see the face of Christ in one another, but we also strive to be the face of Christ for each other. While some would seek to limit the embrace of our Church, I believe that the embrace of our Church can be nothing less than the embrace of God’s love.
In his message at the beginning of Lent a few years ago Pope Francis wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, how greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.” I believe these words describe well what the church, as a community of faith, is all about. These words are an important and necessary challenge to parishes everywhere. They remind us that parishes can never be self-referential or concerned only with their own self interest. The Church needs to be a community of faith that supports and challenges its members. The Church needs to be a community of faith where people are welcomed and accepted. The Catholic Church—and particularly The Basilica—does this better than any church I know. I need this in my life.
And so because I need the Eucharist and because I need a community that supports and challenges me, I stay in the Catholic Church.
In this space several months ago I quoted a line from the late comedian Phyllis Diller, who famously said: “Don’t go to bed angry…Stay up and fight.” I believe this is good advice for Catholics today. And so, on this Easter Sunday, I say to all those who may read this: Don’t leave our Church angry. Stay and fight for a Church that is open, honest, and transparent. Stay and fight for leadership that is accountable and responsible. Stay and fight so that you can be the Church that you want the Church to be. Stay—and celebrate the Eucharist and be a part of a community that supports and challenges all of us.
As we celebrate the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we are given an incredible opportunity over the next seven days, the holiest week of our liturgical year—an opportunity to live our faith through Jesus and to reflect on what Jesus’ journey means to us.
We immerse ourselves into the Passion of our Lord. Hearing the Passion each year on Palm Sunday reminds us of Jesus’ tremendous love for us. We wave palms on this day in remembrance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem to embrace whatever was to come. We leave today’s Mass with these palms that we will keep with us in our homes over the next year as a reminder of this sacred celebration and what it means to us as Catholics.
As we journey through Holy Week, we begin the Triduum on Holy Thursday. On this night we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and are invited to wash one another’s feet. The act of washing one another’s feet is a reminder that to follow in Christ’s footsteps means to serve one another. It is in serving one another that we further immerse ourselves into the Paschal Mystery of our faith.
On Good Friday, we are invited to commemorate the suffering of Jesus, followed by his crucifixion. The Basilica celebrates three services on Good Friday—Stations of the Cross at noon, a Communion Service and celebration of the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon, followed by the Tenebrae service in the evening. These services are filled with many multi-sensory symbols that bring the story of Jesus’s passion and death to the forefront in the history of our faith.
Holy Saturday marks the Easter Vigil which is the greatest feast in our Church. We celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. This Mass begins with the Easter fire outside the church, around which all are invited to gather and celebrate the new Easter Light. As the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) Elect and Candidates receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist as a part of the Easter Vigil, we remember our own beginnings in the faith and celebrate that new life has come again into our community.
On Easter Sunday, we celebrate! We celebrate that Jesus has risen from the dead. We celebrate our salvation, our joy and our faith. We celebrate with friends and family. We celebrate all that is good in our world. We celebrate the joy in our own lives. And our celebrations last during the entire Easter season.
This Holy Week, may you participate fully and experience all that is Holy Week in our Catholic faith. May our faith deepen and may we be filled with joy as we celebrate together our risen Christ this Easter.
When I was a young priest, I never used to feel guilty when I hurried through my prayers. I told myself that I had good and important things to do, and that God surely understood that those things needed to be attended to. I would also tell myself that while I could always be more generous, more charitable, less judgmental, and more caring and compassionate, God certainly knew what I had to deal with, so surely God understood when I didn’t do these things. In the past few years, though, I have noticed that when I hurry through my prayers, or when I am not as kind, as tolerant, as accepting, or as generous as I could be, that I feel guilty. And at least for me, guilt is a good motivator to do better, or at least to try harder.
Now certainly there are many people who would suggest that guilt is a bad thing. Some would suggest that guilt can damage our self esteem and lead us to beat ourselves up with remorse or regret. When I encounter these people I politely suggest that they are confusing guilt and shame. Guilt tells us that what we did was wrong or bad. Shame tells us that we are bad because we did it. I think there is a big difference between these two.
There is something terribly amiss if and/or when we are not able and willing to admit that something we did was wrong. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short of the mark at times. This is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Feeling guilty reminds us that we aren’t perfect. More importantly, it also helps us to remember that we need God’s good grace to help us overcome those faults and failings that are a part of each of our lives. Guilt can be a good motivator for us. In this, it stands in stark contrast to shame, which is ugly and oppressive. Shame weighs us down. It tells us that because we did something wrong or bad, as a consequence we are a bad person.
Sadly, all too often people come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation weighed down by the feeling of shame for something they did. In these situations I gently remind these individuals that we are all beloved daughters and sons of God and that nothing we did or could do would ever cause God to stop loving us. I then tell them that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the ideal place to leave the shame they have been carrying, and take up instead the mantle of God’s love. If they protest that they are not worthy of God’s love, I tell them they are right. None of us is worthy of God’s love. None of us can earn or merit God’s love. God’s love is a gift. And gifts are never earned, they can only be accepted. I then invite them to let go of the shame they are carrying, so they can take up the gift of God’s love—a love that is unearned, unmerited, unwarranted, gratuitous, and undeserved, and yet, oh so very real.
During this season of Lent, one of my prayers has been to ask God to help me allow guilt to motivate me to be more open to God’s grace so that I can be a better person. I have also been praying, though, that God will help me let go any shame I am carrying so that I can more readily accept God’s grace and live in God’s love. I suspect these are prayers that could be on all of our lips.
This truly has been a horrible year for our Church. As a matter of fact, it has been many horrible years in a row. The leadership of the Church I trust has betrayed us. The leadership of the Church I love has deceived us. The leadership of the Church I believe in has misled us.
In light of this, many people have asked me why I stay. It is a perfectly good question. There have been times I found myself at the threshold of the Church, ready to walk out. Yet, every time something happened that ushered me back in. I still smile at the memory of a young immigrant woman who was so elated to be baptized that she did not want to get out of the font. I rejoice every time ecstatic young couples bring their newly born babies to Church for baptism, filled with hope for a bright future. And I still ache for the family who entrusted me with their pain and sorrow at the unexpected passing of their young son, eager for solace and support.
Why do I stay? I stay because I believe in the saving message of the Gospel. I stay because I am strengthened and nourished by the liturgy. And I stay because I sense a profound connection with you, the Body of Christ, the People of God.
I stay because of my love for the Gospel. The Gospel truly is my guide and rudder on my journey. All of us carry our share of pain and suffering. And our world as a whole is in great agony. There are wars, civil unrest, natural disasters, disease, hunger, loneliness. Left to our own devices we are clearly unable to escape this spiral of death. The Gospel, when interpreted correctly, is an absolute antidote to all the evil that seems to control our world today. The Gospel is a most effective guide in our struggle to save humanity and all of creation. Such is the power of the Gospel.
I stay because of my love for the liturgy. At the Easter Vigil I offer the Blood of Christ to the newly baptized. Inevitably I have to fight back tears as I look the neophytes into the eyes and say “The Body of Christ.” As they share in the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time their sharing in the Church as the Body of Christ is confirmed. From that moment on the liturgy becomes their source of much needed direction, affirmation, and nourishment, as it is to all of us. It is in the liturgy that we are rehearsed in what it means to be followers of Christ. It is in the liturgy that God molds us into being more like Christ. It is in the liturgy that our communion of shared existence is nourished and affirmed. We may not experience this every time we gather for worship but it happens, whether we realize it or not. Such is the power of the liturgy.
I stay because of my love for you. Throughout my journey with cancer you have supported me. You have made me food. You have brought me to appointments. You have sat with me during my infusions. You have sent me cards and flowers. And above all you have supported me with your prayers. Every Sunday night as I wrote thank you notes I was deeply moved by the great support you offered to me. And I was reminded that we are the Body of Christ. We are the People of God. We are the Salt of the Earth. We are the Light of the World. It is our shared calling to change our suffering world into what God intends it to be. It is also our shared calling to change our suffering church into what God intends it to be. Such is the power of the Body of Christ.
It has indeed been a run of horrible years for the church. Anyone who has studied the history of our church knows that we have been here before, not in the same circumstances but in crisis. When we have been willing to follow the often surprising movements of the Holy Spirit we have risen from our crisis stronger and purified. This is our time and our chance to trust in the Holy Spirit and embrace the inevitable and necessary change with faith, hope and love. That is why I stay.
Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. It can easily be thought of as a somber or gloomy period, with a focus on giving things up or carrying a cross. We enter forty days of penance and prayer, as we prepare for Easter. Yet, there is great joy found in recommitting to our faith. Our hearts are renewed, as we are invited into the deep love of God.
In Lent, we are invited to embrace and practice the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Of course, these are disciplines we could practice every day of the year. Yet, so often we fall short—distracted or sidetracked. I know well the sentiment of St. Paul, in Romans 7:19: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”
Lent is an intentional time for individuals and communities to begin again. We gather together, hold one another accountable in a new way, and commit to pray, fast, and give alms. We commit to refocus and draw near to our God—seeking purification, enlightenment, and mercy.
A gift of Lent is the joy, comfort and grace we experience as we are called into a deeper relationship with God. As we are formed by God’s forgiving, redeeming love, we are transformed in the way we think, speak and act. During Lent, all things lead us toward this transformation.
In his 2019 Message for Lent, Pope Francis offers provocative encouragement and guidance on our Lenten journey. He reminds us Lent is a journey of conversion—opening ourselves ever deeper to the priceless gift of God’s mercy. “The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, so as to live fully the abundant grace of the pascal mystery.”
Fasting: We are invited to take a fresh look at how we might fast this Lent: Pope Francis suggests that fasting is “learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts.” This experience of fasting is a challenge. It asks so much more than giving something up. It asks us to go deep into our attitudes, assumptions and actions—and to move concretely toward a love that can hold joy, as well as pain, in our relationships.
Prayer: Our prayer can shape and change us. Pope Francis invites us to embrace “prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy.” We are invited into a deep peace that recognizes our powerlessness—coming to believe the love of God will sustain, heal and save us.
Almsgiving: What do we keep and what do we give away? Again, Pope Francis challenges us: “Almsgiving, whereby we escape from insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us.” Almsgiving brings us freedom.
“Let us not allow this season to pass in vain!” Let us embrace Lent together. Let us say “yes” to the disciplines of our faith—finding joy individually and collectively, as we are transformed by God’s love.
These past few weeks I have had so many intense conversations with people about where they are in regard to their faith life. These conversations have been so rich and diverse and filled with wonderful stories of how God has interacted in their lives.
One such encounter was with a friend who is my age and who has gone through several tragedies in her life, the latest being the loss of a child. She told me she prayed and prayed for God to do something and heal her daughter; it did not happen and her child died a slow painful death. She was truly grateful for all those who were involved in her daughter’s illness from doctors to family members and friends. She was also grateful for her faith community that surrounded her but the one she had the problem with was God. She felt that God wants nothing to do with our lives and has just left us on earth to fend for ourselves. I tried to suggest to her that God works through doctors and the community that surrounded her with care and concern but she would have none of it. She said that they were responsible for all that, not God. It left me wondering about doubt and what we can learn from it. It also made me remember that sometimes it is easier to blame God than to just see it as part of life.
There is pain and suffering throughout everyone’s life. That is a very real part of life. Just listen to the news some evening and you will hear about the suffering of many. It seems so unfair and cruel for these things to happen to us. In our anger and loss it is so much easier to blame someone than to face the reality of what happened. I believe this response is part of the process of grieving and the stages of dying.
Acceptance of a loved one’s suffering or death comes much later on as we go through denial, blame and anger in the mourning process. We experience various kinds of loss—loss of control, loss of companionship, loss of a loved one, loss of trust and sometimes loss of faith. If we feel like we have lost our faith in God that can leave us feeling terribly alone and without hope.
All of these things that we may experience are very normal in the life of a Christian. Just because we have come to the point of thinking that we have lost our faith in God, doesn’t mean we really have. Being filled with doubt is common in many of the lives of the saints. Doubt can be an unforeseen gift…it takes us to the place of re-evaluating our relationship with God. In the darkness of doubt we can be confronted with either despair or hope…two very opposite places to be. Whenever I have come to this place in my life, I find it impossible to pray. Do I really believe that God answers our prayers?
Perhaps, the reason we pray is not because God needs it but because we do. Praying for ourselves or someone else really is about teaching us to get out of ourselves and think about someone else. It’s about turning our hearts towards loving someone else as much as we love ourselves. I need my faith community around me. Sometimes in the darkness it is my faith community that prays when I cannot. This is the power of community and being part of the Body of Christ. This is the reason why I can’t leave and I choose to stay.
As the snow gently falls outside my office window it is hard to imagine that come July 12 and 13 the snow on the east lawn will be replaced by concert goers, vendors, and back by popular demand the silent disco as our community celebrates the 25th anniversary Basilica Block Party.
In an era when new festivals pop-up weekly and just as many never make it to year two—25 years is a true accomplishment. This accomplishment is only possible because of some very visionary thinking—an incredible group of staff and volunteers both past and present, as well as all of you. The Basilica parish that has embraced this summer tradition for the last quarter century.
To celebrate, please join us as our community celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Basilica Block Party with a little pre-party on Sunday, June 2! After all of our Sunday Masses, you will have your one and only chance to buy fee-free tickets to this year’s block party, exclusive volunteer openings only for parish members, fun giveaways, and a chance to walk down memory lane with some of our favorite ad campaigns, t-shirts, and photos from years gone by.
Personally, this will be my 12th Basilica Block Party, something I could never have imagined when I started as a wide-eyed Block Party intern in 2007. Fast forward to today and even after all these year it is still hasn’t lost its charm. It is still my absolute favorite event of the summer.
Over the years I have gotten to see some pretty amazing concerts and been exposed to bands that I would otherwise never have taken the time to see. In my opinion there is no better way to spend a warm summer night in Minnesota than to be outside listening to live music with The Basilica as your backdrop.
It still gives me chills looking from our beloved Basilica back to the bands rocking out on stage with a sea of people in between enjoying what so many have worked so hard to put together. It is an incredible event and this year once again promises to be a great weekend of fun and music benefiting the efforts of The Basilica Landmark’s mission to preserve, protect, and restore The Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations and our St. Vincent de Paul ministry to help our neighbors in need.
I hope you will join us on July 12 and 13 for 2019 Cities 97 Basilica Block Party to celebrate this summer tradition with great food, good friends, and tasty beverages. And don’t forget the unbelievable bands including Kacey Musgraves, Jason Mraz, Semisonic, CHVRCHES, Dawes, HANSON, The Jayhawks, Metric, Anderson East, JOHNYSWIM, Flora Cash, Ruston Kelly, Lissie, and Yam Haus for two nights of amazing music.
Check out the the The Basilica Block Party's website for ticket information.
Our Homeless Jesus sculpture has received quite a bit of media attention recently. Apparently the press learned that an ambulance had been dispatched to The Basilica thinking that a person was sleeping on the bench. This story did not surprise me. I have personally witnessed first responders getting out of an ambulance ready to help the person on the bench, only to realize that it was a sculpture. I watched them use their phones to take some pictures, maybe to alert their colleagues.
The artist, Timothy Schmalz intentionally created a very realistic sculpture which he hoped would push us to face the persistent problem of homelessness. As I write this letter it is -28 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in these temperatures some people will have no choice but to spend the night outside.
I know that not everyone loves our Homeless Jesus. Some people think we should not represent the resurrected Jesus in the image of a homeless person. However, by depicting Jesus as a homeless person or more importantly, being asked to see Jesus in homeless people we simply illustrate the message of Matthew 25: ““Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Others have argued that the money spent on the Homeless Jesus should have been used to alleviate the suffering of those in need. The Basilica has a very strong commitment to helping all those in need. Our approach is two-pronged: alleviation and education. Thus, on the one hand we offer direct help to those in need and we work to change systems that cause and perpetuate poverty and inequality. On the other hand we are also intent on changing people’s heart and mind so that they too might be moved to help those in need. And that is exactly what the Homeless Jesus intends to do: change people’s heart and mind.
The sculpture is not so much about the bronze Jesus it represents, but rather about the suffering person in whom we ought to recognize Jesus. Many of us are a bit more like Peter than like Mary. Peter courageously declared to Jesus that he would never leave him, and yet he denied knowing Jesus after his arrest and he ran away when Jesus was crucified. By contract without making grandiose statements, Mary, the Mother of Jesus together with Mary of Magdala and John the Beloved stayed with him. They were not able to prevent his death but they stayed with him even as he was dying on the cross.
We received Homeless Jesus last November. Since then we have seen people quietly sitting on the bench next to him with their hands placed on his pierced feet. We have found flowers and a lit candle left beside him. And just a few weeks ago as the winter was setting in, someone lovingly covered him with a red blanket. It is our hope that the Homeless Jesus will move us to similar and even greater acts of kindness not just to the sculpture but more importantly to the people it represents.
The Basilica has spent the last year developing a strategic plan that will guide and sustain our community into the future. We have focused on what makes The Basilica unique and how to deliberately assess our work to ensure that we are meeting the objectives of the Mission and Vision of The Basilica. The evaluation and planning professionals who assisted us in our strategic planning encouraged us to answer the question: how do you know when you’ve met your goal? We are hard at work developing a system to assess our programs and ministries, so we can continue to invest our time and resources in what is working and “bless and release” what is not. This is hard work. Our programs and ministries were created to meet a specific need at a specific time. Staff and volunteers sustain programs because they believe in the ministry’s mission and are invested in its success. It can be hard to look at organizational practices objectively when it’s what you’ve always done, but we must assess strategically and prayerfully to thrive into the future.
I believe that our Archdiocese, the wider Catholic Church in America, and the Vatican need to undergo a similar examination. Earlier this year the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had a meeting scheduled to consider a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct (or the failure to address misconduct). Shortly before the meeting began, the Vatican instructed the group to postpone the discussion. The Vatican justified this request because they were working on a global policy that would circumvent any local or national policy. While I believe that a worldwide practice to hold bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope accountable for cover-up actions is needed, we cannot wait while the Vatican’s bureaucratic wheels slowly turn.
The USCCB’s proposed policies would remove a barrier currently being used as an excuse by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to not pursue allegations against former Archbishop Nienstedt. Current Archdiocesan leadership has declined to pursue allegations again Nienstedt because he no longer serves or resides in Minnesota. Additionally, Church leaders have refused to release the findings of an internal investigation into Nienstedt because they have no jurisdictional authority outside of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. These are old and unacceptable excuses. These are the kinds of excuses that led to years and years of abuse in the past. We need policies that protect our congregations everywhere. Many of the atrocities of the past could have been caught and ended quickly if dioceses across the country had shared information, worked together, and taken responsibility to police themselves and others.
The Basilica’s strategic planning group has also discussed how The Basilica does not operate in a vacuum. The work of The Basilica goes beyond our campus and there are other organizations who are engaging in similar work. We must learn to work in partnership or cede work to others who are better equipped. The larger Church also must do this. The Church is not a civil law enforcement agency, so when illegal activities are suspected or reported, we must work with those who are better suited than the church. The Church should also engage professionals to provide expanded professional training on the most recent research concerning abuse of priests, Church leaders, and seminarians of the Archdiocese.
Please pray for our local strategic planning committee as we continue to work towards a plan for our Basilica’s future and encourage our local and national Church leaders to put aside bureaucratic silos to build a better future for our Church.
Parish Council Chair
The Basilica of Saint Mary