Archives: February 2017

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.”

Lenten Rice Bowls

This Lent, The Basilica’s SVdP Ministry is partnering with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to support Lenten Rice Bowls. We invite all parishioners to join nearly 14,000 Catholic communities across the U.S. in a life changing Lenten Journey. Families with children enrolled in Basilica classes will receive information about participating during their weekly class. And all parishioners are invited to pick up a Rice Bowl at the back of church beginning on Ash Wednesday. Each Rice Bowl kit includes information about this program, a calendar, and recipes. Watch for additional details about The Basilica’s CRS Rice Bowl participation throughout Lent. May these 40 days better prepare us to encounter ourselves, our neighbors, an our God.


For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.

This weekend we begin the season of Lent.   Now as you may have heard me mention before, when I was growing up I used to look forward to Lent with all the excitement of a trip to the Dentist.  (My apologies to any dentists who might be reading this.)  As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to realize how important and how good the season of Lent is for our Church, as well as for me personally.   It is a time to step back from the usual activities of life and focus on our relationship with God.   We do this through the primary activities of Lent:  Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.    In our prayer we attend to God.  Through our fasting we deny ourselves what we want to discover what we really need.   And in our almsgiving, we offer from our surplus, to those who have little or nothing.  

Each year on the first Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Temptation of Christ in the desert.  This year we read from the Gospel of Matthew.   The basic details of the temptation are the same in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  In these Gospels Jesus faces three temptations:  The temptation to take care of his own needs (turn stones into loaves of bread); the temptation to a grandiose display of power (throw yourself down from the parapet of the temple); and finally the temptation to worldly authority and might (all the kingdoms of the world I shall give you, if you only worship me).   We all face similar temptations in our lives --- certainly not to the extent that Jesus did --- but temptations that are similar in kind, if not strength and intensity.   Jesus has shown us, though, that God’s grace is sufficient to resist these temptations.    

In our first reading this weekend we read the scriptural account of the temptation of Adam and Eve.   It serves as a counterpoint to the Gospel.   Unlike Adam and Even, Jesus does not succumb to temptation.  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It follows the theme of the Gospel and first reading and reminds us that “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. We all face temptations in our lives. Now certainly the temptations we face aren’t nearly as intense or as powerful as those faced by Jesus.  Would you agree, though, that in one way or another we all face temptations similar to those faced by Jesus?   
  2. Christians did not invent temptation.  We do believe, though, that we have found the remedy for temptation in Jesus Christ. When has God’s grace helped you to resist temptation?  
  3. Why do some people seem better able to resist temptation than others?

Our day started this morning at 9:15.  We cleaned this huge gathering room.  After packing up the 40+ cots and them stashing them away we sorted through a great amount of toys, vacuumed the rug to get ready for the next group of travelers.    We got instructions on how the intake process works.

At one 1:30 an ICE van pulled up to the shelter and dropped off 4 families with a total of 9 people.  Usually the processing center feeds them lunch but when they arrived they had not eaten.  The group that came were a father and son from Brazil who were going to Boston, a young mother and a two year old and a seven year old from Guatemala going to Florida, a mother and her 16 year old son from Guatemala going to Nebraska, and a father and his 10 year old daughter going to North Carolina.  After a short interview one of the workers tried to call their US families waiting for them.  We then helped them find a new change of clothes, show them their rooms and help them find the showers.

Every Monday a local church brings a delicious meal of beans, rice and shredded beef.   One of the men that brought the food sat down at our table and talked about why he does this work.  He told us that 5 years ago he was an engineer and very successful owner of a construction company when he had a heart attack.   He said he was lying there close to death when he decided his life had to change.   He decided he needed to give back because his life had been so good so he now makes and serves dinner every Monday night at the shelter.

The things we found out about the families are:  The Brazilian man decided he wanted to go back to Brazil.  He had left two daughters behind.  For him to do that he would not ever be able to get back into the US again, plus he would need to go to a detention center until a whole planeload of detainees needed to go back to Brazil.  The mother with her 16 year old son was pregnant with him the last time she saw her husband.  The 10 year old little girl was complaining of her legs hurting and the dad just said that yesterday they had spent the entire day running.  

Members of the Basilica of Saint Mary gathered close to 10:00pm on Thursday night to welcome a special family to Minnesota. The family had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand. They had just spent close to 24 hours on a flight that brought them from Bangkok to Doha, Qatar, to Chicago to Minneapolis.

The family was tired, but seemed excited for this new phase of their life. They are a Karenni family—a different ethnic group from Karen, but also from Burma/Myanmar. They are a family of five, with a mother, father, two daughters (9 and 6 years old) and a son (17 months).

To learn more about the Karenni community and their refugee status, read THE KARENNI PEOPLE.

While verbal communication was a challenge, there was a definite connection between people: compassion and kindness, welcome and support—mutually shared between Basilica parishioner and new Minnesota resident.

Look for more information in upcoming posts and in Weekly Newsletters. 



On Thursday, February 16, 2017, Basilica parishioners traveled to El Paso, Texas to serve the families staying at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States. These comments are from Donna, one of the Basilica members who are serving the families in Texas. 

We arrived in El Paso yesterday afternoon.   During our time here, we will be staying at on the 3rd floor of this beautiful, old convent of the Loretto Sisters—directly across the alley from the shelter where we will be working.

When we arrived a Brazilian woman with two small children was being taken to the airport to catch a flight to Boston to meet family having spent the night at the shelter.  

The morning was spent getting a tour of the facility, and sorting clothes that were collected by the Basilica children.  In the afternoon we met with Eina, director of the shelter.  She gave us a brief history of the shelter and an update on what we can expect to be helping with during our stay. 

In December, there were some days where up to 150 asylum seekers were sleeping at the shelter. The people were mainly from Central America and Brazil. 

People coming to the border are questioned, fingerprinted by Border Patrol and processed at a facility an hour away.  They are required to wear an ankle bracelet with a tracking number. Aphone call is made to a family member or friend who can vouch for them and send them travel money. 

From there ICE will bring them to one of 3 shelters.  Nazareth Hall receives asylum seekers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and people will stay for 1-3 days and then either travel by bus or plane to meet family.   In the past few weeks the number of people seeking asylum has dropped so significantly that two of the shelters will be closing next week.  Starting Monday, Nazareth Hall will be the only short term shelter open.  No one can explain why.  Some possible reasons we heard were increased border patrol and also the new administrations stance on immigration.

We have been treated so kindly by everyone we have met.

Lenten banners hung above sanctuary

Lent Experienced Anew

This week we will mark Ash Wednesday and with that we embark on another season of Lent leading to Easter in the Year of Salvation 2017. I am so ready for this time of spiritual renewal and I look forward to engaging in all that Lent has to offer. I truly hope the same for you.

It has not always been like this for me. Growing up I dreaded Ash Wednesday and Lent. I did not particularly care to fast and abstain from things I enjoyed. What was the point? More emphasis on prayer seemed impossible as my brother and I served for practically every liturgy we had. Banning all decorations from church and covering statues I thought unnecessarily bleak. And the Lenten sermons were downright scary. It all made for an unpleasant and gloomy experience. It felt like a dark cloud covered me for six weeks as I lived under the heavy burden of Lent and tried to be a Lenten champion doing everything I was supposed to do, and then some. 

It took me a while to understand what Lent was really about. My big mistake was that I idolized the disciplines of Lent: praying, fasting, almsgiving. I saw Lent as some kind of disciplinary marathon of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In a sense I made it all about me and my heroic Lenten accomplishments. I failed to see that the Lenten disciplines were merely the means toward the greater goal of bringing about a change of heart for the betterment of the Body of Christ.

Today, I realize that the principle goal of Lent is to coax us out of the safety of our comfortable, complacent, and often self-centered world. To that end, our Lenten prayer is not to be about ourselves. Rather, we are to pray for the well-being of others and for greater generosity toward others. Our Lenten fasting is not about depriving ourselves but rather about embracing a simpler lifestyle which in turn benefits those who are in need. Our Lenten almsgiving is not about the satisfaction of giving from our excess but about freeing ourselves from worldly possessions which in turn allows others a greater share in the world’s riches. 

Pope Francis once asked this very poignant question: “Do we toss alms at a beggar from afar or do we look him in the eyes as we place the money in his hands?” This seemingly simple question touches on the essence of our Lenten journey. The moment we look those who are in need in the eyes and touch their hand, they become a person rather than a problem. It takes little effort to pray, fast, and give alms. It is much more difficult to acknowledge the person we are praying for, fasting for and giving alms. Yet when we do, in that moment, in that encounter, we cannot but be changed and become more like Christ as we recognize Christ in the other.

Our Lenten experience will be fruitful only when our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are focused on others, rather than on us. The power of Lent is that it causes us to turn away from ourselves toward one another, to look one another in the eye and to recognize that all of us together make up the one Body of Christ. Once we truly embrace this, then we will be ready to fully engage in the disciplines of Lent and prepare ourselves to worthily celebrate the Easter Mysteries.

A blessed Lent to everyone.

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 

“Don’t worry.  Be happy.” This was the title of a song made famous by Bobby McFerrin in 1988.   I never liked it.   It always struck me as a bit insipid, if not just plain dumb.   At times we all worry.  At times we are all troubled, concerned, and even anxious.   Yet in our Gospel this weekend for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life………………”    “So do not worry and say:  ‘What are we to eat?’ or “What are we to drink?’, or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek.  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”   

What are we to make of these words of Jesus?   We have only to look around us to know that there is much to be anxious about in today’s world.   Is Jesus suggesting that we manifest a naïveté about the troubles that exist in the world, or that we live our lives unconcerned and/or unaware of the evil that often surrounds us?    I don’t think so.  Rather I believe he was inviting us not to give ourselves over to worry and anxiety, but rather to trust in God and to believe that ultimately our future is assured.  A trusting heart will find serenity and peace in God’s presence and grace.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of our Gospel.  Through the prophet Isaiah God reminds us:  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?   Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”  

Our second reading this weekend once again is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.   In it Paul reminds the people of Corinth how they should view their leaders.   He is clear:  “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”   Sadly, particularly in light of the sexual abuse crisis in our church, this has not always been the case with some of the leaders in our Church, 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What causes you worry or anxiety?
  2. Have you ever brought your worries or anxieties to God in prayer?   What was the result?
  3. What would you like to say to those leaders in our church who have not been found trustworthy?   
View of the Basilica nave and sanctuary

Two Words: Time and Prayer

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.

Minnesota’s bishops invite Catholics to protect life and human dignity by attending Catholics at the Capitol this coming March in St. Paul. Join the bishops, dynamic Church leaders, and 1,000+ Catholics for a day of inspiration and advocacy at our State Capitol. We’ll be inspired by compelling speakers, informed about the critical issues affecting life and dignity in Minnesota, and equipped to effectively engage our lawmakers. With issues like assisted suicide, school choice, and support for struggling families at stake, Catholics can’t afford to stay home.

Catholics at the Capitol is March 9, 2017 in St. Paul. Diocesan-sponsored transportation will be available. Learn more and register at or call 651.227.8777.