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A few months ago, in an email exchange with another priest, he mentioned that he and his siblings had been busy helping their parents pack up their house as they prepared to sell it and move to a senior living facility. For those of you who have gone through this experience, you know that it is bittersweet. On the one hand it can be very sad because it marks the end of something important—not just the sale of a house, but the sale of a home. On the other hand, it is also a time of gratitude as you remember all the good times and the wonderful experiences that took place there. Those memories are precious gifts that help soften the sadness that these endings often bring.
One of my friend’s emails contained an attachment. It was a picture of the pencil marks indicating his height and that of his brothers and sisters at various times as they were growing up. In this case their growth was measured on the inside of their father’s closet. My friend noted particularly the time when he passed his older brother in height (an achievement that time had obviously not diminished). As I looked at the picture, it brought back memories of a wall in the house where I grew up where the growth of my brothers and sisters (and later, nieces and nephews) was recorded. That house was sold many years ago and unfortunately, unlike my friend, I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of the wall before it was sold. I suspect the new owner’s have long since painted over our wall of growth.
As I was thinking about this experience, it struck me that in each of our lives there are various ways we measure our growth or aging. Marks on a wall are one way, but it could also be measured by a widening waist line or a receding hairline, or wrinkles. Now, while we have lots of specific ways of measuring and recording our physical growth, there isn’t any instrument or tool (at least to my knowledge) that can measure our spiritual growth. And yet, I would wager that most of us are growing spiritually.
In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that while there may not be any external way of measuring our spiritual growth, there may be some other markers that could be helpful. Specifically, in regard to our spiritual growth, I think we need to take the long view. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: Am I a better person today than I was a year ago or ten years ago? Do I feel closer to God now than I did in the past? Can I identify occasions when I have experienced God’s presence in new and/or different places? Have I been surprised to discover God’s grace in unexpected ways? If we can say yes to any of these things then I think we are growing spiritually.
While we may not be able to measure our spiritual growth with marks on a wall, I do believe that it nonetheless does occur. We need only take some time to reflect on our life, so that we might discover that perhaps unbeknownst to us we have indeed been growing in our spiritual life, and, as importantly, that God is always inviting us to enter even more deeply into our relationship with God.
Events of this year, and particularly this summer, have gotten me thinking about how we, as Catholics, respond to all attacks on the dignity of human life.
Many times, I only hear Catholics speak about the sanctity of life regarding the abortion debate. I believe that we are called to support policies that promote and protect ALL life: life that is easy to protect as well as lives which are more complex to defend.
Jesus was clear about our obligations toward our neighbor. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he is clear that loving our neighbor even means caring for our enemy (Lk 10:29-37). Jesus also speaks of a rich man who finds himself in Hades for failing to care for the poor man at his door (Lk 16:19-31). Moreover, Jesus tells us that when we fail to help “the least of these” we fail to care for Him (Mt 25:31-46). As Christians we must allow Jesus’ teaching to form our consciences. Like every moral question, there are rights that must be protected as well as duties that must be observed.
The Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II. “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church now on the death penalty. Pope Francis declared on October 11, 2017 that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel.” He said that “however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”
Founded on natural law and enlightened by faith, the Church’s position on immigration also recognizes certain rights and obligations. These include the requirement to defend the right to life for all individuals, regardless of legal status.
The Church expects us to protect the right to life of those who cannot find work, food, or safety where they live. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The more prosperous nations are obliged to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (No. 2241). While nations are not obliged to have open borders, Christians are obliged to welcome those whose lives are in danger due to conditions such as violence or extreme poverty. To be pro-life means promoting consistent protection of those whose lives are in danger. Therefore, Christians must advocate that life should be the standard for immigration reform.
Because the family plays an important role in Catholic social teaching, the rights of the family must also be taken into consideration when looking at how Catholics should view immigration. The Church teaches that needs of the family precede the desires of the state. When we see families torn apart at the border and parents deported while their children remain in cages or foster care in the US, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to respect the sanctity of human life and families.
Human dignity must be under consideration in any implementation of new, or enforcement of existing, laws. Rules must be “aimed at protecting and promoting the human person,” said Pope Francis in 2014.
As we close this summer, The Basilica wraps up strategic planning for the next 3-5 years and as our country enters the contentious election season, I encourage you to consider what it truly means to be pro-life. Do we as Catholics defend life in all forms, in all places, regardless of our perception of “worthiness"?
Throughout my 40-plus years in ministry, some have asked me why I have worked for such a long time in the Church. I admit, this question always causes me to pause. It brings me back to the beginning days when everything was new and fresh and exciting. Since coming to The Basilica years ago, it is much like those beginning days. One never knows what each day will bring. Some days are filled with wonderful surprises while others seem laden with painful stories of long-lost faith or times of deep loss. We are all less than human at times and sometimes it shows through a bit more than we would like it to.
We all know this is not a perfect Church. Far from it. I don’t know of any other faith community that is without its own set of challenges. We all struggle with our growing pains as we journey through the ups and downs of life. Each Sunday when we come together for worship we bring ourselves as we are and sometimes that isn't exactly our best self.
Life just happens to each of us and we don't often react well to some of those many experiences that take place during the week. Yet we bring that with us each week as we gather, and in faith we know in some way that when we leave, we will be changed and nourished to return to the world and in some small way, bring the good news of our God’s love to those who cross our paths. For it is the very God whom we find in each other, whom we recognize in each other’s stories of triumph and failure, that keeps us coming back week after week.
We know we are not in this alone. All of us are there to offer prayer and hope to each other which enables us to carry the important message with us that we have a God who loves us enough to entrust us with each other’s lives. And that is the miracle of what happens each week as we celebrate Eucharist together. We are a privileged people. We have the responsibility of being Christ for each other.
So when someone asks me why I continue to work in the Church, it is quite simple. I need to encounter the God within you and you need to meet the God within me so that together, we will walk hand in hand to bring that God to those who so desperately need a sign of hope in the midst of the suffering and chaos of this world.
My journey with cancer began on March 26, Monday of Holy Week. It made for the most incredible celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Then, on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul I received the great news that after three months of chemo the tumor was gone. For the next five years I will continue to be monitored very closely to make sure the cancer does not return.
As I have mentioned before, this has been a physical and spiritual adventure of great proportions. I do not believe for a second that God causes us to suffer. Rather I believe that life may present us with challenges. And when that happens, our faith in God offers us the necessary strength to handle it and the much needed insights to find meaning in it. So I did not ask God the question “why?” Rather, I asked God for strength and for wisdom so this experience might allow me to grow as a person and as a believer. And God obliged.
On Pentecost, half-way through my treatment I was the Master of Ceremonies for one of our liturgies. When I looked out at our congregation and saw your faces I had the most intense experience of God’s presence I have ever had. Hearing my name spoken during the Intercessory Prayers I felt the power of prayer strengthening my body and nourishing my soul. By the end of this most beautiful Eucharist I was too overwhelmed to do my usual meet and greet. I needed silence and solitude to process what just happened and to stay in the profound experience of God’s love and the support of my sisters and brothers in Christ.
As I sat quietly and listened to my inner voice, I realized again how important Sunday Eucharist is for us. And I thought of the many people who have asked me over the years: “Why should we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday? What do we get out of it?” The answer I have given in the past all the sudden was no longer theoretical but thanks to my experience with cancer I found it to be very real.
Above all we gather to give thanks to God for the many miracles in our lives. We also gather so we might be changed in three profound ways. First, in the words of St. Teresa of Avilla, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be “all on fire with the love of God.” For indeed, when we are on fire with God’s love no fear can overcome us. Second, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be gathered into a “deep communion of existence” because in the Eucharist “the Lord joins us to one another.” It is this sense of community, the sense that we are never alone that gives us the strength to face whatever life brings us. And third, in the words of my late professor Mark Searle, we celebrate the Eucharist so we may be rehearsed in what it means to live the Paschal Mystery. And if we do this well we will be able to say “I have lived the Paschal Mystery long enough not to forsake it or doubt it when it becomes most real.”
As we celebrate Basilica Day let us remember why we, like so many Basilica members before us have come together for the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. And let us gather with ever greater fervor and devotion so that when our time of sorrow or suffering comes we will feel strengthened by the love of God, we will feel supported by our community and we will be able to say: “I have lived the Paschal Mystery long enough not to forsake it our doubt it when it becomes most real.” But above all, in the Eucharist we are assured that God works miracles in our lives, even if we might not recognize them.
Thank you all for your great support during this incredible journey.
One of the priests I worked with when I was first ordained was a genial Irishman who seemed to have a saying for every occasion or circumstance. When an unlikely couple presented themselves for marriage he would say: "There's no pot so beaten out of shape that you can't find a lid for it." When someone's clothing choice was a bit questionable or problematic he would say: "They must have got dressed in the dark this morning." My favorite saying, though, was when he was confronted with a situation that defied explanation or understanding. In those cases he would simply say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense." This was his way of acknowledging that sometimes things just happen that are beyond our reason and over which we don’t have any control.
Now to be honest, I have used this saying on more than a few occasions. While it is nice when there is a logical explanation for the things that happen in our lives, this certainly is always or often the case. Now sometimes those unexpected or unexplainable things that happen are good e.g. winning the lottery. I suspect, though, that more often this is not the case, e.g. we face a sudden illness, or someone we love dies unexpectedly. At these times, while we can search for meaning or understanding, these often prove elusive.
The above is not a new problem. In the Old Testament the Book of Job dealt with the question of why bad things sometimes happened to good people. For Job's friends the answer was simple. Job must have done something wrong or bad to deserve all the terrible things that were happening to him. Job, though, knew that wasn't true. He knew he had tried to live a good life and that he didn't "deserve" what was happening to him. The resolution occurs in the final chapters of the Book of Job. God speaks and in essence says: I'm God; you're not. My ways are not your ways.
Now I realize that for some people this is not a very satisfying response. For me, though, it helps me remember that God is in charge, and that ultimately the ways and work of God are beyond my ability to comprehend or explain. It also invites me to believe that God knows what God is doing, and that I need to learn to trust that the God who loved me into being isn't capricious or aloof in continuing to love and care for me.
As there have been in the past, so there were will continue to be times in the future when things happen that cause us pain or anxiety, and over which we have no control. At those times we need to continue to pray. and to remember that it's okay to say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense."
There is a story about two monks in the Middle Ages (an older monk and one of the younger monks) who were traveling cross country for a visit to a remote monastery. At one point, the road they were traveling on came to a stream. There was a woman there who asked them if they could help her cross the stream. The older monk replied that he would be happy to help her and immediately picked her up and waded across the stream. When they got to the other side the woman thanked them and went on her way, and the two monks went their way. About an hour later the younger monk said to the older monk: “Brother, I don’t think it was appropriate that you picked up that woman and carried her across the stream.” The older monk replied. “Brother are you still carrying that woman with you? I put her down the minute we got across the stream. I’m surprised you are still carrying her.”
Like the young monk in the story above, I suspect that all of us “carry” things with us that we need to put down. It could be a grudge, an old hurt, a painful or embarrassing moment from the past, or a memory of something we did that was wrong. We hold these things close, and seldom, if ever, speak of them with others. These things weight us down and hinder our growth. They take up space in our minds and hearts and spirits, and in extreme cases can prevent us from moving forward with our life.
I’m not sure exactly why we “carry” around these things, but I do know that prayer can help us put them down—for a while at least—and eventually forever. The image I like to use is that of an ice cube. When you hold an ice cube in your hand for a few moments and the exterior begins to warms to the touch of your hand, if you put it down and then take it up again a few minutes later, a part of it remains on the surface where you placed it. While it may be only a drop, it is not as big as it was.
And so it is when we bring our cares, woes, hurts, grudges and pain to prayer. If we can leave them with God for a few minutes, while we may take them up again, a part of them stays with God and they are not as big as when we first brought them to prayer. And if we continue to practice bringing those things we “carry” around with us to prayer, we may discover one day that we have left them with God and we no longer carry them with us.
Like the young monk, sometimes we carry things with us that we shouldn’t be carrying and that we need to put down. Prayer is a great place to bring these things. And God is always ready and more than willing to take these burdens away from us.
Pope Francis is indeed a different kind of Pope than we have experienced in a very long time. To begin with, we have never had a Pope who tweets before. Did you know that you can sign up to receive his tweets each day? (@Pontifex) They are simple reminders of what we are supposed to be about as Catholic Christians. It helps to receive these daily reminders.
The cornerstone of Pope Francis’ papacy has been mercy. Each of his messages is cloaked in mercy. His actions have spoken about mercy far and wide. He has welcomed the homeless into the Vatican, embraced people with diseases, and shaken up the complacent hierarchy. He told his bishops that they should be shepherds that smell like sheep. He is certainly calling all of us back to the “Social Gospel.” He is steeped in Catholic Social Teaching and it seems to guide his every step. His spirituality centers on the poor, the marginalized, and the least of the least.
A couple of weeks ago, The Basilica’s Learning department staff attended Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a powerful new documentary film. It spoke about his papacy as one of mercy and highlighted many of the scenes where Francis embraces all different kinds of people. It also spoke about the reason that he chose the name “Francis.” Pope Francis has a special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. He identifies with his love of the poor, his compassion for all, and his love of the environment. St. Francis has certainly been instrumental in Pope Francis’ papacy in so many ways.
Recently, Pope Francis, in his most recent apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, wrote about five loves to combat the ills of today’s culture: patience, boldness, joy, community, and prayer. He speaks about having the passion of one who seeks to share the love and joy of believing in Jesus. “Do you let this fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire.”
Do you ask yourself that question: Have you caught fire yet? If not, what will it take for that to happen within you? We long for that kind of love in our lives…love that has no limits, that is all-embracing, that can change hearts. It seems like that kind of love is not sustainable without a prayer life and a community to support us.
In my lifetime I don’t ever remember having a Pope who speaks so bluntly and courageously about how we need to act as Christians. This message of his has been embraced by so many in our church and in our world. The whole world has been watching Pope Francis.
I believe this has made a difference in many areas of our world. Yet there are still those who fear his message, just as they feared the message that Jesus brought. It can be threatening to those who hold onto their lives with brute strength. It can bring freedom to those who are willing to let go of their lives in order to embrace fully the cross with humility and joy.
In the early 1990s, The Basilica adopted a parish vision taken from the bible verse Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have sent you. Pray for it, says the Lord, for in its well-being you will find your own.”
This vision has propelled parishioners beyond the pews into the city, to put their faith in action. Like our parish, the South African group New Hope International Exchange (NHIE) also draws inspiration from the prophet Jeremiah, as they focus on learning from the past and building bridges to a new future.
Sharing messages of reconciliation with a cultural music exchange, New Hope International is celebrating the 100th year celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth. Mandela was the first democratically elected leader of South Africa. To celebrate Mandela, NHIE’s singing group known as 29:11 is embarking on a year long journey called the Reconciliation Music Exchange Tour. The group took its name from the bible verse in Jeremiah 29:11: “I know well the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans for your well-being, not your woe. Plans to give you a future full of hope.”
Why music exchange? Coming together around music helps us to celebrate what we have in common. NHIE is committed to a full year of exchange concerts and culture and learning partnerships with churches, schools and others. They see music as the “universal unifier and a catalyst for change we wish to see in the world.” In the Twin Cities, they are partnering with Bethel University, Luther College, the Minnesota Chorale, the National Baptist Convention, the Leadership Institute-Minnesota Honorary Council to South Africa and the Minnesota Orchestra. Their goal is to reach tens of thousands to open dialogues on reconciliation.
The group 29:11 describes their music as “food for the soul.” Their instrumentalists and vocalists will offer traditional South African music and original pieces. For a taste of 29:11’s music join us at the 9:30am Mass on Sunday, June 10. 29:11 return to The Basilica at 7:00pm Thursday, June 28 for an in-depth collaboration with our parish including a concert and program in partnership with 16 Basilica parishioners and friends who travelled to South Africa last January.
Trip participant, Susan McGuigan said her challenge is “to use what I learned to make me a better person and my community a more loving and just place to live. Parishioner Joan Prairie described her striking memory of visiting a Cape Town township and learning about their water shortage. “They’ve experienced extreme drought and have been rationing water for 3-4 years. We learned some communities were facing a total shut off of water this spring,” said Joan. Linda Atwood shared that “The South Africa post-apartheid truth and reconciliation journey challenged me to reflect beyond my familiar cultural comforts and political viewpoints.”
New Hope International Exchange (NHIE)
Originally from South Africa, Brendon Adams and his wife Gaylene co-founded NHIE and operate from their Eden Prairie home. Gaylene visited South Africa in 1996, returning in 1998 for work in children and youth ministry in Cape Town. Brendon and Gaylene met and married in 2000, and ran New Hope International Exchange in Elsies River, a Cape Town Flats township created by the mass removals of blacks from their homes during the Apartheid era. Twenty five years after the end of Apartheid, people in communities like Elsies River still struggle with poverty and high rates of unemployment, crime, gang activity and teen pregnancy.
NHIE offers opportunities to individuals and groups to put hope in action by serving and supporting communities in need within Cape Town, South Africa through volunteer missions and foreign exchange.
29:11 CONCERT AND RECONCILIATION PRESENTATION
THURSDAY, JUNE 28, 7:00PM
In his book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin suggests, following decades of growing inequality, America essentially functions in a two-class system: “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”
Temin suggests a lot of factors contribute to American inequality. It is so deeply embedded it could take almost 20 years for one to escape poverty—with nearly nothing going wrong in one’s life.
There is a lot of research about inequality and income disparity. While they all paint an alarming picture of our society, they also begin to draw a clear call to action for change. Research shows that two key components required to make the transformation out of poverty include education and a relationship.
In 2013, The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry leadership prayerfully embraced this research. We recognized, as a faith community, we can offer relationships. We looked across the street and saw the gift and needs of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Ten percent of the students attending MCTC are homeless. Could we as a faith community, partner with MCTC to ensure two key components needed to make the transformation out of poverty—education and a relationship?
In 2014 we created a pilot program called Hennepin Connections: Basilica SVdP Mentoring Program with MCTC. In early May of this year, we completed our fourth year of this partnership—matching MCTC students and Basilica mentors, one-on-one. Each year we experienced profound and powerful results for both the students and the mentors.
The entire program is built on the opportunity to build relationships with students committed to their education. Relationships built through Hennepin Connections are not easy. They often bring people from vastly different cultures, experience, race and class together. This is, indeed the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of Hennepin Connections Mentoring Program.
To prepare for the mentoring partnerships, we offer resources and training for the mentors. We ground ourselves in Vincentian values and spirituality—recognizing we come to this work in humility and faith. Our mantra, as mentors, is “Accept them where they are.” We are called to listen and support, open our hearts and minds, and be willing to be changed by the experience.
At the end of this year’s program, students and mentors shared the meaning of the experience. It was an awesome and humbling evening. Over and over we heard the importance, for the student, to have someone in their life who was not in crisis, who would listen as they vented and would offer a new network for them in their life.
In sharing his gratitude for this program, a student reflected—without this program, even if he and the mentor had been sitting next to one another at a basketball game, they never would have spoken to one another. Hennepin Connections brought two very different worlds together, and made a difference. He said, “Thanks for creating a space for healthy relationships to happen.”
One woman shared that the mentor was “the missing piece of the puzzle in my life.” Another shared that her mentor helped her find calmness when she felt frantic and overwhelmed.
The mentors consistently shared the inspiration they received from walking with the students over the year. They felt they gained more than they gave.
The Basilica seeks to transform society through the Gospel of love—sometimes one life at a time. We can, and must, be proactive to build bridges and unite our community. If you are interested in being part of this important work, call the Christian Life office.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
We live in a world rife with uncertainty, fear and disorder. It seems that every day we wake up to another crisis—humanitarian, political, or environmental. How do we as Catholics live out our faith amidst this chaos?
Since the beginning of this Parish Council year, your parish leaders and representatives have been struggling with this very question. How will The Basilica of Saint Mary serve its parishioners and those in our community who are most vulnerable?
An issue that has been heavy on our hearts and minds is immigration. For more than a decade, the US immigration debate has been dominated by the legislative battle over comprehensive immigration reform. Recently, the debate has shifted to the scope of the President’s discretion on how to enforce the law, who to target, and mechanisms for remaining in this country.
“According to the US Department of Homeland Security, from the start of January through the end of September, the number of immigrants seized in the interior of the country rather than at the border—many of them wrenched from their families and communities—increased by 42% compared to the same period in 2016. Immigration arrests of people with no criminal convictions nearly tripled compared to approximately the same time in 2016” (Human Rights Watch 12/5/17). Beyond the politics, our faith directs us to focus on the principles of the responsibilities and rights of people.
In the Old Testament, God tells us to have special care for outsiders: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lv. 19:33-34).
The New Testament tells Matthew’s story of Joseph and Mary’s escape to Egypt because King Herod wanted to kill their infant. Jesus himself lived as a refugee because his native land was not safe.
Jesus reiterates the Old Testament command to love and care for the stranger: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
At the end of World War II, Europe faced an unprecedented migration of millions of people seeking safety. In response, Pope Pius XII wrote Exsul Familia (The Emigre Family), placing the Church squarely on the side of those seeking a better life by fleeing their homes (USCCB).
The US Sanctuary movement began in the early 1980s to provide safety for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. Since then the movement has grown across the country and today over 30 congregations in the Twin Cities, suburbs, and greater Minnesota have committed to being either a Sanctuary or Sanctuary Supporting Congregation. Their commitment includes safety, advocacy, financial, physical, and spiritual support.
For years, The Basilica has partnered with Ascension, our largely immigrant, sister-parish. We also provide aid and immigration counseling to anyone who comes to our doors. This fall, a group of Basilica parishioners (including myself) traveled to Tucson, AZ, where the Sanctuary movement began and to the US/Mexico Border to learn more about real people facing deportation.
The Parish Council has had many conversations about formally joining the other downtown congregations as a Sanctuary Supporting Congregation. We plan to hold information sessions for parishioners to learn more about the Sanctuary Movement and to ask questions about how declaring ourselves a Sanctuary Supporting Congregation could impact The Basilica. I hope that you will join us for these important conversations. Please watch for announcements on dates and times.
Feel free to reach out to me or any other Parish Council members with questions. Visit mary.org/parishcouncil for a list of contacts.
Parish Council Chair
The Basilica of Saint Mary
JANUARY 28, 2018