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The Jesuit priest, Fr. Karl Rahner, perhaps the premier theologian of the 20th century, was once asked whether he believed in miracles. He answered: “I don’t believe in them, I rely on them to get through each day!” I thought of these words a few weeks ago when a song by Sarah McLaughlan entitled “Ordinary Miracle” came on the radio. I googled the lyrics when I got home and then downloaded the song. The lyrics are simple, and they reminded me that while we may think of miracles as extraordinary, powerful, and unexpected happenings, there are “ordinary” miracles that occur every day.
Why, though, is it often so hard to recognize these “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us? I suspect part of it is the age in which we live where we look for logical explanations or clear reasons for the things that happen in our lives. The thing is, though, that there are some things beyond reason and logic. There are some things that defy explanation and/or don’t yield to easy answers. I believe these are “ordinary” miracles that are often overlooked. When people are able to let go of their hurt and pain and are able to forgive, that is a miracle. When someone gives a lot from the little they have, that is a miracle. When we are able to carry on in the face of disappointment, sorrow, and sadness, that is a miracle. When we are able to let go of our selfishness and live in a more selfless manner, that is a miracle. These are “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us every day.
I believe what helps us recognize the “ordinary” miracles that exist around us is faith. When we look through the eyes of faith, we are better able to recognize those miracles that are present all around us. Faith helps us to realize that sometimes logic and reason can only take us so far. Faith helps us to “see” things in a different way. And faith helps us to understand and accept that God is often working behind the scenes in our lives making “ordinary” miracles happen all around us.
I believe that those “ordinary” miracles that occur each and every day are a gracious gift from a loving God. When we are able to recognize the “ordinary” miracles that happen all around us, it can make a difference in our lives. They give us hope in the face of darkness, and they help us continue on when the way is difficult and the outcome uncertain.
Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. And like Fr. Rahner, I don’t just believe in them, I rely on them to get me through each day. Miracles, though, are not just those extraordinary and astonishing happenings that sometimes occur. They are that, certainly. But there are also “ordinary” miracles that happen all the time. These miracles remind me that God is always at work in our lives and in our world, and inviting us to recognize and respond to the grace God wants to give us.
Day after day we watch the desperate journeys of refugees making their way towards Europe and a better life. At home the flow of undocumented children briefly caught media attention last year, but now there’s not much news about our southern border. We don’t hear about these grim statistics—nearly 3,000 people died in the Sonoran desert attempting “to cross” since 2000, and last year alone the remains of 133 people were identified. Advocates at Derechos Humanos speak of “remains,” because they think many more have died in the desert. They tell of receiving frantic calls from family and friends, who have not heard from loved ones, because they lost their cell phone coverage in the desert.
In early October Elisa Johnson and I joined the Loretto (Sisters) Border Patrol. We met advocates on both sides of the border. We spent several hours in Tucson at Derechos Humanos learning about Operation Streamline. Started by President Bush and accelerated last year by President Obama, Operation Streamline speeds up the prosecution of border crossers who have attempted it a second time.
We visited the federal court house in Tucson where 86 percent of the court’s cases are marked, “Illegal Entry.” Humiliated detainees are shackled with a chain around their wrists and manacled at their ankles when, in groups of five, they face a judge. Lawyers urge the border crossers to accept a plea deal in return for dropping a felony charge. In Tucson, 70 detainees (the same number of jail cells in the court house) can be sentenced in under two hours every day. The cost to taxpayers is estimated to be $100 million per year. Deportees receive anywhere from 30 days to 6 months in for- profit prisons and leave with a federal criminal record before being deported.
I was surprised to learn the U.S. pays for a veritable cottage industry of for-profit jails, the largest run by the Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. Of the 34,000 jail beds slated for detainees, 62 percent of those are in private prisons. According to Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, more than 2,000 Central American immigrant mothers and children are currently being held in remote locations. The children and their mothers are held indefinitely for seeking asylum—a legal right under both international and U.S. law. In an effort to minimize asylum applications, the U.S. is paying the Mexican Government to stop immigrants from leaving Mexico by sending U.S. border agents to train Mexican agents in apprehension and detention.
Elisa and I crossed the border near Nogales, Mexico. She dragged a large red suitcase filled with toiletries and first aid supplies for the deportees at El Comedor. No one stopped us or asked us for our papers.
Started by the Jesuits and run by a Mexican sister and many volunteers, El Comedor was literally dug out of a hillside in sight of the border crossing. I spoke to a farm worker, who had been apprehended one night outside of a Walmart in upper Michigan where he had purchased groceries for his family. The sole support of his wife and five children, he was fearful of a desert crossing to reunite with his family. Before his deportation, he said he had been in detention centers for the past six months. He had no criminal record—his only crime was crossing our border.
That morning at El Comedor, we served soup and tortillas to the men, a few women and one two-year-old boy. Before they ate, the group bowed their heads and prayed, not just a quick blessing but a long prayer for the journey ahead.
A few weeks ago, after dinner in the rectory, a small group of us went to church to hear our choir perform a couple of choral pieces. I was particularly struck by the second piece. It was a Hymn of Thanks written by Don Krubsack, the husband of our choir director, Teri Larson. The text was part of a poem by George Herbert. The entire piece only takes a couple of minutes, but I was and continue to be struck by its beauty and simplicity. The words are simple, but compelling, and made more so by Don’s beautiful musical accompaniment. “You, Lord, have given so much to me. Give me one thing more, a grateful heart, a grateful heart. Not thankful only when it pleases me, but a heart whose pulse may always give you praise.”
I think one of the reasons I was so struck by this hymn was that for several months now I have been closing my prayer time in the morning by asking God to give me a grateful heart, a generous heart, a compassionate heart, and a humble heart. And while I have a long way to go in terms of these things being a part of my life, I want to believe that when I heard this beautiful Hymn of Thanks, God was giving me a sign that I am on the right track.
In a world where so much is available to us at the tips of our fingers, it is hard sometimes to remember that all that we have and all that we are comes to us from our loving God. Now certainly many of us work long and hard. We are used to making our way in the world, and earning our passage. All of this is possible, though, only because our God first loved us into being and gave us the talents, the abilities, and the resources we need to succeed and to flourish.
When we focus, though, only on our own efforts and consider only what we don’t have and/or what we still want, it can be hard to remember, let alone to feel gratitude. And yet, we could accomplish nothing, if not for the completely gratuitous love of God. Developing a grateful heart is at the core of our relationship with God.
How do we develop a grateful heart? Well, while I believe this is the task of a lifetime, I also believe it begins by asking God to help us want to be grateful. I am more and more convinced that unless we want to do something, we are not apt to do it. So we need to begin by asking God to help us want to be grateful. We then need to acknowledge those things for which we need to be grateful. And we need to close the loop by asking God to help us be grateful—not just when it pleases us—but at all times.
At times gratitude is instinctual. More often, though, I think it is a behavior that we learn through prayerful practice. Given this, may we who have been given so much, remember to ask God for one thing more—a grateful heart—not thankful only when it pleases us, but a heart whose pulse may always give God praise.
Over the years, I have amassed a substantial collection of nativities. New to my collection are several images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on their way to Egypt. Some depict the Holy Family in the traditional way with Mary sitting on a donkey. She holds the baby Jesus in her arms. Joseph leads the donkey. Others are less traditional depicting them in a boat, in a car or on a plane. Regardless, in each of these cases they are on a journey. Theirs was a journey that led them from danger to safety; from darkness to light; from death to life.
The Holy Family’s journey exemplifies our own journey, for life indeed is a journey. For some people it is a long journey. For others, it is short. Some people’s journey is straightforward. Other people’s journey may be more circuitous. Some people’s journey is easy. Other people’s journey can be very difficult. But what all of us share is that we are on a journey from birth to burial.
For Christians, this journey is more than just a journey. We consider it to be a pilgrimage. The English word “pilgrim” is a translation of the Latin peregrinus which means “stranger,” more precisely “from another country.” Being a Christian means being a pilgrim, being a “stranger,” even when living in a Christian land. For myself, living and working in the United States, my adopted homeland, I have often had the sense that I am a stranger. I sense that not only literally, for I do come from another country. Being a Catholic I have sometimes felt a spiritual stranger in this country. I don’t consider this a bad thing, on the contrary. Lest we become complacent, Christians always should feel a little “out of place” and a little restless. For as St. Augustine said: “Our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.”
The Year of Mercy, which we began December 8, is an invitation to all of us to rediscover this sense of restlessness; a sense that we don’t really belong; a sense that we are strangers; a sense that we are not at home, yet. The Year of Mercy offers us an opportunity to break out of our complacency and rediscover the riches and the challenges of the Gospel. The Year of Mercy invites us to renew our spiritual journey or pilgrimage.
Some of us will literally leave our homes this year to go on a pilgrimage to a sacred place. Some will take a pilgrimage to Rome during this Holy Year to walk through the Holy Doors. Most of us will stay near our home and make a pilgrimage to The Basilica or the Cathedral to walk through the Holy Doors here. No matter how far or near our pilgrimage takes us our shared goal is to rediscover what it means to be a pilgrim, a stranger, “from another land.”
I love looking at the sculptures I have of the Holy Family. Each one is different. One of them is from Mexico, another from Kenya, another from Palestine… in each one of them the Holy family is depicted in the image of the people who made them. It is a constant reminder to me that The Holy Family’s treacherous journey is a pre-figuration of all our journeys. The journey and indeed, the entire life of the Holy Family is a symbol of the life-long pilgrimage all of us are asked to undertake. May we be inspired by their faith, their trust, and their endurance.
So, let’s pack our satchel and continue our pilgrimage from darkness to light; from death to life as we journey to that Promised Land where we will be strangers no more.
Since the beginning of time, people of faith have searched for the God who had left so many proofs of His existence, yet had always remained hidden from sight. His presence was real, yet always mediated through created things, and therefore always elusive.
And then, in the fullness of time, all that changed. While all was quiet, in the deep stillness of a winter night, God came to a small country town and dwelt among His people in human form. God’s presence was no longer mediated and mysterious, but now real and actual.
It was first noticed by shepherd folk with keen ears and star gazers with sharp eyes. Yet soon a waiting world was to know of this miraculous event. And down through the centuries believers of every age have continued to search for and discover God made manifest in that tiny infant born in Bethlehem.
Today we celebrate the birth of Christ, not as a past event, but as a living reality. For we believe that God did not come to dwell among us once long ago and then return to heaven. God continues to abide with us. He is Emmanuel—God with us now and always.
May we attune our eyes and our ears as we seek to discover the living God present among us. May we open our hearts to his presence and love. And may this Christmas be a time for all of us to recognize anew the presence of God revealed to us in our newborn king, Jesus Christ.
We are excited to announce The Basilica of Saint Mary will be partnering with Lutheran Social Services to sponsor a refugee family. We are proud to be able to respond to the call from Pope Francis for parishes to sponsor refugee families.
It is not only difficult to underestimate the suffering of refugees, but also the struggles in transitioning to life in the U.S. As an attorney, I have had the opportunity to work with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and have seen how important it is to help families navigate the trials of resettling here.
This year, I worked with a woman (I will call her Maria) who was seeking asylum in the U.S. from Guatemala. As a child, Maria was persecuted at the hands of the Guatemalan government. When she was born in 1981, Guatemala was in the midst of a bloody civil war, and the government had begun to wipe out entire villages of indigenous groups, including Maria’s group, the Q’anjob’al, for fear they were part of a rebel resistance. When Maria was three months old, the Guatemalan military came to her village, and brutally killed her father, five-year-old brother, and burned all their family’s belongings.
After the war, Maria was able to resettle with her mother and sister in Guatemala. She later married and had two children. In 2007, her husband moved to Minnesota to be able to better provide for the family. He soon began sending her money regularly. However, during this time, a gang known as M-18 had become very powerful in Guatemala, with members across Central America, Mexico, and Southern California.
The gang discovered that Maria’s husband was sending her money and began extorting her. The gang eventually became dissatisfied with their cut and began issuing death threats to Maria and her two young children, who were now nine and seven years old. Fearing for her life and the lives of her children, she fled Guatemala with her children to the U.S. in hopes of reuniting with her husband and starting a new life.
After traveling overland for two weeks, they were detained as she crossed the border in San Diego. Fortunately, after several months of court battles, a Minnesota judge granted Maria and her two children asylum. She is now living in Alexandria with her husband and two children.
Obtaining asylum was a monumental relief for Maria, as she was now safe from the M-18 gang, however there were still significant hurdles adjusting to a new life in the U.S. For example, no one in the family speaks English. Maria’s first language is her indigenous dialect and her second is Spanish, so she is now learning a third language from scratch in a foreign country. In addition, Maria’s husband was undocumented while living in the U.S. He will soon have asylum, but we had to apply for it separately and the application has been pending for six months.
Maria was also four months pregnant when she was granted asylum. We had to spend hours working with MNsure, Maria’s and her husband’s employers, and the U.S. government to track down the correct documentation to provide Maria basic health insurance so that she could have her baby (who was born healthy in September).
These are just a handful of the myriad of issues that Maria has faced and will continue to face as she adjusts to life in the United States. But she is also one of the lucky ones. She represents one of the few refugees that got the resources she needed to be resettled. Had she not had these resources, who knows if she would be alive today.
For these reasons, The Basilica is both excited and proud to be able to sponsor a refugee family and help them navigate these same issues and adjust to life in our Twin Cities community.
My grandmother passed away last November. This was not unexpected. At 87-years-old my Grandma Rosie had outlived her husband, two children, two grandchildren, most of her siblings, and countless friends. She had also out lived her diagnoses. In December of 2012, she was diagnosed with cancer and given six weeks—six months, at the very longest—to live. Deciding not to have treatment she turned once again to her Catholic faith.
She knew that the Lord had a plan for her. Even in her final weeks, when she began to question what that plan might be, her faith never wavered. My grandmother had a gift for gently sharing life advice. I remember many times when life would throw me a curveball my Grandma Rosie would say with a smile “let go and let God.” Such simple words, and yet it can be so hard to trust in God’s plan for us.
I have thought of these words often, especially during this Financial Stewardship season. Donating to a worthy cause requires us to trust that God’s gifts and his plan for us are much greater than any material possession or object we might acquire. It requires us not to focus on what we will need to sacrifice, but instead on what we gain from supporting something bigger than ourselves and sharing the gifts we have been given.
For the past eight years as a staff member at The Basilica I have seen on a daily basis what the generosity and sacrifice of this community makes possible each and every day. I have caught joyous moments of brides on their wedding day and parents baptizing a baby. I have seen compassion shown daily to those who come to our door and need a listening ear. I have seen our staff tirelessly provide comfort for those experiencing loss and sadness, through our grief ministry. I have seen volunteers spend hours counseling individuals in our employment ministry for weeks and months until they have found jobs. These moments—and so many more—are not possible without each and every financial stewardship pledge we receive. And I promise the good generated by your stewardship pledge cannot be overstated.
This past spring my family and I completed the sometimes daunting, sometimes humorous, always emotional process of cleaning out my Grandma Rosie’s home.
In the old farm house in rural Wisconsin there is no fortune to be made but there are treasures to be found. My grandparents’ wealth did not come in the form of material possessions; it came in the form of their 13 children, 17 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. It came from the gifts God gave them. They may no longer be there but their possessions speak to what they valued most—faith and family.
Grandma Rosie lived out her faith every day till her very last and we were the beneficiaries. Going through the house is a reminder to live as she did: to go to church on Sunday, to donate generously whenever possible, to be kind to others, to volunteer your time, prioritize family, and most of all, “let go and let God,” believing in the path God has planned for each of us.
On one hand, we have our worldly belongings—the items that make this life more comfortable, but that we “cannot take with us.” But we also have our treasured connections—belonging to a family, belonging to a community, and belonging to our faith—that provide us true comfort and lasting joy by linking us more closely to one another and to God.
When you think about your treasured connections, I hope The Basilica and its community bring comfort and lasting joy to each of you. This fall, when you think of the gifts you have been given, I hope you will consider sharing those gifts with our community.
You can help create a greater good by filling out a Financial Stewardship pledge form and mailing it in, or you can also pledge online at www.mary.org/donate.
Many years ago I visited a parishioner in the hospital who had been diagnosed with advanced cancer. I had been told by the family that she didn’t have more than a few weeks to live, and would be moving to hospice when she left the hospital. When I stopped at the nurse’s station to see if it was okay to visit, the nurse said that would be fine. I noticed, though, that they were just beginning to bring around the lunch trays, and so, I indicated that I could stop back later. The nurse replied that my timing was actually good as people usually ate better when someone was with them. I entered my parishioner’s room just as an aide had brought in the lunch tray. I told my parishioner to go ahead and eat, and that we could talk while she ate. While she ate, we had a lovely visit as she told me about her husband and family and her life. After about 25 minutes I indicated that I probably should be going. She thanked me for visiting and then almost as an afterthought said that she hated eating alone so the timing of my visit couldn’t have been better.
The two things I remember about this visit were the nurse’s words that people usually eat better when someone was with them, and my parishioner’s words that it was nice to have someone with her while she ate because she hated eating alone. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how important these things are. Being with someone and conversing with them while they eat can be the difference between just ingesting food and sharing a meal. Eating with someone can also help us better appreciate the food. It can also fill us up—not just physically, but in other ways as well.
I believe the above is the reason why, when Jesus’s time on this earth was coming to an end, he chose to share a meal with his disciples and then to command them to “do this in memory of me.” Jesus knew the importance of sharing a meal with others. He knew that this wasn’t just a way to nourish their bodies, but also a way to nourish their spirits. I suspect he also knew that people ate better when there was someone with them.
We believe that in the Eucharist that Jesus left us, that Jesus is really and truly present. Further, we believe that when we receive the Eucharist it strengthens us and sustains us that we might become more like Christ. As St. Augustine said many years ago: “Behold what you are. Become what you receive” The Eucharist is not a reward for life well lived. Rather it is to help us live life well. It helps us to better follow Christ and to better bring Christ to the world around us.
In addition to being a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, though, the Eucharist is also a communal event. As we gather to celebrate and share the Eucharist we are reminded that as we seek to follow Christ, we do so within a community of faith. It is the community that strengthens and sustains us when our energy begins to wan and our efforts feel unproductive. In the Christian community, we are reminded that there is no private dining at the table of the Lord. We are all in this together, and we need the encouragement and support of one another as we seek to be and to bring the presence of Christ in our world.
The Eucharist is a great gift and blessing. It is a sacred communal meal we share and that empowers us to follow Christ and to be Christ in our world. For this gift let us never fail to give thanks. Because of this gift let us pray that we might become what we believe.
This September, my dad lost a friend to cancer. Of his three closest friends, only one, Gene, is still living. But Gene deals with serious physical and mental challenges after a stroke two years ago. My dad turned 62 at the end of the month, and it isn’t easy seeing him endure sadness as he said “good-bye” to each one who passed too young. As we all inevitably get older, the numerical definition of “young” seems to increase.
It makes me appreciate my parents. And also appreciate time. Ten years ago, I did not give a second thought to clocking 60 or even 70 hours in the office in a given week. I did not worry about what weekend might be ideal for a visit to the family farm in South Dakota. We made it to Mass most Sundays, deciding in a pinch between the 11:30, 4:30, or 6:30 options. We stayed up late, and slept in on the weekends. Then we had kids.
Even without that change, life got busy and there is always great pressure on the calendar. As I watch my youngest grow, I see that these moments are fleeting. Time has become increasingly precious and I now understand that time is the most generous gift we can give.
When I consider this idea, it makes me that much more grateful for what I’ve witnessed as a staff member at The Basilica over the past 15 years.
I’ve seen worshippers giving their precious weekend time, receiving so much as they give their evening, morning, or afternoon to The Basilica. Thousands come together to sing, pray, and break bread each and every week. This makes for a beautiful collective experience, inspiring and preparing us for the week ahead and their participation shapes The Basilica community with its beautiful diversity.
I also witness our Basilica staff invest themselves, and generously share their time and talents, lending to The Basilica experience. Your Basilica is supported by a staff that does not “punch a clock.” I have seen them sacrificially share their talents and time to ensure all that we love about The Basilica continues to grow.
In a quick glimpse, I have witnessed volunteers giving their time without hesitation. Specifically, I have seen a block party committee member sorting trash from recycling from the inside of the dumpster. I have seen the chair of The Basilica Landmark gala vacuuming the undercroft to ensure it was presentable for morning donuts after 7:30am Mass. I have seen leadership as our board planned for the next ten years of our organization. I have seen employment coaches come to the door week after week to meet with a new client to help them find a solid job. I have seen a room full of volunteers stuff envelopes, address and stamp letters to invite parishioners to support our parish. I have seen teachers smile as they welcome a room full of 3-year-olds to Good Shepherd faith formation.
And I am one staff member. Just imagine the collective impact across all ministries and departments!
We need this commitment, and we also need the commitment of our parishioners to share their financial gifts. Again this fall, we ask you to consider making a financial stewardship pledge to The Basilica to ensure that the good work The Basilica does in our community continues to save and change lives. These good works come to life in the ministry of our volunteers and staff.
Your prayerful generosity will help us show love and acceptance to all who come to our doors. All of this time given by each of you creates all we love about The Basilica. If how we spend our time reflects our values, you have shown you care deeply about The Basilica. Thank you for all you give—your time and your financial gifts. Blessings have flourished through your generosity, and those blessings will continue to impact those in our community for years to come.
People are still buzzing about Pope Francis’ recent U.S. visit. They are talking about what he said, what he did, who he visited, and even where he ate lunch. Prior to his visit, Pope Francis proclaimed a Year of Mercy. Here at The Basilica we’ve been thinking about what mercy means to us, talking about the Corporal Works of Mercy and the opportunities and challenges we have.
Every day at The Basilica, I witness and experience small acts of mercy happening on our campus and in our community made possible by the generosity of our parishioners. Please consider how you can help us make sure these good works continue by making a commitment to financial stewardship. It’s clear to me—your commitment and involvement makes our ministries and these every day acts of mercy possible.
Feed the Hungry . . . Teams of Basilica volunteers prepare and serve nutritious meals at The Basilica to approximately 200 men at Catholic Charities Higher Ground shelter. I’ve heard them share their stories of how privileged they are to serve in this way. One family has signed up to serve on Christmas for many years. Together they make the meal festive and special for those without a home to call their own. Other volunteers spend their lunchtimes driving hot meals to seniors in our neighborhood as part of our partnership with Meals on Wheels.
Bury the Dead . . . Last week, I attended the funeral of a long time Basilica choir member. At his funeral, I listened to his friends, a group he’d been with twice a week for years for rehearsals and Masses, serenade him home to Christ. Grieving families and friends often come together at The Basilica to celebrate the lives of their loved ones.
Visit the Sick . . . I’ve been moved to tears as I listen to volunteers pray over the prayer shawls they knitted, soon to go to the sick and grieving. After an unexpected death in the family, a parish friend had to fly to the funeral. We sent her with a prayer shawl. On her return, she shared that she wrapped herself up in the shawl on the plane ride. Even though she was far away from her faith community, she felt our presence and support because of that shawl. Many volunteers take the Eucharist to the homebound and those living in care centers. Our Prayer line volunteers offer support to all those who seeking spiritual, physical, and emotional healing.
Shelter the Homeless. . . . This past summer, a new house went up in North Minneapolis. I watched our volunteers cut wood, build stairs as they shared their days along with others in the community as part of Habitat for Humanity. By Christmas, a mom and her children will be snug in their newly-built home.
Every day good works . . . At the Basilica, volunteer job coaches assist those struggling with unemployment and seeking a new chance. Other volunteers help in our Pathways program teaching life skills to those committed to stabilizing their lives. Daily at our Reception Desk, volunteers and staff answer our phones and welcome those who come to our doors. Sometimes a caller asks us to connect a priest or an Emmaus Minister to someone sick in the hospital. Daily, the pleas for help making ends meet come over the phone and face-to-face at the door. Hungry guests are greeted with a warm smile, a cup of coffee and a sandwich.
Consider how you will participate in the Year of Mercy. There is so much more we are called to do. Please explore the many Year of Mercy opportunities available at The Basilica in the coming months. You will find opportunities for learning, prayer, service and reflection.
And please, make a pledged financial commitment to help us create small acts of mercy every day at The Basilica.