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She was one of my favorite aunts: intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished. When she walked into a room everyone took note of her. The final two years of her life she lived with dementia. I remember my last visit with her very well. I went to her room in my hometown’s memory care center, knocked on the door, and entered. There she sat, by the window. She was beautifully dressed. Her hair was lovely and she even wore a little make-up. With her elegant hands she pointed at a chair and invited me to sit down.
She told me about her parents and her siblings. When she spoke about her favorite niece Jeanette, I mentioned that I was Jeanette’s son, Johan. “That is not possible,” she said as “Johan lives in the United States. He is some kind of a priest” she continued. “He is a very nice boy. Every time he comes to Belgium on holiday he visits me.” After that definitive statement she continued to talk about her past.
When I was ready to leave I asked if I could give her a kiss. She agreed. As I leaned down to embrace her she whispered: “and to think I did not recognize you.” We hugged and cried. By the time I put on my coat she had returned to the world of her past, unaware of the present.
“To think I did not recognize you.”
This phrase came to mind when I read today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). The apostles had been with Jesus for a while. Yet in this passage they do not recognize him. Granted, he came to them during the night, walking on water. So, they thought him a ghost.
But when he spoke to them they recognized his voice. Peter, the most impulsive of them all, jumped out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus. Yet, as soon as he realized he was walking on water, which is a physical impossibility he started to sink.
There are different levels of recognition. My aunt recognized me as a nice person but not as her nephew, until she did. The apostles first thought Jesus a ghost, then they recognized him as Jesus, but not as who he truly was, the Son of God.
Jesus comes to us even today. Sometimes we recognize him, most often we don’t because he comes to us in disguise. How can we recognize him? By looking with God’s eyes, for God sees past any disguise and recognizes Christ in each one of us.
God regards us with mercy, love, and tenderness. When we do the same then we will see as God sees and recognize Christ in one another. Sometimes this is easy. Most often, it is not. And it can prove to be particularly difficult when Christ comes to us as a person who is homeless, who is an immigrant, who is different from us in terms of race or religion. And yet, it is only when we recognize Christ in those who are most different from us that we will truly know Christ.
It is our hope that at the end of time when we see Christ face to face we will not have to say: “to think I did not recognize you.”
A few weeks ago I spent my day off with another priest. For lunch we bought some sandwiches and beverages, and found a park where we had an informal picnic. A few yards away from us, two small children were having a great time playing on the grass, laughing, and enjoying each other. I assumed they were related or that their parents were friends. At one point, though, their mothers came to collect them, and when they arrived at the spot where the boys were playing, they introduced themselves to each another. I was surprised that they didn’t know each other, and that the boys weren’t friends or relatives. It then occurred to me that such is the innocence of youth. When we are young, we don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about others. We don’t have to know much about them to interact with them and enjoy their company.
As we move along the road of life, though, at some point things change. We move from a childlike openness to people we don’t know, to being suspicious of them and/or their motives. On the one hand, there is some merit to this. If we naively assume that everyone is good and kind and nice, we are going to be disappointed, and even hurt. On the other hand, though, when we lose an openness to others, we can fail to see them as God sees them—as a beloved son or daughter.
It seems to me that we need to strike a balance between these two approaches. More importantly, in trying to find this balance we need to be willing to err on the side of love. In our world today there is much that can cause us to be suspicious and even anxious. And sometimes without even realizing it, and without it becoming a conscious choice, these feelings can move into animosity and hatred. At these times, we need to remember that in the parable of the last judgement, (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus taught us that He is to be found in every encounter we have with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy, the stranger, and the forgotten. We may not recognize him, but he is there.
Recognizing the presence of Christ in others is a challenge. In my own life I fail at it more often than I succeed. We need to remember, though, that God created us in God’s image and likeness, and because of this, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God—no exceptions, no exclusions, no omissions. If we allow ourselves to be guided by our better angels and if we are open to God’s grace, I believe we are more apt to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. And if we are able to do this with others, maybe, just maybe, others might recognize the presence of Christ in us.
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my appointment as pastor and rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary. And while I know I will never surpass Msgr. Reardon’s record of 42 years as pastor/rector of The Basilica, from my perspective 10 years is still a significant amount of time.
Much has happened these past 10 years. On the Archdiocesan level we have had three Archbishops. The sexually inappropriate behavior of many priests has been embarrassingly public, and our Church has had to candidly acknowledge our failings and errors of judgement. On the positive side, however, we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated. And while the Archdiocesan bankruptcy continues to be an issue, our hope and our prayer is that it will be resolved in the near future. Additionally, Archbishop Hebda is providing leadership that is practical, consultative, and pastoral.
In regard to our parish, during the past 10 years our parish has grown and remains stable at almost 6,500 households. Our membership reflects the diversity of both our city and our state. And although we no longer have an associate pastor, we are blessed by the services of Fr. Joe Gillespie as well as several retired priests who help us on weekends and during the week. Further, we have experienced remarkably little turnover in our senior staff these past 10 years. In fact, the majority of our senior staff have been at The Basilica longer than I have. Additionally, our parish has been blessed by the many, many people who have occupied leadership positions these past 10 years. They represent the best of The Basilica. These past 10 years, we have also continued to maintain, repair, and renovate the various buildings on our parish campus. We have also worked to build our savings, in case a financial emergency occurs. Additionally, with the help of a set percentage of the rental income from our school building, we continue to balance our budget every year.
During these past 10 years, the ministries, services, and programs at The Basilica have continued to grow, evolve, and develop. In a few instances, though, we have had to terminate some things that weren’t prospering, or were not doing what they had been designed to do. Additionally, we are always looking to improve what we do, as well as try to discern what new programs, ministries, and services are needed in our community. Perhaps most importantly, we continue to see the number of people volunteering to share their talents and abilities with our parish grow.
On a personal level, as I look back on these past 10 years, I must admit that being pastor of The Basilica is very different from being pastor of my two previous parishes. And in all honesty, these past 10 years have not been without their challenges, pain, and disappointments. Yet, more often by far, have been the times when I have been impressed by people’s generosity of spirit and humbled by their faith. More often by far have been the times when I’ve been witness to great hope in the face of a difficult situation, and great love in the face of indifference and even hate. And more often by far I have seen people live out their spirituality and faith in ways I can only hope to one day emulate. At these times, and many others, I have to admit that being pastor at The Basilica was not always what I had anticipated, but it has been more rewarding than I could have possibility imagined.
So, for weal or woe, whether it was by God’s design or the oversight of the Holy Spirit, I have been pastor of The Basilica these past 10 years. It was with great self-confidence and a sense of brash fearlessness that I undertook this responsibility 10 years ago. Now with the hindsight of 10 years, I realize that a little less self-confidence and a little more reliance on God might have been in order.
I am not sure what the future will hold for me or The Basilica, but I do believe in and have come to rely on God’s providence and grace. And I hold close and take great comfort in the words our God spoke centuries ago through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:11-14) Holding firm to this promise, I believe our future is bright.
Since the season of Lent came to a close a few short months ago, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on our call to peace as Catholics, especially with all of the unrest that has filled our world in the past months. Lent was a wonderful time to reflect on our faith and actively called us to re-center our lives around the Gospel. The reality is that this reflection is something we could be doing throughout the whole liturgical year instead of limiting it to a few months.
Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days being called away from his message of peace and love towards domination, doubt, and despair. Through his death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled his message. Time and time again, we are called by the Gospel to be fountains of peace and to “love our enemies.” In Matthew 5:9, we are called to a new identity, “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called children of God.”
Creating peace with our very lives is possible. Although it is easier said than done; it goes against the grain and, therefore, is something that requires work and discipline. Some ways we might make our lives more peace-filled is through meditation on the words of the Gospels, being mindful of the presence of God within us, and breathing in deeply of the Holy Spirit. Being conscious of the peace and serenity within us as we encounter Jesus in another person is one of the more powerful ways of spreading that peace.
Along with creating peace, there is a great need for silence if we are to hear God’s voice. You might commit to some quiet time with God as you bask in the sunlight of summer. Life sometimes slows down a bit in the summer and that can allow us extra time to enjoy God’s presence and peace. Through holy solitude we are able to refocus our life amidst the noisiness of our world and to respond to our call to peace and non-violence just as Jesus responded with love, forgiveness, and peace through his death on the cross.
One of the most powerful channels for peace is, of course, the Eucharist. By showing up each week, we are reminded again and again what it truly means to live as Jesus did: to forgive those who have wronged you, to love where no love is felt, and to bring peace in the midst of conflict wherever you are called to be. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “In the end what matters is not how good we are but how good God is. Not how much we love God, but how much God loves us. And loves us whoever we are, whatever we’ve done or failed to do, whatever we believe or can’t.” We are all made in the image of God and through that we reach for the peace which only God can give.
Peace be with you during these summer months
It seems to me that in our world today there are often two competing visions of “Christianity.” On the one hand there are those who see Christianity as a set of beliefs and rules that believers are expected to accept and adhere to in order to live a good and righteous life, and so be fit for heaven (this is known as orthodoxy). On the other hand there are those who see Christianity simply as a loving way of life, in which we are called to live in common care and concern for one another (this is often referred to as ortho-praxy).
I think both of these visions, in and of themselves, are incomplete. It is not enough simply to give allegiance to a set of beliefs and rules. Somehow what we believe must have an impact on and find expression in the way we live. Likewise, while it is good and important to manifest a loving way of life, our lives must be grounded in faith, and in a set of beliefs. Without this anchor, it is too easy for a “loving way of life” to become whatever suits one’s fancy at a given moment in time.
Now certainly the above is not a new issue. It has been around since the beginning of the Church. In the letter of Saint James we read: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2: 15-18).
When we talk about a vision for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular we need a both/and, not an either/or approach. It is too simple to profess a set of beliefs without giving witness to those beliefs in the way we live. I have encountered too many people who were steadfast in the profession of their beliefs, but who were cranky, judgmental, and in some cases, downright mean. On the other hand, I have also encountered people who identified themselves as Christians, and who lived good and loving lives, but who, when pressed, couldn’t tell you exactly what they believed and/or why their beliefs made a difference in the way they lived.
Both orthodoxy and ortho-praxy are good, important, and necessary. We need to remember, though, that they go together. They are inseparable from one another. Whenever we overemphasize one, or worse, pit them against one another, we are going down a dangerous path. Jesus knew this. I think that is why, when he was asked which was the greatest commandment, he gave two and yoked them together. Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular require that we believe and profess our faith, and then give witness to it through our words and actions. This is what Jesus asks of and expects from all of us.
In just a few short weeks I will celebrate my 10th Basilica Block Party. In 2007 when I started as a wide-eyed Block Party intern I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was completely out of my depths. I had never even attended a Block Party and had no idea what to expect when the gates opened that first night.
Fast forward to today and even after all these years it still hasn’t lost its charm. It is still my absolute favorite event of the summer.
Over the years I have made countless friends by working on this event. I even met my now husband five years ago when working together on the Block Party committee.
The dedication and work everyone puts into this event is unparalleled. It is truly a collaborative effort, each person playing an important role in executing this summer tradition: from the 1,600 volunteers that do everything from scan your ticket on the way in to the green team, who picks up and makes sure every last bottle is recycled into the early morning hours long after you leave for the evening, to the staff and committees that plan for almost a full year to ensure a safe and successful event. Not to mention our partners and sponsors that we couldn’t do the event without.
Over the years I have also gotten to see some pretty amazing concerts and been exposed to bands that I would otherwise never have taken the time to see. In my opinion, there is no better way to spend a warm summer night in Minnesota then to be outside listening to live music with The Basilica as your backdrop.
It still gives me chills looking from our beloved Basilica back to the band rocking out on stage with a sea of people in-between enjoying what so many have worked so hard to put together. It is an incredible event and this year once again promises to be a great weekend of fun and music benefiting the efforts of The Basilica Landmark’s mission to preserve, protect, and restore The Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations and St. Vincent de Paul to help our neighbors in need.
I hope you will join us on July 7 and 8 for 2017 Cities 97 Basilica Block Party to celebrate this summer tradition with great food, good friends, and tasty beverages. And don’t forget the unbelievable bands including Brandi Carlile, WALK THE MOON, The Shins, AWOLNATION, NEEDTOBREATHE, Gavin DeGraw, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Walk Off The Earth, and many more!
Check out our Basilica Block Party website for ticket information.
A few months ago I got together for dinner with a friend. During our dinner conversation he told me that on a recent trip to the East coast, he had seen GOD’S truck on the highway. Since I am not one to be easily taken in, I asked him what he meant. He said that while he was driving to the East Coast to visit some relatives and friends, in the distance ahead he saw a truck with the word G O D written in large letters across its back doors. He went on to say that as he got closer to the truck he realized that it wasn’t really GOD’S truck after all. Rather it was a truck with very large lettering that announced: Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. As he told this story we both had a good laugh. I then suggested that he get his eyes checked relatively soon.
As I reflected on my friend’s encounter with GOD’S truck, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a message in this experience. Specifically, it struck me that for most of us when we pray to God we often expect “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” in response to our prayers. We expect God to hear our prayers, to understand the wisdom, goodness, and unselfishness behind them, and then to respond to them completely, swiftly, and preferably overnight. The reality is, though, that God doesn’t operate according to our timeline and/or agenda.
Certainly this can be frustrating and it can cause people to wonder why many times their best and most unselfish prayers go unanswered. In some cases people can begin to wonder if they aren’t saying the right prayers, or if they aren’t praying hard enough, or if they just aren’t holy enough. Sadly, for some people, it can even cause them to give up on prayer all together.
The reality is, though, that it is fairly presumptuous of us to expect that God’s response to our prayers should take the form of “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery.” God is not under any obligation to respond to our prayers according to our timeline and in exactly the manner we want. This doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t respond to our prayers.
More times than I can count I have realized (most often in retrospect) that God had responded to my prayers, but in ways I hadn’t imagined or in ways I hadn’t been open to at the time. Often times too, instead of doing things for me, I have discovered that God has given me the strength, the courage, ability, and the grace to do something I had been praying and asking God to do.
God never promised Guaranteed Overnight Delivery in response to our prayers. If we can pray with open hearts and minds, though, and if we can trust and believe that God does indeed hear and respond to our prayers, we will discover that God has responded to our prayers. This response may not occur in the way we had wanted or hoped, but most certainly in the way we need.
After opening at the Vatican Museum in Rome, this unique Swiss Guard exhibit has appeared in only three US cities: Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington DC, and makes its last US stop in Minneapolis at The Basilica from June 3-July 30.
Why stop at The Basilica in Minneapolis? In addition to his Basilica responsibilities, Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts Johan van Parys chairs the local chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. The Patrons’ mission is to promote, protect, and restore the art and artifacts of the Vatican Museums. With over 6 million visitors annually and one of the largest collections in the world, the Vatican Museums reach out to make their collection available to those who can’t travel to Rome.
We are blessed with this unique opportunity to have the Vatican Museums come to us. Long time Patrons members, Jack and Cathy Farrell and Lydie and Jacques Stassarts helped sponsor the exhibit. The Basilica is doing its part by offering exhibit space in the church, St. John XXII Gallery, and Teresa of Calcutta Hall in The Basilica’s lower level.
Vatican exhibit curator Romina Cometti is on hand to supervise the installation. While the truck has arrived, Johan van Parys shared his excitement to finally see items only viewed in the Exhibit Catalogue by saying, “While many of us know the colorful Swiss Guard uniforms, this exhibit takes us behind the scenes for an insider’s view into the lives of these young Catholic men who dedicate at least two years to protect the Pope.”
Johan explained that this exhibit grew out of a one time shoot by photographer Fabio Mantegna, well renowned in Italy. Mantegna received permission for an extended behind the scenes photo shoot. His incredible photographs show these young men during their training, at prayer, working out, receiving their uniforms, and joining the Swiss Guard.
Over 80 stunning photographs serve as the exhibit’s centerpiece and could stand alone, but much more is on display. Romina Cometti interviewed the young men about why they’ve chosen to join the Swiss Guard. Quotes from her interviews accompany the photos, and the exhibit also includes artifacts from the Swiss Guards 500 year history like uniforms and security gadgets.
Founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, best known for commissioning the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, the Swiss Guard was given the express mission of protecting the Pope and the Vatican. Their historic multi-colored uniforms may distract from the seriousness of the Swiss Guards’ responsibilities. Early in the Guards history on May 6, 1527, the army of the Holy Roman Empire sacked Rome and two-thirds of the Guards were massacred defending the Pope. Succeeding in their mission, Pope Clement VII escaped with his life to Castel Sant’Angelo just outside the Vatican walls.
Today, new Swiss Guards are sworn in on May 6 to commemorate those Guards who lost their lives protecting the Pope.
THE LIFE OF A SWISS GUARD: A PRIVATE VIEW
EXHIBIT: JUNE 3-JULY 30
RECEPTION & TALK: SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 1:00PM
Swiss Guard Exhibit Hours: Open weekends, or tours by appointment. Tours of the exhibit are not available until noon, Monday through Thursday. Tours available morning and afternoon on Fridays.
Register online at mary.org for a tour or call 612.317.3410. Exhibit catalogues will be on sale, along with a wonderful Swiss Guard cookbook which includes favorite recipes of the Guards as well as favorites of our recent Popes.
In a few weeks, from June 18 - June 22, the priests of our Archdiocese will gather at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester for our biennial Presbyteral Assembly. Every other year, for many years now our Archbishops have asked the priests of our Archdiocese to set aside their parish or institutional responsibilities and gather together for a few days to talk about some specific areas of our lives/ministries. This year the various speakers will focus on the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood; Priestly Fraternity; and Affective Maturity. (I’m not at all sure what that last topic means.)
These gatherings are good and important. As priests, we gather in all our diversity and with all our differences, and spend time together in fraternity. During our time together we are well aware of the things that unite us as well as those things about which we disagree. And often times the things about which we disagree are brought up in very public ways. In fact, in the years I have been attending these assemblies, I have often been reminded of an old Phyllis Diller line from many years ago: “Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight.”
We priests are very much like most other Catholics. We don’t always agree with each other. In fact, if the truth be told, we differ; we disagree; and sometimes we argue. But through it all we stay together. We don’t walk away from each other. I believe the reason for this is that we realize that, at root, the things that unite us are more important than the things that might divide us.
Disagreement and tension have always been a part of the life of our Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul fought with Peter over the issue of Gentile converts. Moreover, through the centuries, disagreement and dissension have been part of more than one Council and/or Conclave. Yet through it all our Church not only has survived; it has thrived. I think the reason for this is twofold.
First, we believe that the Spirit of God has guided and continues to guide our Church. And with the guidance of the Spirit comes the promise and gift of Indefectibility. The gift of Indefectibility tells us that because the Holy Spirit leads and guides our Church, the Church cannot and will not deviate fundamentally from the truth of the Gospel, from the Mission of the Church, or from the Life of Faith. The guidance of the Holy Spirit ensures that despite disagreements that might arise, despite any appearance of division, our Church cannot deviate in fundamental and essential ways from the Gospel, the Mission that Christ entrusted to it, or from the Life of Faith.
The second thing that has ensured that our Church has thrived through the centuries is the grace of God poured out on the Church as a whole, and upon each individual member. I am more and more convinced that God’s grace has enabled and continues to enable us to identify, to discuss, to work through, and/or accept the differences and disagreements that exist within our Church. It is the grace of God that allows us to see beyond the differences that would divide us, to the many and foundational things that unite us. Our Church, both locally, as well as internationally, is very diverse. But diversity does not necessarily need to lead to division. Nor does diversity mean that we can’t stand on the common ground that is foundational for us and that ultimately unites us with God.
“Big God, Big Church” is a phrase that is really a mantra for me. It reminds me that the embrace of our Church cannot be anything less that the embrace of our God’s love. Occasionally all of us—even priests—need to be reminded of this fact. The things that unite us are far more important than the things about which we might differ or disagree. The challenge for all of us is to rely a little more on God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a little less on our own ideas and biases. As followers of the Lord Jesus this must always be our hope and our goal.
A few weeks ago the Gospel reading at daily Mass was John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s version we are told that Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. We are told further that after everyone had their fill, Jesus told his disciples: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (Jn. 6:12b-13)
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels. And while the details differ slightly in each account, there is at least one element that is common to all of them. In each Gospel, after the crowd had been fed, there were fragments left over that filled several wicker baskets. For some reason this detail caught my attention, so I spent some time reflecting on it. As part of my reflection, two things occurred to me. 1) When God is involved there is always an abundance; and 2) When God is involved nothing is insignificant or lost. I think both of these are important.
Often in our world today and especially in our culture, people live with an attitude of scarcity. We wonder whether there will be enough of “whatever” to go around, and so we cling tightly to our “stuff” because we fear there won’t be enough or that we might run out. This can lead us to hold tightly to certain things because we worry they might become a scarce commodity, and if we let go of them, there might not be enough if/when we need whatever it might be.
In regard to God’s love and grace, though, there is always an abundance. We never have to worry that there won’t be enough, or that someone else will get our share. God’s love and grace are not limited commodities. Since God is love and God is also infinite, it stands to reason that there is an infinite amount of God’s love and grace to go around. With God there is always an abundance. We need never fear that there is a limited supply of God’s grace and love.
As importantly, though, when God is involved nothing is ever lost or too small to be of significance. We know this because God has told us: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget; I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name;” (Is 49:15-16) These words remind us that God’s love is so abundant that no one is ever beyond the reach of that love, or too insignificant or unimportant to be loved. God loves us even if/when we don’t love God. No one and nothing is ever lost to God.
Too often, either consciously or unconsciously, we can believe that we are too insignificant to be known and loved by God. Jesus’ concern, though, that the fragments of barley loaves and fish be gathered up, reminds us that nothing escapes God’s notice and no one is ever lost to God. Such is God’s love. It is abundant beyond belief, and because of this, no one is ever beyond the reach of that love.