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A Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

As humans, we have a deeply rooted need to see, touch, and experience places of personal, historic or religious importance. Football fans for instance, think nothing of crossing the country to visit the football stadium at Notre Dame and to touch the statue of Knute Rockney. Many Catholics have a pilgrimage to Rome, Lourdes or the Holy Land on their bucket list. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike visit Jerusalem, an important location on the spiritual map of all three major monotheistic religions. 

Driven by the desire to walk where Jesus walked and to pray in the places where he suffered, died and rose from the dead early Christians from around the Mediterranean traveled to the Holy Land. One of the most famous among these early pilgrims was St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. She provided the resources for the construction of churches over the Holy Sites and brought many holy relics back that are still venerated in Rome today. It is believed that they include parts of the Holy Cross, the crown of thorns and the stairs Jesus used on his way to Pilate to name just a few.

During the Middle Ages, the number of pilgrims to the Holy Land increased substantially. Christians not only desired to visit the Holy Sites they were also determined to keep them out of the hands of non-Christians. Regardless of their intent, those who returned to their homelands brought back compelling stories and vivid descriptions of those Holy Sites.

These captivating stories told in times of pestilence, famine and war resulted in a growing emphasis on the salvific passion of the Lord. Shrines were built to commemorated and honor Jesus’ suffering and death. Sometimes these shrines comprised a series of chapels reminiscent of the different Holy Sites in Jerusalem. There, people identified with Jesus’ pain and found solace in his suffering which brought salvation. It should be noted that the Franciscan Friars who promoted pious practices were instrumental in the quick spread of the devotion to the Lord’s Passion. 

Though the underlying intent was similar the way this devotion was celebrated differed from region to region. Thus the Stations of the Cross developed with variations in the number of stations ranging from 7 to 30. The fourteen Stations of the Cross we know today were codified by Pope Clement XII in 1731. 

These traditional Stations are still most popular yet others exist as well. Most notable are the Stations introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday, 1991in the Coliseum in Rome. This version differs both in content and in number from the traditional 14 Stations. In terms of content, Pope John Paul’s stations are entirely based on the Scriptures. Such stations as “Jesus meets Veronica” or Jesus’ three falls which have no Biblical reference have been replaced.  By ensuring their Biblical foundation the late pope’s intended to make the Stations accessible to all Christians. In terms of number, Pope John Paul II added one more Station: the Resurrection. His reasoning was that without the Resurrection, the passion and death of Jesus make absolutely no sense.

Unlike Saint Helena, most of us will not have the opportunity to ever visit the Holy Sites in Jerusalem. The Stations of the Cross provide us with a great alternative. As we physically walk from station to station meditating on the meaning of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection we are able to make a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem.

As we continue our Lenten journey toward Easter, please join us on the Fridays of Lent for the celebration of the Eucharist at 5:30pm in the St. Joseph Chapel, followed by a soup supper in the Teresa of Calcutta Hall at 6:00pm and Stations of the Cross at 7:00pm in The Basilica.

 

Please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031614.cfm

Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ.  Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration.   

While some of the particulars may vary in the different accounts of the Transfiguration, the major details are the same.   1.  The Transfiguration took place 6 or 8 days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion;    2. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a “high mountain;” 3. He was transfigured before their eyes;   4. Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets) appeared with Jesus;   5. Peter wanted to stay; and finally 6. A voice from the cloud identified Jesus as “my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”    

We don’t know exactly what happened at the Transfiguration or how it happened.  What we do know, though, is important.  The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.   It was a moment of grace that enabled the disciples to continue to persevere and to trust when they encountered difficulties and trials.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the book of Genesis.  It is God’s promise to Abraham our father in faith. “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.  The opening sentence reminds us that we are to:  “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”  

Questions for reflection/discussion:

1. I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives --- times of great grace, comfort and peace.   These moments are fleeting, and while not as intense as the experience of the disciples at Jesus’ Transfiguration, they are no less real.  When have you had a “transfiguring” moment in your life?

2. These “transfiguring" moments can help us “bear our share of hardship.” Has this been true for you? 

3. God told Abraham He would bless him. When have you felt God’s blessings in your life?  

Growing up I dreaded Lent. I did not particularly care to fast and abstain from things I enjoyed. What was the point? More emphasis on prayer seemed impossible. Almsgiving I did not quite get. Banning all decorations from church and covering statues with huge cloths seemed silly. And the Lenten sermons were downright scary. It all made for an unpleasant and gloomy experience. I had the sense that a dark cloud covered me for six weeks as I lived under the heavy burden of Lent, trying to do everything I was supposed to do.

​It took me a while to understand what Lent was really about. My first mistake was that I thought Lent was all about me. I had to pray more. I had to give up things. I had to give alms. I failed to realize that Lent was not about me, but rather about the entire body of Christ. My second mistake was that I idolized the disciplines of Lent: praying, fasting, almsgiving while I failed to see that these were mere mechanisms toward the greater goal of bringing about a change of heart for the betterment of the Body of Christ.

Lent helps us to break out of the safety of our comfortable and self-centered world so we may encounter those around us. Our Lenten prayer then is not to be about ourselves. Rather, we pray for the well-being of others and we pray that we may be more generous toward others. Our Lenten fasting is not about depriving ourselves but rather about embracing a simpler lifestyle which in turn profits those who are in need. Our Lenten almsgiving is not about the satisfaction of giving from our excess but about freeing ourselves from worldly possessions which in turn allows others a greater share in the world’s riches.

Recently, Pope Francis asked a very poignant question: do we toss alms at a beggar, from afar or do we look him in the eyes as we place the money in his hands. This seemingly simple question touches on the essence of our Lenten journey. The moment we look a beggar in the eyes and touch her hand she becomes a person rather than a problem. It takes little effort to give alms. It is much more difficult to acknowledge the person asking for alms. Yet in that moment, in that encounter we cannot but be changed and become more like Christ.

Our Lenten experience will be fruitful only when we turn toward one another, look one another in the eyes, touch one another’s hands and recognize that all of us together make up the one Body of Christ. Once we truly embrace this, then we will be ready to fully celebrate the Easter mysteries.

As a child, my approach to Lent was pretty straight forward. I gave up candy, and so did all of my friends. As an adult, I’d like to suggest a different approach to you this year. Paula Kaempffer, The Basilica’s Director of Learning, challenged me to consider doing something extra to explore my faith this year during Lent. Honestly, giving up precious time may be a more challenging and more rewarding approach to Lent. At The Basilica, there is no shortage of options to help do something extra.

Fridays in Lent:

Consider committing part of Lenten Friday nights to participate in 5:00pm Mass or in the very moving 7:00pm Stations of the Cross.  There’s a free soup supper in between — so you can spend time in quiet, prayerful reflection, and spend time getting to know others in our parish community over a bowl of soup.

Some other alternatives for doing something extra in Lent are our wonderful Learning offerings. 

Lenten Faith Sharing Groups:

Wednesdays, 7:00 – 8:30pm

Parishioner Tricia Burns leads our small Faith Sharing Group. This is an opportunity to pray, discuss the Sunday scripture readings and support one another as we travel on our faith journey. Reflect on how the scriptures relate to our everyday life, and be enriched by the diversity of each member of the group.  Consider taking a moment to share your life, your faith, and your values in a Lenten Faith Sharing Group.

Redeeming a Prison Society – A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration

Sundays March 9, 16, 23, 11:00am – 12:30pm

You’ve read the statistics about how many minority and economically disadvantaged individuals end up in prison. Have you considered the injustice of locking up more than 2 million of our neighbors in jail? Dr. Amy Levad, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at the University of St. Thomas, will lead this series and help us explore the causes and effects of mass incarceration and alternatives to jails and prisons. She will also share how the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation ground us in a moral vision for justice on par with the Civil Rights movement to redeem our prison society.

Examining Atonement – Justice, Nonviolence and the Cross

Sundays March 30, April 6 and 13, 11:00am – 12:30pm

How did the cross, an instrument of torture used against political prisoners and other criminals during the Roman Empire, become a central symbol of our Christian faith? Over 3 Sundays, explore the emergence of the cross as a symbol in Christian history.  Examine the development of the Church’s doctrine of atonement and grapple with understanding how salvation is won by Christ’s incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection. 

Led by Dr. Kimberly Vrudny, an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas, this series and help us consider some contemporary issues in atonement theology.

 

Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030914.cfm

This weekend we begin the season of Lent.   When I was growing up all that Lent meant to me was that I couldn’t eat candy for six weeks.  As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to realize how important and how good the season of Lent is for our Church, as well as for me personally. It is a time to step back from the usual activities of life and focus on our relationship with God.   We do this through the primary activities of Lent:  Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.    In our prayer we attend to God.  Through our fasting we deny ourselves what we want to discover what we really need.   And in our almsgiving, we give to those who have little or nothing.  

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  We all face temptations in our lives.   Now certainly the temptations we face aren’t nearly as intense or as powerful as those faced by Jesus, but they are real nonetheless.  What form does temptation take in your life?    
2.  Christians did not invent temptation.  We do believe, though, that we have found the remedy for temptation in Jesus Christ.   When has God’s grace helped you to resist temptation?  
3.  Why do some people seem better able to resist temptation than others?    

The Way of Jesus

A few weeks ago a former parishioner of mine told me she was taking a break from the Catholic Church. With the recent and seemingly endless revelations about our church’s mishandling of the sexually inappropriate behavior on the part of various priests, she didn’t feel that, at the present time, the Catholic Church was a place where she could pray and experience God’s grace. She was clear that her decision was not irrevocable, but — at least for now — she was going to look elsewhere for spiritual strength and guidance.

As we talked, it was clear that while she was angry, perhaps the overriding emotion for her was disappointment. And while she was able to make a distinction between the Church and its all too fallible ministers and leaders, she couldn’t understand why no one seemed to be held accountable or was willing to accept responsibility for the current crisis. She felt that the Church, as an institution, had failed her and others who called the Catholic Church their spiritual home. This was tough for me to hear. As our conversation ended, though, we agreed to stay in touch and to continue the conversation another day. 

Now while I could understand my former parishioner’s reasoning, and in part could agree with it, I also know that for me there is no other spiritual home I could imagine for myself than the Catholic Church. With all its warts, with its imperfect and flawed ministers, the Catholic Church is where I am meant to be. I echo Peter’s words when Jesus asked him if he also wanted to leave: “Master to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).      

Now while I am joined at the hip with the Catholic Church, I don’t think it is acceptable simply to write off anyone, who, for whatever reason, has left or taken a break from the Catholic Church.  Especially at this time, I think that I, as your pastor, as well as our entire community, need to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: Who are those people who no longer worship with us? Who feels alienated or estranged from our Church?  Are we comfortable that people no longer choose to join us for worship? 

Sadly, I think it is all too easy for us to simply let people leave our Church without making an effort to talk with them or ask them to stay. This needs to stop. It is not enough simply to tell people they are always welcome to come back. Instead, we need to help them find a reason to stay, or at least a reason to keep the conversation going. In the Gospels, Jesus had ongoing and serious disagreements with the Scribes and Pharisees, yet he never stopped talking with them. He never stopped trying to engage them. I think this is a good model for us. We need to invite people to continue the conversation and not just leave. 

Our Church has been around for over 2,000 years. During this time, it has faced innumerable divisions and controversies; it has had poor and ineffective leaders; it has engaged in activities that were questionable at best and cruel at worse, and yet it remains. At its best, our Church is a place of God’s presence and grace, and a beacon of hope and a spiritual home to many. Certainly our local Church has not been that lately. For this reason I can understand why some people might choose to leave. I would hope, though, that, as individuals, and as a parish community we would not be comfortable if or when people choose to leave, but rather that we would engage them and offer to keep the conversation going. This was the way of Jesus. It needs to be our way as well.

 

Follow the link for this weekend's readings.

In the play “A Man for All Seasons” Thomas More addressed the witnesses for his execution in the following words;   “I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die his Majesty's good servant but God's first.”   I was reminded of these words when I read Jesus’ opening statement in this weekend’s Gospel.  “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon.”  Clearly Jesus was telling his disciples they could not have divided loyalties. As his followers, their first loyalty needed to be to God.         

Jesus then went on to remind his disciples (and us) that we are not to give ourselves over to worry or anxiety.  “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”  Rather we are to trust in God.  “So do no worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or “What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek.  You heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”   

Our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah shares the theme of the Gospel.  In it Isaiah reminds the people that God will never forget them.  ‘Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?  Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In the section we read this weekend Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that .people need to see us “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  We should not be concerned about passing judgment on others or their passing judgment on us.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 
1.    Why is it difficult at times to trust God?  
2.    Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  
3.    How can you be a servant of Christ?   

Witnessing Our Beliefs

Several months ago I had an encounter with an individual who identified themselves as a fundamentalist Christian. In our brief conversation, we had a disagreement about how best to enter into conversation with those who don’t necessarily identify themselves as Christians. My point was that we need to enter into dialogue with these people so that hopefully we can find common ground. The individual with whom I was talking took a more aggressive stance. This person believed that Christians need to be clear, forthright and unapologetic about their beliefs. If that should cause problems or divisions, so be it. The person then quoted Luke 6:22 as justification for their position:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold your reward will be great in heaven.” 

Now, in response to this, I tried to point out that as disciples of Jesus we aren’t supposed to try to make the world hate us. Certainly at times our beliefs may set us apart from others. And there may be times when people don’t like us because of our beliefs. But this is different from deliberately antagonizing people or looking for a fight with someone.

In the Gospels Jesus didn’t try to deliberately provoke, alienate, or invite people to hate him. Now, of course, this is not to say it didn’t happen. Jesus wasn’t crucified because people didn’t like the way he parted his hair. At times his words and actions did cause people to take offense. But I don’t believe this was deliberate. Time and again in the Gospels we see Jesus reaching out to, spending time with, and engaging in conversation those with whom he disagreed. I think this is a good model for us.

As Christians our beliefs may, at times, set us apart from others. And in the worst case, our beliefs may cause people to hate us. But having people hate us should not be the goal for which we strive. Rather, I think we need to follow the model Jesus set for us. We need to be clear and unapologetic about our beliefs, but we also need to be open to dialogue and conversation.

It is in dialogue and conversation that we might be able to find some common ground. It is in dialogue and conversation that we show those with whom we disagree that we recognize in them a fellow child of God. It is in dialogue and conversation that we model the respect we hope others will reciprocate. And it is in dialogue and conversation that we invite others hopefully to see the worthiness and rightness of our beliefs.

It seems to me that too often in our world today we talk at or over each other. Some people even seem to take delight in being “hated” by others. I don’t think this was the way of Jesus and I don’t think it should be our way either. As disciples of Jesus, we aren’t supposed to deliberately try to make the world hate us. Rather, we are called to love one another as we have first been loved by God. Certainly this is challenging, but I believe that we are more apt to change people’s minds and hearts if we first give witness to our belief, as Jesus told us, that: “God is Love.”

 

The Cross

Yesterday, I saw a young woman with crosses as earrings and at least a dozen rosaries around her neck. She reminded me of a scene that played out many years ago. My younger brother came home from university with a small silver crucifix dangling from his ear. Without saying a word my mom walked over to him and took it out of his ear. To this day I am not sure what displeased my mom the most, the fact that he had his ear pierced or the fact that he wore a cross as an earring?
 
Basilica Crucifixion
Photo provided by: 
Michael Jensen
Basilica Crucifixion
The cross is the most recognizable symbol of Christianity. However, as is the case with many things we now take for granted, it has not always been thus. It took a while before the cross and especially the crucifix or any other depictions of Christ, Mary and the saints were accepted. Two factors were at play.

First, early Christians displayed a general timidity toward imagery at best and engaged in the occasional full-fledged period of Iconoclasm at worst. It was not until the second council of Nicea (878) that matters were settled once and for all. After tumultuous debates, this council not only denounced iconoclasm it also called for the depictions of Christ, Mary and the saints with the admonition that when one adores an image one really adores the one represented by the image.

Second, the death of Jesus on the cross was neither expected by his followers nor was it readily embraced. Death by crucifixion was one of the worst condemnations. Roman citizens, e.g. could not be punished by crucifixion. In a sense, the cross was experienced as a scandal and an embarrassment. So they concentrated on the Resurrection, rather than on the death of Jesus.

Gradually the Christian community came to embrace the scandal of the cross as the paradox of the mystery of salvation. By the early 3rd century the cross had become closely associated with Christianity. Clement of Alexandria who died c. 215 referred to the cross as τ κυριακν σημεον  or the Lord's sign. And according to Tertullian who died c. 225 Christians are crucis religiosi or devotees of the Cross.

Today the cross is ubiquitous and it is undoubtedly the most recognizable symbol in the entire world. We top our church steeples with crosses. We hang crosses in our homes, in our cars and around our necks. We even tattoo crosses on our bodies. Most often this is done in good faith and in good taste. Sometimes it is done in a misguided attempt at unfortunate fashion. In some instances the cross is intentionally desecrated.

Let’s take consolation in the fact that by the cross we have been saved and nothing can take that away, not even ill-advised use or worse, malicious abuse. 

Follow the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this weekend’s readings.   
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022314.cfm

In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells his disciples:  “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you…………………..”  Later Jesus says again:  “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you…………................”   

Now there are some people who have suggested and continue to suggest that in these words Jesus was seeking to abolish the law the scribes and Pharisees held so dear.   I don’t believe this was the case.  Rather I think Jesus was calling his disciples to a deeper commitment to the law and an entirely new way of living.  Jesus is clear about this at the end of this weekend’s Gospel when he said:   “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”   These words remind us very forcibly that as followers of Jesus our lives are to be substantially different from those of non-believers. Certainly we don’t always do this well, but that does not mean that we can ever stop trying.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Leviticus.  It shares the theme of the Gospel.   Specifically God told Moses to tell the whole Israelite community:  “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge again any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”    

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read this weekend Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us):  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.    Why is it so hard at times to love our neighbor? 
2.    What helps you let go of hurt and resentment, and forgive?
3.    What do you think Paul meant when he said we are Temples of God?    

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