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In the year 2000 Saint John Paul II designated the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this at the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a polish visionary whose mission it was to proclaim God’s mercy toward every human being. Two years later, during his last visit to Poland in 2002, he said: “How much the world is in need of the mercy of God today!” He then entrusted the world to Divine Mercy expressing his “burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love…may reach all the inhabitants of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.”
As I was writing these words I learned that two Coptic Churches in Egypt were bombed during Palm Sunday services. The extremists of DAESH claimed responsibility. As is the case with the bombings we learn about almost every day, the death toll, physical harm and spiritual suffering were staggering.
Unable to continue my writing I went into our St. Joseph Chapel where our beautiful Icon of the Divine Mercy resides. I walked up to the Icon and looked Jesus square in the face and waited. I waited for an answer to all the evil in our world. Yet, Jesus remained silent. Somewhat frustrated I left the chapel. As I returned to my office the link to a homily by Pope Francis popped up on my phone. One passage caught my eye: “Jesus does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs... No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own… Jesus is in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.” Feeling duly chastised by the pope and grateful for Jesus’ unexpected answer to my questions I returned to my column on Divine Mercy.
Jesus, who is known as the Divine Mercy is the very incarnation of God’s mercy. In Jesus, God embodied mercy as he went about forgiving sins, healing the sick, siding with the outcast. By these very actions Jesus affirmed that God’s mercy is present in the world, even and most especially in those places where God’s mercy seems lacking.
The specifics of God’s mercy have been described in many different ways. The tree languages that are important in the history of the Bible: Hebrew, Greek and Latin offer slightly different insights.
- The Hebrew Bible uses two words for mercy: hesed and rachamim. Hesed is the kind of mercy that is strong, committed and steadfast. Rachamim which has the same root as rechem or womb conveys gentleness, love and compassion.
- The Greek word for mercy, eleos is related to elaion meaning oil thus suggesting that mercy is poured out like oil and has the healing qualities of oil.
- The Latin word for mercy, misericordia is derived from miserari, "to pity", and cor, "heart". It suggests that our loving God is moved to compassion.
God’s mercy thus is strong and steadfast, loving and compassionate, healing and soothing. These are the divine qualities of mercy that are to be ours also since we are to be the embodiment of Gods mercy in our time. Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of God must be evident and everyone should find an oasis of mercy there.
As we contemplate our beautiful Icon of the Divine Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday and as we look one another in the eye, friend and stranger alike, let us give thanks for the mercy God has shown us. And in turn let us show mercy to one another for the world indeed is in dire need of mercy, both human and divine. Mercy given and mercy received, that is the motto of all Christians.
The experience of death and resurrection is universal. It occurs in every person and every community. Sometimes the “deaths” we experience are real and actual. More often, though, the “deaths” we experience aren’t actual deaths; rather they are death-like experiences, e.g. the loss of a job; the end of a relationship; the experience of physical limitations; the loss of a sense of security or belonging. In either case, though, they are painful, difficult to bear, and often take time to move through.
Sometimes the deaths we experience just happen. They aren’t our fault. We still need to acknowledge them, though, mourn them, and then begin anew. On the other hand, sometimes the deaths we experience are our fault. We screw up and a mess ensues. In that case, we need to acknowledge our fault, repent, dust ourselves off, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and try to fix what we messed up.
What happens, though, when we don’t think we have it in us to try to begin anew after a death-like experience? What do we do when we can’t easily fix things or make them better? In these cases, we need to honestly acknowledge our situation, accept the fact that there will be times when there is no good explanation as to why something happened, and move forward in faith.
How, though, do we move forward in faith after an experience that feels like death? Well, I believe we start with prayer. In and through our prayer we can experience God’s presence and love. In and through our prayer we can discover that we are not alone, that God is with us. And in and through our prayer we can open ourselves to God’s healing and strengthening grace. Now in saying this, we need to be clear that prayer may not change the situation, but it can and does change us. It can help us see things from a different perspective or in a new way.
Once we have experienced God’s grace then we need to
- hang on (coping & hoping)
- and continue to believe that a new dawn will come eventually—even when or even though it may not be the dawn we were planning on.
The Feast of Easter calls us to remember that our God is always offering us new life and hope in the midst of the sadness, sorrows, hurts, disappointments, trials, and pains we experience—the actual deaths, as well as the “little deaths” of this life. This new life enables us to continue when the way seems dark and uncertain. It allows us to live with the loss of our dreams. It gives us the ability to accept our human frailties and weaknesses and those of others. And it helps us to believe that after each death, the dawning of a new and glorious morning will occur. In essence this is the Paschal Mystery—that because of Jesus Christ—out of death comes new life and new hope. This is the message; this is the hope of Easter.
As we enter into the week of remembrance of the passion and death of Jesus, we come to a crossroads. Jesus, at the end of his ministry, proceeds towards Jerusalem where he will be confronted by the systemic evil of the day—the Roman Empire’s cooperation with the religious authorities to oppress the people of Palestine. Jesus preached and taught the message of forgiveness, love, and tenderness, often in opposition to the Law. The Pharisees were indeed upset with him. After witnessing Jesus’ miracles, his preaching in the Temple, and his large following, the Pharisees and Romans became threatened by his presence, his actions, and his message. Despite the fact that they wanted to kill him, Jesus knowingly continued on his journey to Jerusalem. This sealed his fate.
During this holy week we must decide to either go with him to Jerusalem or remain where we are in our comfort zones. The systemic evil of our day is prolific. On a global level, we don’t have to look very far to be aware of what is taking place in so many countries today. The towns and cities where the pointless slaughtering of men, women, children, and entire families has been carried out. It is beyond heartless and inhumane. In many cases we know that this has caused widespread famine and flight to other countries. It has left the most vulnerable, our children, without parents and families to care for them.
Jesus confronted the lack of forgiveness and love, the injustice, the oppression of the most vulnerable, throughout his life, right up until his death on the cross. He spoke against it. He acted in such a way that those who needed his love and forgiveness, were counted among those who received his compassion. He taught us by example. He told us that we would be blessed if we but remember with love those who are most in need.
If we are to walk this holiest of weeks along with Jesus, that means we must always be Jerusalem bound, just as he was. Sometimes it is a very long walk and it takes us places we don’t want to go. Sometimes it leads us right into the midst of power, not to become powerful, but to stand tall and speak truth to power. We walk along with Jesus to Jerusalem, to confront the systemic evils around us: war, poverty, hunger, homelessness, inequality.
If we call ourselves Christian, then we must walk with Jesus wherever that takes us. We need to have our eyes and hearts open wide to hear the call of being this kind of a disciple. We need not be fearful or bewildered. We will be part of the Body of Christ to which we belong. We will never be alone. We will walk side by side with each other following in the footsteps of the One who promised to be with us to give us strength and hope. We will get to announce the Kingdom of God along with Jesus and a new world without unrest, control, war, oppression, violence and hatred. For this is what we all seek as children of God and heirs to heaven.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us.” - Pope Francis
Recently, I read that the Bishop of Swaziland, Ellinah Wamukoya, is inviting people to take part in a "carbon fast" during Lent—to examine their daily actions and reflect on how they impact the environment: "We are of the earth, we are dust, if the earth birthed us so let us look after her, and reduce our carbon foot print to ensure continued life" he said. Another parish encouraged its parishioners to give up salt for Lent, except when it is necessary in a recipe. “We are the salt of the earth…” We reflect on our need for salt today and how we are salt for the earth. Other parishes suggest giving up social media for Lent. Refrain from using social media in order to fill our time with prayer and action for the sake of all those who are suffering in our world. Still others encourage giving up chocolate or a favorite food or dessert. All of these things that we choose to give up during Lent, if not accompanied by prayer, compassion for our brothers and sisters, and action on behalf of them, are meaningless.
Maybe you are a person that doesn’t give any time to prayer or maybe you spend much time praying. Whatever your particular situation, prayer during Lent draws us closer to the Lord. You might pray especially for the grace to live out your baptismal promises more fully, since Lent in the early church was a preparation time for baptism. Praying for our leaders and for peace in our world is a needed practice, especially during Lent. You might also pray for those in our community who are preparing for baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at Easter. Be sure to take a card or two from the baskets at the doors of the church and pray for those individuals and write them a card offering encouragement and prayer. Prayer places all of this before the God of mercy and justice who makes it bear fruit. The Gospel readings used during Lent make clear that this discipline is to be authentic, the product of broken hearts and not external display.
Fasting is one of the most ancient practices linked to Lent. In fact, the paschal fast predates Lent as we know it. Fasting is more than a means of developing self control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God. Fasting should be linked to our concern for those who are forced to fast by their poverty, those who suffer from the injustices of our economic and political structures, those who are in need for any reason. Thus fasting, too, is linked to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially to those in need. Fasting can help us realize the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate that suffering. Fasting puts us in touch with our hunger for God and in justice frees resources to share with others. This sharing shows to the world the same charity and justice God has first shown us.
It should be obvious at this point that almsgiving is linked to our baptismal commitment in the same way. It is a sign of our care for those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are essential elements of our way of life we began when we were baptized.
As our Pope Francis says to beautifully, “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”
Perhaps it was the nasty tone of this year’s election, or perhaps people are just generally growing less tolerant, but it seems to me that lately people are becoming more and more irritable and prickly. In emails and voicemails people are curt and rude, and sometimes even openly hostile. And when you’re driving, people flash their lights, honk their horns, and more and more frequently use an obscene gesture to let you know they are not pleased with you.
While the above is bad, worse for me is the fact that I find myself responding in-kind when I think people are being nasty or ill-tempered. It amazes me how quickly I can “go negative” with someone in response to an email or a voicemail that is rude or snarky. I don’t think I am alone in this. In our world today, there seems to be a limited supply of tolerance and giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
An example of this for me was an email I received several months ago from someone I considered a friend. I felt personally attacked in the email and as a result, my response was less than pastoral. This started a series of back and forth emails, until it finally dawned on me that while I was inwardly (and outwardly) complaining about the tone and tenor of the emails I was being sent, my responses were no better. I realized that if this kept up there was no way the exchange would end well. Given this, I said that I thought it would be best if we would simply have to agree to disagree and that we should terminate the exchange. I then wished them well.
Not being very pleased with my behavior I talked to another priest about it. His response was two words: time and prayer. Specifically he suggested that I not respond immediately to emails, voicemails, people, or situations that I find irritating. Instead he suggested I take some time to reflect on why I was feeling irritated or under attack. After I had taken some time to reflect on the situation, he then proposed that I bring it to prayer. He suggested that time and prayer were the ingredients to a healthier perspective.
I have been trying to follow this priest’s advice for the past several weeks. And while I’d like to report that I have been one hundred percent successful, if the truth be told, I still continue to fall into the trap of responding in-kind to words and behaviors I perceive to be rude or snarky. On the plus side, however, there have been more than a few occasions, when by taking the time to reflect and pray, I have toned down my response and/or given the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding their words and intentions.
While it shouldn’t be that hard to take the time to reflect and pray before we respond to situations and people that irritate or upset us, I think this is something we all too often fail to do. It is something I am trying to put into practice, though. And while they say that “practice makes perfect,” I suspect that it will take a lot more time and prayer before perfection is even a remote possibility.
“Inclusivity” and “welcome” are two words deeply rooted in the values of The Basilica community. In this time of uncertainty, the value of our welcome is of even greater importance. We hear the calling of welcome throughout scripture and also in modern messages from Pope Francis.
It is a trademark of our parish. While you hear the words, “Whatever brings you here, and wherever you are on our faith journey, you are welcome,” it would be empty if it was simply rhetoric. It needs to be experienced in many forms, from the way volunteers interact with those seeking assistance at our Rectory door, to our programs and ministries.
It’s in our actions. On a Sunday afternoon in January, University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs fellows shared their experiences working with refugees from Syria, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. It’s in interfaith programming, extending welcome and open doors to those of different faith backgrounds. These types of informative sessions promote greater understanding and empathy, and help to clarify a call to action.
Inclusivity is even felt by those experiencing the architecture as the array of cultural diversity in our faith can be admired in the artwork and chapels throughout The Basilica.
At a time when many feel and experience marginalization and exclusion, The Basilica will continue to strive to be a place for hope and refuge. This includes those with physical disabilities.
The Basilica Landmark plans to enhance our extension of welcome in improving the physical accessibility of our historic campus. Each bronze door of The Basilica church weighs more than 300 pounds, making it a challenge for anyone to open these doors when the wind is blowing. It is nearly impossible to open the doors when you have a physical disability.
The Basilica’s Disability Awareness Committee has been working since 2005 to address objectives in making The Basilica free of barriers to prayer and involvement.
The Basilica’s facilities committee has received their request for an additional handicap access point and they are pleased to be able to respond. The Basilica Landmark Board has determined the “Fund A Need” program will include several projects that will significantly improve access to the church. Currently, the only handicapped access point is from 17th Street at the front entrance. This proves challenging to those who utilize the lot designated as Handicap parking. The doors facing 16th Street will be outfitted with accessibility hardware. This will add a second accessible entrance to our historic building. Even when a barrier is unintentional, it can alter the offering of hospitality and message of inclusivity that The Basilica values.
As a staff member and member of The Basilica parish, I’m grateful to belong to a parish that continues to “seek the well-being of the city” through both concrete and programmatic priorities.
The Basilica Landmark Ball will be held on May 20 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Tickets will be available here or calling by 612.317.3432.
If you would like to support the “Fund A Need” project for this year’s event, please contact me at email@example.com. Your gift will continue to foster the extension of inclusivity for all who visit our historic campus.