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The Practice of Lent

While I’m embarrassed to admit it, every year as we head into the home stretch of Lent, I breathe an almost audible sigh of relief. I tell myself that once Lent is finally over, things can get back to normal. I can eat sweets again. I can have a glass of wine or a drink. I can cut back on the extra prayer time. And I won’t have to try to see Christ in all those people I encounter—especially the ones I find difficult or troublesome. Now as I type these words, I realize how foolish and insincere they sound. I take a small measure of comfort, though, in thinking that I am not the only one who feels this way. 

Instead of breathing a sigh of relief as we head into the homestretch of Lent, however, perhaps instead it might be an opportune time for all of us to pause and consider how we have approached Lent thus far. Do we consider it an interruption of our otherwise comfortable life and normal routine, and once it is over we can go back to the way things were; or do we see it as a time to break old habits and/or try to develop new ones. 

In regard to the above, more often than I care to admit I see Lent as a season to be endured, and not a time for spiritual growth and renewal. Too often, I consider the activities and practices of Lent as being strictly penitential and sometimes even punitive. While on the one hand I know this is the wrong way to approach Lent, on the other hand I have grown fond of the ruts I have gotten into. I don’t like having to do “extra” things or “give up” things during Lent. As the psalmist says: “My sin is before me always.” (Ps.51.5) to which I want to add: “and I’ve grown accustomed to my sins, and am not sure I want to try to change them.” 

Now certainly the normal activities of our lives can make it difficult to maintain our Lenten practices and resolutions once Lent has come to an end. There are just so many things that demand our time and attention that it is hard to focus on other things. And it could also be argued that extending the practices and activities we have begun in Lent could cause us to not fully appreciate and celebrate the great joy of Easter. I think that there is a middle ground between simply going back to life as usual after Lent, and trying to preserve our Lenten practices and enshrine them in our lives. 

For myself, that would probably mean not breathing a sigh of relief and saying a prayer of thanksgiving that Lent is almost over and I can go back to my normal routine. Instead it would mean not so much cutting out, but rather cutting back on desserts and alcohol. It would mean continuing to give more time to prayer. And it would mean trying to be more attuned to God’s presence in my life—especially in other people. In this regard, the key for me is to set goals for myself that are realistic and achievable. I think this is true for all of us. 

If we are open to it, Lent can be a time of great grace for us. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate our lives and ask what we need to do to grow closer to God. Certainly this involves works of charity, as well as penitential acts and additional prayer. And while we may not be able to carry all of our Lenten practices forward after Lent comes to an end, perhaps we can choose a couple that we can try to work into the routine of our lives. The important thing, though, is that we make the effort. And if we fail—well there is always Lent next year. 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the 5th Sunday of the season of Lent.  Our Gospel for this Sunday is the familiar story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  Despite the familiarity of this story, there are a couple of intriguing details that defy easy explanation.  1. If Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, why then, when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ illness, did he not immediately go to him instead of “remaining for two days in the place where he was.”?  2. Also, after Jesus’ saw Martha and Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with them weeping why did: “He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘’Where have you laid him’”.  What caused him to be perturbed and troubled?   Any responses to these questions are at best educated guesses.  What we do know from the story, though, is very important.  Specifically this story reminds us that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth --- and he has promised eternal life to all those who believe in him.  His words are clear: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  

In regard to this Gospel, there is one more thing to note. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he returned to this life. The story of Lazarus is the story of a resuscitation, not a resurrection story.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  In the section we read this Sunday, the Israelites are in captivity in Babylon.  In this terrible situation Ezekiel reminds the Israelites that God will restore them --- not because they deserve it, but rather as a sign of God’s sovereignty.   "I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon the land, thus you shall know that I am the Lord.  I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this Sunday Paul reminds the people that “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, though his Spirit dwelling in you.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While we don’t know what the resurrected life will be like, we do know that it is not the same as a resuscitated life.  What’s your conception of the resurrected life?  
  2. Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb.  Where is Christ calling you to come out of a tomb?  
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the Spirit of God dwelling in us?  
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Archdiocesan Update

Archdiocese Update: 

A letter and video from Archbishop Hebda regarding the Archdiocese settlement agreement and bankruptcy. Please continue to pray for all the victims, survivors, and their families.

 

In his letter written for the conclusion of the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy Pope Francis ask that we celebrate 24 Hours for the Lord during the season of Lent. His objective is to intensify our Lenten goal of returning Christ to the center of our lives in an attempt to correct the ills of our world. To that end we are asked to engage even more deeply in our Lenten disciplines of praying, fasting and almsgiving during these 24 hours.

Among the dangers of our 21st world, Pope Francis often points out the temptation of a provisional and à la carte existence. By this he means that we are less and less willing to commit ourselves while always leaving a door open to something else or someone else. We choose and pick what suits us best at any given moment. This results in an ever increasing form of practical relativism which leaves us and the world at great risk. Christ offers a strong antidote to this narcissistic and individualistic spiral of destruction. For Christ is not only the foundation of our faith he also anchors our human existence and offers a corrective to the pitfalls of the human condition.

In a speech to a group of religious Pope Francis offered a vision of how religious life might help our 21st C. world. This vision clearly applies to the church at large which “must keep the freshness and the novelty of the centrality of Jesus; maintain the attraction of spirituality and the strength of mission; show the beauty of following Christ, and radiate hope and joy. Hope and Joy.”

Our Lenten disciples and the 24 Hours for the Lord are intended to assist us with just that:

  1. to make Jesus central to our lives anew;
  2. to deepen our spiritual life;
  3. to strengthen our mission of being Christ to the world;
  4. and above all to radiate hope and joy which results from following Christ.

At The Basilica we have set aside March 31-April 1 for this initiative. We are offering many prayer opportunities including Eucharist, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Reconciliation, Sacrament of the Sick, Station of the Cross and more. Please visit www.mary.org  for a complete schedule and sign-up instructions.

Though we offer these prayer opportunities we would like to suggest that we not limit this initiative to prayer in church alone but that we live out these 24 Hours for the Lord in our daily activities. We might be more intentional, e.g. about returning the centrality of Christ to our home by praying together, reading Scripture, creating a prayer corner, blessing one another, etc. We might engage in acts of mercy together such as work in a soup kitchen or a shelter; maybe we could write letters to our representatives explaining our Catholic stance on social issues. 

The observance of 24 hours for the Lord is the perfect opportunity to testify to the fact that as Catholics we are meant to make a profound difference in this world. We find the inspiration and courage to do this in our liturgy and private prayer. And our prayer comes to fruition when we share the hope and joy of the Risen Christ with all our sisters and brothers.

May 24 hours for the Lord 2017 bring some much needed hope and healing to our world.

Lent is a time of personal reflection when we are called to examine our habits, behaviors, and relationships. In the context of Pope Francis’ call for a Revolution of Love and Tenderness, Lent 2017 finds many of us considering questions such as “How well am I caring for the needs of others?” “What keeps me from serving more fully?” “How can I be more Christ-like in my daily life?” Similarly, the Parish Council has been pondering many of these same questions at a parish level by exploring the topic of parishioner engagement. At its core, this initiative seeks to better understand how parishioners are engaging with one another, how they would like to engage with the parish and its programs, and what barriers they face when trying to engage. Our first task was to listen, so we initiated an online survey and then conducted a series of focus group discussions with parishioners and community members. 

Gratefully, through candid discussions with parishioners, we learned a great deal about what makes The Basilica a spiritual home for many! Parishioners consistently told us that our beautiful building attracted them, that they appreciate the quality of liturgy and music, our openness and diversity, and the strong commitment to serving the needs of our community. Many things are going well at The Basilica! 

However, we also learned that there are some things we could improve and change in order to be easier to navigate, more open to different needs, and make it easier for people to connect with the parish and one another. Some key themes included:

Getting Connected and Involved: Many told us that in such a large parish, it is not always easy to get to know others or to navigate ways to become more involved; we can improve and diversify the ways that we communicate and help foster interpersonal connections.

Technology: Platforms that streamline signing up, getting news, making financial donations and other transactions are rapidly evolving; in order to be user-friendly, we need to be sure that we consider how to integrate new technologies into our programs and communication channels.

Inclusion and Diversity: The Basilica is blessed to be a diverse and growing parish with a wide range of ages, household compositions, and ethnicities, but this creates a greater need to ensure that our programs, ministries, and liturgies are open, welcoming, and inclusive and that we actively work to reduce and eliminate barriers to participation. 

In order to ensure that The Basilica continues to be a strong and vibrant community, the staff and Parish Council want to proactively address these areas of opportunity. Watch for additional information, more focus groups or other sharing forums, and ways to share your skills and talents. Just as during Lent we eagerly await the hopeful promise of the Easter season, through this process of parish self-reflection, we seek the hopeful promise of an engaging and thriving Basilica that will be a beacon of hope well into the future.

Jill Ahern, Parish Council Chair
Parishioner since 2009

Jill serves as a St. Vincent de Paul Meal Team Leader and as Co-Chair of the Basilica’s Strategic Planning Initiative. She has shared strategic planning expertise with the St. Vincent de Paul Leadership Team and Development Committee. Professionally, Jill leads Insights & Design at HAVI.

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.cfm  

My mother’s father (my grandpa Degnan) went blind about 20 years before he died.  He accepted his blindness so well, that it was never an issue. It was just a part of who he was.   In fact, it wasn’t until around 2nd or 3rd grade that I that I realized that not everyone had a grandfather who was blind.  

I always think of my grandfather when I read today’s Gospel.   In that Gospel, for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Jesus healed a man “blind from birth.”  Unfortunately, since Jesus had healed the blind man on a Sabbath, some of the Pharisees criticized Jesus because “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”    Others, however, said: “How can a sinful man do such signs?”  As a result, “there was division among them.”    In an effort to resolve the issue the Pharisees asked the blind man about Jesus.  He responded:  “he is a prophet.”   The Pharisees (or at least some of them) obviously didn’t like his answer because they replied:  “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” (At the time of Jesus, misfortune or hardship were thought to be a punishment from God for some personal sin or the sin of one’s relatives.)  “Then they threw him out.”   When Jesus heard what happened he sought out the blind man and informed him that he was the “Son of Man.”  We are told that the blind man then worshiped Jesus.     

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first book of Samuel.   In it Samuel is sent to “Jesse of Bethlehem for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”   Jesse then brought seven of his sons before Samuel, but the Lord rejected all of them.  Then Samuel asked Jesse: “Are these all the sons you have?”   Eventually David, the youngest son, who was tending sheep, was presented.  The Lord said:  “There --- anoint him, for this is the one!”  

The message of both the Gospel and the first reading is clear.   God “sees” things differently than we do.   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.    In it Paul urges the people of Ephesus to “Live as children of the light………” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In the New Testament, physical blindness if often a metaphor for spiritual blindness.   Can you recall a time when you were spiritually blind?   How did you come to see?
  2. Has someone or something ever caused you to see things in a new way or to see things from God’s perspective?    
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he invited people to live as children of the light?   

We’ve advanced to the next round in the Church Madness: Most Beautiful Church tournament. We need your vote to make it to the Sweet Sixteen!
Scroll down to the Midwest bracket- The Basilica vs. St. Mary’s Church in David City, Nebraska.

https://artandliturgy.com/2017/03/19/church-madness-2017-theological-32/

 

 

In life there are no “do overs.” There are no rewind buttons. And we can’t erase the tape or record over it. We can’t undo the past. This is particularly true in regard to mistakes or missteps we have made. Given this, I suspect we all live with a regret or two, and perhaps some misgivings about the past. But mentally rerunning scenes from the past or replaying old tapes is not healthy. It can take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. At a certain point, for our own health and well being, we need to let go of our regrets, push the reset button, and move forward in faith and hope. 

Now, the above is not to suggest that we should try to forget any mistakes or missteps from the past, or worse, pretend they didn’t occur. As George Santayana famously said; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, it is one thing to remember the past so that we don’t repeat it, and quite another to live in the land of regret and remorse. That is an arid and lifeless land and is spiritually deadening. 

When we find ourselves brooding over past failings we need to push the reset button and start anew. Lent is a great time to do this. It is a time when we can acknowledge the sins and failings of our past, push the spiritual reset button, and open ourselves to God’s grace. The ways we do this are many and varied. However, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional disciplines of Lent that can help us push the reset button on our spiritual lives. Another, good way to do this, though, is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Now to be honest, people are not coming to confession in the numbers they did in the past. And certainly people haven’t always had good experiences in the confessional. I don’t believe, though, that these things negate the beauty and the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are reminded that there is no sin too great as to be beyond the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation we bring our faults, our failings, and our sins to God, and ask for God’s forgiveness. And because God loves us with a love that is beyond belief and without reason, we know and believe that our sins are forgiven, we are given pardon and peace, and we are offered the grace we need to start anew. 

It would be easy to let the “regret ghosts” of the past haunt us and hold us bound. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though, we have the opportunity to be set free from the past and start anew. God’s grace has the power to free us from the should-haves, could-haves, might-haves of the past. We have only to open our heart to that grace, and God will do the rest.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031917.cfm   

In Minnesota we are proud of calling ourselves the land of 10,000 lakes.   Owning, or at least having access to, a cabin on a lake seems like a birthright to native Minnesotans.   In many parts of the world, though, access to water is severely limited.   This is certainly the case in Israel, where people rely on the yearly rains for a significant amount of their water supply.  At the time of Jesus, cisterns were used to store water from the yearly rains, and wells were public places where people gathered to draw water for their daily use.   Now I mention this because in our Gospel today on the 3rd Sunday of Lent Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at “Jacob’s well.” 

There are a couple of details in this Gospel that are significant.   First, notice that the Gospel tells us that it is about noon.  Most people would have come to draw water early in the morning when it was cooler, as opposed to mid-day.  This suggests that perhaps the woman didn’t want to bump into other people. Possibly (as we discover later in the Gospel) this is because the woman had 5 husbands and was currently living with another man.   Second, it would have been highly unusual for a man (and a Jew) to talk with a single woman (and a Samaritan).  The reason for this is that there was a great deal of hostility between Jews and Samaritans, and at that time there wasn’t any fraternization between men and women, most especially when they were strangers.

Although the woman initially misunderstood Jesus and his offer to give her “living water,” after talking with Jesus we discover that she was transformed by the encounter.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the book of Exodus.   It is the story of the Jews in the desert grumbling against Moses because of their thirst for water.   God instructed Moses to “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”    The connection to the Gospel is evident.  The difference, though, is that the water Moses provided only satisfied the people’s physical thirst.   Jesus satisfies our spiritual thirst.  

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It reminds us that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   I suspect we have all been physically thirsty at some point in our lives, and we know what that feels like.    What does it feel like to be spiritually thirsty?   
2.  Can you remember a time when Jesus has quenched your spiritual thirst? 
3.  While it is easy for me to acknowledge that I have sinned, it is hard for me to see myself as a sinner.    Our second reading today, though, reminds us that Christ died for sinners.   Do you, like me, have difficulty seeing yourself as a sinner?   

Last night I went to dinner with some friends. We got into an animated conversation about politics and religion, two topics my mother strictly forbad during dinner. The people at the table next to us were much quieter. Though they exchanged the occasional words, most of their time was spent in silence as they used their personal devices, maybe even texting one another. Unwittingly they proved a point I tried to make. Though they were spending time together they seemed to be very much separated from one another using the very tools that were conceived to connect people. They were in their own worlds shaping and even creating their own realities.

Pointing to our neighbors, I mused about the fact that on the one hand humanity is more connected than ever before, thanks to all the travel opportunities and modern means of communication. On the other hand, humanity seems more divided than ever. And ironically, the very tools intended to unite us are used to distance ourselves from one another and even to separate and divide us. 

One of the great culprits of division in our society is our rampant propensity for a type of “self-curated reality.” Many if not most of us have resorted to creating our own bubble of reality accepting as true only those facts that fit within our own world view, regardless if the information is factual or not. In addition, we surround ourselves with like-minded people be they real or virtual. On social media, e.g. many of us “friend” those who share our worldview and “de-friend” those who don’t. This tends to create a vicious cycle of “self-curated reality” which is difficult to break. Rather than relate to one another and connect on topics that matter, we close ourselves off from thoughts that oppose our opinions and withdraw in self-curated realities.

One possible antidote to this is a much-forgotten gift we all share: our conscience. As Christians, we believe that we are created in the image of God with an innate sense of right and wrong, i.e. our conscience. This God-given conscience is a kind of moral compass that allows us to navigate the stormy moral waters of day to day life. It allows us to see our human world through the eyes of God. When used, it can prove to be a great corrective to the dangers of “self-curated realities” that are isolating and divisive. Thanks to some old cartoons, I think of our conscience as the little angel whispering into our ear what we ought to think and do.

In order to recall, encourage and even unleash the power of our God-given conscience we have created a Conversation of Conscience on the south wall in our Teresa of Calcutta Hall in the Basilica’s lower level. The overall theme for this Conversation of Conscience is Pope Francis’ proposed Revolution of Love and Tenderness. This Revolution is artistically represented through a wood carving by Sr. Mary Ann Osborne. We invite you to meditate on this work of art and to share your response to the art. In addition, four questions are intended to start a post-it conversation: Why call for a revolution? Who is deserving of my love? What is tenderness? How can I make a difference? Before doing this, please allow your conscience to percolate and inspire your thinking. Some guiding thoughts are posted on the same wall.

The Conversation of Conscience will be open throughout Lent. We hope you will participate. Your answers will be the base for further conversation on the topic. Therefore, engage your conscience as an antidote to our society’s temptation to limit reality to our own. And please invite your personal device users at dinner to do the same, maybe even through social media.

 

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