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

Weekly Musings

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.

 

This weekend we have our annual Parish Picnic and Ministry Fair on the East Lawn of The Basilica after the 9:30 and 11:30am Masses. It is always fun to get together as a parish family and celebrate a kind of “homecoming” each September after the summer months. School begins, most vacations have ended, our programming gears up for another year and the beautiful season of fall ushers itself in. It seems to all meld into the rhythm of life.

And this fall we are adjusting to several new things that have arrived at The Basilica over the past few months. We have undergone quite a bit of construction on our campus within the school building and the Cowley building. We have new lighting on the front of our church. We have a new tenant in our school — we welcome Child Garden Montessori Child Care Center.  We have several new staff members, and we have many exciting concerts, exhibits, and events in store for this coming year.

As a staff member at The Basilica, I find it inspiring to be part of the planning process and see the year take shape as our volunteer leadership and staff work together in creating a calendar full of liturgies and prayer experiences, dynamic speakers and panelists, challenging outreach, and social justice events and workshops that speak to and nourish our spiritual needs.

I was speaking to a couple of members of our parish this week and we were sharing how it surprises us that even though our parish is so large, it never ceases to be a place of warmth and welcome to all those who walk through its doors. So many times I have heard from RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) inquirers that when they first come to The Basilica, they feel immediately like they have come home.  It is indeed a very special place. 

Be sure to stop by our annual Parish Picnic and Ministry Fair on the East Lawn this weekend for some good food, great conversation and comradery, and our vast array of ministries available to you in our parish community.  We do have a wonderfully welcoming parish and we look forward to seeing you in the coming months as we gather many times to enjoy each other and find God within each one of us.

 

Blocking God's Grace

A few weeks ago I got a call from a priest in another diocese who asked if I had received an email he had sent a month earlier. I told him I hadn’t and asked what email address he had sent it to. He replied that he didn’t have my email address and had sent the email via our website. I checked through my various email folders and finally found his email in my junk email folder. Unfortunately, I also found about twenty other emails in that folder that needed a response. As a result, I spent an entire morning sending apology emails to those twenty emails that unbeknownst to me had been sent to my junk email folder.

When I checked with our IT person, we discovered that any and all emails that had been sent to me via our website were being blocked and unceremoniously consigned to my junk email folder. Since I don’t know how to block emails, I didn’t have any idea how this could have happened. At this point, the problem has been corrected and I am once again receiving emails that are sent to me via our website. And while I tried to be careful when I went through my junk email folder, I hope I didn't miss an email I should have responded to and ended up offending someone.

As I reflected on this situation, it occurred to me that at times we may be aware when something is blocking our communication efforts. On the other hand, there may be other times when we are completely unaware that something is blocking them. I think this is probably especially true in regard to God’s attempts to share God’s love with us. Our faith tells us that God is constantly revealing God’s love to us and offering us God’s grace. At times, though, because of our sins, we may not be open to God’s love and grace. In effect and in fact, our sins block us from being open to God.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that, while there are times when we are aware that we are estranged from or at a distance from God, there are times when our sins have put us at a distance from God, and as a result we are unaware that the grace and love our God wants to offer us is being blocked. This is the corrosive and numbing effect of sin. It can block God’s grace without our being aware that this is happening.

Fortunately, while Christians didn’t invent sin, we do believe that in Jesus Christ we have found the remedy for sin. In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, we find the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both of these parables remind us that when we are lost—even and perhaps especially when we don’t know we are lost—Jesus seeks us out. And he is not satisfied and won’t stop looking until he finds us.

Sin can block the love and grace God wants to offer us. But in and through Jesus Christ we know and believe that this situation is usually temporary. Because of Jesus Christ, there is nothing—save the hardness of our own hearts—that can block God’s love. Of this we can be sure and because of this we will be saved.

 

Basilica volunteers are leading the way again by helping us evaluate and reduce waste at our parish.

The Basilica is located in Hennepin County, and they set new goals as part of a “Zero Waste” initiative to reduce waste and increase recycling next year. They hope to achieve this waste reduction by increasing recycling rates to 45% and to 6% for organics (which include food and non-recyclable paper.) 

We want to do our part at The Basilica. Thanks to the leadership of volunteers Donna Krisch and Dennis Dillon and staff members Janice Andersen and Dave Laurent, we are in the process of evaluating how to reduce waste and increase recycling. We are also considering starting an organics recovery program at The Basilica. 

To help organizations like The Basilica, Hennepin County provides funding and assistance to businesses and institutions to start or improve programs to divert recyclables and organics.  Grants of up to $10,000 are available from Hennepin County to fund things like the purchase of containers, equipment, hauling service charges, start up funds for new programs, compostable plastic bags and more. These grants are available to for-profit and non-profit businesses, organizations and institutions, including multi-family housing. Grants can be used to start or improve recycling programs at facilities located within Hennepin County. 

Larger grants of up to $50,000 are also available for businesses. The county estimates that half of the waste generated in the county comes from businesses and nearly two-thirds of that waste is recyclable. If you’d like to learn more, contact www.hennepin.us/businessrecycling.

Parish volunteer leaders, our staff and Aspen, our current trash/recycling vendor, are working in partnership to examine our past recycling levels, and they are looking at ways to increase these efforts. This work helps both our environment and our financial bottom line.

The idea of starting an organics program at The Basilica is being researched. According to Hennepin County Public Works, almost 30% of waste is food and food-soiled paper. The next Hennepin County grant deadline is October 15, and we are working to submit a grant request at that time. 

The Basilica’s volunteer Eco Team is also looking at how to increase the visibility and effectiveness of recycling on our parish campus. How can we improve the location of containers for recycling trash and organics composting? What signage and practical approaches would help all of us understand how we can each participate and help increase our recycling efforts on The Basilica campus? 

If you’d like to help with this important environmental project, or are interested in learning more about The Basilica’s Eco Team and its efforts, contact Donna Krisch at 952-939-0308 or email her at rdkrisch@gmail.com.

 

 

For many years I lived with what a friend of mine liked to call: “an attitude of scarcity.” I was always worried that there was never going to be enough — especially enough money. I suspect I developed this attitude during my college years when I was worried about paying tuition and other bills.  After ordination I continued to worry about money. And because I worried there would not be enough, there often wasn’t enough. The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter how much money I had, it wouldn’t have been enough. Enough was always more than I had at any given moment.   

My “attitude of scarcity” continued for several years. Surprising enough, however, it began to change one day when I was the victim of a burglary. For several years, at the end of each day I would put my spare change in a large decorative wooden box someone had given me. Every now and again, I would count the money and was pleased and excited when at one point it totaled over five hundred dollars. Then one night when I was away on my day off, someone broke in to the rectory and stole my box of money — along with several other items.   

The police were called and a report filed with the insurance company. I was informed, though, that because there was no way of verifying the amount of money that was stolen, there was nothing they could do about it. Initially, I was frustrated and angry. I worried that because I lost my stash of cash, I would certainly encounter some problem or difficulty and I wouldn’t have enough money to deal with it.  I waited and worried — but nothing happened. I survived the loss without incident. I didn’t have to cut back on my expenses or make other sacrifices. And actually my life went on quite nicely. 

When I talked about this incident with my spiritual director he suggested that perhaps I had turned a corner, and instead of having an “attitude of scarcity,” I was beginning to develop an “attitude of abundance.” An attitude of abundance tells us that because God loves us, there will always be enough, that we don’t have to worry. An attitude of abundance is not suggesting a simplistic: “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy. Rather, it is an attitude that reminds us that worry is a waste of imagination. What will happen, will happen. Yet in anything and everything that happens, God is with us. Jesus was clear about this. “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they.  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span.”  Matthew 6:26  

An attitude of scarcity seems to reoccur with irritating regularity in my life, especially when I find myself worrying about something. At those times I need to remember that as God has been with me and cared for me in the past, so God is with me now and will be in the future. This doesn’t mean that I won’t encounter difficult or unpleasant situations. And it doesn’t mean that I will always have everything I want. I have learned, though, that in God’s love we are held firm and secure, and with God’s love there is always enough. 

In August and September we focus on the stewardship of our gifts at The Basilica. We encourage each and every member of The Basilica community to consider what gifts, talents, and skills they have been given, and how they might put those gifts to use for the betterment of our community — our parish, our city, and our world.

At The Basilica there are currently more than 1500 volunteers in more than 300 volunteer positions. As you consider how you might begin or continue your commitment to The Basilica in the next year, we would urge you to consider as a part of your commitment, how you might focus on enriching your own faith life. To fulfill your ministry to the best of your abilities it is essential that you nurture yourself spiritually. Will you commit to daily prayer? Will you attend a retreat? Will you commit, as part of your stewardship pledge, to attend a program or two within our ongoing adult learning offerings on Sunday mornings?

At The Basilica of Saint Mary we strive to provide opportunities for our community to learn and to grow by working with a number of speakers to offer programming on many varied topics. In the upcoming program year, we will learn not only about some of the great saints in our Catholic history, but also about contemporary leaders of social justice in our Catholic tradition. We will delve into end-of-life issues and offer programs on forgiveness, mindfulness, and meditation. We will offer programming on the Bible and the Qur’an and, during Advent, we will have a presentation on waiting for the Messiah from the Jewish perspective. We hope that you will consider these topics as part of your own growth and development in the faith this year and make the pledge to attend at least one. View the various offerings on our website and see what topics speak to you and participate in as many of these programs as you feel called.

Also, as you consider living out your call, you might consider reading the new book, Stewardship: Living a Biblical Call by Bernard F. Evans. Dr. Evans has spoken a number of times at The Basilica on topics of stewardship, and his latest book highlights the six stewardship themes of biblical stewardship that we focus on at The Basilica. The book “ties the Catholic invitation to stewardship to biblical foundations as well as the social teaching of the church.” Dr. Evans will be at The Basilica’s Parish Picnic on September 7 to sign copies of his book and has included a dedication to The Basilica of Saint Mary within his new book.

Please, take some time to consider how you might enrich your faith life in this coming program year and how you might share your gifts with your faith community. We look forward to our work together!

 

Breaking Down Our Walls

This June, I was privileged to join a group of women on a three-day retreat in northern Minnesota. This retreat brought together mothers of children who were murdered with mothers whose children are in prison for committing murder. They all carry deep pain in their lives. I was along as support staff, to cook and care for the women.

The three days began with awkward conversations and actions: Each woman trying to settle in, claim safe space, and be strong. They came from two different sides of a tragic experience. They held deep resentment and anger. They had great trepidation, yet, courageously choose to attend together.

Once everyone arrived, the first group activity was prayer. Trusting God, ground rules were set: the women were all in this together. The women were willing, and the retreat unfolded. In various forms, the women were invited to honestly and courageously share their story with one another. They were challenged to respectfully listen and hear one another.

Through the simple, yet profound experience of sharing stories and deep listening, tears were shed and walls broke down. I witnessed a transformation from division and brokenness to solidarity, love, and support. Each woman gained a deep respect and admiration for the other. Each woman understood that there was more in common than different. They were filled with compassion for one another. Bonds were formed that were deep and profound. Grace abound.

This retreat was facilitated by From Death To Life, an organization that brings families impacted by the tragedy of homicide together for healing and forgiveness. Their work offers hope to families and transforms the entire community through healing, reconciliation, and peace. You can learn more at www.fromdeathtolife.us.

The work of reconciliation and healing is happening all around the world. The Catholic Relief Services is doing powerful work in Rwanda with victims of genocide. They are bringing together Hutu with Tutsi to share stories, make amends, and heal communities. Through this sincere work, solidarity is born. You can learn about this incredible work at www.storiesofhope.crs.org.

Reconciliation and healing is happening in current war zones in the Middle East. Organizations such as Churches for Middle East Peace bring together Israelis and Palestinians to hear one another’s story and listen with respect. In this process, they find solidarity and compassion for one another. Participants speak about the power of understanding how the ongoing conflict undermines the lives and livelihoods of both peoples. They aspire to become an advocate for an end to the violence and better futures for all. Learn about this important work at www.cmep.org.

While the specifics of these situations are unique, the experience of division, resentment, or hatred is not. These can be found in our own lives. We all build walls around us to protect and separate us from hurt. Families can be estranged, and siblings can become alienated. Neighborhoods can be destroyed, and churches can become divided.

As we seek to make sense of a world of division and violence, let us look into our own lives and find healing and reconciliation. Where are our walls? Who are we keeping out? Whose story do we need to hear? And who needs to listen to our story? Healing and reconciliation are fruits of the Spirit. Let us be inspired by the women at the retreat. Let us all find ways to recognize our own anger and fear, yet, courageously choose to show up together. God will be there, waiting.

 

For many years I thought of prayer in terms of technique—a technique that could be learned, much like how one learned to play a musical instrument. I thought if I only “practiced” enough, I would become proficient at prayer. When I experienced difficulties with prayer, or when prayer seemed dry or rote, I assumed that I just needed to work on my technique and keep practicing. I also read books on prayer, and kept hoping I would find an expert who could help me with my technique or share a secret that would suddenly help me to be more proficient at prayer.   

I don’t think my experience in regard to prayer is unique. Over the years, I have encountered many people who, like me, were looking for a technique or method that would help them feel more comfortable and proficient with prayer. I have also encountered people who thought they were lacking some secret skill or had some defect in their make up that hindered or even prevented them from praying as well as they would like. And in some cases I have also encountered people who have given up on prayer altogether because they found it too frustrating and unsatisfying. 

Fortunately for me, my attitude toward prayer changed many years ago when I was on retreat. I asked my retreat director for some “tips” on prayer. Initially he suggested things I already knew, e.g. have a regular time and place for prayer, start with some deep relaxing breaths, etc. As we talked further, though, he told me that perhaps I was taking the wrong approach to prayer. He said that while there are a lot of techniques that can help with prayer. When we approach prayer solely as an activity we want to become proficient at or a skill we want to master, we are missing something important and will probably find prayer frustrating.  

My retreat director went on to suggest that I approach prayer more in terms of a relationship. While there are things we can do to enhance our relationships and help them grow, the most important thing is simply being present. If we are not present to someone, if we don’t spend time with them, we shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship feels stilted or stagnant. In order for a relationship to grow and deepen, we need to spend time simply being with another. This presence eventually leads to trust, which eventually leads to deeper and deeper sharing, which eventually leads to love.  

Now to be clear, when we think of prayer in terms of a relationship, that doesn’t mean that every time we go to prayer that it is a deep and profound experience. There are ebbs and flows, and peaks and valleys in every relationship. This is certainly true with regard to God. Our prayer, though, helps us to keep our relationship with God open and flowing, even and perhaps especially, at those times when our prayer feels unproductive or even frustrating.  

Occasionally, I will find myself falling back into the habit of trying to find a technique or skill that will help me feel more proficient at prayer. At these times, I need to remind myself that prayer is about relationship and not about technique. At root, my relationship with God — like the other relationships that nurture and nourish me in my life —  is sustained not by doing something, but simply by being present. 

Pages