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Weekly Musings

May They All Be One

As he lay dying of cancer, Pope John XXIII reportedly continuously whispered Jesus’ prayer: “May they all be one” (John 17:11). As a priest, diplomat, and finally as Pope, one of John XXIII’s aims was to reach across denominational barriers to re-establish the unity of God’s people. He once said: “Whenever I see a wall between Christians, I try to pull out a brick.” Along with Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII was canonized (named a saint) on April 27, 2014.    

I think John XXIII’s words about removing bricks from the walls that separate Christians are perhaps more important now than when he first uttered them. In our world today, there is much that would/could separate Christians. Divisions exist on almost every moral issue, and there is ongoing debate about major issues in our Christian faith—the ordination of women being perhaps the most notable.  

In addition to the differences that exist among Christians, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that differences also exist among Catholics. I don’t believe, though, that we should be alarmed or threatened by differences. Rather, I believe it is the divisions that arise from our differences that are the real source of shame and scandal. There is something wrong if we allow differences to turn into disputes and divisions.   

In regard to the above, I want to be clear. Acceptance of others doesn’t mean we agree with them. Dialogue with others doesn’t mean that we abandon our principles, and respect for others doesn’t mean endorsement of their beliefs. To lack respect for the differing position of others is to be haughty, ignorant, or both.   

Many years ago Dr. James P. Shannon was President of the then College of St. Thomas. He later became an auxiliary bishop in our Archdiocese and eventually left ministry. While President of St. Thomas, he wrote an essay in 1962 entitled: “The Tradition of Respectful Argument.” In that essay he wrote:  

The ability to defend one’s own position with spirit and conviction, to evaluate accurately the conflicting opinions of others, and to retain one’s confidence in the ultimate power of truth to carry its own weights are necessary talents in any society, but especially so in our democratic culture.

There is some evidence that these virtues are in short supply in our land. The venerable tradition of respectful argumentation, based on evidence, conducted with courtesy and leading to greater exposition of truth is a precious part of our heritage in this land of freedom. It is the duty of educated men to understand, appreciate, and perpetuate this tradition.  

If we can remember and put into practice the ideal of respectful argument, perhaps some day Pope John’s prayer: “May they all be one,” will become a reality.   
    

There seems to be a children’s book to address most childhood behavior issues, which is helpful because life with a two-year-old is unpredictable, and sometimes you need a little outside help. 

At Mass recently, our two-year- old daughter happened upon a few goldfish crackers left on the floor. As soon as she saw them she moved as quickly as possible and her little hands snatched them up just before I could get there. She proceeded to stuff them into her mouth and swallow. You don’t hesitate to eat off the ground when you are two. It was her own loaves and fishes miracle, right here at The Basilica.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Anything I needed to learn, I learned in Kindergarten.” I feel this common saying could be applied at The Basilica and interpreted as “Anything I hoped my children would learn, started at The Basilica.”  

My family has had many loaves and fishes experiences in this community, and there is an abundance of great gifts because of the generosity shown here. Witnessing this generous behavior provides an abundance of learning opportunities.

  • Even when my family is disruptive and our pew is messy, you smile. You welcome us—all of us—at our best and our worst. One of the first words my older daughter learned was “peace,” and it always warms my heart to hear her share it at Mass. It may have started with one word, but it means so much more.  And she learned it from you.
  • We sing together—young and old. Together, with the help of our choirs, we give thanks and praise in a beautiful, collective voice. My family sounds better at The Basilica than in the car.
  • We face challenges together, united in what we love at The Basilica. Coming together with encouragement makes us stronger, our faith assured and our blessings multiplied.  
  • We live out financial stewardship with great generosity. In good economic times and bad, you give. One parishioner I met with recently illustrated this beautifully. He described his approach to giving—and that it wasn’t ever optional—and his desire always to give as much as he possibly can. He made a pledge last year, and even in a year as a freelancer without clients for several months, and as he planned a wedding, he stuck to his commitment to The Basilica. His generosity, and all the ways our community gives, is a shining example of a lifestyle of gratitude for the next generation.  
  • All the lessons I want my children to know in their hearts as adults are right here at The Basilica, in many forms. When the crying babies at Mass today are adults, I believe that the great enrichment they receive here, today, will provide a foundation for their internal moral compass.

I’m reminded of Fr. Michael O’Connell’s inspirational words: “Give generously and graciously from what God has so generously given you.” It is that simple, and that complicated, just as so many of life’s little lessons prove to be:

  • Eat your food and be grateful that you have good food to eat.
  • Greet each other with blessings of peace, and share that peace with each other.
  • Sing your heart out.
  • We are part of a faith tradition that has no end, and we are not on this journey alone.
  • Giving generously gives happiness.
  • And know that when you give, you are really giving to God.

This fall, as you consider the blessings in our parish, please consider a Financial Stewardship pledge for 2015. Your pledge of any size will have a powerful impact—in your own life and in the life of The Basilica community. Please watch for pledge forms in your mail and in the pews.

Thank you for your consideration and for being a part of this community that gives so much.

 

Walking through the streets of Paris last week I could not but notice the many signs of Halloween in the window displays. As I asked a friend about this she mentioned how important Halloween had become in Europe and she admitted to decorating her daycare center for Halloween as well. “The children love the carved pumpkins, the masks, the ghosts, and the candy,” she explained. Apparently there even is a Halloween parade in my hometown and children have taken up trick-or-treating. Not missing a beat I asked her what she was planning to do for All Saints and All Souls Day. She was a bit taken aback as she confessed that, in fact she had no plans.

The world, it seems has been turned upside down. Today, Halloween has clearly overshadowed All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Whereas, growing up in Belgium we did not even know about Halloween. Our undivided attention was given to celebrating All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, two of my favorite days on the liturgical calendar..

On All Saints Day the entire family gathered at our parish church for a solemn liturgy celebrating all the Saints. Then it was off to my grandmother’s house for a day of festive leisure culminating is a sumptuous dinner. The highpoint of the afternoon was the simple play the children put together for the adults, illustrating the life of our favorite saints. My favorite Saints were the ones depicted with the child Jesus. So, I often played Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony and Saint Christopher, carrying the child Jesus (one of my cousin’s dolls) on my shoulders or in my arms, across the improvised stage.

All Souls Day was marked by a certain sober solemnity as we remembered all those who had died. After Mass we walked to the cemetery to place flowers on the tombs of our ancestors and to pray for them as well as for ourselves. The dinner that day was fine, but not nearly as festive as the day before. The stories around the dinner table were about the great or funny things our deceased ancestors did.

Thus these two days which are very intimately connected allowed us to tell the story of our beloved saints as well as the stories of our beloved ancestors while we looked at their portraits and paintings which were interspersed with images of the saints fastidiously collected by my grandmother. Though I did not realize it at the time celebrating these two feasts, the church and my family instilled in me that we are all part of the Body of Christ because all of us are one in Him, saint and sinner alike by virtue of our baptism.

As we rejoice in the Icons of the Saints placed in the Sanctuary this month, let us celebrate all the Saints, those who have gone before us, those who live among us and those yet to be born. As we write the names of our loved ones in the Book of Remembrance and place their photos on the side-altars let us celebrate their lives and remember that all of us are one. And as we celebrate Vespers for All Souls, let us pray that all of us may meet again before the Heavenly Throne at the end of time.

So, dare I ask? What are your plans for All Saints’ and All Soul’s Day? 

Coming Together as Community

Growing up in a small town, everyone knew each other. In church, school or life in general, everyone was involved or things simply didn’t happen. When I left after college, I found myself with a new job in a new town and made my way to the local Catholic Church for Mass. It was a large community—much bigger than I was used to. People rushed in and out on Sundays and I came and went too and never really connected. No one seemed to notice me. No one asked me to get involved. It felt strange to feel lonely in the midst of all those people at Mass. I didn't feel like I belonged. 

As I’ve grown older, I realized that most often all you have to do is put your hand up and say ‘I'm interested’ or ‘I'd like to get involved.’ In most organizations, volunteers are desperately needed and you can find a place, and that’s definitely true here at The Basilica. But fresh out of college as a young adult, I was waiting to be asked.

At The Basilica, my sincere hope is that your experience is one of welcome and feeling a strong sense of belonging. For long-time parishioners, I hope we see our important role in welcoming newcomers, in greeting the strangers in our midst, and inviting others to get involved. 

As parish members, it’s our job to make everyone, guests and members alike, feel welcome and part of our community. We can’t function as a healthy, welcoming community without your active involvement. We need you to come together regularly in prayer and worship. We need your help as ministers and parish leaders to serve others in our parish and our city. We need your ongoing financial support to sustain the work of our parish community.

Why do I feel at home at The Basilica of Saint Mary? In some ways, it’s very different than where I grew up. It’s such a large, impressive building, and it houses a huge parish community—about 6,500 households with  over 12,000 people—our church is bigger than where I grew up. 

But big as it is, The Basilica also feels warm and inviting. In my earliest days at The Basilica, I was asked to help with hospitality after Mass. Back then we brewed the coffee in the back of the church while mass was winding to a close. After Mass people hung around in church to visit and catch up. Next I was asked to help blow up helium balloons for an event. Small ways of getting involved, but each time I helped, I met people and got to know them. Soon I was seeing familiar friendly faces whenever I went to church. Being part of a group felt good to me. In small ways, I knew I was making a difference and preparing the way for others. 

Belonging to a parish community, we are each asked to take part. That starts with coming together as a community for worship. It happens when we greet a stranger or welcome a new volunteer into ministry. It happens when we pray for the ill or grieving. It happens when we teach our children about their faith, when we sing or serve at Mass, mow the lawn, or shovel the snow. 

It happens when we make a financial commitment to sustain our parish ministries and the day-to-day work of our church community. I hope you will join me and make a pledged financial commitment to support our ministries and the ongoing work of our parish in 2015. 

When we come together as a community, we share common experiences like roots in our Catholic faith, and we share our differences too. When we worship and work side by side, we learn from each other’s journeys and experiences as we come together to live our faith every day. 

 

Try as we might to prevent it, every now and again during one of our Masses someone will put leaflets or flyers on the windshields of cars in our parking lots. Now this hasn’t happened recently, but with elections around the corner, it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. I think two things need to be said in regard to these leaflets and flyers.

First, I am convinced that the people who leaflet cars during Mass do so out of a sense of commitment to their cause or candidate. From a certain perspective, this is commendable. It reminds us that we have the right to participate in the political process on all levels. The problem is that someone could infer that because the leafleting occurred on Basilica property, that The Basilica was endorsing a particular cause, or candidate for that cause. In this regard, we need to be clear. While The Basilica—like all Catholic Churches—has the right and the responsibility to commend and endorse positions on moral issues, it cannot, has not, and will not endorse a particular candidate for any political office at any level, even if that candidate espouses our values and moral principles.  

Walking the line between clearly stating our moral principles and beliefs, and appearing to endorse a particular candidate, can be very difficult. On the one hand, our Church has a fundamental commitment to stand for justice. This commitment demands that the Church, as an institution, just like its individual members, must involve itself in fashioning and maintaining the common good. However, a distinction needs to be made as to how this is done. One way is to get involved in advocating for particular issues, e.g. respect for life, housing, jobs, economic issues. Another option is to support particular candidates or political parties. Individual Christians may do either or both. The Church as an institution may only do the first. The Church needs to remain apart from partisan politics in order that it can speak more clearly, freely and in an unbiased manner for fundamental moral values.  

While I think we do a good job of this at The Basilica, we need to be honest that at times the Catholic Church in the United States has failed in this regard. At times we have all heard U.S. priests and bishops become so strident about an issue at election time that it seems they are endorsing a particular candidate or party. We need to remember, though, that for the Church, values are what is most important and what is at stake. Endorsing particular candidates or a particular party limits our Church’s ability to speak with authority to all the issues. The Church needs to refrain from partisan politics in order to speak more effectively and from the perspective of justice, to all the issues. 

I’m hoping that no one leaflets any cars at The Basilica during this election season. But in case it happens, please know this was not done with our permission. If it does happen, though, may it spur all of us to participate in the electoral process and give witness to our beliefs and values by voting.

Every once in a while, you meet someone whose story has an extraordinary and immediate impact. I had the pleasure of such an experience when I met Bob Kleiber at a parish leadership gathering this spring. Bob is a member of The Basilica’s Finance Committee whose path to involvement and deeper stewardship is not typical.

In our visit, Bob openly shared the tragic story of losing his son, David, to suicide, as a result of mental illness. When he told me this story, something hit me in the gut and tore at my heart. As a parent, the thought of a broken bone is enough to make your stomach churn. The thought of burying a child is unfathomable. But through that loss and beyond his sadness, Bob found a deeper connection at The Basilica and with his faith. The value of community and of belonging increases greatly when you feel their support in a time of need.  

As he shared today, and as you can likely sense, even through his grief Bob lives a life of gratitude. This gratitude has guided stewardship in his life.  

He is an inspiration.

Sometimes, we all need a reminder about living a life of gratitude. Earlier this year, around the time I met Bob, I had a conversation with Fr. Michael O’Connell, former pastor at The Basilica. I had shared with him some of my challenges about how I was finding it to be difficult to juggle things. These “things” were family, children’s activities, my work, and other interests. It seemed I never had the time I really wanted to devote to each area of my life, which is a well-known theme for many working parents.  

When I started this conversation, I was counting on a clear direction of how I might make some adjustments and priorities could become clear. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I heard the one word that needed to be said:  Gratitude.

I didn’t love to hear it at first. Amidst my tension and personal stress, I had forgotten to look at these “things” in my life as the blessings of my life. And they are. God has given me more than I recognize and certainly more than I sometimes deserve.

I love all of it. Perhaps too much. I have a job that not only feeds my family, but feeds my heart and soul. I have a loving family. I have a faith that is constantly forming, on a journey where I’m supported at The Basilica.

Focusing on gratitude—and in Fr. Michael’s words, “Giving gratefully and graciously gives back what God has so generously given to us”—can change you.

The shift changed not only my heart, but it seemed to change my daily life. When you change your mind, the tone of each day is different.  

I hope you will consider your own gratitude when you consider supporting The Basilica this fall. Please consider a pledged commitment for 2015. Pledge forms are available in the pews, or you can pledge online.  Thank you for your consideration and know we are grateful for your generosity.

 

Fall is a Time of Renewal

In a very simple way, fall is a time of renewal.  Renewed schedules, renewed commitments, renewed faith.  Perhaps it is the lifelong routine of “back to school,” and preparing for class with new books, shoes, and backpacks.  It brings a new routine, new friends, and teachers.  It is a time of change, bringing with it a routine that is predictable and reliable.

This year especially, my family’s renewal was very welcomed after our summer fell into a period of August chaos.   In my naivety, I planned our month to be “free-flowing,” without care, and a chance to embrace those dog days of summer.  I envisioned days at the beach, impromptu ice cream shop visits, and blissful afternoons at the park.  While we did enjoy some of this planned yet unscripted fun, the untold stories in our household looked more like toddler tantrums and childhood meltdowns.

We were out of town many weekends, and fell out of our typical weekend routine, including Sunday morning Mass at The Basilica.  Upon reflection, it occurred to me that part of what we missed in our schedule was the routine of church, knowing that we would be at the same place at the same time each Sunday at 9:30 (or sometimes at 9:35…).

While I am aware we all have times of chaos, making a commitment to our faith in those times might ease our angst.  This might include attending Mass, but also our prayer lives and community service.  I have found that we receive so much when we prioritize our faith in our routine. 

Fall is a beautiful time to consider our commitments.  It’s a beautiful time for renewal; a time to be intentional with our gifts and our resources.  Our Basilica Stewardship volunteers once outlined a way to incorporate financial stewardship into our lives.  They suggested to:

  • Give intentionally by developing a plan and then following through with it
  • Give regularly by establishing a pattern
  • Give generously by recognizing we will have enough because God provides for us
  • Give first by sharing our first fruits and then living off the rest
  • Give proportionally based on the blessings we have received
  • Give cheerfully by recognizing the benefits our offerings provide the parish

I remember the drudgery of my parents as they convinced four children to “get to the car!” so we could get to church on time.  Every Sunday, it was the same argument and the same lead feet pounding into the balcony ten minutes after the service began.  So far, our girls have the gift of a church that is a highlight of the weekend!  We are so blessed to have this place that is a “favorite” in all of our routines.  And it is missed greatly when we’re absent.

This fall, I hope you will not only make The Basilica a part of your schedule, but we ask that you will also make giving of your resources part of your routine.  It is your presence and support that continue to build this great community.

 

Several years ago I decided to make my annual retreat at a Trappist Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. In making this decision, I thought I could kill three birds with one stone. First and foremost, it would give me a chance to make a retreat a quiet and prayerful place. Additionally, though, since I was going on retreat in January it would afford me the opportunity to get away for a week from the cold winter in Minnesota. Finally, at the end of the retreat I could spend a couple days with one of my brothers and his family who live north of Atlanta.  

Now, while the monastery was indeed very conducive to prayer, and while I enjoyed the time I spent with my brother and his family, the weather did not cooperate. A couple of nights the temperature hovered around the freezing point and while there was sunshine during the day, you definitely needed a sweater and coat if you were going outside. This caused me to spend more time in the chapel—which was not a bad thing. 

One of my favorite memories of that retreat occurred each morning when I would join the monks for Morning Prayer. I suspect the chapel was one of the first things the monks built when the monastery was founded. I say this because the heat for the chapel came from a central source, and was not dispersed via a ventilation system throughout the chapel. Thus, the further you got away from that central source the colder you were. In the morning, the younger monks would bring four elderly monks who were in wheelchairs to the chapel. These monks would have their capes and robes wrapped tightly around them to keep warm. When they were brought into the chapel, though, instead of going to the pews these monks would be positioned in front of the central heating vent where it was warmest. When the fan for the heat kicked in and the warm air began to fill the chapel, these monks would open their capes to capture the warmth and draw it into themselves. I looked forward to watching this each morning.  

As I reflected on this experience during the retreat, it struck me that it was a wonderful metaphor for welcoming God into our lives. Often times we can be wrapped up tightly by different things that are going on in our lives. Sometimes past hurts keep us bound up and closed off. At other times it could be our fears or worries. Sometimes it can be excessive busyness or addictive behaviors. At these times, it is difficult for us to be open to God and the grace God wants to offer us. If we can open ourselves to God’s grace, though, it can and will make a difference.  

The issue, though, is where do we find God’s grace? Well, I think we can take a hint from the monks at that Trappist Monastery. They knew that if they went to the source of the heat, not only would that be the warmest place, but when the heating fan kicked in they would be flooded with warmth. In a similar way, when we are feeling bound or at a distance from God’s grace, if we can go to where we have felt and experienced God’s grace in the past, eventually we will find and feel God’s grace anew. And if we open ourselves to it, it will flood over us and warm our souls.  

There are times in each of our lives when we feel bound, or stuck, or at a distance from God’s grace. When these times occur, we should not retreat into ourselves. Instead we need to remember and go to those places where we have felt close to God or where we have experienced God’s grace in the past. In my own life when I have done this, I found God patiently waiting there for me and inviting me to let his grace wash over me and warm my soul.  

“Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere…for the solace to its troubles,” Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor).

It can be challenging to pay attention to what is going on in our world these days. We hear about war and unrest throughout our country and world. From violence in Iraq and Syria, to local demonstrations against racism and unfair wages, our communities are bubbling over with strife. It is tempting to turn off all media and put everything out of our mind.

Somehow our communities have regressed to a place that disregards respectful civil dialogue. The work that provides a glimpse of the kingdom promised “on earth as it is in heaven” is often hampered by power struggles, intolerance, and exclusion. Walls are built to keep people out. Communities are fractured. Lives are driven by the illusion of scarcity.

Our faith offers a framework to accept the challenges we face each day. Our faith offers us guidelines to maneuver those things that overwhelm us. It is not easy, but we are invited into the journey together, with the support and help of the Spirit.

First, we must pay attention to the world around us. We must know what is going on in our community so that we can respond appropriately and in love. If we don’t know the issues, we cannot be part of the solutions.

Next, it is important to identify and surrender our own biases about the issues in our midst. It has been said that “perception is reality.” In other words, what one perceives is often the reality that drives one’s life and actions. However, the “reality” that is shaped by one’s perceptions may have little to do with what is true. It may be distorted by assumptions that are false. It may be shaped by fear or ignorance.

We are called to look at the world as it is, and understand that our life experience shapes what we see. We are limited and cannot see the whole by ourselves. We are called to engage, learn, grow, and see more clearly.

Finally, our faith invites us to work toward a community shaped in every dimension by the Gospel of love. Can we imagine a world that has no political pressures distorting our discussion on poverty or hunger? Can we conceive of communities that are shaped by a concept of abundance? What would our neighborhoods look like? What difference would it make in our lives and our communities?

This fall there are many wonderful opportunities at The Basilica to learn about our faith. Consider attending the Sunday morning “Voices of Catholic Spirituality” series uncovering the teachings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna and Vincent de Paul. Growing in faith shapes our thoughts and actions.

This fall there are also powerful opportunities at The Basilica to learn about the world around us and engage in action shaped by politically unbiased and faith-filled discussion. Consider attending Basilica events on Economic Inequality in the U.S. and Creating A Climate For Solidarity.

We worship together and God’s love changes us. We open our eyes to the world around us, and courageously commit together to changing the world. This is our call. This is our challenge. This is our opportunity.

 

Many years ago, when my older brother was in first grade, he fell on the school playground and broke his arm. In those days, Anoka only had a small hospital and certainly no emergency room, so when my dad was called, he picked up my brother and took him to the Doctor’s office. As my dad told the story, the doctor was trying to get the broken arm back in its proper position so he could put a cast on it. At one point in the process, however, the doctor must have done something that cause a spike in pain, because my brother let out a yelp and with tears in his eyes looked at my dad and said, “Don’t let him hurt me anymore.” My dad told me that it was at that moment he realized what it meant to be a parent.

When my dad told me this story I had just graduated from college, and I think he was trying to make the point that there are certain moments in life when a realization we had previously missed, suddenly dawns on us. In this particular case, I think my dad was trying to help me realize that since I had graduated from college, I was “grown up” and needed to get my act together.

I suspect in each of our lives there are similar kinds of moments of realization—moments when we realize what it means to be in love, or what I means to be a spouse or a parent, or what it means to be a friend. The list could go on and on. I would like to suggest, though, that in addition to these singular moments of realization, there also should be ongoing realizations in our lives. From my perspective, one of the ongoing realizations in our lives should be the realization of what it means to be a Christian.

On a regular basis, we should realize that being a Christian means that we can’t always do or have what we want. For example, on a regular basis, I think we should be struck by the realization that if we are going to call ourselves Christians, we have to work at forgiveness. On a regular basis, we should realize that we can’t always put our own needs first. On a regular basis, we should realize that judgment is God’s business and not ours. On a regular basis, we should realize that we are called to care for those who are less fortunate. And on a regular basis, we should realize that being a Christian means that we are called to love our neighbor as our self.

If we are never caught up short by the realization that we have failed to live and act as a follower of Jesus, I would suggest that we have made being a Christian far too easy. Being a Christian shouldn’t always be easy or convenient. At times we will fail. This realization should be a regular and reoccurring experience in our lives. Once we understand this, I believe we are on our way to an adult and mature faith.

 

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