Johan's Blog

Angels Unawares

Angels Unawares

Even though many of us do not see ourselves as migrants, humans seem to have migration in their blood. Over many millennia, our ancient ancestors migrated from the cradle of humanity in the horn of Africa to every corner of the world.  And even today, millions of humans are on the move. 

Sometimes migrations happen by choice as people are looking for adventure, are driven by curiosity or are responding to opportunity. Sometimes migrations happen out of necessity as people flee war, persecution, hunger and certain death. Sometimes migrations happen by force as people are removed from their homesteads or homelands and sent into endless misery or even are sold into slavery.

The bible is full of stories of migration. Adam and Eve were forced to leave Paradise. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland to create a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. His descendants migrated from Egypt and ended up in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Even the Holy Family fled their home out of fear that Jesus might be killed by Herod. 

Pre-existing communities have not always welcomed migrants with open arms. Sometimes weariness and suspicion about these new arrivals was warranted as they used force to stake claim to the land driving those who already lived there out. Just look at what happened in Biblical times; or look at what happened to the First Nations of the Americas when Europeans arrived; or look at what is happening around the world today. 

And yet, sometimes the reception of newcomers has been less than welcoming due to xenophobia or fear of strangers. And yet, the Bible makes it very clear that we are to treat strangers with dignity and respect. The letter to the Hebrews 13:2 admonishes Christians to “show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

As we know, Pope Francis is very concerned with the plight of migrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis dedicated a new monumental sculpture in St. Peter’s Square entitled Angels Unawares. Of note is that this sculpture was the first in some 400 years to be added to this iconic square. The sculpture was commissioned by Michael Cardinal Czerny who is the Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Angels Unawares was created by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian Catholic sculptor who has dedicated much of his work to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Our Homeless Jesus is one of his well known works.

Angels Unawares depicts 140 almost life size people on a boat. They represent migrants from all times and all places. Some of them have experienced migration by choice, others by necessity or force. Among them are a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany; an Irish boy fleeing the potato famine; an African family being forced into slavery; a Syrian man escaping the civil war in his home country; a Cherokee man on the trail of tears; a Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation. The ship even includes the Holy Family. 

As he sculpted each one of these 140 people, the artist used old photographs to represent historic migrants. Some of them he found in the Ellis Island archives. He also had recent immigrants come to his studio to model for this sculpture. Thus each one of the characters on the boat represents an actual person who migrated. In their faces one can see fear or anticipation, relief or dread depending on the reason for the migration.

At the center of this tightly packed boat are two large angel’s wings referencing the Letter to the Hebrews admonishment that any one of these sisters and brothers of ours might be “angels unawares.”

Catholic University in Washington D.C. was given a second cast of the sculpture. Before its permanent installation this fall, Angels Unawares has been traveling to several cities in the United States at the request of the artist. Minneapolis and the Basilica of Saint Mary will be the last but one stop on its way back to D.C. We will host the sculpture throughout the month of August. It will sit on the plaza in front of The Basilica.

On Sunday, August 1 we will have a welcome ceremony and we will bid goodbye to the sculpture on Thursday, August 26. There will be lots of programming around Angels Unawares between those to dates. More details are to follow.

In the same way as the Homeless Jesus calls us to solidarity with people who are experiencing homelessness, Angels Unawares calls us to solidarity with people who had to leave their homes and found refuge here. As we care for them, we may be caring for angels unawares.

Visit mary.org/angelsunawares for more details. 

 

 

Angels Unawares Pope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels Unawares

Angels Unawares

Even though many of us do not see ourselves as migrants, humans seem to have migration in their blood. Over many millennia, our ancient ancestors migrated from the cradle of humanity in the horn of Africa to every corner of the world. And even today, millions of humans are on the move. 

Sometimes migrations happen by choice as people are looking for adventure, are driven by curiosity or are responding to opportunity. Sometimes migrations happen out of necessity as people flee war, persecution, hunger and certain death. Sometimes migrations happen by force as people are removed from their homesteads or homelands and sent into endless misery or even are sold into slavery.

The bible is full of stories of migration. Adam and Eve were forced to leave Paradise. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland to create a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. His descendants migrated from Egypt and ended up in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert. Even the Holy Family fled their home out of fear that Jesus might be killed by Herod. 

Pre-existing communities have not always welcomed migrants with open arms. Sometimes weariness and suspicion about these new arrivals was warranted as they used force to stake claim to the land driving those who already lived there out. Just look at what happened in Biblical times; or look at what happened to the First Nations of the Americas when Europeans arrived; or look at what is happening around the world today. 

And yet, sometimes the reception of newcomers has been less than welcoming due to xenophobia or fear of strangers. And yet, the Bible makes it very clear that we are to treat strangers with dignity and respect. The letter to the Hebrews 13:2 admonishes Christians to “show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

As we know, Pope Francis is very concerned with the plight of migrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis dedicated a new monumental sculpture in St. Peter’s Square entitled Angels Unawares. Of note is that this sculpture was the first in some 400 years to be added to this iconic square. The sculpture was commissioned by Michael Cardinal Czerny who is the Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Angels Unawares was created by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian Catholic sculptor who has dedicated much of his work to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Our Homeless Jesus is one of his well known works.

Angels Unawares depicts 140 almost life size people on a boat. They represent migrants from all times and all places. Some of them have experienced migration by choice, others by necessity or force. Among them are a Jewish man fleeing Nazi Germany; an Irish boy fleeing the potato famine; an African family being forced into slavery; a Syrian man escaping the civil war in his home country; a Cherokee man on the trail of tears; a Protestant man escaping the Counter-Reformation. The ship even includes the Holy Family. 

As he sculpted each one of these 140 people, the artist used old photographs to represent historic migrants. Some of them he found in the Ellis Island archives. He also had recent immigrants come to his studio to model for this sculpture. Thus each one of the characters on the boat represents an actual person who migrated. In their faces one can see fear or anticipation, relief or dread depending on the reason for the migration.

At the center of this tightly packed boat are two large angel’s wings referencing the Letter to the Hebrews admonishment that any one of these sisters and brothers of ours might be “angels unawares.”

Catholic University in Washington D.C. was given a second cast of the sculpture. Before its permanent installation this fall, Angels Unawares has been traveling to several cities in the United States at the request of the artist. Minneapolis and the Basilica of Saint Mary will be the last but one stop on its way back to D.C. We will host the sculpture throughout the month of August. It will sit on the plaza in front of The Basilica.

On Sunday, August 1 we will have a welcome ceremony and we will bid goodbye to the sculpture on Thursday, August 26. There will be lots of programming around Angels Unawares between those to dates. More details are to follow.

In the same way as the Homeless Jesus calls us to solidarity with people who are experiencing homelessness, Angels Unawares calls us to solidarity with people who had to leave their homes and found refuge here. As we care for them, we may be caring for angels unawares.

Visit mary.org/angelsunawares for more details. 

 

Full Weekly Newsletter 

Last year we were gifted a new bronze sculpture by Peter Walker, entitled Pity of War. You can find this striking image near the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is a maquette for a much larger sculpture that is yet to be cast.

Peter Walker is a British artist who works in many different media including drawing, painting, sculpture, film, light and sound installations, etc. His works can be found in cities throughout the United Kingdom and around the world. LuxMuralis, e.g. one of his light and sound installations was at the Cathedral of Saint Paul last December.

Peter Walker is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. He is artist-in-Residence at Lichfield Cathedral. Pity of War was conceived to join the memorials for different causes scattered among some 25,000 trees in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in Great Britain. 

Pity of War is intended to honor the millions of nameless and voiceless and forgotten victims of war and human atrocities whose lives were upended against their will. The sculpture honors those bereaved by loss of loved ones, of their home or property; those who were forced to flea and now live in refugee camps or were forced to move to lands other than their own where they are more or less welcome; those who are suffering from post-traumatic distress and lifelong disabilities.

Pity of War depicts the head of a young child. Her eyes are strikingly bound and her mouth is shown shockingly silenced by abstraction and even by the removal of certain features such as her mouth and ears. Without words the image commands attention and draws the beholder into the narrative.

In Peter’s words, Pity of War is “not only about the past, but about the present and the future. It is both a commemoration and a challenge.” Since we received Pity of War I have been able to spend time with it. The sculpture really speaks to me. It has given me solace as I have come to it with a heavy heart wondering if we will ever get it right. Sitting with the sculpture I have pondered our broken world and our apparent inability to stop ourselves from adding on to the brokenness time after time.

And though it was conceived to commemorate victims of war I started to rename the sculpture: Pity of Violence; Pity of Abuse; Pity of Intolerance; Pity of Bigotry; Pity of White Supremacy; Pity of Racism.

I welcome Peter’s words that this sculpture is not only a memorial to past victims. It is also, and maybe even more importantly a challenge to all of us today; a challenge to be better; a challenge to work for change; a challenge to end all wars, violence, abuse, bigotry, supremacy and racism.

I am very grateful to add this sculpture to our art collection here at The Basilica of Saint Mary during these times filled with challenge and hope. I only wish it was much larger so that it might speak even more loudly to even more people.

When you visit The Basilica next, please visit Pity of War and let this sculpture speak to you. It is my hope that it will help us in our mission to change hearts and promote the values of equity, diversity and inclusivity.

 

 

 

Holy Week is the most important week of the entire liturgical year, and the Sacred Triduum is the culmination of Holy Week. Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, will share a three-part "Symbols that Surround Us," video series through the rich symbology of Holy Week in our Catholic Church.
 
In this first episode for Holy Thursday, Dr. van Parys discusses two rituals at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: the Washing of the Feet and the Procession to the Altar Repose. Both rituals give us a better understanding of who Jesus really was. While washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus teaches us humility and service. While offering us His Body and Blood, Jesus show us His profound love for us, which we are called to share with one another. By engaging in both actions we commit ourselves as followers of Jesus to do as Jesus did.
 
[All photos were taken before COVID-19.]
 
 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

The fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday. This name is based on the first word of the introit or entrance chant for Mass that day which invites us to rejoice always.
 
Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
 
As we embark on the Fourth Week of Lent we invite you to meditate on the Joy of Christianity and consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts
 
Fasting from sadness and ingratitude
• In a homily preached on May 23, 2016 at morning Mass in the Chapel of Casa Santa Marta where he lives, Pope Francis stated that “the Christian identity card is joy, the Gospel’s joy, the joy of having been chosen by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus; the joy of that hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that - even with the crosses and sufferings we bear in this life - is expressed in another way, which is peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us, is with us."
• Practicing gratitude and joy, while choosing to fast from ingratitude and sadness is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching, too.  And after all, it is our only possible response to the mystery of God becoming one of us so that we may become more like God
• So this week, let us fast from sadness and ingratitude even though so much in the world invites us to do just that. And let us wholly embrace the Joy of Christianity so our hearts our heart, our homes, our city, our country and indeed our world may be aflame with the hope and joy of the Resurrection we are about to celebrate.
 
Centering Prayer
• Gratitude and joy flow from the assurance that God knows us, remembers us, accompanies us, loves us and awaits us. The reality of God’s covenant with us is expressed in prayer and is at the same time impressed on us during prayer, particularly in the quiet of contemplative prayer.
• One form of Contemplative Prayer is known as Centering Prayer. The goal of Centering Prayer is to open one’s mind, heart and soul completely to God who is the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. In the silence of this prayer we are invited to an intimate encounter with God who is considerate, caring and compassionate. Our response to God’s love can be nothing but gratitude and joy which we are want to share with others.
• You can find more information at the following websites
 
Charity: Act with Courage
• The Joy of Christianity gives us the courage to speak and act on behalf of those in need without any fear. As we consider our society during these weeks of Lent let us commit ourselves to a better world, the kind of world God has dreamt for us.
• This week let us think about the many injustices and concerns that plague our world and ask ourselves how we can make a difference in terms of racial justice, adequate housing, mental health funding, the care for the unborn, health insurance for all, immigrants and asylum seekers, the death penalty, endless cycles of poverty, gun violence…
• We can’t tackle all of these at once but lets select one or two and see how we may occasion change by speaking up, donating money, volunteering, lobbying our legislators…
 
 
And as I mentioned the last three weeks, please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
 
 
In his Lenten message of 2013, the last of his pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote about the priority of faith and the primacy of charity. On the one hand he praised a deepening of our prayer life and strengthening of our faith as good and worthy Lenten disciplines. In addition, he challenged us to witness to our faith by extending charity to others and to allow our prayer life to drive our charity. This, according to Benedict XVI is the key to a fruitful Lent and the essence of our Christian life.
 
As we embark on the Third Week of Lent we invite you to consider the following suggestions for the three Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and charity. These can either be in addition to our previous suggestions or you can start anew. 
 
Fasting from putting ourselves first
• Putting ourselves first as an individual and even as a nation is quite popular these days. Individualism and nationalism are celebrated by many, even by Christians despite the fact that both are antithetical to Christianity. 
• Christianity is rooted in Jesus’ willingness to give his life for others. He embraced death so we might live, all of us. This is as far removed from individualism and nationalism as one can possibly imagine. Followers of Jesus are called to do the same. In the words of St. Francis:  “…it is in giving that we receive…and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
• Lent is the perfect time to practice fasting from putting ourselves first by putting the needs of others before our own. The way we do that is by starting with small things such as checking in on a elderly neighbor. The ultimate goal is that we embody in our own lives the sacrificial life of Jesus. 
 
Prayer: Vision Divina on the Passion of Christ
• As we try to live out our Christian calling it might be good to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. One way of doing that is through Visio Divina or Divine Seeing which is an intentional and prayerful contemplation of an image of the crucifixion. The objective is to allow God to speak through the art in a most profound way. 
• As you prepare for Visio Divina chose an image of the crucifixion and select a Passion Narrative as found in one of the Gospels.
1. Lectio: take you time to slowly read through part of one of the Passion Narratives. Be attentive to any words that speak to you and feel free to write those down.
2. Visio: after reminding yourself of the textual description of the Passion of Christ now spend some time contemplating the art you selected. What is it you see? If you are using a figurative representation ask yourself who and what is represented in the image. If non-figurative, consider the shapes, the forms, and the colors. Feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
3. Meditatio: Now let your imagination dialogue with what you see. There is always more to an image than what the eyes behold. Is a deeper story forming in your imagination? Are you experiencing any specific feelings or emotions? Again, feel free to write down any words that come to mind.
4. Oratio: Once you are content that the image has fully spoken to you it is now time to formulate a prayer response. This can be a prayer of gratitude or it might be a prayer of intercessions. Feel free to use the words you have written down in step 1 or 2.
5. Contemplatio: After praying with words it is now time to let go of all words and to quietly rest in prayer. Give yourself over to God who will mold you in prayer to be more like God.
6. What do you take away from this experience.  What might you do differently in your life, inspired by the Passion of Christ?
• An example of a semi-guided Visio Divina on the Passion of Christ may be found on the University of Portland website: https://www.up.edu/garaventa/archives/visio-divina/crucifixion.html
 
Charity
• As you fast from putting yourself first we invite you to engage in small acts of kindness, thus putting others before you. St. Thérèse de Lisieux noted that not all of us are called to live heroic Christian lives. Most of us are called to engage in many small acts of kindness done with great love. 
• Simply select a few smalls acts of kindness you will commit yourself to in the next week and beyond. This may be opening a door for someone; allowing someone to go first in line; checking in on an elderly neighbor; providing food for someone in need; offering support to someone who is struggling with loss; shoveling snow should we still get some; etc.
• There are many, many small acts of kindness we can engage in on a daily basis. As we do that we will train ourselves in the very ways of thinking and acting God asks of us as followers of Jesus Christ.
 
And as I mentioned the last two weeks, please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
 
 

Art That Surrounds Us

 
 

 

 
 
 
Lenten banners hung above sanctuary

Lent is an Invitation

This coming week, on Wednesday February 17, we mark Ash Wednesday and thus begins our annual Lenten journey. The symbolic act commonly associated with Ash Wednesday is the Imposition of Ashes. And although Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, many people flock to our churches to receive ashes.

The custom of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday has Biblical roots. Job, for instance used ashes as a sign of repentance: “Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, too, describe the use of ashes as a sign of repentance. In the description of the sending of the 72, Jesus instructs them to kick the sand of their sandals if they are not welcomed in a given city, and to warn them the Kingdom is at hand. Then Jesus compares the fate of these cities with that of the sinful cities of Tyre and Sidon saying that “if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).

The liturgical custom of sprinkling ashes which is also penitential in nature originates in the Order of Penitents established during the fourth c. This Order or group of people consisted of those Christians who had committed grave sins and had been admitted into the order by the bishop. The Order of Penitents predates the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was the only recourse Christians had to salvation after they broke their baptismal promises. The rite of admission to the Order of Penitents which happened at the beginning of Lent involved the imposition of ashes by the bishop. When this order was superseded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation the imposition of ashes was retained and expanded. Recognizing that all are sinners in need of repentance all Christians started to present themselves for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

The earliest mention of the existence of Ash Wednesday, known as Dies Cinerum or the Day of Ashes dates back to the 10th century. It is believed that the custom itself was observed as early as the eight century. 

The imposition of ashes still has a penitential character, even today. With this public act, we indicate that we are in need of forgiveness and that we are committing ourselves to 40 days of fasting, prayer, and charity in preparation of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum.

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms used during the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. In the Middle Ages these palms were burned during elaborate ceremonies. Today, this is done in a more simple manner.

In the United States, ashes are usually placed on the forehead in the shape of the cross. In other countries such as Italy they are sprinkled on the crown of a penitent’s head. This is actually the proper way of doing this as the ritual for the Imposition if Ashes calls for the minister to “place ashes on the head” of the people. During the Pandemic, which prevents us from signing the forehead with ashes, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of people’s head, though not as generously as in Europe. We will just use a pinch.

While imposing the ashes, the minister can use one of two formulas. The second option, which is the more ancient of the two, is inspired by the words God spoke when expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise thus subjecting them to death: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This option simply reminds us of our sinful nature yet does not invite us to do anything about it.

The first and more recent option is taken from the first chapter of Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  After the death of John, Jesus began his public ministry announcing the Kingdom of God inviting people to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” These words spoken by Jesus and repeated by the minister are a clear invitation to action. Knowing that we are sinners, we are called to repent and to live according to the Gospel. Or in the words of the Prophet Joel in the First Reading on Ash Wednesday, Lent is an invitation to “return to God with all your heart.” 

May this Lenten Season and the entire Paschal Cycle be a blessing for all of us.

 

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2), also known as Candlemas is one of the lesser known feasts in our church. The Gospel of the day taken from Luke, chapter 2 relays the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth in order to fulfill the prescriptions of the law as noted in Leviticus chapter 2. However, even more important than fulfilling the law by offering two turtle doves was their enlightening encounter with Simeon, a righteous and devout man and Anna, a prophetess. Simeon called Jesus a “light for revelation to the nations” while Anna saw Jesus as the redeemer.

The history of this feast is complex and rich. At one time it marked the end of the 40 day long Christmas Season as it sits on the cusp between the celebration of Jesus’ mysterious birth into humanity and his salvific death for humanity. Yet because February 2 most often falls on a weekday very few people even are aware of it. Nevertheless, I have very fond memories of this feast which go back all the way to my childhood.

Our family would attend early morning Mass on that day. Upon entering the church we received a thin, tall candle, one per family. After the priest said a prayer and sprinkled Holy Water we walked around the church in procession. As the oldest child I was tasked with carrying our family’s candle. My current fondness of processions probably dates back to those Candlemas celebrations when I carried the candle under the watchful eye of my parents and the envious glances of my siblings. After Mass we were encouraged to take our candle home and to care for it with reverence. The priest told us to light the candle in times of need. I distinctly remember lighting our candle when my great-grandfather was mortally ill while we prayed for his recovery. We also found some solace in this candle once he died. We even would light the candle and huddle around it during bad storms. It made us less afraid.

Many years later, when living in a Benedictine abbey we celebrated the day with even greater ceremony as the candles were bigger, the procession was longer and the psalms sung were more numerous. We started the celebration in the chapter room. After the lighting and blessing of our candles we processed through the entire cloister into the church while singing Lumen ad revelationem gentium or A light of revelation to the Nations. I can still hear the sounds, see the sights and smell the burning wax which even overpowered the copious amounts of incense used for the procession.

Memories are great yet they need to be interpreted carefully. My childhood experience of the feast reveals profound truths but maybe there was a hint of superstition which tainted the use of the candles at home. Or was it the result of a more generous and less complicated faith?  My monastic memories, though revelatory of deep faith undoubtedly suffer from some liturgical romanticism.

The essence of the feast is this: year after year we are called to be the new Simeon and the new Anna who proclaim Jesus as the Light to the Nations and the Savior of the world. The candles are a tangible affirmation that Christ is indeed the Light. And the procession is not just a pretty parade rather it symbolizes and rehearses us in our calling to bring Christ’s light to the world. 

As a child I always wished we could keep the candle burning throughout the liturgy and even on our way home. I did not quite know why but I thought it made sense. Today I know what I sensed then as I dream of this grand procession of all Christians leaving their respective churches on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with lit candle in hand, proclaiming to the world that Christ is the Light to whom we bear witness in word and deed.

At The Basilica we will bless candles for Candlemas on Sunday, January 31 during the 9:30am and 11:30am celebration of the Eucharist. You are welcome to take them while you if you attend the liturgy. Or you can come to The Basilica between 10:30-11:00am or 12:30am-1:00pm and pick them up while staying in your car. You will receive a prayer card outside the Rectory and the candles outside the school. We invite you to light these candles and say the prayer when you find yourself in any kind of need.

Blessed Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

 

 

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