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Faith Lives in Community

26 Oct Year of Faith - Seeking the Face of Jesus

Year of Faith - Seeking the Face of Jesus

Faith fascinates. It angers, confounds, and challenges. It is one of the least boring elements of religious life today. It is home to some of the central debates of our times regarding religion and science, the nature of knowledge, and interpersonal communication. If religion may be seen today by some as passé or irrelevant, faith certainly is in vogue.

This year we celebrate a “year of faith.” Some may perceive this as being entirely esoteric, isolated, and personal. In some respects, such a conception of faith and religion echoes the values of contemporary American individualism. Faith, it is said by some, should be a private affair that has no bearing on the larger public sphere. Americans want their faith interesting, but as a way of public life, visible to many, it becomes somewhat less appealing.

I want to suggest something about why faith in practice, as a visible representation of a world as well as local community, is precisely what such individualism needs. American individualism stresses how individuals ought to express themselves by pursuing their own goods and sense of fulfillment. It tends to stress individual difference as a cornerstone of our pluralistic society.

One of the major concerns raised here is that such an individualism loses sight of how communities both foster values within individuals, as well as create larger networks of charity and support for one another. We should not dismiss individual expression as simply a fad – its historical reality is our ongoing reality. Yet, we don’t have to embrace its present state as being fragmented and isolated. We can, in fact, form community around large acts of shared engagement.

Such shared activity could be understood as ritual, as the shared expression of a common set of beliefs and values. Religious faith, as an expressive act, is one of the most substantial examples of such engagement; because, religious faith seeks to transcend above, and not diminish, expressions of individualism.

And this expressive act finds perhaps its greatest representation on the cross. As a Catholic community, we experience this act of sacrificial, self-giving love every time we share the body and blood of Christ at Mass. We do this not just at the level of our local community, but also as an entire body of believers, across space and time. Those who live in such disparate places as the Twin Cities, Calcutta, New York, and Beijing can join together as one body, one community, and sharing and expressing their faith. In a fragmented, isolated, individual world, faith is the antidote to our private sorrows, reminding us of the network of charity to which we belong, and which ultimately belongs to the love of Christ Himself.

-Tim DeCelle


One Day’s Pilgrimage

4 Oct The Interior of Our Lady Queen of Angels
The Interior of Our Lady Queen of Angels

The Interior of Our Lady Queen of Angels

I just moved to Los Angeles, California. When I move to a new place, I try to get to know the place, let my roots start to grow. This means finding a local bar, a coffee shop, and a church to attend. I also make a special point to get to the cathedral. I figure the cathedral is the true heart of the city, its epicenter, the most important building. It is there that the diocese gathers, where the bishop has his seat. My architectural inclinations tell me that buildings matter. Just consider the difference between a house and a home. The cathedral is the central place for prayer; the home of the archdiocese. It is where two or three (or a few thousand) gather: bishops, priests, deacons, lay people, and me. So this past Saturday, I decided to go on a little pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA.

I figured out directions, and timing. It would be 12.2 miles in 1 hour and 23 minutes. I hopped on my Schwinn, which was recently shipped from St Paul by a friend. I headed down Florence, north on Hyde, through Inglewood, past bodegas, and run down houses. Then I took a right on Broadway. Not a left like I was supposed to. I did not realize my error until I saw signs for Watts. Watts? That didn’t sound right. So I biked around and around, and back and forth. Suddenly an hour and twenty minute bike ride was two hours. My legs were getting tired, my dress shirt damp, and my patience thin.

“Stupid LA! I should have stayed in St Paul!” Finally, I found a little pink Catholic Church. “Excuse me, which way to downtown LA?” Laughter. “Son, we aren’t near downtown. Ya head up Main St. that way.” So, a little humbled, I creaked up to and then through Downtown. I was an hour late for Mass, which by my normal math means I missed mass. But I went in anyhow. And there was a Church full of Catholics, an altar full of priests, and the Eucharist elevated by my Archbishop, Jose Gomez. I felt the words of the Psalmist “I rejoiced when they said ‘let us go onto the house of the Lord.’ And now our feet are within your gates Jerusalem.” I knelt down behind a Hispanic family, next to a Korean couple, and I cried, from exhaustion yes, but more truly, for rejoicing.

You see, sometimes, it takes a long time to get home, but I was there with my new pastor and my new flock. Through God’s grace, and on a vintage bike, I had finished my little pilgrimage within the bigger pilgrimage of life. It is a long road to the Kingdom, with a lot of wrong turns, but I’ll keep peddling on the way, and keep finding my cathedrals whether on Summit Ave, Hennepin Ave, or in downtown LA. At the end of mass, I joined a line of Catholics processing to a crucifix. Each of us embraced the statue’s feet. This is the end of all our pilgrimages. We, with sore feet, embrace His pierced feet, surrounded by the People of God, and He lifts us up to our true home.

– Terence Sweeney

The Church of Saint Agnes: My Spiritual Home

19 Jun

Saint Agnes Church - Saint Paul

Everyone has a place that’s their spiritual home: a church, synagogue, mosque, dojo, yoga center, bedroom, closet, wherever. For me and my family, that spiritual home is the Church of Saint Agnes in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul. I’ve received all my sacraments there, as has our son (only baptism so far), and truly feel at peace when praying or participating in the space. To me it is holy, magical, sacred, beautiful, reverent, and most importantly, God’s house.


I’ll start with the logistics of the church and then move to my particular attachment to it.

Clergy: Father John Ubel is the pastor with three other priests in residence: Father John Paul Erickson, Father James McConville, and Father Timothy Cloutier. We also have three deacons: Deacon Harold Hughesdon, Deacon Bernard Pedersen, and Deacon Nathan Allen.

Mass: Sunday mass times: anticipatory on Saturday 5:15pm, 6:30, 8:30, 10am, and noon. Weekday masses: 8am M-Sat, 5:15pm MWF.

Confession: Two different time slots on Saturdays, 3:30-5pm and 7:30-9pm, as well as the first, third, and fifth Tuesday night circa 7:45pm.

To give you a brief historical overview, the church is over 100 years old and was built primarily by the German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants who lived in the neighborhood. The baroque style is modeled after the abbey church in Kloster Schlagl, a monastery in upper Austria. Unique features are its oxidized copper onion-shaped bell tower, its enormous statues of Saints Peter and Paul in the sanctuary, and its beautiful side altars dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, on either side of the main sanctuary. There are several chapels as well: a lower level chapel, a back chapel on the main floor with a beautiful altar dedicated to Our Lady. I was baptized in the font at the back, as were our children!

The chandeliers are from the old State Capital, and the ceiling dome boasts beautiful artwork of Saint Agnes being welcomed into Heaven by Christ. The gold leaf adorning the ceiling was redone in the 80’s (I remember because slivers fell to the floor and we got to collect them!), and the stained glass windows are to die for. The choir loft and organ are large as well, and the lower level is complete with a large assembly room (Schuler Hall) as well as a kitchen, restrooms, and bride’s room.

What’s unusual about our church? The liturgy. We are one of the ONLY churches in the world where Haydn, Bach, and Beethoven masses are performed with members of the Minnesota Orchestra and Twin Cities Catholic Chorale. The exception is during Lent and the summer months, at which time you get the treat of the Gregorian Chant Schola (my dad’s been a member since forever). Have you ever experienced an orchestral mass? Did I mention that the mass is in Latin at the 10am mass? And that every other week, it’s the Extraordinary Form? This isn’t your normal mass. And it is all accomplished in under two hours. You don’t have to be Catholic or even spiritual to appreciate the beauty of the High Mass.

Saint Agnes Church - Saint Paul

What’s the kernel of our church that has kept me coming back all these years, now as a parishioner? The reverence. The verticality of it. The peace. The sense of quiet reflection. It’s a church where we kneel for communion at the communion rail, where you see all ages & family sizes (especially the larger families!), and where the focus is all on God. The mass is truly a reenactment of Calvary in that it’s the sacrifice of the mass. It’s a church where people from many walks of life, faith, and the spectrum of Catholicism are welcome. I feel spiritually replenished when I’m there.

Yes, there are lots of community groups to join, yes there’s a vibrant and booming coffee & donuts replete with children running around, yes there’s a role for everyone who wants to become involved. But you don’t have to be involved in the social aspect, and no one will be pressuring you at the back of church to become so.

It’s been my spiritual home for decades, and we plan to stay here with our children. After every mass, both my husband and I remark on our appreciation for Saint Agnes on our way to the car. Having lived in other states (and countries), there’s just no place like your spiritual home.

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-Nell Alt