Archives: March 2015

Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings.   
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032215-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm 

“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”   These words from our Gospel today were spoken to Philip by “some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast.”   Notice that the Greeks only wanted to meet Jesus and not necessarily follow him.  I think we sometimes take a similar approach to Jesus.   We keep Jesus at a safe distance, most likely fearful of what he might ask of us.   And to be honest there is some validity to this fear.  I say this, because a few verses later in our Gospel today Jesus says:   “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”   These words remind us that following Jesus does not guarantee a life free of difficulties, trials, or uncertainties.   Rather in trying to follow Jesus in this life we know that ultimately we will be led to eternal life.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.   In the section we read this Sunday the Lord promises to make a new covenant “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”   This new covenant is necessary because the people had broken the old covenant God had made with them.   The terms of the new covenant are simple.  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.   I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.  I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  

Our second reading this Sunday is a short selection from the Letter to the Hebrews.   It reminds that Jesus “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  Have you ever felt yourself keeping your distance from Jesus, perhaps fearful of what he might ask of you?  
2. What do you think God meant when he said he would write God’s law upon the people’s hearts? 
3.  The letter to the Hebrews spoke of obeying Jesus.  I think, though, the word “obey” sometimes has some negative connotations.  Is this true for you?  If so, what word would you use instead?    

Volunteers and staff from The Basilica joined together March 12 to clean up and move out of portions of the Reardon Rectory as they prepare for renovations in the spring and summer of 2015.

The construction is funded by The Basilica Landmark and will renovate the fourth floor of the rectory for office and art/archival storage. Construction will also be seen throughout the rectory with the addition of central air conditioning and a new sprinkler system. 

We are extremely grateful for all those who helped in the clean up!

Photo provided by: 
Stacy Glaus

Many years ago when I was a newly ordained priest, I gave a presentation during Advent entitled “Finding and Experiencing God’s Presence in Our Busy World.” It was not a resounding success. I was too young, and too soon out of the seminary to understand that the set schedule of the seminary did not transfer well into a parish setting. The things I suggested, while working well in a seminary or monastic setting, weren’t easy to implement in a home environment where commotion and chaos were more often the norm. This was made very clear to me when an individual came up to me after the presentation and suggested, only half in jest, that before I offered the presentation again, perhaps I needed do more practical research by spending some time at their house.

I suspect for all of us there are times when it is difficult to find and experience God’s presence in our busy world. There are probably also times when God seems more absent than present in our busy lives. At these times, we may feel like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb who said: “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” (Jn. 20:13) If we are honest, I think that for all of us there are times when God’s presence is more elusive than actual. We should not be discouraged or dismayed by this. I say this for two reasons.   

First, we need to remember that God has given us the wonderful gift of free choice. If it were always easily to find and/or feel God’s presence, it would not be our free choice to try to discern God’s presence. God is the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”—the mystery tremendous and fascinating. If God’s presence were always evident and accessible we would have no choice but to continually worship and praise God. God wants us to freely choose God, though, so God “veils” God’s presence in common and ordinary things, and then gives us glimpses of God’s presence so that will be encouraged to continue to look for God.  

Second, though, I think there is something in our human nature that is fascinated with what we can experience and apprehend, but that we cannot completely grasp or understand. Certainly at times this can be discouraging, but more importantly, it also can spur on our efforts and keep us engaged in the effort to understand that which eludes our grasp. I wonder if another reason God doesn’t reveal God’s presence in clear and evident ways is that this is God’s way of encouraging us to stay with our efforts to find and feel God’s presence.    

Discerning God’s presence is an ongoing, life long activity. And we won’t know it fully and forever this side of heaven. At times, the effort to find and experience God’s presence can be frustrating. Those who have experienced God’s grace filled presence, however, know that effort is certainly worth it. 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031515-fourth-sunday-lent.cfm 

Often times at sporting events or other public gatherings you will see people holding up placards with the scriptural reference: John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”     This verse is taken from this Sunday’s Gospel.  

While some might choose to argue the point, I think this is one of the most eloquent statements of our Christian faith.   Not only does it remind us of God’s abiding and gracious love, but also and just as importantly, it reminds us that God’s love is not limited to this life.  God wants us to share in God’s eternal life.   

God’s great love for us is the theme that runs through each of our readings this weekend.   In addition to our Gospel is also evident in our second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.   In this letter we read:  “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with God --- by grace you have been saved……….”    

This theme of God’s love for us, while finding a slightly different expression in our first reading, is also present there.  In that reading from the Second Book of Chronicles, the Israelites were reminded that: “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them for he had compassion on his people and their dwelling place.   But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets……….” 

That God loves us, we believe and affirm.   This belief is at the core of our faith.   The ways and times we experience God’s love and compassion are many and varied.  As Christians our challenge is to recognize and be open to God’s love as that love is poured into each of lives.

Questions for reflection and/or discussion:

1.  Where/how have you experienced God’s love in your life? 
2.  Where/how have you rejected the messengers of God’s love and compassion? 
3.  What does it mean to you that God is rich in mercy?   

Many years ago my father took me to the celebration of the Stations of the Cross in a small neighboring town. The one thing I remember to this day is the sermon. The elderly parish priest, wearing an old cassock and surplice climbed into the pulpit with great difficulty. He paused for a moment, catching his breath while glaring at the small congregation. When everyone was duly uncomfortable with the unexpected pause, he started to describe hell in frightening details, explaining the gruesome fate awaiting each one of us. Suddenly he stopped his loud ranting and stared at me intently. While pointing his wiry finger at me he whispered: “Even you, son, are a sinner.” And raising his voice he ended his homily dramatically stating: “Beware of Hell!”

It took days before I was able to sleep again and even to this day I really don’t want to end up in hell. Although I suppose that is for the best, maybe traumatizing people is not the preferred way to communicate the message.

There are two ways to invite people to better their lives: the via negativa or negative way and the via positiva or positive way. The via negative, on the one hand emphasizes our sinfulness and points out the awful things awaiting us, sinners. This approach often relies on someone other than ourselves to point out the wrong we did.  The via positive, on the other hand invites us to be better and to live up to our baptismal mission, affirming the good in all of us. In this approach, we are the ones who take stock of our lives and commit ourselves to do better. The priest of my past clearly adhered to the via negative. By contrast, Pope Francis seems to promote the via positiva as he famously stated on a number of occasions: “Who am I to judge?”

The season of Lent is a perfect time to take stock of our individual lives, following the via positiva. We might ask ourselves: “How am I living out my Christian calling? Am I truly embodying the Gospel? Am I bringing Christ to the world, in deed and word?” This kind of self-examination is not a punishing or negative exercise. Rather, it is a positive and encouraging exercise and an essential part of our ongoing journey toward becoming better Christians. Other questions we might ask ourselves: “How do I promote Jesus’ vision for our world? How can I do that better?” And as we do this, it is very important that we don’t get stuck in details. We must embrace the broader picture of our spiritual and moral lives. Too often we fail to see the moral forest in favor of one sinful tree. Though admittedly, this approach is more often used when judging others.

And let’s remember that all of us have closets filled with moral and spiritual skeletons: skeletons of hatred, jealousy, envy, pride, self-righteousness, etc. This is what I suspect was the message the scary priest had for me so many years ago. Lent is a good time to open our closets and deal with those skeletons as it affords us the time to take a spiritual inventory and make changes where warranted. Once we embrace our own sinfulness, we will more than likely become more generous toward the sins of others. That was the message of the homily Pope Francis preached last Monday.

He ended his homily by saying: "May the Lord, in this Lent give us the grace to learn to judge ourselves” and say, "Have mercy on me, Lord, help me to be ashamed and grant me mercy, so I may be merciful to others". Let us all take this to heart.

Preparing for Lent, I find my focus is often on what to give up. But I’ve come to realize the opportunity to give alms to help those in need is an equally important practice of our Catholic faith traditions.

One way to do this at The Basilica is to share your financial gifts with our St. Vincent de Paul Outreach ministries (SVdP). One hundred percent of every dollar you donate goes back to help someone in need. During Lent, please take a coin bank, fill it, and bring it back on Holy Thursday and, if you can, make a pledge to help those most in need in our city.   

Five days a week at The Basilica, more than 70 St. Vincent de Paul Outreach volunteers welcome people from our neighborhood. They carry out this ministry by visiting with people and listening to their concerns and needs. We offer help in many ways, and when we can’t assist financially, these volunteers offer a listening ear, a warm welcome, and help connecting people to community resources. 

Laura Schommer, A long time SVdP volunteer, helps with our Saturday Shoe Ministry and weekly Outreach. Laura has volunteered for the past 20 years and I asked her about her involvement over the years.

“It could be any one of us” Laura said of the people she meets each week. “Just a few things go wrong, and any of us could find ourselves needing help and support. I’m honored and humbled to be able to meet with people and hear their stories. It’s gratifying.”

Laura shared the story of a young pregnant woman who came to The Basilica many winters ago. She didn’t have a winter coat. Laura had just brought a red wool coat to church that had belonged to her mother, and she gave it to the young woman. All these years later, Laura still remembers this encounter.     

The work of our SVdP volunteers brings to mind a quote from Saint Teresa of Avila. “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours…” She challenged us to live our faith and reminded us that it’s our job to do Christ’s work on earth. 

Your financial gifts truly make a difference in people’s lives, and your contributions go directly out to help people in need. Last year alone, your donations to SVdP and our Outreach ministries:

· Helped 352 families keep their housing and prevented them from homelessness.

· Provided bus cards or gas vouchers to more than 4,000 people that helped them get to work, school, or appointments.

· Offered a meal and practical and spiritual support to 900 participants in our Pathways life-skills programs. 

Sharing our financial support and coming together, our parish gave more than $600,000 last year to help people in need in our city. In past years, we’ve also supported affordable housing in North Minneapolis, and it’s exciting to report that, as a result of a partnership, the West Broadway Crescent Apartments are now open and filling up with new residents. 

This Lent, we ask you to consider an intentional, pledged commitment to support our outreach ministries. Watch for a letter with more information, and the weekend of March 21 and 22 bring your completed pledge form for our St. Vincent de Paul Outreach ministries to church.

Our St. Vincent de Paul Outreach ministry is our faith in action. 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030815-third-sunday-lent.cfm 

Although we usually read from the Gospel of Mark in year “B” of our three year cycle of readings, this Sunday our Gospel reading is taken from John.  The reason for this is that Mark is the shortest Gospel and therefore needs to be supplemented during the year with selections from John’s Gospel.  

This Sunday’s Gospel is the story of the cleansing of the temple.   John’s description of this incident is much more vivid than that of the other evangelists.   We are told that Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”    

Now it should be noted that initially the money changers and the people selling sheep, oxen and goats, were providing a needed service.  It would have been a hardship for people coming from a distance to the Temple to bring with them the animals needed for a sacrifice.  Further, if they wished to make an offering to the Temple treasury, they needed to change their Roman currency for Jewish currency. The problem was that what started out as a service had become a business, and worse it had invaded the temple area.   I suspect this wasn’t intentional, but had simply evolved over the years.  Jesus’ actions thought reminded them of the true meaning and purpose of the Temple.     

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Exodus.  It is the story of God giving the Jewish people the Ten Commandments.   The giving of these “laws” was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel.  In following them people showed their commitment to that covenant.  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In it Paul reminds us that Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. As I mentioned above, I suspect that initially providing animals for sacrifice and changing money had been a service and a good thing. It evolved, though, into something that was problematic at best and improper at worst.  Can you think of anything else that has followed a similar course?  
  2. Do you think of the Ten Commandments as restrictions or guides as to how you are to live?
  3. How would you respond to someone who thought of the crucified Christ as a stumbling block or foolishness? 

Fast to Focus

It was noon and I heard the abbey bells announce that it was time for the Angelus prayer. The word Angelus, Latin for Angel is the first word of a simple prayer said three times each day: sunrise, midday and sunset. This prayer which dates back to the Middle Ages is intended to help people mark the beginning, the middle and the end of the day with prayer, helping them to focus on God from whom all good things come.

As was our custom in the abbey, when the bells announced the angelus everyone stopped to say this prayer quietly. That day, the cloister was dotted with praying monks. The sun illuminated the frescos on the cloister walls. It was beautifully quiet.  After finishing our prayer I watched the monks enter the refectory while I remained behind. Father Remacle, a senior monk walked by me and quizzically turned around as he noted I did not move.

Little did he know I stayed motionless because I had decided to crank up the severity of my Lenten fasting. Being young and enthusiastic I resolved to limit myself to one meal each day for the entire season, with the exception of Sundays. And, having just learned about saints who spent their lives standing in the same position or sitting on a pillar I elected to stay in my “angelus spot” until the monks returned from breakfast or lunch. I joined them for dinner.

On his way back from lunch, Father Remacle found me still standing in the same spot. He stopped and asked what I was doing. I very enthusiastically told him what I was doing. He looked at me and asked me how it made me feel. “Hungry” I told him, as hunger and thoughts of food had filled my day. “And silly” I added, as standing there for 30 minutes seemed a bit over the top. “Is that what Lent is about” he asked? “Might it be better to sit with us at table and eat maybe a bit less, rather than stand here dedicating all your thoughts to food and displaying your Lenten vigor for everyone to see? Fasting is an interior discipline not an exterior display.”

The next day I sat with the monks and ate a bit less than normal. My thoughts shifted from hunger to the meaning of Lent. I have always been grateful for Fr. Remacle’s brotherly correction. Fasting, I have discovered, is a great spiritual exercise when it is done for the right reasons. He further helped me understand that we fast so we may re- focus. We fast to focus on Christ.

Our world is filled with distractions, more so than ever before. We carry our primary cause of distraction in our hand, our pocket or purse: the ubiquitous electronic device. Only sleep keeps us away from it and many of us even cut back on our sleep because of it. It distracts us from focusing on what we ought to do or on who we ought to be. Most importantly it prevents us from focusing on the one we should be focusing on the most, especially during Lent: Christ.

Reflecting back on my time in the abbey, I now realize that I was offered so many opportunities to focus myself, even outside of Lent. Listening to our Basilica bells ring the Angelus, I now realize that those three prayer  times offered to me every day were and continue to be a great invitation to focus on Christ and my response to his calling. So, when you hear our tower bells announce the Angelus at 9:00am, noon and 6:00pm I invite you to stop for just a moment and focus on Christ and what He is calling you to do. And since we are called to focus on Christ during Lent, why not start now.

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