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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Today, we receive these comforting words from John’s Gospel in the serene setting of the liturgy. And we mostly overlook the fact that they were first spoken in the highly emotional context of the Last Supper.
Jesus gathered with his followers to celebrate a Passover meal as would have been the custom of all Jews. Things took a surprising turn when Jesus began to wash his followers’ feet. This was most unusual as the washing of feet was commonly done by servants. It was so puzzling to his disciples that Peter at first refused to have his feet washed by Jesus, though in the end he submitted. By washing his followers’ feet Jesus demonstrated how radical and world altering his teaching was and continues to be. He also commanded his disciples to do as he had done: to wash one another’s feet and love one another.
Then Jesus revealed that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him. In addition, Jesus disclosed that his time with them was coming to and end. All of this must have been extremely unsettling for the disciples who anticipated a conventional Passover meal but rather experienced the Last Supper with all its human and divine drama in anticipation of Jesus’ passion and death.
At the height of this drama Jesus says: “do not let your hearts be troubled.” I can only speculate at how the disciples received this statement.
Since that night, we the followers of Jesus have found ourselves in troubling times marked by plagues, wars, revolutions, persecutions, etc. And like Jesus told his followers 2000 years ago he has told his followers through the ages even until today: “do not let your hearts be troubled.”
In addition to speaking these comforting words Jesus also reveals in today’s Gospel how we are to act so our hearts will not be troubled even in these most troubling of times by offering himself as “the truth, the way and the life.” Following in the way of Jesus by living and preaching his truth is what will give us life. This fundamental truth and the true way of Jesus is love and service which he demonstrated during the Last Supper by washing feet and commanding us to do the same.
Our times are very troublesome and uncertain. So many people have been affected by COVID 19 in so many different ways. We have no idea when this pandemic will end or what the ultimate impact will be on our society and our personal lives. Like the disciples during the Last Supper we are confused and don’t quite know what to think or how to feel.
As he told his disciples some 2000 year ago, today Jesus tells us not to let our heart be troubled because he is “the truth, the way and the life.” While comforting us he invites us to live and act as he did by loving one another as he has loved us.
Extraordinary Times call for Extraordinary Measures
Many years ago I attended a conference which gathered liturgists, architects, and artists from around the world to anticipate worship in a digital age. We talked about virtual churches, virtual art, and even virtual liturgies. Though intrigued, I must admit that I was shocked by the ease with which so many participants anticipated the time when we would all worship “together” from the comfort of our home thanks to the miracle of the internet. What would that be like, people marveled. When I half-jokingly asked if we would have to come up with a theology for “virtual” real presence during on-line adoration, people gave me a blank stare. My suggestion that “burning” a virtual candle was even worse than dropping a coin in an electric candle stand was equally ignored. I did not really care because I did not believe that we would ever get there. And yet, here we are!
A week ago we started limiting physical access to our liturgies while making them only accessible electronically. I was forced to overcome the instinctive dislike I had of virtual liturgy so many years ago when the digital age was still in its infancy. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
Catholic liturgy is by its very definition never virtual and digital but always real and physical. It has to be engaged in with as many human senses as possible and cannot be limited to a visual and /or acoustical experience. Also, Catholic liturgy is not received passively but needs to be engaged in actively. And, we need to be able to receive not only the form or words used for the sacraments; we also need to be able to receive the matter of the sacraments such as the Body and Blood of Christ during the Eucharist. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
Being asked to stay away from one another in a time of crisis is so counter-intuitive for us Catholics. We want to be together, join our voices in song, walk around in processions, hug, kiss, and above all receive Holy Communion. And though we so desperately long to be together in these uncertain times, we also know that being together could make us--and worse--could make others very sick. When we need one another the most, we are deprived of one another's presence. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
This, of course is not the first time the Church has experienced times when the faithful were not able to gather. We have been deprived from communal worship during times of religious persecution, war, and previous pandemics. Unlike in earlier times, today we have an alternative way to be together as we join in virtual worship.
As we gather virtually for liturgy let us remember three things: first, we are the Body of Christ, united in a much deeper and more profound way than one that requires physical closeness. When a priest celebrates the Mass with only one or a few of us physically present the entire Body of Christ still celebrates the liturgy. Though we are not with him and one another physically, we are still together, spiritually bound by the mystery of the cross. Therefore, we will continue to live-stream as many of our liturgies as we can and invite you to join us. Our goal is to continue to create spiritual communion as the Body of Christ. You can announce your presence in the comments so we have a better sense of community, beyond mere numbers.
Second, though physical Communion is the absolute preference and necessary whenever possible, there are times when we need to resort to Spiritual Communion. This type of Communion is wholly dependent upon our true desire for physical Communion of which we are deprived. The 18th century Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote this beautiful prayer:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
As we participate in a virtual celebration of the Eucharist, let’s pray this prayer of Spiritual Communion as we long for the day when we will again be able to receive Holy Communion.
Third, now is the time to go way back in our history and to rekindle the domestic church and to re-invigorate our own religious imagination. Since we can no longer simply rely on the church to fulfill our religious needs we can work on that ourselves. Find your Bible, your religious images and your candles, and create a small prayer space. Many of us have lost the custom and comfort of praying together.
If there are several people in your household why not enjoy meals together during this home-stay and begin these meals with a simple prayer? Holy Week with its heightened religious sensitivities is also a good time to find ways in which to mark this most important week at home. We will send you some tips to help you bring the celebration of Holy Week into your homes.
When I attended above mentioned conference on virtual worship I truly never thought we would be doing this all over the world. Admittedly, it is not the preferred way; however, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And I hope that as soon as this is all behind us we will rush back to church with joyful anticipation of the celebration of the liturgy. There we will again dip our fingers in baptismal fonts, join our voices in song, walk around in processions, hug, kiss, and above all receive Holy Communion.
Until then, let us pray with great fervor for an end to this pandemic; for the recovery of those who are ill with this corona virus; and for the eternal joy of those who have died.
The Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday – Good Friday – Holy Saturday – Easter Sunday) is my most cherished time of the entire liturgical year. This was instilled in me from a young age as the celebration of the Sacred Triduum was an essential part of my family’s religious experience.
I fondly remember being one of the twelve who had their feet washed on Holy Thursday, the year I was confirmed. Even then I had a real sense that this small gesture embodies the essence of what it means to be a Christian. And being a lover of processions, how could I ever forget the solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament.
At 3:00pm on Good Friday my grandmother gathered our family and everyone who worked in her shoe factory for prayer. I don’t remember what she said but I remember the gravity of the moment. At night, we walked the Stations of the Cross which were set up throughout the city. I will never forget the silent and solemn cadence of the movement and the music.
Holy Saturday, known to us as Silent Saturday, was a very quiet day. We spoke in hushed voices and tried not to disturb anyone from their prayerful ponderings and hopeful anticipation. At night, we all participated in the great Easter Vigil. Though our Easter Fire at The Basilica is much more impressive than the one we had at home, I still remember standing around it and experiencing the light shining in the darkness. From the very first time I heard the Exsultet sung I wished that one day I would sing it myself.
Easter Sunday was a most holy day which we spent in church around the table of the Lord and then around the banquet table in my grandmother’s home.
Though I realize things are very different today, all these memories will come flashing back when we celebrate this year’s Triduum.
Below are some suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Paschal Mystery today.
- If at all possible take the Triduum off from work and make it a short retreat.
- Carve out time for personal prayer.
- Try to participate in all our Triduum liturgies. You can find a list in the Newsletter and online.
- When participating in the liturgies do so with full heart, mind, and soul.
- Bring your family to the liturgies. We engage in so many beautiful symbolic actions which speak to the liturgical imagination even of the youngest.
- If you are not able to be present, please join us in prayer.
- Be sure to pray for those who will be joining the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. They are our Easter gift to the Church.
The beautiful liturgies of Holy Week are prepared with great care. Our staff and so many volunteers worked very hard to assure that everyone has a profound experience of the Mystery of our Salvation. Please join us so you may be refreshed and renewed in your faith.
Blessed Holy Week!
Last Sunday, I had a wonderful conversation with a new parishioner. She recently moved to Minneapolis and quickly found a church home at The Basilica. She mentioned that she had been very much involved in her home parish. “Surely,” she said “you don’t need any more people to help out with the liturgy. Everything is done so beautifully.” I quickly retorted that despite the fact that our liturgy is celebrated so well, we always need more people and suggested she consider how she might best serve her new home parish.
One of the things that attracted me to The Basilica 25 years ago was the fact that our community cares so deeply about our liturgy. I noticed that when I visited for my interview in May of 1995. Surely, I was impressed with the very talented and committed staff and parishioners who interviewed me. But what really struck me was the way our community celebrates the liturgy. In it I saw and continue to see the embodiment of the liturgical dreams of the Second Vatican Council.
In a speech shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI remarked that up until the Second Vatican Council it had been sufficient for lay people to merely be present at Mass. The Second Vatican Council changed this fundamentally. “Before,” he said “being there was enough; now attention and activity are required. Before everyone could doze or chatter, now “all must listen and pray.”
The primary way in which all of us are called to participate is by fully, actively, and consciously engaging in the liturgical actions. We cannot be passive attendees; rather we are to be active participants. So, we stand and sit and kneel. We respond in word and song. And we engage in the occasional prayerful silence.
Another way of participating actively in the liturgy is by responding to our individual calling to become a liturgical minister, celebrating the corresponding talents God has given us. You may have the gift to lead the community in prayer and therefore you may be called to ordination. You may be gifted with musical talents and thus are called to lead the community in song. You may have the talent of public speech and therefore you may be called to proclaim the Word of God. Your love for the Eucharist may be a sign that you are called to become an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Your welcoming personality and generous smile may be a gift that is to be used as a minister of hospitality/usher.
Signing up for liturgical ministry at The Basilica is very easy: just go to
mary.org/liturgicalministry. Or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Travis Salisbury. Travis is our coordinator of liturgical celebrations who will be more than happy to help you discern which ministry works best for you. And as I told our new parishioner last Sunday, “don’t ask what the liturgy can do for you. Ask what you can do for the liturgy!”
During the season of Advent we place a statue of the Blessed Mother at the center of the Advent Wreath in our St. Joseph Chapel. I invite you to visit her during this wonderful season. You will see that this lovely statue depicts Mary, pregnant with the baby Jesus. She has her head slightly bowed and her eyes are closed. There is a faint hint of a smile on her lips. Her hands are folded across her heart. She seems peaceful, humbly yet resolutely accepting her mission to become the Mother of God. I have always wondered what might have gone on under the pious veneer of this statue. What was Mary really doing and thinking while expecting the birth of Jesus.
Advent is said to be the season of waiting. Mary awaiting the birth of her son embodies the kind of waiting we are expected to do. Like Mary’s waiting, Advent waiting is not a passive anticipation for whatever is to come. It is a waiting that is full of hope and expectation. It is a waiting that is marked by some level of consternation and trepidation. And it is a waiting that requires anticipation and preparation.
And though the kind of waiting is similar, Mary awaited the birth of Jesus while we await his return. For us, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is the anticipation of his return and the fulfilment of the promise he embodies.
During advent we await his promise of light proclaimed to a world spiraling into ever greater darkness. And as we await the fullness of light we must fight the darkness.
During advent we await his promise of love proclaimed to a world devoured by violence, kindled by rapidly spreading hatred. And as we await the fullness of love we must fight all forms of hatred.
During advent we await his promise of life proclaimed to a world that is consumed by a culture of death and on the brink of ecological collapse. And as we await the fullness of life we must fight the evil forces of death.
Advent is a reminder of our human calling and capacity to embrace light, to foster love and to promote life. However, as human history has proven over and over again these three human and Christian values are not easily attained and come at a cost. So, like Mary who prepared for the birth of her son we need to prepare for his return. We do this with hope and anticipation, preparation and some trepidation.
As we work together to turn darkness into light; hatred into love and death into life we can be assured that the hope-filled words of the Prophet Isaiah we read on this third Sunday of Advent will be fulfilled:
“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.”
I remember the 2016 closing Eucharist for the Holy Year of Mercy well. We were in Rome with our Schola Cantorum to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica. At the end of the liturgy Pope Francis unexpectedly announced the establishment of a World Sunday of the Poor as a way to live out the Holy Year of Mercy into the future.
In the Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et misera Pope Francis wrote that marking a World Sunday of the Poor on the 33rd Sunday of the liturgical year “would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the 34th and last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy” (cf. Mt 25:31-46). He expressed his hope that it would be a day to “help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace.”
For every World Sunday of the Poor Pope Francis has written a message. In this year’s message, entitled “The hope of the poor will not perish for ever” (Ps 9:19). Francis holds that our world desperately needs God’s love made visible by “the saints next door.”
Pope Francis affirms our Christian duty to provide those who are hungry with food and those who are homeless with shelter. It is our Christian duty to work hard to change the systems and politics that favor a few over the many and perpetuate the endless cycles of poverty. However, he also writes that people who are living in desperate situations need more than that. They “need our hands, to be lifted up; our hearts, to feel anew the warmth of affection; our presence, to overcome loneliness. In a word, they need love.”
For political and sometimes religious reasons people in need are often reduced to statistics we cite when discussing the success or failure of our works and projects. However, rather than statistics those who are in need are “persons waiting to be encountered;” they are young and old people waiting to be offered a meal; they are men and women who look for a friendly word. In turn they “enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”
On November 19, 2017, the first World Day of the Poor we dedicated our Homeless Jesus sculpture by Timothy Schmalz. Today, this sculpture can be found in almost 100 cities throughout the world, including Vatican City. On this third World Day of the Poor all of us who are home to a Homeless Jesus will mark this day by rededicating. While doing that we not only express our love for this work of art but more importantly we recommit ourselves to work toward ending homelessness, hunger, poverty and injustice in our world by accepting the invitation to encounter Christ in the face of all those who are in need.
May the Homeless Jesus and Mary, Untier of Knots guide us on our way.
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
These last Sundays of the liturgical year are filled with apocalyptic imagery as they speak about the end of time. This is intended to gradually prepare us for the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. My granny Yolanda loved and hated these Sundays, for on the one hand she anticipated the end of time while on the other hand she feared it. Her big question always was: “When I see God face-to-face will my faith have been deep enough and my love been generous enough?”
Today’s Gospel ends with a somewhat ominous question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) This question or a similar question: “Are people losing their faith” is on the mind of many of us. Several studies on religious behavior indicate that there is a clear downward trend in terms of religious identification. Many churches see their congregations grow older and smaller and eventually have to close. And where in the past the Catholic Church wielded great influence in many parts of the world, that is no longer the case today. Is this cause for alarm?
In an interview with America Magazine, recently created Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J. stated that the Church “is not here to run the world… but the world should feel that the Church, that Christ, that God is with us, with them, as we face the great difficulties of our lives and of our times.” He went on to say that the mission of the Church “is the embodiment or the implementation of the Gospel in human society and human history. That is what we are really about.” In other words, we are foremost called to be Christ in the world, not to explain Christ to the world or impose Christ on the world.
So, when Christ returns at the end of time will He find faith on earth? He may not find a lot of people who are able to speak to the fineries of Christology or Pneumatology. But hopefully he will find many of us embodying and implementing the Gospel in our world. And paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew: by our fruits He will know us (Matt. 7:20). For indeed, “Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est” or “Where true charity is, there is God.” So let’s not dwell on loss of power or numbers and let us commit ourselves to embodying the Gospel so others will take note of us and want to learn about what motivates us, i.e. our faith, not unlike what happened during the time of the Apostles. Words rarely convert, actions do.
So, in response to today’s Gospel question and in anticipation of the end of time I think I will adopt my granny’s question yet turn it around a bit: “When I see God face-to-face will my love have been generous enough and my faith been deep enough?"
Brother David Steindl-Rast is a 90+ year old Benedictine monk from Austria. In a 2015 interview with Krista Tippet of On Being he posited that every religion starts with some sort of miracle. Soon though, the miracle is cloaked in structures and institutions, developed to protect the miracle. Before long these structures and institutions not only protect but also obscure the miracle. Inevitably, the pains to safeguard the structures become more important than the efforts to reveal and celebrate the miracle.
Our miracle, or better, our Mystery is the empty tomb. It is the fact that God became one of us, lived among us, died for us, and rose from the dead so that we might live. That was the simple but profound experience and message of the earliest followers of Jesus. As the number of followers grew, structures had to be established. And as more questions were asked about our Mystery, theologies needed to be discussed and developed.
To date, we have some 2000 years worth of theological elucidation and ecclesiastical manifestation. And while these developed to portray, to protect and to promote our Mystery they have also done much harm to that very Mystery. When protecting the structures and institutions became more important than celebrating the Mystery, many scandals started to befall Christianity. Just think about the many divisions the Body of Christ has endured over the centuries. Had Christians paid more attention to our shared Mystery rather than the separating trappings around it we might be better off today. More recently, had the Church paid more attention to the Mystery of our Church rather than to the institution of the Church the evil of child abuse in our Church could have been addressed much earlier and with greater honesty.
Brother Steindl-Rast compares the beginnings of all religions with a Volcano. “There was fire, there was heat, there was light: the light of mystical insight, the glow of ethical commitment, and the fire of ritual celebration... But, as that stream of lava flowed down the sides of the mountain, it began to cool off and turn into rock. Dogmatism, moralism, ritualism: all are layers of ash deposits and volcanic rock that separate us from the fiery magma deep down below. But there are fissures and clefts in the rock. These represent the great men and women who reformed and renewed religious tradition from within. In one way or another, this is our task, too.”
During the Sacred Triduum we celebrated our Mystery: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We did that without great theological debate or ecclesiastical posturing. It was a simple and pure celebration of our Mystery. Let us hold on to that. Let us not be blinded by all the trappings and extravagance of our church, rather let us always behold and embrace our Mystery: the source of “mystical insight, the glow of ethical commitment, and the fire of ritual celebration.”
It is hard to believe that it has been a year since I was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the moment very well. Early that morning I underwent a routine scan. Following the scan I went for a lovely, though chilly walk in the Minnesota zoo. On my way to lunch I noticed that my physician had tried to call me several times. In the parking lot of the restaurant I called him back. Without much ceremony he told me I had a tumor in my abdomen. I must admit I was taken aback by this news. Needless to say, I did not make it to lunch.
March 26, 2018 was Monday of Holy week. Receiving my diagnosis at the beginning of this week made it all the more meaningful. Of course, I have always known that we celebrate the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and our incorporation in that mystery during Holy Week. But while that knowledge had been rather theoretical it suddenly became very real. Last year, I experienced the highlights of Holy Week such as the Washing of the Feet, the Celebration of the Eucharist, the Procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday; the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; and the Easter Fire, Procession with Light, Exultet, readings, and baptisms during the Vigil on Holy Saturday with a new and greater depth than ever.
Most memorable for me was the Easter Alleluia. We fast from this beautiful word during the season of Lent. It is sung anew for the first time during the Easter Vigil. I have sung that first Easter Alleluia in our Basilica for over 20 years. Last Easter it was different. Last Easter, I felt it in my whole being. This beautiful and simple word is our exclamation and affirmation of our faith in the resurrection. As its stirring sound resonated throughout the church, I saw the heavens, there and then, break open in our midst. And all of you were there, with me in this heaven on earth. It was a most beautiful vision. One I will never forget. It gave me strength, and hope and assurance in my faith. And it supported me during my illness.
The next day, Easter Sunday we gathered in our St. Joseph Chapel for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick. Earlier that day we had shared my diagnosis with the Cathedral Choir and some of the liturgical ministers. They all joined some of my friends and colleagues for the sacrament. I have taught the Sacraments of the Sick at St. John’s University for many years. I know the theology and I know the rite. However, being on the receiving end of the sacrament gave me a totally different perspective. This is truly a healing sacrament. I felt lifted up, hopeful, almost joyous as Father Bauer anointed me and everyone laid their healing hands on me. It did help that the choir was present to support our singing and to offer a musical meditation. Some 6 months earlier we had asked Don Krubsack, our composer-in-residence to set parts of the rite to music. It was incredibly moving to hear this music enrich the celebration. At the conclusion everyone gathered around me and the choir sang a Hymn of Thanksgiving also composed by Don. The hymn ends with “give me one thing more: a grateful heart.” I could not think of a better line to end this service. As a matter of fact, that line accompanied me throughout my treatment and gave me strength. It accompanies me even today.
By the grace of God, the prayers and support of our community, and the hard work of my many caregivers I am now cancer free. And I so look forward to celebrating another Holy Week with all of you. I most especially anticipate the singing of the first Easter Alleluia during the Great Vigil on Easter Saturday. I am not sure if I will be able to do it without crying but try I will. And should I find myself unable to sing, I know that you will support me as you have done throughout my illness.
We are so blessed to belong to our Basilica community. We are so blessed to have our faith. We are so blessed to have one another. May this Lent and Easter bring us ever closer to our loving God, saving Christ and guiding Spirit.
And so you know, this week I will return to the zoo for a brisk walk and I will go back to the same restaurant to enjoy the lunch I missed out on one year ago.
God is good. God is very good.