I woke up drenched in sweat as the rising sun was filling up the car with heat. I was in the driver’s seat with the door wide open. The engine was running and there was music blasting from the speakers. For a minute I didn’t even know where I was. After I started coming to my senses I realized I was outside the house where I had attended a kegger the night before.
I was slightly regretting the decision to get drunk, not simply because I felt awful, but because it was the morning of Soundset, a concert I was going to, and I felt awful. Instead of trying to piece together what happened the night before, I was trying to piece together how I was going to get to the concert. I called the friends I was going with and after sobering up a bit I headed off to pick them up, probably still a little drunk. On the way there we sparked a joint, which helped take the edge off the hangover I had. When we got to the parking lot I filled a plastic flask with tequila to sneak in behind my belt buckle. The weather was in the 90s, which only added to the danger of what I was doing. The first artist we saw was Wiz Khalifa. After getting high as a kite, I somehow managed to down the entire flask I had snuck in.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a tent with paramedics poking at me with their tools. They kept asking me what drugs I had taken. Not particularly interested in this questioning, I sprang to my feet and dashed off into the crowd. This was just one of many concerts where I was lucky to have escaped with my life. I spent years chasing the pleasures of the world. It was only after I encountered Jesus Christ that I was able to lay down those worldly ways.
Seven years later and two years sober, I went to Eucharistic Adoration for the first time at a local Catholic college. I got to the chapel late and the only spot left was behind a pillar in the back where I couldn’t see anything. It didn’t matter. The presence of the Holy Spirit was stronger than I had ever experienced. I felt a sense of utter peace. My pain and my worries just melted away as I sang to the Lord and contemplated His life, death, and resurrection. I carried that peace with me after I left. When I got home I just sat in my car, in no hurry to be anywhere at all. As I entered the building where I live, a white Suburban pulled up outside. I felt a strange feeling and something told me to wait just a little longer before I took the elevator up. I almost let it go, but just as the door was about to close I saw a hand poke through. The door stopped and on came my neighbor, carrying a hockey bag. I asked him if he just got done playing. He said, “No, I was practicing for Crashed Ice. I’m one of the pros.” Red Bull Crashed Ice is an event held outside the Cathedral of St. Paul where athletes race down a mountain of ice on skates. After chatting for a bit, my neighbor asked if I wanted to go. He had a couple of friends and family VIP wristbands. I enthusiastically said yes. The next day, for some reason, I felt uneasy about going, but I found a friend and headed over to St. Paul to check it out anyways. It was being held outside the Cathedral so I figured it was probably ok.
As we exited the train we could already hear music in the distance. There was loud bass pumping from the church. The very first thing I saw when I got there was a food truck with a picture of a devil on it. I had this extremely uneasy feeling about being there. We went and found our spots, which were in a fenced off area by the finish line. There was a giant video screen playing advertisements on repeat. I noticed that the messages in the ads were mostly about self-reliance. We waited for people to file in. The first ones to fill in around us were already drunk. They stumbled over me multiple times. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to leave for the sake of my friend who had given his time to journey all the way over with me. We waited a couple hours in the cold before the skaters actually started racing. The event itself reminded me of a gladiator contest, where whoever survives wins. The skater who was able to make it to the bottom without crashing usually won. The others looked like ragdolls hurling down the ice.
As the night progressed, things got more and more disturbing. The DJ started playing music with lyrics like “shout at the devil” and “runnin’ with the devil,” all blasting from the steps of the Cathedral. The announcer was saying things like, “We’ve turned a beautiful church into this beast,” and “Let’s show the world St. Paul knows how to party.” The scripture, “‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers,” (Luke 19:46) kept popping into my head. Here I was in the special VIP area with the best spot at the event, and I was feeling absolutely awful. I kept thinking about how the night before I was sitting in the back of the church, behind a pillar, but felt utter peace. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:10) After watching my neighbor complete his run, my friend and I finally decided to leave, much to my relief. On the way out I saw someone openly carrying around a bottle of Goldschlager, completely trashed, reminding me of that day at Soundset seven years earlier, but this time it was right on the doorsteps of the Church.
Now, there is another event approaching that should raise some alarms, Basilica Block Party. It’s a two-day concert filled with drinking and rock music. It also closely parallels the worship of the golden calf from the Old Testament. While the Israelites were waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the covenant, they said to Aaron, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1) It’s been two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth. It can be easy to forget that He is going to come again too. In the story of the Israelites, Aaron then took gold from the people and formed it into a calf, and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4) The Basilica Block Party’s tagline eerily echoes these very words spoken thousands of years ago, “He so loved the world, he sent many bands.” In other words, this tagline is saying that these bands are the gods that saved you, not God’s only Son. It might not sound like a big deal, but when it’s the very attitude behind this concert, it is a big deal. Instead of relying on God’s providence to take care of it, the Church has decided to go the way of the world and throw a massive party. Again, this is exactly like what the Israelites did with the golden calf. “When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, ‘There is a noise of war in the camp.’ But he said, ‘It is not the sound made by victors, or the sound made by losers; it is the sound of revelers that I hear.’” (Exodus 32:17-18) The definition of revel is, “to enjoy oneself in a lively and noisy way, especially with drinking and dancing.” The main sponsors for the Basilica Block Party are Bud Light (drinking) and Cities97 (dancing).
When things are going well it's easy to forget that God still desires holiness from us. We think, "God hasn't punished me, so this thing I'm doing must not be that bad. I wasn't struck by lightning." We forget that God is “slow to anger” (Psalm 103:8). He is still the same God as He was with the Israelites. Things like drunkenness and debauchery are forbidden in the Bible, and that’s not just in the Old Testament. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Idolatry is on that list, yet we give praise to athletes, musicians, and actors. The tagline for Basilica Block Party last year was “Praise the loud.” And what about all the corporate sponsors that will be plastered all over? Do they not entice people to envy? These things are culturally acceptable, so we think they are ok. Isn't this exactly what happened to the Israelites over and over, just like with the golden calf? They would go through struggles and be forced to rely on God, but once things got better they started incorporating gods of other nations. The punishment for these things was always severe. They were invaded, slaughtered, and exiled. Why do we think we are less susceptible to falling into idolatry than the Israelites were? The Basilica Block Party is encouraging a bunch of these things that St. Paul says will cause a person to not inherit the kingdom of God. Those are gigantic consequences. It's an embrace of the world’s ways. "What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his soul?" (Mark 8:36)
I’m not just saying these things to ruin everyone’s fun. As you can see from the first story I told, I am well acquainted with the ways of this world. They seem fun at first, but eventually you realize that going that way only leads to emptiness and suffering. The ways of the world led me to commit some of the worst sins you can imagine and to hurt many people including family, friends, and strangers. So you can see why it is troubling to me that the Church is promoting these things.
Some will surely answer that it is for a good cause. The Basilica Block Party raises money to maintain the building and some even goes to the St. Vincent de Paul ministry. These are great causes, but at what cost? Would you say that hosting a wet t-shirt contest to raise money is ok because it supports the Church? No! But drinking and concerts are culturally acceptable so we think they are ok. As Christians, we are called to abandon the ways of the world, not encourage them. “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” (1 Peter 4:3).
Another objection will be that it's not actually the church that is raising the funds, it's the Basilica Landmark Foundation. After spending time on the board of directors for a nonprofit, I can tell you this is a common way to protect assets or to avoid trouble with taxes. The church is greatly benefiting from these funds and they are fully committed to throwing this party. They advertise it and it's thrown on church property. It is completely within the power of the Basilica to stop it if they wanted to.
Some will say that it is a great opportunity to get people in the Church. I would contest that though a few stragglers might come in, any change of heart is unlikely. It’s hard to hear the gospel when partying and consumerism are being preached. This isn't evangelization. It’s more like a big bait and switch. "Let's show them how fun and relevant we are, and hopefully they will wander in and somehow find Jesus." It's deceptive. It's like saying you’re going to throw a kegger outside an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in hopes that some alcoholics will come in and get sober. Instead, no one comes in, and some of the current members actually start drinking again! We are supposed to go out into the world to find the lost, not adopt their ways to make them feel comfortable. In a recent homily by Pope Francis, he stated, "The proclamation of the Gospel is not a carnival, a party."
I realize that my opinion about this event won’t be a popular one, but then again, the Israelites probably weren’t too keen on having their golden calf taken away either. People like drinking and concerts. These things make them feel good. It’s easy to rationalize continuing in things that make you feel good, but very difficult to give them up. "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." (John 3:19-20)
This is a very concerning event, not because the title sponsor is Bud Light or that bands will be praised in idolatrous fashion, but because these things are being promoted by the Church. The Church is supposed to be different than the rest of the world, just as Jesus Christ is different. He laid down His life for us so that we could be forgiven. As I said before, I was the chief of sinners. It was only after having an encounter with Jesus Christ that I was finally able to give up the ways of the world. I love the Basilica. It’s been a place of great consolation to me, and I understand it needs money for upkeep, but going the way of the world is not the way to get it. How small is our faith that God’s providence is no longer good enough to sustain us? We should rather that all our buildings crumble than give in to the devil to save them. All we really need is our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where true salvation is found.
William Joseph Scheremet