Johan's Blog

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection.
In this episode for Divine Mercy Sunday, Johan tells us about Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and her apparition of Jesus which inspired devotion to the Divine Mercy. He also shares details about our Merciful Jesus icon by Deb Korluka, which includes elements of the resurrected Jesus who appeared to Saint Faustina merged with the depiction of Jesus as he appeared to Saint Thomas in the Upper Room. 
“How much the world is in need of the mercy of God today!”
- Saint Pope John Paul II

 

 

 

 

Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year, and the Sacred Triduum is the culmination of Holy Week. Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares a three-part "Symbols that Surround Us," video series through the rich symbology of Holy Week in our Catholic Church.
 
In this third episode for Holy Saturday, Dr. van Parys discusses the Easter Fire and the Pascal Candle. Before lighting the candle from the Easter Fire the celebrant prepares the candle by carving into it a cross, the letters alpha and omega and the year while glorifying Christ saying these words:
 
Christ, yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him and all ages, to him be glory and power, through every age and for ever. Amen.
[All photos were taken before COVID-19.]
 
 
 
 
 
 
Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year, and the Sacred Triduum is the culmination of Holy Week. Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares a three-part "Symbols that Surround Us," video series through the rich symbology of Holy Week in our Catholic Church.
 
In this second episode for Good Friday, Dr. van Parys discusses the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, traditionally celebrated at 3:00pm in the afternoon (the time at which Jesus is believed to have died on the cross). Central to the service is the Passion of Christ and the instrument of his suffering and death, the cross which is honored and venerated.
 
[All photos were taken before COVID-19.]
 
 
 
 
Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year, and the Sacred Triduum is the culmination of Holy Week. Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, will share a three-part "Symbols that Surround Us," video series through the rich symbology of Holy Week in our Catholic Church.
 
In this first episode for Holy Thursday, Dr. van Parys discusses two rituals at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: the Washing of the Feet and the Procession to the Altar Repose. Both rituals give us a better understanding of who Jesus really was. While washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus teaches us humility and service. While offering us His Body and Blood, Jesus show us His profound love for us, which we are called to share with one another. By engaging in both actions we commit ourselves as followers of Jesus to do as Jesus did.
 
[All photos were taken before COVID-19.]
 
 
 
 

Christmas and Easter are the two most important Christian Holy Days. On Christmas we celebrate the beginning of God’s salvific adventure with humankind—that in Jesus, God became human. During Holy Week and especially on Easter we celebrate how Jesus made it possible for us humans to become more like God. 

In essence the mystery of salvation is this: God became human so that humans might become more like God. The way we do that is by imitating and emulating Christ. In other words, we become more like God by becoming more like Christ. Holy Week is a weeklong invitation to do just that.

Holy week begins with Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. The image most associated with this day is Jesus entering Jerusalem, seated on a donkey with people waving palms, placing their cloaks on the road and singing hosanna. This striking scene illustrates the stark contrast between who Jesus truly is and who the people thought he was or wanted him to be. Their actions suggest they desired a worldly king while Jesus of course is anything but that. And when they figured out he was not who they thought he was they turned on him. 

The great irony is that after 2000 years of Christianity it seems like many of us still don’t understand who Jesus really is. Or maybe we just don’t want to understand because like the people in Jerusalem so many years ago we don’t quite like who he really is. And rather than our becoming more like Christ we prefer Christ become more like us. The result is the world we live in today with persisting injustice, inequality, racism, bigotry, etc. After 2000 years of Christianity we might have hoped for better. Do we find ourselves in this place because we have refused to become like Christ? 

So who was Jesus and who does he want us to be? Just consider the most important moments of Holy Week and remember his commandment to “do this in memory of me.” During Holy Week we see Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey; Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; Jesus instituting the Eucharist; Jesus forgiving the repentant thief; Jesus dying on the cross; Jesus descending into hell to break its bonds; Jesus rising from the dead. All these actions bespeak virtues that Jesus embodies and that must become our virtues if we truly are to be Christians.

Sitting on a humble donkey, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus teaches us that to become more like God we must embrace the virtue of humility. It is the path of humility that leads to salvation. Humility and not arrogance is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a servant’s task. And he instituted the Eucharist sharing his body with us, giving himself totally to us. Both of these are great acts of charity. The virtue of charity is the second virtue we are called to embrace. It is the path of charity that leads to Salvation. Charity and not selfishness is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

In forgiving the Good Thief on Good Friday Jesus illustrates that God is merciful and we are to be merciful like God. It is the path of mercy that leads to Salvation. Mercy and not indifference or worse condemnation is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus. 

Bearing his cross and enduring the pain of the crucifixion Jesus witnesses to the fact that self-sacrifice is of God. It is the path of self-sacrifice that leads to Salvation. Self-sacrifice and not egotism is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.

Descending into Hell while lying in the tomb Jesus broke the bonds of sin and liberated all those bound by sin, thus bridging heaven and earth. Liberating people from heavy burdens is of God. It is the path of breaking bonds and building bridges that leads to Salvation. Setting people free and not keeping people imprisoned by poverty, inequality, injustice is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation by God that all these virtues are the ones that are indeed the path to salvation, the same path God has set for us. Humility, charity, mercy, sacrificial love and liberating actions are embodied by Christ and in turn are to be embraced by us. Once that happens the salvific adventure God has prepared for us will finally be accomplished. May that day come soon. And may this Holy Week be a refresher in what it truly means to be a Christian.

 

In his encyclical Laudato Sì. On Care for Our Common Home, which is addressed to “everyone living on this planet” Pope Francis calls for a radical and urgent “Ecological Conversion” which he grounds in Scripture and adds to our body of Catholic Social Teaching.
 
Pope Francis references the fact that “dominion” over the earth was entrusted by God to humans as found in Gen. 1:28. He argues that this is often used to justify the relentless exploitation of our planet. As a corrective he then offers Gen 2:15 where God calls on humans to both “cultivate and care” for our planet. Too often, he says we have excelled at cultivating or tilling the earth but have failed miserably at caring for our planet. Now is the time to change that and to urgently start caring for our planet.
 
In terms of our Catholic Social Teaching Pope Francis points out that all decisions we make have an effect on the environment. At the same time he points out that poor people and poorer countries bare the brunt of climate change while they are victimized by the unbridled pursuit of money and possessions in richer parts of the world.
 
As we continue our Lenten journey we invite you to consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Fasting from the use of plastic
• Pope Francis does not mince words when he says: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” 
• Inspired by Laudato Sì as well as by the great passion my late niece had for our planet I recently took stock of my kitchen and bathroom supplies and found so many one-time-use plastic containers. Granted, I am very diligent about recycling but even if all the recyclable plastic were recycled - which is not the case as much of it ends up in land fills at best and in oceans at worst – the energy it takes to recycle plastic contributes to the pollution of our planet. 
• In addition to fasting from food and drink this week lets consider fasting from the containers that are used to package these. Maybe we can consider alternatives to liquid cleaning products that so handily come in plastic containers. And we could investigate bamboo alternatives to plastic and paper made from wood. For many  practical and attainable suggestions please go to: https://ourcommonhome.org/media/docs/Lenten-Plastic-Fast.pdf
 
Praying with Pope Francis
Pope Francis ends Laudato Sì with  prayers which he invites us to pray often. During this fifth week of Lent let us offer the following prayer on a daily basis.
O God of the poor, 
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, 
so precious in your eyes.
 
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. 
 
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain 
at the expense of the poor and the earth. 
 
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, 
to be filled with awe and contemplation, 
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature 
as we journey towards your infinite light. 
 
We thank you for being with us each day.
 Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace
 
Charity: purchase sustainably and ethically sources products
• In his encyclical Pope Francis praises St. Francis for lifting up the “inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” Pope Francis then goes so far as to say that we need to respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” as both are profoundly connected.
• This seems like an enormous task. Besides we are not decision makers. We are subject to decisions made by others who have much more power and wield much greater influence than we do. Yet maybe the task is not for one person to make big changes but rather for a great number of people to institute small changes.
• This week maybe we can examine our buying behavior to make sure we know where any products we buy come from. The important question to ask is how these products impact the lives of others especially the lives of those making them.  In other words, let’s commit ourselves to buying products that were sustainably sourced and ethically produced.
 
 
And as I have mentioned since we began this series, please remember to be patient with yourself and others and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

 

 

The fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. This name is based on the first word of the introit or entrance chant for Mass that day which invites us to rejoice always.
 
Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
 
As we embark on the Fourth Week of Lent we invite you to meditate on the Joy of Christianity and consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts
 
Fasting from sadness and ingratitude
• In a homily preached on May 23, 2016 at morning Mass in the Chapel of Casa Santa Marta where he lives, Pope Francis stated that “the Christian identity card is joy, the Gospel’s joy, the joy of having been chosen by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus; the joy of that hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that - even with the crosses and sufferings we bear in this life - is expressed in another way, which is peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us, is with us."
• Practicing gratitude and joy, while choosing to fast from ingratitude and sadness is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching, too.  And after all, it is our only possible response to the mystery of God becoming one of us so that we may become more like God
• So this week, let us fast from sadness and ingratitude even though so much in the world invites us to do just that. And let us wholly embrace the Joy of Christianity so our hearts our heart, our homes, our city, our country and indeed our world may be aflame with the hope and joy of the Resurrection we are about to celebrate.
 
Centering Prayer
• Gratitude and joy flow from the assurance that God knows us, remembers us, accompanies us, loves us and awaits us. The reality of God’s covenant with us is expressed in prayer and is at the same time impressed on us during prayer, particularly in the quiet of contemplative prayer.
• One form of Contemplative Prayer is known as Centering Prayer. The goal of Centering Prayer is to open one’s mind, heart and soul completely to God who is the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. In the silence of this prayer we are invited to an intimate encounter with God who is considerate, caring and compassionate. Our response to God’s love can be nothing but gratitude and joy which we are want to share with others.
• You can find more information at the following websites
 
Charity: Act with Courage
• The Joy of Christianity gives us the courage to speak and act on behalf of those in need without any fear. As we consider our society during these weeks of Lent let us commit ourselves to a better world, the kind of world God has dreamt for us.
• This week let us think about the many injustices and concerns that plague our world and ask ourselves how we can make a difference in terms of racial justice, adequate housing, mental health funding, the care for the unborn, health insurance for all, immigrants and asylum seekers, the death penalty, endless cycles of poverty, gun violence…
• We can’t tackle all of these at once but lets select one or two and see how we may occasion change by speaking up, donating money, volunteering, lobbying our legislators…
 
 
And as I mentioned the last three weeks, please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
 
 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. In preparation for the beginning of the third Christian Millennium, The Basilica of Saint Mary commissioned mono-prints of the fifteen Scriptural Stations introduced by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1991. We explicitly requested an abstract rendition of the Stations, which Johan will discuss in this video.

Please join us on the Fridays of Lent for the celebration of the Stations of the Cross at 5:30pm (central time), either in person or via livestream. This year we will be praying a different version of the Stations each Friday and will meditate on different art.

 

 

 

In his Lenten message of 2013, the last of his pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote about the priority of faith and the primacy of charity. On the one hand he praised a deepening of our prayer life and strengthening of our faith as good and worthy Lenten disciplines. In addition, he challenged us to witness to our faith by extending charity to others and to allow our prayer life to drive our charity. This, according to Benedict XVI is the key to a fruitful Lent and the essence of our Christian life.
 
As we embark on the Third Week of Lent we invite you to consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Fasting from putting ourselves first
• Putting ourselves first as an individual and even as a nation is quite popular these days. Individualism and nationalism are celebrated by many, even by Christians despite the fact that both are antithetical to Christianity. 
• Christianity is rooted in Jesus’ willingness to give his life for others. He embraced death so we might live, all of us. This is as far removed from individualism and nationalism as one can possibly imagine. Followers of Jesus are called to do the same. In the words of St. Francis:  “…it is in giving that we receive…and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
• Lent is the perfect time to practice fasting from putting ourselves first by putting the needs of others before our own. The way we do that is by starting with small things such as checking in on a elderly neighbor. The ultimate goal is that we embody in our own lives the sacrificial life of Jesus. 
 
Prayer: Vision Divina on the Passion of Christ
• As we try to live out our Christian calling it might be good to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. One way of doing that is through Visio Divina or Divine Seeing which is an intentional and prayerful contemplation of an image of the crucifixion. The objective is to allow God to speak through the art in a most profound way. 
• As you prepare for Visio Divina chose an image of the crucifixion and select a Passion Narrative as found in one of the Gospels.
1. Lectio: take you time to slowly read through part of one of the Passion Narratives. Be attentive to any words that speak to you and feel free to write those down.
2. Visio: after reminding yourself of the textual description of the Passion of Christ now spend some time contemplating the art you selected. What is it you see? If you are using a figurative representation ask yourself who and what is represented in the image. If non-figurative, consider the shapes, the forms, and the colors. Feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
3. Meditatio: Now let your imagination dialogue with what you see. There is always more to an image than what the eyes behold. Is a deeper story forming in your imagination? Are you experiencing any specific feelings or emotions? Again, feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
4. Oratio: Once you are content that the image has fully spoken to you it is now time to formulate a prayer response. This can be a prayer of gratitude or it might be a prayer of intercessions. Feel free to use the words you have written down in step 1 or 2.
5. Contemplatio: After praying with words it is now time to let go of all words and to quietly rest in prayer. Give yourself over to God who will mold you in prayer to be more like God.
6. What do you take away from this experience.  What might you do differently in your life, inspired by the Passion of Christ?
• An example of a semi-guided Visio Divina on the Passion of Christ may be found on the University of Portland website: https://www.up.edu/garaventa/archives/visio-divina/crucifixion.html
 
Charity
• As you fast from putting yourself first we invite you to engage in small acts of kindness, thus putting others before you. St. Thérèse de Lisieux noted that not all of us are called to live heroic Christian lives. Most of us are called to engage in many small acts of kindness done with great love. 
• Simply select a few smalls acts of kindness you will commit yourself to in the next week and beyond. This may be opening a door for someone; allowing someone to go first in line; checking in on an elderly neighbor; providing food for someone in need; offering support to someone who is struggling with loss; shoveling snow should we still get some; etc.
• There are many, many small acts of kindness we can engage in on a daily basis. As we do that we will train ourselves in the very ways of thinking and acting God asks of us as followers of Jesus Christ.
 
And as I mentioned the last two weeks, please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
 
 

Art That Surrounds Us

 
 

 

 
 
 

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