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Landing back in the Twin Cities in the fall of 2002, Anne Jaeger moved into the Walker Art Center neighborhood and she loved walking to Sunday Mass at The Basilica.
At church, Anne heard the plea for financial and volunteer stewardship. As a U of M student, she wasn’t in a position to give money, but she was strong, had a flexible schedule and knew she could give her time. She joined the parish Shoveling Team. “If it snowed on your assigned day,” Anne explained, “you reported to The Basilica and helped shovel.”
As an outdoor lover, the Shoveling Team was a great fit for Anne. She described it as her “first step into The Basilica’s inner world.” After hearing about an after-Mass panel discussion on energy conservation, her interest was peaked again. She attended and met Janice Andersen, The Basilica’s Christian Life Director. “Janice was so welcoming, and immediately invited me to an upcoming event.” This led Anne to meet Colleen Maiers, parish leader of Pax Cum Terra, a group focused on justice, peace, and the environment (now our Eco Stewardship Team). Finding this work right up her alley, Anne commented, “the hooks were set.” She still remembers meeting Colleen the first time over coffee after Mass. Anne experienced a feeling of familiarity, mentioned it, and found that Colleen felt it too. They found past connections at both Holy Angels and Annunciation, and Anne learned that at one point, Colleen had been her babysitter. They’ve stayed in touch ever since.
As Anne’s involvement grew, she joined Dennis Hoffman as co-leader of the Blessing of Bicycles, an event she loves. After a few years, she needed to step back from leadership and tried to find a volunteer leader but wasn’t successful. She announced that she would lead for another year and then step down, but no clear leader emerged. However, more volunteers stepped up and owned various components of the event. Eventually, a great team emerged who shared responsibility and made the blessing happen.
Anne also served for a year as Facilitator of JustFaith and led others to explore social issues and justice through the lens of Catholic social teaching. Drawn to be most active with Christian Life ministries, Anne recently served as the elected Christian Life representative on the Parish Council.
As a Saturday Shoe Ministry volunteer since 2010 (part of our St. Vincent de Paul outreach ministry to those in need), Anne helps set up and provide shoe vouchers to families whose children need new shoes for school, or people starting new jobs who need new footwear.
She remembers starting in this ministry when our U.S. economy was tanking. “Every Saturday there were long lines of people waiting for us to open. Often, volunteers worked longer hours to try and talk to everyone who had waited in line for help.” Over time she has come to measure swings in the economy by the people waiting in line on Saturdays.
Clearly moved by her experiences, Anne had tears in her eyes as she spoke. “I’m struck by the deep faith of the people I meet. People often ask me to say a prayer for them, or sometimes they ask me to pray with them. It’s so simple,” said Anne. “It’s a very brief interaction. The people who come to St. Vincent de Paul trust that they will receive help—but what they may not know is they always leave something of themselves behind.” Serving in SVdP has expanded Anne’s own feelings of gratitude. While her job is to give shoe vouchers, Anne said “what this SVdP ministry truly provides is hope.”
What does Anne get out of volunteering at The Basilica? At the heart of it is community and friendship. She’s met amazing people who have inspired her to stretch and grow in her spirituality and faith. Meeting these individuals has challenged her to look at the world in new ways.
“Some people may find The Basilica to be very big initially,” Anne commented. “Simply following my own interests led to meeting just the right person which gave me an instant link to the parish.” Anne got involved and enthusiastically describes her volunteer engagement as “super fulfilling.” She encourages everyone “to make that first connection, and just lean in.”
In a letter dated August 5, 1905, Fr. Cullen wrote about the Pro-Cathedral, now known as The Basilica of Saint Mary: “May this temple which will soon be dedicated to his honor be an earthly center from which the Word of God will be in perpetuity preached, the sacraments holily received, and public and private worship faithfully and uninterruptedly offered. May the cross which tops its massive dome preach constantly to all our citizens the significance of Calvary’s tragedy and the love which through it was affirmed for men, and may the Holy Sacrifice be daily offered as long as our city lasts, for the living and the dead.”
As I write this column, exactly 100 years later I am inspired by his prophetic words. More importantly, I am edified by the thousands upon thousands of parishioners who made his vision come true. For indeed, since the very beginning the members of our community have dedicated themselves to preach the Word of God both in word and in deed. The sacraments have been celebrated with great care and devotion. And The Basilica has been a place of public and private prayer in times of personal trials and triumphs as well as in times of local, national, or international accomplishments and disasters. All of this happened under The Basilica’s massive dome topped by the cross, which proclaims God’s everlasting love and never-ending mercy.
Our rich archives are a true treasure trove of the stories of our forebears in the faith who laid the groundwork for our Basilica as we know it today. At first there were the Irish and Sicilian immigrant families. They not only paid for the building but built up the community. Their descendants still consider The Basilica their home though they may have moved away, even out of state. Successive families have taken up the torch and continued to build on the vision laid out by Fr. Cullen. Today, we come from far and wide; from north and south, east and west as we represent the colorful and rich tapestry of Catholicism at work in the world. And we, too, continue the vision of Fr. Cullen, our first Pro-Cathedral pastor.
During the dedication of the Pro-Cathedral on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August 15, 1915, Archbishop Ireland who conceived of this church some 12 years earlier exclaimed: “Cities and nations honor their heroes with statues and paintings, with lasting memorials in brick and stone, and literature. Who would not bare his head when he stands at Mount Vernon, before the tomb of the honored father of this country? What true American does not feel his soul thrilled when the Star Spangled Banner, the emblem of this country, is raised to float on high? Who would deem it wrong or out of place to salute this banner? In the same spirit we are gathered today to dedicate this Pro-Cathedral to the honor of the saints of God.”
One hundred years after these daunting words were spoken we have much to celebrate because since that very day, The Basilica of Saint Mary has honored the saints of God by inspiring devotion, instilling faith, and evoking prayer. Therefore, we celebrate the building, the faith it represents, and the community it houses. I know of no better way to do that than by recommitting ourselves to the vision expressed so eloquently one hundred years ago. Let us preach our common faith with renewed vigor in our actions and in our words. let us celebrate the sacraments often and with great devotion. And Let us pray both individually and together for our own needs and for the needs of the entire world. Thus, we will indeed be a living testament to the very “cross which tops the massive dome” of our beloved Basilica as Fr. Cullen and Archbishop Ireland wished and prayed for 100 years ago.
This past Memorial Day weekend one of my cousins organized a group of cousins to meet on Saturday morning at Calvary cemetery in Anoka to clean up the gravesites of our various relatives. All the branches of the Bauer family were represented by at least one cousin, so there was quite a group of us. All told, among the Bauer’s—and the in-laws from various families—we cleaned up twenty-six graves. And with each grave we told stories, sometimes shed a tear or two, took a picture to send to the cousins who couldn’t make it, and remembered each individual with love and gratitude.
Tending to graves has a long history in my family. Back in the early 1930s my mother’s parents lived in Roundup, Montana, where my grandparents owned the general store. My mother had one sister and one brother. She was the youngest. Unfortunately, my uncle died of Spotted Mountain Fever when he was about twelve or thirteen years old. It was a devastating loss for my grandparents. The loss was compounded by the fact that as a result of the Great Depression people couldn’t pay their bills and my grandparents lost their store. They had to move to Minneapolis where my grandfather was able to find work—leaving behind the grave of their only son. Until her death my grandmother would send money every year to a friend in Roundup so her friend could “fix up” my uncle’s grave.
Now, my grandmother had a deep and great faith. She was not afraid of death, and in fact I think she looked forward to what came next. She truly believed in Christ’s promise of eternal life. The reason she wanted my uncle’s grave “fixed up” each year was not because she didn’t believe that he was in heaven. Rather, I think it was her way of remembering him, as well as reminding her grandchildren that he was a part of our lives and our heritage even though we never had the chance to meet him.
There is something consoling about visiting a cemetery or cleaning up a grave site. It reminds us that the person(s) who died, while no longer physically with us, still has a place in our lives and in our hearts. Our memories of them remind us how important they were and still are to us.
Remembering the dead, praying for them, visiting their graves and perhaps shedding a tear for them does not diminish or negate our Christian faith. In fact, I would argue that it is part of our Christian faith. It reminds us that those who have died are still a part of our lives. They live on in our minds and hearts, in our memories and feelings. We also believe, though, that they live on in the presence of our eternal God. Wonderful as this is, though, there is even more. For we also believe that if we follow Christ in this life, so we too will come to share eternal life with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
Tending to a grave is, I believe, an act of faith. It gives us consolation in the face of death, comfort in our loss, and hope that one day we too will come to share eternal life.
Not expecting it to be so, this summer has been all over the map with regards to events taking place one after another. It felt like there was breaking news every other day around weather issues throughout the country, terrorist attacks around the world, the ramping up of the upcoming election year, and then there has been so much happening in our worldwide church as well as in our local church. Often I felt myself wanting to withdraw from the ugliness of the news, to crawl back into my personal space or run away to a desert island without any technology whatsoever. To disengage from everyone and everything around me would have been a luxury.
I found myself fighting off depression and hopelessness some days. And some days I cried out to God, “What is happening in YOUR world?” And God turned right around and asked, “What is happening in YOURS?”
A friend and I had a conversation the other evening about how difficult life can be, wondering how to maneuver through it gracefully, tactfully, and with hope and faith. She stated that the world is very dark and, without faith and hope, the darkness remains. She was lamenting the fact that her growth in spirituality and Christian action was too slow as far as she was concerned. She wondered if she would ever “get it.” I hated to admit it but I, too, have wondered that myself many times. I would like the path to holiness to be straight and on target but that is so not the case. Many twists and turns have always been in the way, or so it seemed.
It has taken me many years to appreciate all those things that have sidetracked me on my journey. To realize that those very things are the journey itself. Every experience, every person, every event has become my life. They have all come together to help create the person I am today. It is my story and it is unique. Just as yours is. And only by God’s intimate grace, have I come to know God in my story and recognized God in your stories as well. That’s how it works. We live out our story and become immersed in everyone else’s story. And that’s where we find God…in each other’s stories.
So, to reflect on God’s question to me, “What is happening in Yours?” puts a new spin on this situation. In other words, what am I doing about the poverty, oppression, tragedies, hopelessness, and faithlessness around me? How am I bringing God into our world to make a difference? What have I done for the ones who are in need around me? Was I present to each and every person I met this day? Did I live well today? How have I detached from this world and all its false idols? Do I have any regrets about my day? What would I do differently and better the next time? Have I been selfless today? Have I died to self in some small way today?
There is a quotation I found somewhere a while back. I wish I could give credit to someone for it but I am not sure who is the author. “Live in such a way that those who know you, but don't know God, will come to know God because they know you.”
I found this quotation to be very profound and a definite call in my own life. The truth is I cannot live like this on my own. It is only through the Holy Spirit that I am able to try to achieve this. But I have seen God do powerful things with or without me. It does go smoother, I think, if I cooperate with God’s grace. But knowing myself, I don’t always go with the flow. And God knows that about me too. I am grateful that God is patient and understanding because I am a slow learner.
So we come upon another year of beginnings as we move into the season of dying and death—Fall. The season that is so necessary before we can ever get to resurrection. This challenge lies before all of us to live with a difference for others who need God so desperately in our world today.
In July 2013, Pope Francis gave a homily highlighting three “simple” attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy. Recognizing that difficulties are present in the life of every individual and all communities, we are invited to kindle these three attitudes in life.
Hopefulness: “In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life… I would like to say forcefully: always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! The ‘dragon,’ evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand. The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope!”
We are invited and challenged to identify the ways we are drawn away from trust and hope, and to let go of our need for control. There are times in each of our lives that we become discouraged. There are experiences that challenge us all. Let us recognize these experiences and moments, and remember that we do not have to deal with them alone. God gives us what and who we need, when we need it. God is with us.
Openness to being surprised by God: “Anyone who is a man or woman of hope…knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and surprises us….But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God!”
We are invited and challenged to find ways to continually draw nearer to our God, to nurture and deepen our relationship with God as individuals and as a community. Once again, we are asked to let go of our need for control—to yield to the ever present goodness of God. Ultimately, we are asked to accept the incredible reality that we are God’s beloved, and God cares deeply for us.
The simplicity of this request belies the challenge often experienced in living it out. It is amazing how many ways we find to doubt our own goodness or the goodness of another. There seems like endless ways we build walls between ourselves and God, between ourselves and our neighbor. So often, we place our trust in material and worldly powers—actively creating facades of protection that separate our selves from God’s reconciling and healing love. God is with us, and will surprise us—if we trust and open our eyes to see.
Living in joy: “If we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new life that Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts, and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy…If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will ‘lighten up’ with a joy that spreads to everyone around us.”
We are invited and challenged to accept the profound gift of God’s love in our day-to-day life and embrace joy. As a spiritual discipline, joy is a powerful attitude that goes beyond the familiar experience of being happy. Our faith is full of sacred stories of people who have experienced deep trials and tribulations, yet emit joy. We may know people in our lives who have many struggles and hardships, yet radiate a deep joy. The joy appears to come from someplace deep—beyond the realities we can see. It is not simply a happiness. Perhaps we have had glimpses of this in our lives, as well. Once again, we are invited to let go of control—finding ways to choose joy, and let go of fear, resentment, or an attitude of competitive scarcity.
Our invitation and our challenge is to live a faithful life that puts our hope in God, recognizes the daily gifts of God’s love, and thereby finding joy amid the realities of everyday life.
What do you need to grow in these three simple, yet profound, attitudes? How does The Basilica community support you in your growth? How do you support others? As we live as people of God, rooting our hopes and expectations in our faith, let us focus our lives on these attitudes and grow in love together.
A while back, I started praying the rosary again. Now, I never really abandoned the rosary, I just didn’t pray it on a regular basis. What got me started again, though, was my driving. Recently, I noticed that when I was driving, my irritation with other drivers had begun to move more toward anger. When I realized this, I decided I needed to do something about it. I tried turning off the radio and reciting some scripture verses, but after a few minutes, I found my attention wandering, and I was right back to criticizing other drivers. So, I decided to go back to the tried and true and started saying the rosary. And lo and behold, it has helped.
Now I’d like to tell you that my irritation level while driving has been reduced to zero, but that hasn’t happened. I still get irritated with other drivers, but when that happens I say the next Hail Mary for whatever driver irritated me. And when I do that, I can feel my irritation slipping away.
There is something about the cadence of the rosary that is soothing to my mind and my soul. I don’t have to think, I just have to let the Hail Mary’s, Glory Be’s, and Our Father’s carry me. As the beads slip gently through my fingers and I feel the soft weight of the rosary in my hand, I experience a definite comfort and a sense of peace. What is especially appealing about the rosary for me, though, is its portability. You can pray the rosary anywhere and at any time. And if push comes to shove, and you don’t have a rosary handy, you can always use your fingers to count the Hail Mary’s. The only problem I have is that I get the Joyful, Glorious and the Luminous mysteries confused. So, for now, I am using just the Sorrowful mysteries.
Now, like most forms of prayer, the rosary has some strong advocates and promoters, as well as some critics. My grandmother Degnan was a great advocate of the rosary. She prayed the rosary daily for her grandchildren. And if we were experiencing any difficulties, she doubled her efforts on our behalf. I know I was the recipient of untold decades of the rosary during my college years. As an added bonus—from my grandmother’s perspective—the rosary was a great non-medicinal aid to sleep. She would start a rosary when she went to bed, and invariably she would fall asleep with the rosary in her hand. And if she woke up in the night, as she often did, she would pick up saying the rosary right where she left off.
The rosary is a great form of prayer for some people, but I realize it is not for everyone. The important thing, though, is not how we pray, but that we pray. Prayer helps us to lift our minds and hearts to God and open ourselves to God’s will and work in our lives. Prayer can comfort us, challenge us, guide us, inspire us, enlighten us, and empower us. It can help decrease our stress levels, reduce our tension, and—while driving—can even calm our irritation or anger.
As prime travel season is upon us, I am reminded of a trip I took many years ago to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Santiago is Spanish for Saint James, one of the 12 disciples. Compostella is a derivation of the Latin: Campus Stellae or ‘field of stars.’ The origin of the name for Santiago de Compostella goes back to the middle ages. Legend has it that after his death, the disciples of St. James brought his body to Spain for burial. When the location of his burial site was lost to history, some shepherds noticed strange lights or stars in a field. Upon further investigation they discovered that the stars pointed to the place of burial of St. James. A church was erected over his tomb. As the news of the miraculous discovery and the many miracles worked there spread throughout Europe, Santiago de Compostella quickly became an important place of pilgrimage and the original church was replaced with the current monumental Cathedral.
During the Middle Ages, people made their way to Compostella from all over Europe. Dozens quickly became hundreds and hundreds became thousands. Pilgrims came from Italy, France, Northern Europe and the British Isles. Soon, paths were formed like walking trails in forests. Those paths became the official route to take and refuges and churches were built along the road. These were mostly tended by religious communities who provided pilgrims with food, water, rest, and spiritual care if needed.
A pilgrim coming from Great Britain started out by walking to the crossing at Dover. Once in France, he or she picked up the French pilgrims’ way, which went to the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees. There the pilgrim connected with the Spanish portion of the route. These pilgrimages could take many months depending on one’s place of departure. Regardless of its length, the journey was never easy. Bad weather, hunger, sickness, and burglary were all part of the course. It took extraordinary dedication or even an ecclesiastical obligation such as a penance for committed sins to go on this kind of pilgrimage.
Today the pilgrimage is popular, again. True pilgrims still walk to Santiago. And though the circumstances are better, bad weather, occasional hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, illness, and even burglary make the journey very real. Less dedicated pilgrims may take to riding a horse or a bike, driving a car, riding in a bus or even taking the plane. I am sad to say that we took the easy route and rode in a luxury coach. Yet regardless of one’s mode of transportation, everyone’s goal is to make it to Compostella—the Field of Stars.
This pilgrimage is a metaphor for our entire Christian journey. Some of us get to Compostella, the place of light, with the speed of an airplane, maybe even sitting in first class seats. Others take a slower, yet still direct route to Compostella. And some are rather circuitous about their journey. They may start in England, make it to France, take a detour through Italy and finally arrive at the gates of Compostella.
Similarly, our journey to oneness with Christ may take a long time and a less than direct path. Others take a more direct and quicker route. We all make this journey on our own terms and according to our own spiritual compass, though we share the same goal: getting to the field of stars; touching the light; becoming one with Christ.
Most of us will never make the trip to Compostella, but many of us have our own Compostella, our own field of stars, our own place of pilgrimage. For Minnesotans this is often a favorite place by a lake or in the woods where we can find rest and peace and reconnect with God and one another. Should you find yourself there on a rainy day and wanting to watch a movie I recommend “The Way.” This film tells the story of Santiago de Compostella beautifully. It also speaks to the journey each one of us is taking. May this summer’s journey bring renewal of body, mind, and soul to all of us.
Welcome to The Basilica of Saint Mary. You may be here weekly, even daily, or maybe you haven’t visited in years, or perhaps you are visiting for the first time today. Regardless of your history, I hope you take the time to look around and appreciate the gift that surrounds us.
Just imagine, in our lifetime a decision had to be made to save the Basilica.
The Basilica Landmark was founded as an independent, non-profit organization in 1993 by a group of forward-thinking volunteers who knew the community would care about this building. It was not only for the congregation, or even Catholics, but for everyone. Generations of generosity bring us to where we are today.
The Basilica Landmark’s mission is to preserve, restore and advance our historic Basilica and its campus. We call it “The Building of Hope.”
In any given year, hundreds of thousands of visitors walk through these doors for weddings, outreach services, concerts, tours, baptisms, funerals, and of course, for worship. The common thread tying these experiences together is inspiration.
These experiences inspire us to see people, everyone—from those at Mass to those in line for a sandwich. To see each other—really see them—and what is within. This space inspires us to give, not just take. It inspires us to improve our relationships—to love one another. Perhaps it inspires us to be better, to improve our relationships, our community—and in turn, even our world.
This is “The Building of Hope.”
This is a very exciting time for The Basilica Landmark, with so much good happening here on campus. Since 2010, The Basilica Landmark has invested $10 million in our mission. We have funded vital repairs to the interior of the historic Basilica school, restored the original bronze and leather doors, restored the Narthex, Sacristy and stained glass windows, and replaced the original church boiler from 1913. These are just a few of the hundreds of total projects already complete.
Last December, we met a $2.5 million matching challenge gift, making it possible to invest in a number of significant projects planned on our campus over the next few years, including a very significant renovation of the Reardon Rectory going on right now. This will address the limitations we currently face for service and programming growth.
Today, we are a thriving organization, investing more than $2 million each year in our campus. Major projects planned between 2016-2018 include Church tuck-pointing and roofing work, an expansion of the Cowley Center, and tuck-pointing, and a new window installation in the School. For more information on these projects, visit us online at www.thebasilicalandmark.org.
You can feel the momentum on our campus, and the progress paves the way for wonderful things in our future. To make these projects possible, we still need your support, and are thrilled to announce yet another wonderful opportunity to increase the impact of your gift. In 2015, a challenge gift has been made to The Basilica Landmark. For each new annual fund gift of any size this spring, a $100 donation will be made. To make a donation, please call 612.317.3455 or email Emily Hjelm. Thank you so much for your consideration.
In a city where historic architectural treasures have been demolished, The Basilica has held a prominent place on our skyline for more than 100 years. We have been given a very special gift, thanks to the thousands of people who gave generously to have it built and then thousands more gave generously to save it. Today presents our opportunity to participate in our own legacy. Thank you for your consideration and your part in “The Building of Hope.”
Dear Archbishop Hebda, Bishop Cozzens and Fr. Lachowitzer:
Archbishop Hebda, I want to welcome you to our Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator. Please know that you are in my prayers and the prayers of our parish, as you begin this important ministry. I pray it will be a time of healing and new hope for our Archdiocese.
I write this letter with a very troubled heart. During the past two years, at listening sessions and at various meetings, I have heard my parishioners describe feelings of outrage, betrayal, breach of trust, and deep sadness over the manner in which certain events have been handled in our Archdiocese. Very sadly, some people have even chosen to leave the church. The loss of these good people is a wound from which our church will not soon recover.
In recent accounts in various media and most recently in a report last Friday by Madeleine Baron of Minnesota Public Radio, questions have been raised in regard to the manner in which the Archdiocese has shared or not shared important information regarding Archbishop Nienstedt. These reports are concerning on several levels. Most specifically, however, they suggest that the Archdiocese has not been transparent, honest and forthcoming in the information it is has shared with the faithful of the Archdiocese in regard to Archbishop Nienstedt.
Given the events of the past two years, and most recently the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piché, I think it is absolutely imperative that, unless prohibited by law or promise of confidentiality to lay witnesses, the Archdiocese release all information regarding the investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt. I realize objections will be raised in regard to the release of this material. Given the fact that Archdiocesan funds were used, however, I firmly believe that the right of the faithful to this information outweighs any objections. More importantly, I believe that in order for our Archdiocese to rebuild the trust needed for the healing process to begin, full disclosure is essential so that we can move forward with the clear and certain knowledge that nothing has been or is being hidden or concealed.
I request that the release of information specifically needs to include:
- the report(s) from Greene Espel;
- the report(s) from Peter Wold;
- the report(s) to Archbishop Vigano;
- a full and accurate accounting of costs associated with these reports;
- a general outline of the financial obligations of the Archdiocese to Archbishop Nienstedt, as defined by canon law and the regulations of the USCCCB.
- Any additional information necessary to reveal any remaining issues and restore openness between the Archdiocese and parishioners, unless prohibited by law or promise of confidentiality to lay witnesses;
I have shared this letter with our parish leadership and I will also publish it in an upcoming parish bulletin as I have done in previous correspondence with Archbishop Nienstedt and in summaries of various listening sessions. I will do the same with any response you have. I believe that ongoing transparency is both necessary and critical during this time of crisis. It is my firm belief, as I hope it is yours as well, that it is only through this kind of transparency and openness that our Archdiocese will be able to move forward in healing and hope.
Thank you for your ministry in and to our Archdiocese.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
John M. Bauer
Pastor, The Basilica of Saint Mary
A few weeks ago I was doing some cleaning at my cabin and had the radio on in the background. At one point the theme song from Mission Impossible came on. As I listened I was transported back in time as I remembered watching the show when I was growing up. (Yes, I know there have been several movies based on “Mission Impossible,” but I still like the old television show the best.) I especially liked the words that introduced each episode “Your mission, should you chose to accept it is….” I like the well defined purpose and the clarity of knowing exactly what was expected and what needed to be done. There are many times when I long for that same kind of clarity in regard to God’s will in my life. It would be great if God would clearly tell me, “John, your mission should you chose to accept it is….”
Unfortunately, more often than I care to admit, when I am trying to discern God’s will or what God would have me do in a particular situation, I am much like a boat without a rudder.
I pray, but my prayer is often directionless and without focus. I want clarity and direction, and worse I want it now. In my efforts to get God to tell me what God wants me to do, I am impatient almost to the point of demanding. I don’t like it when I get this way, and I suspect God isn’t too happy with me either.
When I encounter these times in my life, one of the things that is helpful for me is to remember and take to heart a prayer that Thomas Merton wrote many years ago. I have kept this prayer in my Breviary since I was ordained. And on times too numerous to mention I have found it very comforting. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Discerning God’s will for us, or what God would have us do in a particular situation is not always easy. It can be frustrating, time consuming, and even a little annoying. It would be much easier if God simply told us, “Your mission should you chose to accept it is….” Unfortunately, if God were that direct, it would negate our free will. And our free will is one of the things that defines us as human beings and separates us from other creatures.
And so, at those times when I struggle with discerning God’s will, I take heart and find consolation in the prayer of Thomas Merton. The way I figure it, if one of the premier spiritual writers of the 20th century had trouble discerning God’s will, I should probably cut myself a little slack when I experience the same difficulty. I also take comfort in the knowledge that God will never call me to a mission that is impossible, because with God’s grace all things are possible.