Johan's Blog

Advent 2022: A Season of Longing and Listening

The Third Week of Advent: Lord, Come and Save US!

 

The third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday. The name is derived from the Introit or opening chant for the Eucharist that day which starts as follows: Gaudete in Domino semper or Rejoice in the Lord always.

Gaudete Sunday marks the half-way point in our Advent journey. We have two weeks behind us and two weeks ahead of us. Depending on what day of the week December 25 falls the fourth week is not always a complete week. This year, because Christmas fall on a Sunday, we have a full fourth week on Advent. Next year, we will have the shortest possible fourth week of Advent as Christmas Eve falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent. So, on December 24, 2023 the morning Masses will be for the Fourth Sunday of Advent while the afternoon Masses will be for Christmas Eve.

The liturgical color for Gaudete Sunday is rose. This color is worn only twice during the liturgical year: Gaudete Sunday which mark the middle of Advent, and Laetare Sunday which marks the middle of Lent.

On Gaudete Sunday, we invite you to bring the baby Jesus from your home nativity to 9:30am and 11:30am Eucharist for a blessing. The children of Rome bring their baby Jesus to St. Peter’s Square on Gaudete Sunday for what is known as the Blessing of the Bambinelli by the Pope. It was St. Pope Paul VI who started this custom in 1969. Every pope since then has continued this blessing. Our blessing at The Basilica is based on this blessing in Rome.

 

What to do in the Domestic Church:

 

Advent Wreath

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we light the third candle on the Advent wreath.

As I mentioned last week, the origin of the Advent wreath is unclear. There is evidence of a pre-Christian custom of decorating a wheel with candles, while prayers were offered for the wheel of the earth to turn so that light and warmth would reappear. Christians then adopted this ritual and began to use it in domestic settings during the Middle Ages.

The wheel itself, a circle with neither beginning nor end, signifies eternal life. The evergreens, too, represent eternal life, with holly implying immortality, cedar expressing strength and healing, laurel touting victory over suffer­ing, and pinecones or nuts lauding life and resurrection. The four candles that were added to the wreath over time represent the four weeks of Advent.

 

A Blessing for the Lighting of the Third Candle

After someone in the family has lit the first and second candle on the Advent Wreath the prayer begins with the sign of the cross and continues as follows:

 

Leader:           Today we begin the third Week of Advent.

We open our hearts to God’s love

as we prepare to welcome Christ.

The candles of this wreath remind us that

Jesus Christ came to conquer the darkness of sin

and to lead us into his glorious light.

Let us pray that we may always be ready to welcome him.

 

Leader:           You came to free us from anxiety

and to fill our minds and hearts with peace:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Leader:           You come to baptize us in the Holy Spirit

and to kindle within us the fire of your love:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Priest:             You will come as the God of Joy

                        who takes delight in your people:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Leader:           Let us pray:

Ever-living God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ,

whose advent we await.

As we light the third candle of this wreath,

kindle within us the fire of your spirit,

strengthen our hearts and enlighten us with your grace,

that we may serve you all the days of our lives.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.

All:                  Amen.

 

The leader ends with the sign of the cross.

 

A Quick Glance at the Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent

 

From the First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-2

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.

 

From the Second Reading: James 15: 7, 9

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

 

From the Gospel: Matthew 11:3

"Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?"

 

This Week at The Basilica of Saint Mary

 

Sunday Eucharist

During the 9:30m and 11:30am Masses this Sunday we will have the annual Blessing of the Bambinelli. Please remember to bring your Bambinelli to Church.

 

During the 5:00pm Mass we will honor Our Lady of Guadalupe as it is the eve of her feast. The Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Dale Korogi in Spanish and English. Traditional Aztec Dancers will start dancing on The Basilica Plaza at 3:30pm. Music for the Mass will be provided by La Familia Torres-Peña. A Fiesta in Teresa of Calcutta Hall will follow the Mass.

 

Sunday Vespers:

On Sunday afternoon we gather in the choir stalls at 3:00pm to celebrate Vespers. This form of prayer is perfect for the season as it begins with a silent procession in the dark, followed by a lighting of individual candles. We sing beautiful psalms, listen to Sacred Scripture, and pray for the needs of the world.  We end Vespers with a prayer to the Blessed Mother who is so central to the Seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Sunday Vespers is Livestreamed.

 

Weekday Eucharist

We celebrate Mass in the St. Joseph Chapel, Monday through Friday at 7:00am and at Noon. The noon Mass is livestreamed.

 

Morning Prayer:

On Tuesday and Wednesday we gather in the Basilica Choir Stalls at 9:15am for the celebration of Morning Prayer. This is a simple but beautiful way to begin your day.

 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

A priest is available in the St. Joseph Chapel for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation each Saturday between 9:00-10:00am. Please mark your calendars for

 

Taizé Prayer with the Sacrament of Reconciliation

On Tuesday, December 13, at 5:30pm we will celebrate Taizé Prayer in The Basilica. This is a very meditative form of prayer marked by short phrases that are sung over and over again.

During the service we will have several priests available for individual celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This is a great way to prepare for a worthy celebration of Christmas.

 

Exhibits

As we advance in the Advent Season more and more of the créches or Nativity Scenes from our Basilica collection will be on exhibit in The Basilica and in the Undercroft.

Also, every day of Advent and Christmas we have a Facebook post that highlights one of the nativities in my personal collection.

 

Concerts

This week, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, The Singers, and soloists will perform  Handel’s Messiah in The Basilica on Thursday, December 15 at 7:30pm and on Friday, December 16 at 8:00pm. For tickets, please go to https://content.thespco.org/events/holiday-concerts-handels-messiah-2223/

 

And please remember to be pace yourself!

Advent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Advent 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.

 

Crèche Collection mexico web banner

Mornings at the Manger

This Advent, spend Mornings at the Manger as Dr. Johan van Parys, Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, tells us about various nativities in his personal collection from around the world.

 

December 8
Stylized and semi-abstract Holy Family. Nevertheless, the devotion of Mary; the protection of Joseph and the sweetness of Jesus are clearly conveyed.
The work is signed by Jorge Monares of Santiago, Chile. Jorge learned the copper trade working in his father’s workshop starting in 1976. He works together with his wife to make decorative work such as nativities, jewelry as well as utilitarian pieces like pots. They use the traditional colonial forging technique which is characterized by only using fire and a hammer as their tools.

 

Stylized and semi-abstract Holy Family

 

December 7
Charming nativity scene from Guatemala.  Jose Canil Ramos carved each figurine by hand from pinewood which he weathers and dries during the summer months. The characters’ florid orange robes and purple cloaks are painted by hand, including their smiling faces. Featuring nine pieces, this nativity scene preserves a tradition that was brought to Guatemala in 1649. Jose Canil Ramos was born on May 25, 1981, in Chichicastenango. He learned his craft from his father who used to carve masks and saints to sell at the Chichi market. Jose now shares a workshop with his mother.

 

nativity scene from Guatemala

 

 

 

 

December 6
Playful Brazilian presépio, or nativity, which has 19 painted clay pieces.
Two pieces are of note are the cactus and the rooster. The rooster refers to the legend that a rooster was present in the stable where Jesus was born. Immediately after Jesus’ birth the rooster started to crow, thus announcing the divine birth to the world. The Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is known as the “Mass of the Rooster” in Brasil and other countries, such as Spain and Bolivia. One cannot but make an additional connection with the rooster that crowed three times as Peter denied Jesus. The cactus is a great example of inculturation. As each culture started to depict the nativity they added elements borrowed from their own experience.
 
 
playful Brazilian presépio nativity
 
 
 
December 5
Colorful nativity from Nicaragua, which is carved from cedar wood and then painted with unique floral motives. Of note is that the Christ child, rather than lying in a manger, the child is placed on a pineapple. The symbolic meaning of a pineapple is welcome, generosity and hospitality.
 
colorful nativity from Nicaragua
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Advent 2022: A Season of Longing and Listening

The Second Week of Advent: Prepare the Way of the Lord!

 

The English word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus Domini, meaning the Coming of the Lord. Most of us understand this to mean Jesus’ presence with us at Christmas as we commemorate and celebrate his birth. The full meaning of Adventus Domini, however embraces Jesus’ birth some 2000 years ago; his presence with us today as well as his return at the end of time. Advent thus becomes a time of preparation not only for the celebration of Jesus’ birth 2000 years ago. It also is a time when we become more aware of Jesus’ presence in our lives today. And it is a time of  preparation for his Second Coming at the end of time.

As Christians we believe that Christ’s return in Glory will complete the Messianic Times. The Prophet Isaiah prophesied some 2700 years ago that this will be a time when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;” when “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;” when “there shall be no more ruin on all my holy Mountain;” when “the steppe and the parched land…will bloom with abundant flowers.”

During Advent we are invited to dream of Isaiah’s perfect world without diseases, disasters, and death; a world where all God’s children and all of creation exist together in perfect harmony. The Season of Advent also moves us to act and invites us to help in bringing about that harmonious world.

So, let’s sing Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus with full voice and let’s act in ways that will hasten the arrival of that perfect and peaceful world.

 

What to do in the Domestic Church:

 

Advent Wreath

On the second Sunday of Advent, we light the second candle on the Advent wreath.

As I mentioned last week, the origin of the Advent wreath is unclear. There is evidence of a pre-Christian custom of decorating a wheel with candles, while prayers were offered for the wheel of the earth to turn so that light and warmth would reappear. Christians then adopted this ritual and began to use it in domestic settings during the Middle Ages.

The wheel itself, a circle with neither beginning nor end, signifies eternal life. The evergreens, too, represent eternal life, with holly implying immortality, cedar expressing strength and healing, laurel touting victory over suffer­ing, and pinecones or nuts lauding life and resurrection. The four candles that were added to the wreath over time represent the four weeks of Advent.

 

A Blessing for the Lighting of the Second Candle

After someone in the family has lit the first and second candle on the Advent Wreath the prayer begins with the sign of the cross and continues as follows:

 

Leader:           Today we begin the second Week of Advent.

We open our hearts to God’s love

as we prepare to welcome Christ.

The candles of this wreath remind us that

Jesus Christ came to conquer the darkness of sin

and to lead us into his glorious light.

Let us pray that we may always be ready to welcome him.

 

Leader:           You came as herald of the good tidings of God’s salvation:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Leader:           You come to bring forth in us

                        a rich harvest of justice and peace:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Priest:             You will come to bring to completion

                        the good work you have begun in us:

                        Lord, come and save us.

All:                  Lord, come and save us.

 

Leader:           Let us pray:

Ever-living God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ,

whose advent we await.

As we light the second candle of this wreath,

kindle within us the fire of your spirit,

that we may be light shining in darkness.

Enlighten us with your grace,

that we may welcome others as you have welcomed us.

We ask this through the same Christ our Lord

whose coming is certain and whose day draws near.

All:                  Amen.

 

The leader ends with the sign of the cross.

 

A Quick Glance at the Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent

 

From the First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-3

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

 

From the Second Reading: Romans 15: 5-6

May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

From the Gospel: Matthew 3:1-3

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

 

The Advent Calendar

Last Sunday, having read my first Advent Aid, someone mentioned that behind the door for each day in their calendar they hide one of the figurines of their nativity. Each day they place one more figurine in their nativity scene ending on the 25th of December with the Christ child. Other calendars have a Bible verse hidden behind the little door or maybe a suggestion for a good deed.

Advent Calendars allow children and adults alike to keep up with the progression of Advent and countdown to Christmas as they open one little door each day.

 

This Week at The Basilica of Saint Mary

 

Sunday Eucharist

You will notice that the rituals are somewhat different and that the tone of the liturgy is one of deep longing for Christ’s presence in our midst. We celebrate Sunday Eucharist on Saturday at 5:00pm and on Sunday at 7:30am, 9:30am, 11:30am, and 5:00pm.

We will continue to livestream the 9:30am Sunday Eucharist.

 

Sunday Vespers:

On Sundays we gather in the choir stalls at 3:00pm to celebrate Vespers. This form of prayer is perfect for the season as it begins with a silent procession in the dark, followed by a lighting of individual candles. We sing beautiful psalms, listen to Sacred Scripture, and pray for the needs of the world.  We end Vespers with a prayer to the Blessed Mother who is so central to the Seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Sunday Vespers is Livestreamed.

 

Weekday Eucharist

We celebrate Mass in the St. Joseph Chapel, Monday through Friday at 7:00am and at Noon. The noon Mass is livestreamed.

 

Morning Prayer:

On Tuesday and Wednesday we gather in the Basilica Choir Stalls at 9:15am for the celebration of Morning Prayer. This is a simple but beautiful way to begin your day.

 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

A priest is available in the St. Joseph Chapel for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation each Saturday between 9:00-10:00am. Please mark your calendars for Tuesday, December 13 at 5:30pm we will celebrate Taizé Prayer with the option to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 

Exhibits

As we advance in the Advent Season more and more of the creches or Nativity Scenes from our Basilica collection will be on exhibit in The Basilica and in the Undercroft.

Also, every day of Advent and Christmas we have a Facebook post that highlights one of the nativities in my personal collection.

 

Concerts

This Saturday, December 3 at 2:00pm, Minnesota Sinfonia will bring their annual Family Holiday Concert to The Basilica. This concert is free and open to the public.

Look for more information on our website.

 

And please remember to be pace yourself!

Advent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Advent 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.

 

My early years in Minneapolis were not always easy as I greatly missed my family in Belgium and my friends at Notre Dame. Christmas time was particularly difficult. I was very glad that my late parents came to Minneapolis for my first Christmas here in 1995 and my dear friend, the late Fr. André Laurier joined me in 1998. My parents had the pleasure of lots of cold and snow which they had not experienced before. And Fr. André taught me an important lesson which I treasure to this day.

André arrived the Friday before Christmas. On Saturday, we spent the day decorating the Christmas tree. It was a lovely robust and fragrant blue spruce. Carefully unpacking each ornament, I told its story. Many stories resonated with André as he knew the Belgian people and places I was talking about. When we were all finished, we went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. From the kitchen, a terrific noise called us back to the living room where we found the tree on the floor surrounded by shattered glass.  André quietly cleaned up, carefully gathering the surviving ornaments while collecting the pieces of those that shattered. I was very upset. Those Christmas ornaments were a tangible reminder of so many cherished memories and of so much love. I excused myself and spent some quiet time in my room.  When I finally re-emerged, I found the tree back in place, the surviving ornaments ready to be hung, and the table set for dinner. We had a quiet dinner that night and we talked of all things Belgian.

The next day, when I returned home from Sunday liturgies, I found the tree decorated with the surviving ornaments and some new ones ready to be hung. Cleverly, André had bought some clear glass ornaments which he filled with the remnants of the broken ornaments. 

Later that day, as we sat down to admire the tree, André mused that perhaps the many memories  had proven too much for the tree and that maybe it was time to let go of some old memories in order to make room for new ones.“ It is not that you have to let go completely” he said, “you can hold on to bits and pieces, but you need to make room for more.” And so, I did! I let go of the old and I welcomed the new.

The season of Advent invites us to let go of all that we unnecessarily cling to, to take stock of our spiritual life, and to approach the future with joy and anticipation, discovering the potential for beauty in that which seems broken, unimportant or insignificant.

Our world often seems on the brink of collapse with relentless wars; global warming; divisive rhetoric; fear mongering… There is so much brokenness and such division. Yet, as Christians we are called to continue to see the potential for beauty and to work toward it. After all, God did not come to us as an imperial ruler but rather as a vulnerable baby. He was not born in a palace but in a stable to a family on the move. He did not live in Rome but in a small country occupied by the Romans.

In the words of Pope Francis given at the Mass for the sixth World Day of the Poor on November 13: “a disciple of the Lord should not yield to resignation or give in to discouragement, even in the most difficult situations, for our God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always raises up. With Him we can lift up our gaze and begin anew.”

I am looking forward to preparing my home for Christmas, this year. It will again be adorned with many ornaments. Some of them are old, reminding me of my family in Belgium, but most of them are new, bearing the memories of my travels, my friends, and my Basilica life. And, still to this day, I treasure the clear glass ornaments filled with the bits and pieces of old and treasured memories for they continue to teach me to let go and to look for the potential of beauty even in the most broken times and places.

This Advent, rather than resigning ourselves or losing hope, let us look for the potential of all that is beautiful and good in the brokenness of our world and our hearts and thus help to build the world which God has imagined for us.

 

Icon Festival

Celebrating the Saints

As you may know I love to travel, and Italy is among my favorite destinations. One of my Italy trips was dedicated to studying mosaics. Naturally, Ravenna was on the list of cities to visit. I had studied Ravenna’s many early Christian churches while at university, but I had never seen them in person. I was completely enamored with their beauty. And though I remember all of them with great fondness, one church left a lasting impression: the 6th C. church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo.

The mosaics in this elegant, early Christian Basilica are just splendid. Both lateral walls of the nave are divided in three freezes. The mosaics on the top tell the story of the life of Jesus. The middle freeze shows a series of saints, prophets, and evangelists. The bottom freeze depicts a grand procession of saints. On one of the lateral walls, 22 virgins led by the magi process toward the Madonna and Child. On the opposite wall, 26 martyrs process toward Christ enthroned in glory.

Sitting quietly in Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, I not only succumbed to a true artistic ecstasy, but more importantly, I had a deep spiritual revelation. As a liturgical theologian, I knew and truly believed that whenever we gather for worship, we not only gather with our local community, but we gather with the entire church, even those who have gone before us and those who are yet to come. Flanked by all the saints depicted so beautifully on the walls, I had a more profound experience of our communion with the saints than I had ever had before.

Years later and thousands of miles away, I had a similar experience in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Angels in Los Angeles. The nave of this magnificent 20th C. building is decorated with beautiful tapestries designed by John Nava and woven in Belgium. Like the mosaics in Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo these tapestries depict row upon row of saints. Some saints have their names written beneath them. Others don’t, leaving room for those saints living among us and those yet to be born. As I processed toward the altar to receive Holy Communion, I had a true sense that Teresa of Calcutta and John Bosco, Bridget of Sweden and Ignatius of Loyola and countless other saints were walking with me not only toward this earthly banquet but even to the eternal banquet.

The Solemnity of All Saints is the day per excellence when we celebrate our communion with the saints. At The Basilica of Saint Mary, instead of mosaics or tapestries we have Icons to assist us in this celebration. On October 30th we process the images of the Blessed Mother and countless other saints into the church and we place them in the sanctuary. They will grace our sanctuary throughout November. We do this not only to honor these saints, but to celebrate their presence among us, especially when we gather for Eucharist.

The mosaics of the church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, the tapestries of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Angels, the Icons of The Basilica of Saint Mary remind us of our most sacred calling: we are all on a journey toward sainthood. Some of us get there quickly. Others need more time, sometimes even past our death. So we march on together, saint and sinner, side by side as we proclaim our faith in God who became human so we may become like God.

 

A Culture of Encounters

In his latest Apostolic Letter entitled Desiderio Desideravi or How I have Longed, Pope Francis writes beautifully about the deep meaning of the celebration of the liturgy. I highly recommend it. It can easily be found online. And it is not that long.

I was particularly touched by his reference to the liturgy as a place of encounter. This reminded me of a 1964 letter to the German Liturgical Congress written by one of my favorite liturgical theologians, Romano Guardini. In this letter Guardini writes about the liturgy as an epiphany or a manifestation of the divine. Good liturgy can indeed open a portal to the Divine, allow an epiphany to happen and occasion a profound encounter.

Pope Francis also makes it clear that this encounter is not a right a few of us earn, while others do not. Writing about the Last Supper, he offers the following: “No one had earned a place at that Supper. All had been invited. Or better said: all had been drawn there by the burning desire (Desiderio Desideravi) that Jesus had to eat that Passover with them.”

Today, some 2000 years after the Last Supper Jesus has the same burning desire to encounter each one of us in the Eucharist. None of us has earned a place at the Eucharistic Table. None of us has earned this encounter. All of us are invited to share this encounter.

But what is an encounter? The word has been used in English in diverse ways ranging from a simple meeting to a confrontation, even in battle. As referenced by Pope Francis, an encounter is never “just” a meeting. It is an intentional meeting. It is a meeting with purpose. It is a meeting with consequences. It is a meeting that sometimes even involves a struggle.

Great mystics, like Teresa of Avilla or St. John of the Cross experienced this encounter spiritually, mystically, and even almost physically. St. Teresa wrote about “being all on fire with the love of God” after one of her profound encounters with Christ in the Eucharist.

Our own Eucharistic encounters may not be as dramatic and life-altering as those of the great mystics, nevertheless they are encounters with consequences. One of the most important consequences of an encounter with Christ is that such an encounter binds us all together and compels us to encounter Christ in one another.

Pope Francis holds that our sacramental encounters are a powerful antidote to the ills and evils in our society where confrontation is celebrated, and divisions are promoted. These sacramental encounters are the foundation for a much-needed Culture of Encounter promoted by Pope Francis which advances right relationships among people.

Today is a very special day at The Basilica. Not only do we celebrate our Basilica community, we are also very pleased to officially welcome Fr. Daniel Griffith as our new pastor. Among the many responsibilities a pastor has, one of his primary roles by virtue of his ordination is to preside at the liturgy, our primary place of encounter. Reminiscent of St. Teresa’s words, Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi wrote that for a priest “to preside at Eucharist is to be plunged into the furnace of God’s love.” As Fr. Griffith begins his ministry at The Basilica, we pray that he indeed may be plunged into the furnace of God’s love so he may in turn set all of us “on fire with the Love of God.”

Ad Multos Annos!

 

 

 

“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” Acts 2: 9-11

I was about 12 years old when I was asked to proclaim the first reading on the Solemnity of Pentecost. As our lectors know, this is not an easy reading to proclaim. Mother Hildegard, my dear great-aunt, worked with me on the pronunciation of the many names in this reading. And she seized the opportunity to elaborate on what happened that first Pentecost.

My great-aunt’s introduction to the early church opened my imagination to the world in which the Gospel was first proclaimed some 2000 years ago. This lively Pentecost scene somehow reminded me of the Sunday Market in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and Europe. When I went there for the first time, I could not believe my eyes. Coming from a small and traditional town in Flanders, the sight of people from all around the world made me dizzy with excitement. I could not believe the exuberant and colorful clothes. Competing music in unknown languages blared from the different booths. I tasted dishes previously unknown to me. And to this day, I remember being olfactorily overcome by the scent of the many different spices. It was an absolute delight and it felt like I was traveling from country to country in a matter of moments. This is how I imagined Jerusalem on a holiday in the time of the apostles. A rich cacophony of humanity in all its diversity: just like the cradle of the church.

Visualizing my great aunt’s description of that first Pentecost, I knew exactly where the apostles were. I saw them hiding in the upper room. In stark contrast to the festive atmosphere outside, the apostles were laden with angst and burdened by uncertainty. And then, in an instant, everything changed. Aflame with the Holy Spirit, they threw open the doors and windows, burst into the streets and started speaking of the marvelous deeds of God.

This happened with so much energy that it drew the attention of passers-by and quieted them down. And to everyone’s amazement, they all heard the apostles speak in their native tongue. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed in multiple languages and received by people from different countries, cultures, races, and ethnicities. This is a powerful testimony to the fact that though we all believe in the one, true God, we are as diverse as our world.

In contrast to this great Pentecost scene, where the diversity of the people was honored and lifted up, a dangerous fog of cultural fear and anger clouds our world today. These days diversity is met with suspicion and often leads to division.

The political world is particularly affected by this. Yet, our church is not immune to this either. Rather than welcoming the richness that comes from respectful dialogue between diverse races and opinions we clammer for uniformity. And rather than listening to one another we resort to speaking louder and louder in a desperate attempt to win whichever battle we are waging. Sadly, we lack the inner peace and the mutual respect needed to listen intently to one another and learn from one another. Tragically, we seem to have lost the way of the apostles who were able, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to rejoice in the richly diverse tapestry of humanity.

I look forward to the day when it will be said:

“We are republicans, democrats and independents; rich and poor; liberals, conservatives and moderates; women and men and children; gay and straight; Africans, Asians and Americans; Australians and Europeans, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongue of the mighty acts of God.”

What an exciting and holy time that will be. May that day come soon!

 

Throughout history humans have pondered the meaning of life and tried to find answers for the many difficult problems we have faced. Today’s experience prompts many questions as we are confronted with the devastating effects of COVID-19; the destructive powers of the numerous wars around the world, most recently the invasion of Ukraine by Russia; the damaging breakdown of civil interaction between people; the distressing divide between rich and poor, white and BIPOC, conservative and liberal; to name but a few.

 

Christians have turned to the Bible in their quest for answers and meaning, especially when facing trials and tribulations. Such questions as “Where is God?” and “Why did God let this happen?” are frequently asked. And yet, as Metropolitan Kallistos Warre, Orthodox theologian and archbishop holds: “it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not as much the object of our knowledge, as the cause of our wonder.”

 

Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, KY challenged those attending his installation Mass not to let “what we are facing” distract us from “where we should be looking” or “for whom we should be looking:” Jesus Christ. In other words, we should not let ourselves be absorbed by all the things that are going wrong, rather we should look at Jesus and heed his voice no matter the gravity of the situation because Jesus, Immanuel, is God-with-us, always.

 

Admittedly, this is easier said than done but we are about to begin the greatest celebration and practice of our faith in this mystery. Today we commence the celebration of Holy Week, the most important week of the entire liturgical year. During this week we celebrate the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the mystery of Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It is during this week above all other weeks that we become “progressively aware” of the “cause of our wonder” and behold the one “we are looking for,” Jesus the Christ.

 

To be sure, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the mystery of our faith, the cause of our wonder. That will only happen when we see God face-to-face at the end of time. For now, mere portals to this mystery are opened during the celebration of the liturgy when the veil of the mystery is lifted just enough so we can get a glimpse of this mystery. Yet even but a mere glimpse is enough to get us on our Christian way to face the realities of life, unpleasant as they might be, because we know that God is with us even in the darkest of times.

 

During the next eight days we will recall and honor the last days in the life of Jesus. We start on Palm Sunday with the remembrance of Jesus’ glorious entrance into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus embodied Divine Mercy by washing the feet of his disciples and by instituting the Eucharist. On Good Friday we behold the unfathomable mystery of the passion and death of the Son of God. On Holy Saturday we observe a solemn silence as Jesus lies in the tomb and breaks down the gates of hell. And on Easter Sunday we celebrate his glorious resurrection.

 

The great liturgies of Holy Week invite us to engage in many symbolic acts that evoke the mystery of our faith as we engage in extended processions; we wash one another’s feet; we honor the Blessed Sacrament; we pass and venerate the cross; we baptize and confirm; and we share in the Paschal Eucharist. The physicality of these symbolic acts is unmistaken. The best way to experience these symbolic acts is by participating in them in person together with our Christian community.

 

We are so glad and blessed that many of you have returned to The Basilica for in-person celebration of the liturgy. It is so great to worship together. If you have not yet returned and are able to do so, please consider returning during Holy Week. Our community will be the richer for your presence. If you are not yet able to return to in-person worship, we will continue to livestream all our Holy Week liturgies so you can participate remotely.

 

We truly look forward to that day when all of us will be able to gather in The Basilica for the celebration of our liturgy where together we may behold the “cause of our wonder” and find the one “we are looking for” so we may be ready to face whatever comes our way during our earthly journey.


Blessed Holy Week!

 

Fasting, Praying and Acting during the Sixth Week of Lent

“Love your Neighbor as Yourself.” (Mk. 12:31)

“Building Bridges that Foster a Culture of Caring.” Pope Francis

In his message on the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2021 Pope Francis invited all people to “make every effort to break down the walls that separate us and, in acknowledging our profound interconnection, build bridges that foster a culture of encounter.”

He went on to say that “Today’s migration movements offer an opportunity for us to overcome our fears and let ourselves be enriched by the diversity of each person’s gifts.”

He summarized his hopes on immigration by stating that “if we so desire, we can transform borders into privileged places of encounter, where the miracle of an ever wider “we” can come about.”

During Holy Week, we invite you to: mend your heart by fasting from Individualism and Exclusion; bend your knees while engaging in Visio Divina on the Passion of Christ; and lend your hand through acts of courage.

 

  • Mending our Heart by Fasting from Individualism and Exclusion
  • Putting ourselves first as an individual and even as a nation is rather popular these days, here and abroad. Individualism and nationalism are celebrated by many, also by some Christians even though both are antithetical to Christianity.
  • Christianity is rooted in Jesus’ willingness to give his life for others. 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 end goal is to embody in our own lives the sacrificial life of Jesus.

 

  • Bending our Knees by engaging in Visio Divina on the Passion of Christ
  • As we try to live out our Christian calling Holy Week is the perfect time yto meditate on the Passion of Jesus. One way of doing that is through Visio Divina or Divine Seeing. This 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 select an image of the crucifixion.
  1. Visio: 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.
  2. Meditatio: 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.
  3. Oratio: 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.
  4. Contemplatio: Let go of all words and to quietly rest in prayer. Give yourself over to God who will mold you in prayer.
  5. Actio: did any action come to mind you might take after

 

  • Lending our Hands through Acts of Courage
  • The Joy of Christianity gives us the courage to speak and act on behalf of those in need without any fear as we strive for a better world, the kind of world God has dreamt for us.
  • This week as we contemplate the suffering of Christ, 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…
  • As the world is experiencing yet another mass migration as the result of the war in Ukraine let’s learn about ways to engage with The Basilica Immigrant Support Ministry at www.mary.org/immigration or with the Minnesota Interfaith Coalition on Immigration at https://mnicom.org/

 

And 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.

 

Fasting, Praying and Acting during the Fifth Week of Lent

“Be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Living in Solidarity with Those who are Poor.” Pope Francis

 

In 2017 Pope Francis inaugurated the first World Day of the Poor to be held every year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

During his homily on the most recent World Day of the Poor marked on November 14, 2021, the pope decried the poverty into which people are often forced, “victims of injustice and the inequality of a throwaway society that hurries past without seeing them and without scruple abandons them to their fate.”

He went on to say that “unless our hope translates into decisions and concrete gestures of concern, justice, solidarity and care for our common home, the sufferings of the poor will not be relieved, the economy of waste that forces them to live on the margins will not be converted, their expectations will not blossom anew.”

He concluded by encouraging all people to improve the world by “breaking bread with the hungry, working for justice, lifting up the poor and restoring their dignity.”

 

During this Fifth Week of Lent, we invite you to: mend your heart by fasting from greed; bend your knees while engage in praying the Stations of the Cross; and Lend your hand by embracing generosity.

  • Mending our Hearts: Fasting from Greed
  • All of us, to some extent suffer from greediness. Greediness is the tendency to hold on, to claim or to demand something or even someone just for ourselves.
  • Fasting from greed is more difficult than fasting from meat or sweets. Ridding ourselves of this sinful desire requires a complete change of attitude which does not happen in a day or even a week. This is a difficult task which requires commitment and tenacity.
  • As Christians we are to live as Jesus lived. His generosity, even unto death knew no bounds. Let us contemplate and emulate Jesus’ generosity this week as we rid ourselves slowly of our greediness.

 

  • Bending our Knees: Praying the Station of the Cross
  • Praying the Stations of the Cross is an ancient Christian devotion which invites us to meditate on the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A history of this devotion is offered in our series Art that Surrounds Us: https://www.mary.org/blog/202102/art-surrounds-us-stations-cross#.YDU4dNhKiJA.  
  • On Fridays of Lent, we pray the Stations of the Cross in The Basilica at 5:30pm. You can join us in person or via livestream. Each Friday we pray a different version of the Stations of the Cross using new texts and images.
  • If you would like to pray the Stations of the Cross at home you can use the weekly recorded livestream or you can find a narrated slideshow of our Scriptural Stations at https://vimeo.com/403088034.

 

  • Lending our Hands: Embracing Generosity
  • During Lent we give thanks for Jesus’ willingness to die for us on the cross. This act of ultimate generosity has deep sacrificial meaning and great theological implications for all of us. Not only are we saved by Jesus’ self-sacrifice, but we are also called to make sacrifices in turn.
  • On the fifth Sunday of Lent, we have a second collection for our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. This is our opportunity to be generous to the programs our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry supports and the people it serves. We can also volunteer in our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry at The Basilica. You can find more information here: https://www.mary.org/ministries-education/charity-service#.YhFFgujMJPY
  • One of our strategic directions at The Basilica is to work toward ending homelessness. You can learn about the realities of homeless in our community and ways to advocate and get involved by visiting the following websites:

 

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian stamina. 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.

 

 

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