The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C., has figured prominently in my life.
As a lifelong native of Prince George’s County, Maryland, within the Archdiocese of Washington, “the Basilica” (as we natives affectionately call it) is a fixture of the Washington metropolitan area. Bishop McNamara High School, from which I graduated in 2000 and where I have taught theology and Spanish since 2006, holds its commencement exercises there each May, as do many other local Catholic schools. My wife Bernadette attended Catholic University, whose campus is adjacent to the Basilica, and that is where we were engaged – in Mary’s Garden, behind the Basilica – on Dec. 5, 2008. Fortunately, like Mary, Bernadette said yes. (I did not pressure her!) The Basilica is also across the street from the Dominican House of Studies, where I meet monthly as a member of the Immaculate Conception Chapter of lay Dominicans.
For such a large church (actually, the largest Catholic church in the United States, and one of the largest in the world), the Basilica has a way of feeling like home, as it has for so many Catholics from both the United States and abroad for nearly a century, since its foundation stone was first laid in 1920.
Yet, what ultimately makes the Basilica feel like home is that it is Mother Mary’s home. From the moment you enter any one of the Basilica’s majestic entrances, you understand that you are in a church dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception, which the global Church solemnizes each Dec. 8. Like your parents’ house, the Basilica is open to you every day of the calendar year, and annually, nearly 1 million pilgrims pass through its corridors, which are lined with numerous chapels. These little chapels within America’s national parish church reflect various ethnicities, nationalities and time-honored devotions – both Marian and otherwise – that exemplify the Church’s international scope and scale.
We are now in the month of July, a time for Americans to reflect on the nearly quarter of a millennium of our nation’s independence. Yet, only a practitioner of willful ignorance would pretend that we are currently a nation united, as we are in the midst of one of the most divisive eras in American history. The same can be said for our global Church, which has been fraught with scandals and fissures, perhaps reaching its most fundamentally tenuous point as of the summer of 2018.
In order to come to Mary, and thus allow her to draw us closer to her Son, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you and your family should plan a trip to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception sooner than later. As you prepare your mind and heart for Mass at the Basilica, and perhaps even Confession (to which you may have to make recourse after enduring our notorious DC-area vehicular traffic and stifling summer heat and humidity), please do look forward to coming home to Mother Mary’s house. Before joining us here, I recommend that you read Marge Fenelon’s book My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena – A Marian Pilgrimage Across America, so that you can see how Mary is invested in drawing our hearts to the Lord, and thus heavenward.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Queen of the Americas, pray for us!