Paula Kaempffer

Director of Learning
Learning

Paula joined The Basilica of Saint Mary staff in 2007 and has been involved in Catholic Church ministry for over 35 years. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York. As the Director of Learning, she works with the educational programming for adults of the parish and oversees The Basilica’s RCIA process and the Catholics Coming Home program, while overseeing the Learning Department which ministers to the children, youth and young adults in our parish and all those preparing for sacraments. 

Paula Kaempffer
(612) 317-3473

Recent Posts by Paula Kaempffer

Lenten banners hung above sanctuary

Lent: A Season for Change

“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.”

During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has spent one Friday a month praying for those who are suffering throughout the world. Today, I watched a video clip of Pope Francis embracing 20 former prostitutes that had been forced into sex trafficking, had escaped, and were now residing in a Catholic Charities Center in Rome. This was part of his “Mercy Fridays.” You could see the tenderness he had for these women, kind of like I imagine that Jesus had for the prostitutes of his time. The Pope embraced them and told them they were loved. He apologized for not praying enough for them and he promised he would pray more for them. He listened to their stories and again told them how much God loves each of them. Then he blessed them and left. It was so touching to see him extend the mercy and love of God to them. I do not know about you, but this Pope constantly amazes me with his compassion and love for our world. I pray for all of us that we could be more like him and more like Jesus to those around us who are truly suffering.

For the past several weeks I have been meeting with folks who are interested in learning more about Catholicism. These people will make the journey through RCIA this year. Some will choose to become Catholic, while others will choose to move on. It is beautiful to hear their stories of their faith journeys thus far and what has brought them to this point in their lives. One thing I am sure of is that their faith is important to them. And they truly care about being the best people they can in this world no matter what path they take. I ask for your prayers this coming year as they prayerfully discern God’s call in their lives.  I do hope you get to meet them during the year. 

Many of us in my generation and the one after are attending Church regularly and have been for awhile. But many of us have not had any faith formation since the last time we attended CCD classes or religious education when we were in eighth grade, maybe twelfth grade. We tend to just go through the motions of our worship each Sunday without thinking about what we are doing and what the rituals throughout the Mass really mean. That is why we are beginning a new series this fall called, “Seeing with New Eyes: Rediscovering My Faith.” This program is for those who would like to revisit the basics of their faith in a six-week series. Some of the topics we will consider are: our image of God, our image of Church, what Vatican Council II has done for our church, scripture, and the sacraments. You might just discover some of the more beautiful truths of our faith. Postcards are in the pews during the next couple of weeks. Please take one and register for this series. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the parish office. 

We are all gearing up for a full fall lineup of events and programs that we hope will be fulfilling and nourishing to your spirit. A reminder to all: we are still moving through the Year of Mercy so some of our programming will reflect that intention. We ask that you prayerfully continue to live out God’s mercy to all whom you meet. We all need God’s mercy. Let us be generous to a fault with it in the coming days. 

Several difficult days have turned into months. Many of us are confused and discouraged with the recent tragic events that have taken so many lives. It has frightened and divided our society. How does anyone react to fear? None of us does very well. I have noticed that when I am fearful, I react strongly to my environment simply because I am afraid of the unknown and of the future. Maybe some of us have the same common reaction. That is what I see happening in our world today. 

The divisions seem most evident on social media. There is a wide range of opinions. In the beginning, I read viewpoints on different sides and all I came away with was more confusion, so I stopped. I have settled with the thought that with any situation there are true and false statements on every side.

As Christians we have to ask ourselves, have I treated each person I meet with love and care as God’s creation? Have I been able to search for Christ’s face in each one? I know that for me this has not always been the case. There are many excuses that get in the way. I am sure everyone has made excuses for how you have treated others at some point. You see, the excuses do not matter. What matters most is the compassion and love we extend to others. 

In the gospel, Jesus loved to challenge those who were self-righteous, those who felt that they were right and everyone else was wrong. Why did he do that? I think it was because those who are self-righteous are the most difficult to reach and at times, that is you and me. When we get stuck on our side and we become close-minded and think that everyone else is wrong, we become self-righteous. Jesus is asking us to be open-minded and open-hearted and open to thoughts that differ from our own. Jesus is asking us to stay in the conversation and listen deeply to one another and put ourselves in each other’s shoes. Jesus is asking the most difficult of us to reach out in love to everyone around us and embrace each other in love, care, and dignity.

There is a beautiful quote by Glennon Doyle Melton about Mother Teresa, And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up or away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder, and better. What the gospel proclaims is hard, but better. I never thought that it was easy to be a Christian. I have always struggled with being a good one. But if I am to take seriously my vow to live the gospel SEEING THE FACE OF GOD everyday, then I must do this. I must succeed in seeing the face of God in the person next to me.

I end with this quote from N. Wright from Following Jesus, We don’t need Christians who project their own insecurities out on to the world and call it preaching the gospel. We need Christians who will do for the world what Jesus was doing. The Church must be prepared to stand between the warring factions, and, like a boxing referee, risk being knocked out by both simultaneously. The Church must be prepared to act symbolically, like Jesus, to show that there is a different way of living. The Church must be prepared to be the agent of healing.Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the Church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world announcing the kingdom, healing the wounds of the world.

During these difficult times in our world today, let us bring before God every face, every person we encounter, here and across the globe, every day. Ask God to show His face to us in and through these special gifts in our lives. Let us pray for each other and our world as we go forward.

The Cross adorned with Yellow Roses

Learning to Let Go

The Easter season has always been a highlight for me in my faith but this year is a bit different. It seems a little weird to be talking about Lent but that is where it all began for me.  Usually when Lent rolls around, I often think of things I could “give up” but mostly, I think about things I can do extra, like more time in prayer. But the past few years I have begun Lent asking God to show me what God wanted of me and what God wanted me to learn and how to grow spiritually. Well, I might have to stop this practice as each of the last few years, God has very actively led me where God wanted me to be and had me learn exactly what I needed to learn! This has not been easy because, you see, I have this will to do things my way and not have anything or anyone interfere with my “plan for living.” And each Lent I have asked myself, “Is this the way for me to go through Lent?” It would be so much easier for me to just give up soda or fast longer and give more alms. Don’t get me wrong…I am not saying these things aren’t good Lenten practices. All I am saying is that for me this is what God has led me to do. 

As I traveled through my own Lenten journey, I was also joined with our RCIA catechumens and candidates. This is always something special for me as they draw their strength from the various scriptures and share their insights into the stories of Jesus and his encounters with many different people in the gospels. They feel supported and loved by our community through your prayers and notes to them, which leaves me feeling inspired on my Lenten journey, too.

Also, and most importantly, God has very clearly been showing me where in my life I needed to clean out the closets of my soul. I knew there were some things that needed rearranging, but God wanted me to clean them out to make more room for God’s love in my life. What a gift this awareness has been. It is not easy letting go of some of these things, like my will or my selfishness or my pride. And they will undoubtedly still pop back up in my life, and sometimes, everyday. But at least I am more aware of when they do and I pray that God will continue to increase my awareness.

This “letting go” has allowed me to be more aware of the needs of others, especially, others’ need for mercy. After all, this year is the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.  And today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. There are some days that have been better than others. It seems that when I am less open to this process, the more I am faced with instances where my heart needs to grow bigger and my pride needs to lessen quite a bit. And then there are those days in which my faith falls short and I need a bigger God because the things I have done or not done have limited God’s love and mercy in my life. 

At the end of this long journey of Lent comes the moment of resurrection. We are graced because we know the ending to Lent. We know that death is not final. We know the power and strength of the resurrection. And we can rest and delight in the joy of Jesus truly risen within our hearts.

Photo of Divine Mercy Icon

Infinite Love and Mercy

The first two Sundays of Lent relate the story of the temptation of Jesus and his transfiguration. The Church has celebrated these two events on the first two Sundays of Lent since the fourth century.

The desert has a starring role in the season of Lent. It is a place of temptation and a place where the people of Israel were both faithful and unfaithful. The desert is a symbol of communion with God. Those who enter into the desert are free of distractions so that they may encounter God without any trappings or worldly possessions. The desert is also a place where they can lose hope and waver in their trust in God. It is a place of real thirst and hunger for God. 

Each of the three temptations begins with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is very manipulative using this statement with Jesus. He is egging Jesus on, or so it seems. How many times have you been baited to cross the line into temptation by someone or something asking you if you are brave enough, or smart enough, or clever enough, or wise enough. It is such a temptation for all of us and speaks about power and control over our lives and others. It also plays into our self-esteem and our love or lack of love for ourselves. If we are not secure that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God and have not come to love ourselves in a healthy way, then we will be swayed by such temptations. But Jesus was so assured of God’s love that he didn’t react to those temptations. He stood his ground knowing that he was God’s Chosen One who has a mission that he would be true to it till the end.

The good news of this desert story is that Jesus was victorious in his struggle with Satan. The Gospel is a reminder to us today that we are all to stand in the struggle against evil with the understanding that because of our faith in Christ, the power of hell will not prevail against us.

The liturgies of Lent prepare us for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter and also ask us to reflect on the power of sin in our lives but also the undeniable reality of grace that overcomes sin. Lent is an extended meditation on our need to turn our lives completely over to God, to express sincere sorrow for the sin in our lives and to renew our participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. 

Another important focus of Lent is mercy. Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015. He has been talking about the mercy of God everywhere he goes. He claims that he came up with the idea before he was even pope. 

“Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love, to put you back on your feet,” he states. “We need mercy….God does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that he has to heal.”

We can all walk into Lent remembering these words and fall into the arms of God who awaits us with infinite love and mercy.

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