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A few weeks ago I updated the instructions for my funeral. It definitely was time to do this, as a few of the priests I had suggested as homilists have left ministry to marry. Now please don’t worry or start celebrating, I am not sick and/or dying. Rather, priests of our Archdiocese are asked to plan their funeral so that if we should die suddenly there is clarity about our wishes and intent. It also helps our families who would otherwise be left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out what we would want in regard to our funeral. I think my instructions are fairly simple and when the time comes, I hope they will be honored. I just hope Johan can find the elephants for the procession on short notice. 

It is a sobering task to plan one’s funeral. And I did shed a few tears in the process. If the truth be told, however, there was also a certain “rightness” to this task. It was very faith affirming. I say this because it reminded me that while funerals are a celebration of a person’s life, they are also — and from my perspective more importantly — an affirmation of our faith. For our faith calls us to believe that death is not the end; that because of Jesus Christ the promise and gift of eternal life is offered to all believers.    

In one of the Prefaces (the prayer that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy) for the Mass of Christian burial we hear the words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” I like the idea that at the time of death “life is changed, not ended.” For me this speaks powerfully not just of our belief in eternal life, but in the idea of the “communion of saints”  —our belief in our fellowship in Christ, not only among us believers here on earth, but also between us and those who have died marked with the sign of faith. We don’t lose those who have died; rather our relationship with them takes on another dimension as we now share the life of Christ with them in a new way.     

Certainly the time of death is a time of sadness and sorrow as we mourn the loss of someone who was a part of our lives. For believers, though, because of our belief in the promise of eternal life, it is also a time of hope and faith. On this great Feast of Easter as we remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also remember and celebrate his promise of eternal life which he offers to all those who believe in and seek to follow him. For it is the promise of eternal life that gives us comfort and consolation at the time of death, and hope as we continue our lives in faith.   

Do this in Memory of Me

As Holy Week begins, I am reminded of an unforgettable experience which happened some 20 years ago. That year I had decided to celebrate the Sacred Triduum at the motherhouse of a religious community. Having arrived early I spent some quiet time in the monastery chapel in preparation for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. From my chair in the back row, I watched the sisters arrive for the service. Most of them were elderly. They used wheelchairs, walkers or another sister’s arm to make their way into the chapel.

The service was simple, yet very beautiful. At the time of the washing of the feet, the priest explained that we were going to wash one another’s feet. As a liturgical purist, I was simply mortified at the thought. What could this mean? Why were we straying from the custom of the priest washing the feet of twelve men symbolizing Christ washing the feet of the apostles? 

I swallowed my liturgical pride and tried to enter into the experience. As I was pondering all this, I noticed a sister being helped to the front of the chapel. When she arrived at the row of wheelchairs, she was helped to her knees in front of one of her sisters. Gently and with great difficulty, she took the slippers off her sister’s gnarled feet. A bowl with water was brought to them. She placed her sister’s feet in the water and tenderly washed them. Then she dried them and kissed them. I felt tears running down my cheeks. These feet, which had walked in the service of the church for more than seventy years, were tenderly washed by these hands, which had served the church for more than sixty years. I quickly slipped off my shoes and waited in line to have my feet washed so I could wash someone else’s feet.

Witnessing this I finally grasped why Jesus told us to wash one another’s feet. The washing of the feet is not a superfluous ritual gesture or a simple reenactment of what Jesus did 2000 years ago. Rather it is an efficacious ritual rehearsal of what all of us are called to do every day of our life: to serve one another as he served us. 

For the Readings for Easter Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042014.cfm 

As a child, Easter meant only one thing to me -----  the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets.  (Giving up candy was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.)   As I grew older, and especially now as an adult, I have come to appreciate Easter --- not just as the end of Lent --- but as much more.  It is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, his offer of eternal life to believers, and his promise to abide with us always.   

At the Mass of the Easter Vigil and at the Masses on Easter morning we always read one of the accounts of the finding of the empty tomb.   In this regard, it is important to note that while all four Gospels, tell the story of the finding of the empty tomb and recount various resurrection appearances of Jesus, there are no accounts of the actual resurrection in any of the Gospels.  The reason for this is that the resurrection is a Divine event.  It is not something that can be taken in by our human consciousness.  It is something believers experience only at the time of death when we come to know fully the promise and gift of eternal life.   

The readings listed above are for the Mass on Easter Sunday morning.   The first reading is a part of a speech by Peter.  It is a brief synopsis of Jesus’ ministry and his ultimate death and resurrection.  Peter reminds the people that:  “He (Jesus) commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”    The second reading reminds us that: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”   Finally, the Gospel contains the account of the finding of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala.   We are told that: “she ran and went to   Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them………...”  They in turn ran to tomb and found it empty just as Mary had said.   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  What helps you to believe in or hinders your belief in the resurrection?
2.  Where do you see evidence of Christ’s resurrection in the world --- in your community --- in your life?  
3.  Why do some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection and the promise of eternal life?  

The Stations of the Cross have always been very meaningful to me. My earliest memory of the Stations goes back to my childhood. On Good Friday the whole town came together for a communal celebration. Different neighborhoods were responsible for the creation of each one of the fourteen stations. Following incense, cross and candles, clergy and religious, we processed from Station to Station singing songs and praying the Sorrowful Mysteries. Some people carried a candle, others flowers to leave at one of the stations, while a few carried a cross. This experience touched me deeply and it is forever engrained in my memory.

I have always been particularly drawn to Station V: Jesus was Helped by Simon of Cyrene. Simon intrigued me. Who was he? Why was he forced to help Jesus? Did he do it willingly or begrudgingly? What happened to him after they reached Golgotha?

The Scriptures are very brief in their description of this occurrence. They just reference in one verse (Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15: 21, Luke 23: 26) that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross behind Jesus. Mark expands just a bit by adding that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Some scholars suggest that the Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13 was the son of Simon. Others hold that Mark’s mention of Alexander and Rufus implies that they were well-known in the early Christian community.

Simon who was from Cyrene was a visitor to Jerusalem whose curiosity was probably peeked by all the goings-on?  He may have watched Jesus fall before he was pressed into helping him, buttressing the weight of the cross.

As a child I did not identify with Peter or even John, my patron saint. I wanted to be like Simon. He was my hero. He was the perfect helper when Jesus was in the greatest of needs.

Little did I know that in my youthful enthusiasm I had touched on the essence of Christianity. In the same way as Simon helped Jesus bear his cross, we are called to alleviate the pain and struggles of our sisters and brothers. We are called to help those who suffer, in their need.

Simon is still my hero, though I may have outgrown my youthful enthusiasm. Eagerness to follow Jesus and to imitate Simon comes and goes. Sometimes I do it willingly and out of conviction, other times begrudgingly and out of a sense of obligation. Like most of us, saints included we experience times of deep faith as well as moment of profound doubts. Yet, like Simon was pressed into helping Jesus, by virtue of our baptism we are pressed into helping others. This is our calling. It is our mission.

Next time you celebrate Stations of the Cross, I invite you to imagine yourself in the different people who accompany Jesus on the way to the cross. Who do you identify with the most? Maybe you identify most with Peter, or Veronica, or John, or Mary? This exercise may give you some new insight into your own spiritual identity.

As we celebrate the spectacular celebration of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we are given an incredible opportunity over the next seven days, the holiest week of our liturgical year – an opportunity to live our faith through Jesus and to reflect on what Jesus’ journey means to us. 

On Palm Sunday, we are immersed into the Passion of the Lord. Hearing the Passion each year on Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus, during his life of selflessness, ended up on a cross. We wave palms on this day in remembrance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem to embrace whatever was to come. We leave today’s Mass with these palms that we will keep with us in our homes over the next year as a reminder of this sacred celebration and what it means to us as Catholics.

Spiritually, the celebration of Palm Sunday reminds us that through the crucifixion of the Son of God, we are all given the gift of our salvation and forgiveness. Through our faith, we not only have the opportunity to reconcile ourselves with God in the missteps of our own humanity, but also to forgive others, including our loved ones. This gift, this capability of forgiveness, is central to us as humans and as Catholics. At The Basilica, we will celebrate Reconciliation with a Taize Prayer Service on Tuesday evening.  

As we move through Holy Week, we begin the Triduum on Holy Thursday. On this night we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and are invited to wash one another’s feet. The act of washing one another’s feet is a reminder that to follow in Christ’s footsteps means to serve one another. It is in serving one another that we further immerse ourselves into the Paschal Mystery of our faith.

On Good Friday we are invited to commemorate the suffering of Jesus, followed by his crucifixion, ultimately leading to our salvation. The Basilica celebrates three services on Good Friday – Stations of the Cross at noon, a Communion Service and celebration of the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon, followed by the Tenebrae service in the evening. These services are filled with many multi-sensory symbols that bring the story of Jesus’s passion and death to the forefront in the history of our salvation.

Holy Saturday marks the Easter Vigil which is the greatest feast in our church. We celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. This Mass begins with the Easter fire outside the church, around which all are invited to gather and celebrate the new Easter Light. As the RCIA Elect and Candidates receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as a part of the Easter Vigil we celebrate that life has overcome death. 

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate. We celebrate that Jesus has risen from the dead. We celebrate our salvation, our joy and our faith. We celebrate with friends and family. We celebrate all that is good in our world. We celebrate the joy in our own lives. And our celebrations last during the entire Easter season.

This Holy Week, may you participate fully and experience all that is Holy in the Catholic faith. May your faith deepen and may you be filled with joy as you celebrate our risen Christ this Easter. 

Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041314.cfm 

Each year on Palm (Passion) Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death. Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.   

While each of the evangelists tells the story of Christ’s passion, each one does it from their own perspective. For example, Matthew saw and portrayed Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  Further, in Matthew’s account, Jesus’ disciples didn’t come across very well. Not only did they fall asleep during Jesus’ agony in the garden, but they also deserted him. And Peter’s denial of Christ was accompanied by cursing and swearing.  Another element unique to Matthew is a more detailed account of Judas’ betrayal and his tragic end.  Finally, in Matthew’s account, the Chief priests and Pharisees requested that Pilot help them make sure Jesus’ disciples do not steal Jesus’ body and then later claim that he had been raised from the dead.

Perhaps the most important element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus.  Specifically Matthew added the verse that Jesus’ blood “should be upon us and on our children” (Mt. 27.25).   Unfortunately, through the centuries this verse --- and others --- have been used to suggest that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.   This idea was definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council in its document: “Nostra Aetate,” 

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is part of the third of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Songs.  In the last four verses of the passage we read this Sunday remind us of the Servant’s trust in God’s ultimate vindication.  Certainly this was Jesus’ stance during his passion and death “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I    have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians.  It is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with god something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself………”  

Questions for reflection and/discussion:

1. As you reflect on Jesus’ passion, what part stands out for you?
2  Are you challenged in any way by Jesus’ passion? 
3. Jesus was able to trust in God the Father, even in his suffering and death.  What helps you to trust in God?

Our Basilica church and its campus  inspire beauty, art and spiritual growth and are home to outreach, community, interfaith dialogue, centering prayer, education, amazing volunteers and worship.  Entering this magnificent space, I am reminded of  why I joined the Catholic Church, because this community exemplifies and affirms all that is good in the Church. The building embraces and centers our  prayers, music and fellowship. I’m grateful to be a part of it, as a parishioner and staff member.

The Basilica Landmark
Outstanding leaders are committed to the mission of The Basilica Landmark to “preserve, restore and advance the historic Basilica of Saint Mary for all generations.”  On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to share some exciting updates.

Masqueray Ball
The annual Masqueray Ball will be Saturday, May 3, and we would be honored to have you attend.  Co-chairs Jack and Laura Lee promise  a fun evening of socializing and celebration!  

Basilica Block Party
The Basilica Block Party will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12 and we would love to have you join us. 

Matching Challenge
An anonymous donor has offered The Basilica Landmark an unprecedented $2,500,000 matching challenge gift!  New donations of at least $1000 will be matched, as well as increased gifts from current donors.  On April 26 and 27 we will have a second collection for The Basilica Landmark annual fund and hope you will consider a special gift to be matched by this inspirational challenge. Meeting the matching challenge will allow us to modernize our campus buildings, enabling our parish to meet the current and growing needs of our community.  

Landmark Projects
In 2013 and 2014 The Basilica Landmark will spend more than $4.5 million on projects, led by The Reardon Rectory Accessibility project, with  an addition to the building and new elevator, the new copper roof for the school,  replacing the 1913 church and school boiler system with a highly efficient hot water heating system,  adding central air conditioning to the school,  and removing current window units resulting in  significant annual energy savings.  

The Landmark will remove insulation from the stone walls above the nave’s plaster ceiling, material that for decades  has held moisture, accelerating the decay of our church. Drying the stone will make possible  a future interior restoration of our beautiful Basilica, our long-term vision.

Only five years ago, our goal was to “keep the building ahead of the curve.” Today, we have turned a corner.  Through the generous challenge of the match, we are able to address the crucial needs of our parish today and in the future.  

Find more information at www.thebasilicalandmark.org. I feel deep gratitude to our community for your ongoing investment in our beautiful historic landmark and campus projects and I ask for  your generosity to meet the matching challenge. You will make a great legacy possible, ensuring  that The Basilica of Saint Mary and its campus are  preserved for all generations.

Click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040614.cfm

We often read the story of the raising of Lazarus at funerals.  The reason for this is that Jesus’ words in this Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” contain the promise and hope of eternal life.  These words remind us that this present life is not the end.  Because of Jesus Christ, because of his life, death and resurrection, those who believe in and seek to follow him will come to share in the life he has won for us.   

Where there are several things in this Gospel that are worth commenting on, from my perspective two things in particular deserve comment.  The first, is Martha’s reaction to Jesus:  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.”  I believe, these words are --- at least initially --- a very human reaction when something bad happens.  We wonder where God was and why the bad thing happened.  When we move beyond this initial reaction, though, we are able to reaffirm our belief that God is with us even, and perhaps especially, in the difficulties and trials we encounter in this life.   The second thing in this Gospel that deserves comment is a clarification that the raising of Lazarus from the dead is a resuscitation, not a resurrection.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are given the promise of a new and eternal life, not just a return to this life.   

In our first reading this Sunday is  from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In the section we read this Sunday God assured the people that, despite the destruction of the Temple, God had not abandoned God’s covenant with them and ultimately would restore them: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In the passage we read this Sunday, Paul reminds us that “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:   

1. Why does belief in eternal life come so easily for some people and not at all for others?
2.  How would you explain eternal life to someone who didn’t believe in it?
3.  How do you know when the “Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in you?  

This morning I had my monthly interview with Sean Herriott from the Morning Show on Revelant Radio. Today we discussed the date of Easter. It was a timely discussion as several people have asked me why Easter is so late this year. Some even suggested that it might be better to have a fixed date for Easter, similar to Christmas.

As to the latter, Easter by definition has to fall on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Therefore, it cannot be celebrated on a fixed date. Still, this very question was discussed at the Second Vatican Council. The resulting document suggests that the Catholic Church would be open to a fixed date for Easter as long as all Christians would agree on that date.

Until then, Easter will remain a moveable feast. And because Easter moves all feasts and seasons that are related to Easter move relative to the date of Easter. Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent and Pentecost which marks the last day of the Easter season are obviously dependent upon the date of Easter. However, Holy Trinity which falls on the Sunday after Pentecost and Corpus Christi which falls on the Sunday after Holy Trinity are dependent on the date of Easter as well. Even the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the Friday following Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which is celebrated the day after the Sacred Heart of Jesus are dependent upon the date of Easter.

It took a while to decide on the all-important date for Easter. Early bishops celebrated Easter on different dates based on different theologies. Some opted for the celebration of Easter on the 14th day or the day of the full moon of the month Nissan in the Jewish lunar calendar as they believed it to be the day on which Jesus was crucified.  Others desired to celebrate Easter on the following Sunday, the day of the Lord. Still others desired to disconnect the celebration of Easter from the Jewish calendar all together.

It was not until the first Council of Nicea (325) that the current formula for calculating the day of Easter was established. Since then Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. The Council of Nicea also established that the date of the spring equinox was March 21though meteorologically it often falls on March 20. Using this method, the earliest possible date for Easter can be March 22 which happened last in 1818 and will not happen again till 2285. The latest possible date for Easter is April 25 which happened last in1943 and will not happen again until 2038.

And to complicate matters just one bit more, let me tell you about Orthodox Easter. The Orthodox churches follow the same computation system established by the first Council of Nicea. However, because they still use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar we end up celebrating Easter on different dates. March 21 on the Julian calendar corresponds to April 3 on the Gregorian calendar. Thus Orthodox Easter falls between April 4 and May 8. Sometimes, Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter fall on the same date as is the case this year. The protestant churches follow the same calculation system as the Catholic Church.

P.S. if you are wondering about the differences between the Julian and Gregorian Calendar, watch for another blog entry on this topic.

There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.   

I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.  

Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.  

It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying. 

Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.

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