Tag Archives: Church

Baseball as Partaking in the Sacred

9 Jul

Baseball. The American past time. The All-American sport. The sport I knew nothing about until I had a son. The sport I didn’t even know my husband cared about before we had a son. It all began one fateful evening when our son, who was about 15 months old at the time, dragged our coffee table book about the history of baseball to his Dada and insisted they look at it together.

Baseball as Partaking in the Sacred - Nell Alt

Fast forward a few years to our three year old. It’s a sacred thing, now, the ritual of listening to the game on the radio every day, of putting on my brother’s 25-year-old Twins striped shirt. It has purpose, meaning, an intellectual impact as well as emotional. When they lose, he is disheartened—but vows they’ll win the next game. When they triumph, it is as personal as the blueberries in his oatmeal that are not for his little sister.

I see that same rapt attention at the baseball game at Mass, too. His studied expression when he slowly mimes the pitch, or when he pretends to be incensing the altar. His shrieks of delight when Dozier hits a home run, his eager and earnest whispers when our pastor holds up the Blessed Sacrament and says “Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum [This is My Body].”
What is this correlation between baseball and the sacred?

Both boast fascinating and vivid characters: a myriad of rollicking players from Babe Ruth to Dizzy Dean, Joe Mauer to Sam Deduno; Jesus and his burly crew of apostles, Saint John Berchmans who died as a young altar boy to Saint Stephen the first martyr who was stoned to death. Both capture the essence and imagination of his identity: he is a baseball player who will someday be an altar boy when he gets bigger and bigger {actual quote}. He loves both so fiercely. First it’s baseball, then it’s church. Good altar boys have to train as baseball players {another zinger from the 3 year old}.

When one thing, in this instance baseball, helps lead a little mind to something truly eternal and infinite, we simply have to be grateful as parents. I had scoffed at parents who let their children wear sports jerseys as TACKY! UNCULTURED!—and now he is one of them! He loves baseball, he loves being Catholic, and somehow the one leads into the other in a sacred and mysterious way. I’ll take it. So take me out to the ball game, and let’s hope the Twins win big time this year. I’ll even drink to that.

-Nell Alt


Letter to Peter: Signs Can be Hard to Spot

23 Dec Boulder Colorado

This past summer was brutal. Heat waves and humidity bogging down my body into a stupor, and falling to sleep with a dream, a hope that the morning may bring empathy. The city scrambled for refuge in air-conditioned cafes, shaded benches, and darkened theaters. In final desperation, I booked a flight, destined for Boulder, Colorado to see an old friend.

Arriving in the town resting at the base of the Rockies, my heart instantly fell into peace as the cool mountain air brought in the night. One evening, I encountered a young man on a street bench, in crisp slacks and a blazer, plucking harmonious tunes on a guitar that has told many stories. In conversation, I heard the tale of Peter: his strained relationship with his parents, his struggle with deep depression, and his uncertainty of the present.

Our conversation turned to spirituality: He asked, “Are you religious?” My response, “Yes, are you?” “No.”

A long pause ensued as I watched him recall a memory, “At one of my lows, I began to search for a church on a street where I remembered it stood. When I got to the end of the block, the only thing I found was a cemetery.”

I looked at the certainty on his face; to him, this was a sign of the nonexistence of God. “Be careful with what you see as signs.”

In the days following, I was bombarded with stresses, while back in New York my roommates continued the search for affordable living. As the anxiety heightened, I began to see the differences in the way of life of the town that I was visiting and the city in which I inhabit, recognizing living did not have to be bursting with the struggle to survive. With bags packed, boarding the bus, I looked back at my dear friend, and said, “Maybe this is a sign. If everything is falling apart there, maybe it is Christ telling me my place is somewhere else.” Her response was simple, “I recently heard a story of a girl who told a boy to be careful of what he sees as signs.”

With my heart heavy and the reminder of my own advice, I hugged her farewell and boarded the bus. Watching the mountains disappear from view, I began to see more clearly.

Peter, it is not our search for Him when we are despairing, when the circumstances of this world have crumbled at our feet, do we decide to recognize Him. It is the acknowledgment of His presence always, of His constant gift of self in our lives. We do not choose what we see as signs when, with blindness and disparity, we need something to hold. We are to live in reality always, aware and alert to His constant movement in our work, our encounters, our pains, and our joy. His sign is that He is with us now.

Photo of Boulder Colorado by Colleen Pesci

Photo of Boulder Colorado by Colleen Pesci

-Colleen Pesci

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

God, the Dentist

31 Jul

Heading to the Cathedral for Mass one night, I decided to arrive early to pray. I was dressed for coffee shop coolness–black pants and a long-sleeved flannel. The Cathedral was hot. Breezing (there was no breeze) into my usual mid-section pew, I unzipped my Bible case, and slipped off my flip-flops. I can discretely take off my shoes in the comfort of my own home, right?

I opened my Bible to the day’s Mass reading from Hosea (2:16-22). First of all, I must confess that I read the wrong verses. My bad. But Jesus spoke to me anyway. He always does. If you’ve never read Hosea, I highly recommend it both, because it’s the Word of God, and, because it’s about a cool guy (Hosea—or “Zea” if you’re tight with him) and his prostitute wife. Throughout my life, the Lord has spoken to me a lot through Zea. Tonight was no different.

I busted through the passage once pinpointing a verse that struck me: “You shall call me ‘My husband,’ and you shall never again call me ‘My Baal.’” I like it. Approved.

After taking a few moments to think about it and count the doves above the altar, I took a second glance. This time a different verse caught my attention: “I will make you lie down in safety.” (Hosea 2:18) Now that is a juicy verse. Lord, you’ll make me lie down in safety?

My nephew, Gabe, is a little over 18 months old. Every night before bed, my sister and bro-in-law brush his teeth. He HATES it. Torture. Agony. 1.5 minutes of misery. Poor little dude. But it’s a necessary pain, right? If the forced tooth brushing wasn’t inflicted, he would get cavities. His teeth would rot. It would be gross. And I would love him less. Kidding.

Can’t every one of us think of a necessary suffering that leads to something good? Of course, we have our Lord’s ultimate suffering for us—the greatest tooth brushing of them all. And then there are the rest of us, trying really hard to be good people. Going the extra mile to grow in faith. Honestly, the past several months have been a pretty crazy tooth-brushing session for me. God has been doing some major dental work, getting all of the spiritual coffee stains, corncob remnants, and burger grease off. It doesn’t feel good. But is it worth it? Is my suffering worthwhile? Yes. An absolute and exuberant “yes.”

Now let’s go back to Hosea: “I will make you lie down in safety.”

If tooth brushing is necessary in our mouth and in a spiritual sense, then what areas do we need to surrender? What sufferings have I been fighting because they don’t feel good—things that I need to abandon to God for my own benefit? Thank God He has led us to be open to a good hard tooth brushing. It’s in that painful cleansing that we are made to lie down in safety.

-Gretchen Sonnen

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

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Hilariter! Alleluia!

10 Apr


Lent is over. It ended with a word: alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! The fasting, prayer and almsgiving of Lent, brought us to this moment: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Giving up meat, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, all of this pales next to the agony of the cross and the glory of His rising from the dead. As we prayed on the Easter Vigil “This is our Passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.” We have been consecrated by His blood.

We began this journey in the sorrow of Ash Wednesday and we end it in the joy of Easter. During the Easter Vigil we heard that, “this is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.” This past weekend, and throughout the Easter season, we do not merely remember a past event, we live it anew as we wash feet, embrace the cross, light the candle in darkness, and break into the exaltation of the Gloria.

The days of the Triduum and the Easter season are our high holy days. Jesus promised us that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” And so on Holy Thursday, and at every Mass, Jesus gives us his flesh and blood to eat and drink. Paul boasted that he only preached “Christ and Him crucified.” Why? Because, the cross of Good Friday is the intersection of God judgment and mercy; an intersection that pays the ransom of sin, which we cannot pay. “To ransom a slave you [the Father] gave away your Son.” On the cross, He freed us from the sorrow of our ashes. But we are not only freed from sorrow. Paul tells us “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” This is the essential truth of Easter. In the Resurrection, we are more than just redeemed; we are raised up as sons and daughters of the Most High. This is what it means to be Christian: by dying with Christ for others, we raised with Christ in the Resurrection. We must love as He loved, and so be raised from death into the life of love.

These three feast days are the cause of celebrating. Paul invites us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” We cast aside our fasting because “the attendants [us] of the bridegroom [Jesus] cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” In this season of Easter, which lasts until the Pentecost on May 27, the Church asks us to celebrate in the joy of the Resurrection. We live this celebration through prayer, love of others, and feasting. An Easter carol proclaims that our Easter season is full of heavenly and earthly joy.

Hilariter, Alleluia, Hilariter, Alleluia.

The whole bright world rejoices now, Hilariter!
The birds do sing from every bough, Alleluia!
Then shout beneath the racing skies, Hilariter!
To Him who rose that we might rise, Alleluia!

The ‘hilariter’ of Easter is our human celebration with food, drink, and Easter eggs. The ‘Alleluia’ is human joy raised up to the divine. Thus we must rejoice by celebrating and loving God and all people. From all of us at the Heart of the Matter: have a happy and blessed Easter season.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Hilariter! Alleluia!

-Terence Sweeney

The Strength to Forgive

11 Jul

What does it take to forgive? In our media-saturated world increasingly focused on scandal and violence, we rarely see public examples of reconciliation. In March of 2000, Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel for a historic visit to the holy land. His mission was simple: to dialogue, to love, and to seek forgiveness.

Perhaps the climax of this trip was a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Amid a historical record that has seen violence at times perpetuated by Christians in the name of Jesus against their neighboring Jews, John Paul II offered a prayer of forgiveness. He wrote,  “[W]e are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”

Pope John Paul II at the Wailing Wall

Pope John Paul II at the Wailing Wall

The prayer offered is a foundational act of the Church–to be reconciled with others, to both offer and seek forgiveness. There are many (perhaps now reading this) who tremble at the thought of entering a church, let alone to sit, stand, or kneel in attendance at a Mass. There are some who have felt injustice and been wronged by a member of the Church. Their experience may have caused them to grow cynical and disaffected. They may even view the Church as out of touch and unapproachable.

For those who live everyday with an experience like this–we are deeply sorry. To be called to a life of Christ is to be called to be reconciled with one another. The Church aims to bring all together for dialogue and to seek forgiveness for past wrongs. And, however clumsily She may have done so in the past and present, She still offers a hand to all seeking reconciliation and peace. It is a hard but beautiful thing to say to another, “I forgive you,” but it may change–and save–your life forever.

– Tim DeCelle