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Throughout history humans have pondered the meaning of life and tried to find answers for the many difficult problems we have faced. Today’s experience prompts many questions as we are confronted with the devastating effects of COVID-19; the destructive powers of the numerous wars around the world, most recently the invasion of Ukraine by Russia; the damaging breakdown of civil interaction between people; the distressing divide between rich and poor, white and BIPOC, conservative and liberal; to name but a few.
Christians have turned to the Bible in their quest for answers and meaning, especially when facing trials and tribulations. Such questions as “Where is God?” and “Why did God let this happen?” are frequently asked. And yet, as Metropolitan Kallistos Warre, Orthodox theologian and archbishop holds: “it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not as much the object of our knowledge, as the cause of our wonder.”
Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, KY challenged those attending his installation Mass not to let “what we are facing” distract us from “where we should be looking” or “for whom we should be looking:” Jesus Christ. In other words, we should not let ourselves be absorbed by all the things that are going wrong, rather we should look at Jesus and heed his voice no matter the gravity of the situation because Jesus, Immanuel, is God-with-us, always.
Admittedly, this is easier said than done but we are about to begin the greatest celebration and practice of our faith in this mystery. Today we commence the celebration of Holy Week, the most important week of the entire liturgical year. During this week we celebrate the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the mystery of Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It is during this week above all other weeks that we become “progressively aware” of the “cause of our wonder” and behold the one “we are looking for,” Jesus the Christ.
To be sure, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the mystery of our faith, the cause of our wonder. That will only happen when we see God face-to-face at the end of time. For now, mere portals to this mystery are opened during the celebration of the liturgy when the veil of the mystery is lifted just enough so we can get a glimpse of this mystery. Yet even but a mere glimpse is enough to get us on our Christian way to face the realities of life, unpleasant as they might be, because we know that God is with us even in the darkest of times.
During the next eight days we will recall and honor the last days in the life of Jesus. We start on Palm Sunday with the remembrance of Jesus’ glorious entrance into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus embodied Divine Mercy by washing the feet of his disciples and by instituting the Eucharist. On Good Friday we behold the unfathomable mystery of the passion and death of the Son of God. On Holy Saturday we observe a solemn silence as Jesus lies in the tomb and breaks down the gates of hell. And on Easter Sunday we celebrate his glorious resurrection.
The great liturgies of Holy Week invite us to engage in many symbolic acts that evoke the mystery of our faith as we engage in extended processions; we wash one another’s feet; we honor the Blessed Sacrament; we pass and venerate the cross; we baptize and confirm; and we share in the Paschal Eucharist. The physicality of these symbolic acts is unmistaken. The best way to experience these symbolic acts is by participating in them in person together with our Christian community.
We are so glad and blessed that many of you have returned to The Basilica for in-person celebration of the liturgy. It is so great to worship together. If you have not yet returned and are able to do so, please consider returning during Holy Week. Our community will be the richer for your presence. If you are not yet able to return to in-person worship, we will continue to livestream all our Holy Week liturgies so you can participate remotely.
We truly look forward to that day when all of us will be able to gather in The Basilica for the celebration of our liturgy where together we may behold the “cause of our wonder” and find the one “we are looking for” so we may be ready to face whatever comes our way during our earthly journey.
Blessed Holy Week!
Fasting, Praying and Acting during the Fifth Week of Lent
“Be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)
“Living in Solidarity with Those who are Poor.” Pope Francis
In 2017 Pope Francis inaugurated the first World Day of the Poor to be held every year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
During his homily on the most recent World Day of the Poor marked on November 14, 2021, the pope decried the poverty into which people are often forced, “victims of injustice and the inequality of a throwaway society that hurries past without seeing them and without scruple abandons them to their fate.”
He went on to say that “unless our hope translates into decisions and concrete gestures of concern, justice, solidarity and care for our common home, the sufferings of the poor will not be relieved, the economy of waste that forces them to live on the margins will not be converted, their expectations will not blossom anew.”
He concluded by encouraging all people to improve the world by “breaking bread with the hungry, working for justice, lifting up the poor and restoring their dignity.”
During this Fifth Week of Lent, we invite you to: mend your heart by fasting from greed; bend your knees while engage in praying the Stations of the Cross; and Lend your hand by embracing generosity.
- Mending our Hearts: Fasting from Greed
- All of us, to some extent suffer from greediness. Greediness is the tendency to hold on, to claim or to demand something or even someone just for ourselves.
- Fasting from greed is more difficult than fasting from meat or sweets. Ridding ourselves of this sinful desire requires a complete change of attitude which does not happen in a day or even a week. This is a difficult task which requires commitment and tenacity.
- As Christians we are to live as Jesus lived. His generosity, even unto death knew no bounds. Let us contemplate and emulate Jesus’ generosity this week as we rid ourselves slowly of our greediness.
- Bending our Knees: Praying the Station of the Cross
- Praying the Stations of the Cross is an ancient Christian devotion which invites us to meditate on the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A history of this devotion is offered in our series Art that Surrounds Us: https://www.mary.org/blog/202102/art-surrounds-us-stations-cross#.YDU4dNhKiJA.
- On Fridays of Lent, we pray the Stations of the Cross in The Basilica at 5:30pm. You can join us in person or via livestream. Each Friday we pray a different version of the Stations of the Cross using new texts and images.
- If you would like to pray the Stations of the Cross at home you can use the weekly recorded livestream or you can find a narrated slideshow of our Scriptural Stations at https://vimeo.com/403088034.
- Lending our Hands: Embracing Generosity
- During Lent we give thanks for Jesus’ willingness to die for us on the cross. This act of ultimate generosity has deep sacrificial meaning and great theological implications for all of us. Not only are we saved by Jesus’ self-sacrifice, but we are also called to make sacrifices in turn.
- On the fifth Sunday of Lent, we have a second collection for our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry. This is our opportunity to be generous to the programs our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry supports and the people it serves. We can also volunteer in our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry at The Basilica. You can find more information here: https://www.mary.org/ministries-education/charity-service#.YhFFgujMJPY
- One of our strategic directions at The Basilica is to work toward ending homelessness. You can learn about the realities of homeless in our community and ways to advocate and get involved by visiting the following websites:
And please remember to be patient with yourself and others. Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.
- Fear and anger are omnipresent in our world today. Many people thrive on these sentiments, and some even promote them. Fear and anger rather than joy and happiness have become the hallmark and detriment of our society.
- This week let’s resist the powers that tell us to be fearful or to hate and let’s embrace the gospel values of joy and gratitude.
- Practicing gratitude and joy, while choosing to fast from ingratitude and sadness is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching. And after all, this is our only possible response to the mystery of God becoming one of us so that we may become more like God.
- Early Christians, based on their Jewish heritage marked sunrise, midday and sunset with prayer, giving thanks to God for the many gifts they received.
- Ever since, Christians have done the same, sometimes in very simple and informal ways. Other times in highly structured and elaborate ways.
- Let’s continue this great tradition by intentionally marking Morning and Evening with prayer, either individual or with family. You may also consider joining us at The Basilica for morning prayer on Tuesday and Thursday at 9:15am or evening prayer on Sunday at 3:00pm.
- Let’s open our eyes and hearts to the good things in our life. Granted, there are many reasons to be sad and weep for our world. But maybe this week we can focus on all the reasons we should be grateful and allow ourselves to celebrate the many blessings bestowed on us.
- Once we have become more attune to the many blessings of everyday life, we can learn to savor them. When we become aware of a specific blessing in our life let’s relish the moment and allow for a deep sense of gratitude to take hold.
- The next step is to give expression to our gratitude. Let’s express heartfelt gratitude to our family, our friends, our God. This is not about mere pleasantries of politeness, rather this is about genuine appreciation. Profound gratitude may even inspire us to act with kindness and thoughtfulness or to return a favor.
Join the Journey! “Bend your knees, mend your heart, and lend your hands.”
The Third Week of Lent
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28
In a response to the killing of George Floyd Pope Francis powerfully stated during his general audience of June 3, 2020, that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
And in a tweet dated March 21, 2021, he said: “Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.”
These are just two of many instances in which Pope Francis has spoken out against racism calling it sinful and evil behavior not becoming of the followers of Christ.
During the third week of Lent let us mend our heart by fasting from privilege and comfort; bend our knees by praying the Sorrowful Mysteries; and lend our hands as we strive for justice and equity for all.
- Mending our Heart by Fasting from Privilege and Comfort
- Most of us do not see ourselves as racists. We have BIPOC friends. We are careful in the language we use. We support BIPOC owned businesses. And yet we quietly support the status quo of white privilege.
- It is difficult and hard work to face the reality that our institutions and even our church are stained by racial prejudice and discrimination.
- During this week of Lent let’s fast from the comfort of our place of privilege and let’s honestly face the harsh reality of racism that permeates most everything we do.
- Bending our Knees while Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries
- Though white herself, Janet McKenzie has delved deep into the sin of racism and through her art confronts this evil. Her painting “sanctuary” is a striking rendition of Mary and Jesus as a Black mother with a teenage boy.
- Like Mary, many BIPOC mothers have lost their young sons to violence, sometimes even state sanctioned violence.
- During this week let’s pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (https://www.mary.org/liturgical-celebrations/devotions/rosary#.YhK3POjMJD9) as we meditate on the suffering of Mary and Jesus and all victimized Mothers and Sons.
- Lending our Hands as we Strive for Justice and Equity for All:
- Grounded in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, Pax Christi USA strives to be the “peace of Christ” in the world today.
You can learn about their anti-racism movement by visiting: https://paxchristiusa.org/racial-justice/
- You can learn about the work of The Basilica Equity-Diversity-Inclusivity Initiative at www.mary.org/edi. There you will find the Basilica EDI Position Statement as well as suggestions for ways you can get involved in this important work.
- The Basilica staff is reading Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. The book is broken up into four weeks, with each week offering a short daily reading and some reflection questions. Consider reading/discussing this book with family, friends, or neighbors.
- Mark your calendar for Basilica Seven Fates: Racial Healing Stations on May 22 at 1:00pm in The Basilica. This evocative and devotional prayer service invites us to meditate on the inequities caused by racism through sacred art, music, lived experience and prayer.
And please remember to be patient with yourself and others. Lent is not an endurance test or a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So pace yourselves. Give yourself and others some space. And above all be forgiving.
Join the Journey! “Bend your knees, mend your hearts, and lend your hands.”
The Second Week of Lent
“On the Care for our Planet and One Another.”
In 2015 Pope Francis addressed his encyclical Laudato Sì. On Care for Our Common Home to “everyone living on this planet.” With this encyclical, 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 wrote that God’s granting “dominion” over the earth in Gen. 1:28 is often used to justify the relentless exploitation of our planet. As a corrective he offers Gen. 2:15 where God entrusts both the cultivation and the care for our planet to us. Too often, he says we have excelled at cultivating 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 and for one another. 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.
You can find more information about Laudato Si’ and how we might collaborate on its implementation at: https://laudatosiactionplatform.org/ The Laudato Si’ Action Platform is a unique collaboration between the Vatican, an international coalition of Catholic organizations, and “all men and women of good will.”
During this Second Week of Lent let’s mend our hearts by fasting from single-use plastic; bend our knees by praying with Pope Francis; and lend our hands by purchasing sustainably and ethically sourced products.
- Mending our Heart by Fasting from Single-Use 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.”
- Though most of us are diligent about composting and recycling far too much plastic still ends up in our ocean. In an TV interview in February Pope Francis said “Throwing plastic into the sea is criminal. It kills biodiversity, it kills the earth, it kills everything.” The best way to prevent this from happening is by eliminating the use of plastic.
- This week let’s consider fasting from products that come in one-time use plastic containers. For many practical and attainable suggestions please go to: https://ourcommonhome.org/media/docs/Lenten-Plastic-Fast.pdf
- Bending our Knee by Praying with Pope Francis
- Pope Francis ends Laudato Sì with prayers which he invites us to pray often. During this second 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
- Lending our Hands by Purchasing Sustainably and Ethically Sourced Products
- In Laudato Si’ 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 overwhelming 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 carefully consider the products we buy. The important question to ask is how these products impact our planet, the lives of others and 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 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.
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts
Join the Journey! “Bend your knees, mend your hearts, and lend your hands.”
The word "Lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'lencten' which is rooted in the Germanic word for lengthening. It was used to reference the season of Spring because it is the time when the days indeed become longer.
During Lent the days indeed become longer and more light is gained every day. By the time Easter comes around we will have 13 hours and 36 minutes of daylight. That is almost 5 hours more daylight than when we celebrated Christmas.
And as we gain more daylight it is our hope that we gain more spiritual light as well through the traditional Lenten disciplines of praying, fasting and almsgiving.
In a Lenten sermon preached a few years ago by Fr. Jerry Kurian, this Syriac Orthodox priest suggested a new approach to these traditional disciplines as he asks us to take the time during Lent to “bend our knees, mend our hearts, and lend our hands.” And he warns us that our Lenten practices are for naught if they do not change who we are and how we act.
Every week of Lent we will send out a simple communication with some suggestions for a fruitful observation of Lent looking at how we might bend our knees, mend our hearts, and lend our hands. But before we begin Lent we have some suggestions to ready ourselves.
Getting Ready for the Journey
In preparation of our Lenten Journey we suggest that you consider doing the following:
- Create Time for the Journey:
Sometimes we may wonder if we are still in charge of our own lives. Our calendars are filled with appointments and deadlines. In addition, there is the unrelenting barrage of e-mails and texts, while Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and other social media are vying for our time. The blessing of electronic communications has also become a challenge as the lines between worktime, time with family and friend, time to play and time to pray have been blurred.
Lent invites us to set boundaries and re-claim control over our own time and thus over our own life. So, before Lent begins, decide on how you might best create time for your Lenten Journey.
- Prepare a Space for the Journey:
We are keen to assign certain activities to certain rooms and we associate specific rooms with specific activities: we cook in the kitchen; we eat in the dining room; we relax in the living room; we sleep in the bedroom; etc. Each room connotes a specific activity.
When it comes to the primary space we use for prayer, The Basilica undoubtedly comes to mind. Yet, as we try to create more time for prayer and meditation during Lent it is good to set aside a space in our homes that is dedicated to prayer and that is accessible at any given time.
So, before Lent begins, dedicate a room or a corner in a room to be your prayer space. You might place your favorite cross there, or an image of a beloved saint, your bible and a candle as a focus for your prayer.
- Allow for Enough Spiritual Bandwidth for the Journey:
Silence is difficult to find these days. Even when we are by ourselves, our minds are filled to the brim with so many things, most of which are of little consequence. Some people call it mind-chatter, random thoughts that prevent us from having the bandwidth for profound thoughts.
So, before Lent begins let’s commit ourselves to the work of emptying our mind of the unnecessary chatter so we can create the necessary band-with for meditation and prayer. Turning off the mind-chatter is not an easy thing to do. It will take time and dedication as well as a good deal of intentionality.
During the Journey
- Be Patient with Yourself and Others during the Journey:
Lent is not an endurance test or a time to prove our Christian stamina. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. Therefore, pace yourself. Give yourself and others some space. And above all be forgiving.
After the Journey
- Carry you Lenten Experience with you after the Journey:
Lent is not a time for spiritual gymnastics which are abandoned as soon as the Easter Bells toll. Lent is a time of heightened “rehearsal” in what it means to be a Christian in our world today. So, as we engage in our Lenten practices let us be sure that they “change who we are and how we act.”
May this Lenten season of 2022 be a blessing to all of us.
In recent years disagreements and divisions among people have been magnified and amplified. This is undoubtedly due to the indiscriminate use of social media, the politization and depreciation of the media, and a general penchant for the sensational. It seems to no longer shock anyone when politicians and pundits hurl insults and lies at one another. And the most popular criterion for truth seems to be whether something supports one’s own version of reality.
To experience this in the world of politics and business is upsetting enough. It is even more disturbing to see this happen among people of faith, even people of the same faith, and most disturbingly, among people in our own church. Though this phenomenon is nothing new, tragically it seems to have gotten worse in recent years. Whatever happened to: “You will recognize them by their love for one another?”
When Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, an extraordinary gesture of humility and service, he left his Disciples with a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” He went on to say that “this is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
If Christians are to be recognized by their love for one another, then maybe we are not doing the best of jobs. And the value of humility exercised by Jesus when washing his disciples’ feet also seems to have been lost. Maybe it is time that we learn what it truly means to wash one another’s feet; to bend down before one another and to “do what Jesus did.”
When I first moved to the United States, I was given a sticker with four letters on it: WWJD. It was explained to me that these letters stood for “What Would Jesus Do.” I found it a bit silly and simplistic at first, yet over the years I have come to see the value of it, especially after someone sarcastically suggested it stood for “What Would Johan Do.”
This is indeed a simple question, yet it is, at the same time, a very profound question. If all of us Christians asked ourselves “What Would Jesus Do” before speaking and acting, maybe we would not be in the situation we are in today. We might be less selfish, less self-centered and more concerned with the fate of others. We might be less judgmental and more open to dialogue with others. We might be more courageous and speak out against injustice and discrimination. We might even be more caring and loving, a trait indicative of Jesus’ disciples. Of course, this will require that we put Jesus before ourselves.
John the Baptist, who as we know took holiness very seriously said: “He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30) This was probably not a very popular stance in John’s time, neither is it in our time. After all, who wants to decrease? And yet, as Christians we are called to do just that, so that Christ may increase in each one of us, in the Church and in society.
Decreasing is an act of humility which is not easy for anyone, including myself, but it is what Jesus asks of all of us. As we prepare ourselves for Lent, maybe we take on John’s motto to decrease, so Christ may increase; maybe we commit to asking ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?” before we speak or act; and maybe we can foster greater love among us, for it is by our love for one another that we will be recognized as followers of Jesus.
One of the best known Advent hymns is undoubtedly O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This popular hymn is based on a 12th century Latin hymn Veni, veni Emmanuel which in turn incorporates the 8th century so-called “O-antiphons.” These antiphons were and still are sung during Vespers or Evening Prayer, one per day from December 17 through December 23.
Each of the antiphons begins with the acclamation “O,” hence their name, followed by a messianic title inspired by the Hebrew Scriptures and applied to Christ such as “O Wisdom from on High” and “O Key of David.” Together, these seven antiphons illuminate the many qualities of the Messiah we await and celebrate.
The last antiphon which we sing on December 23 addresses Jesus with the title “Emmanuel.” The word Emmanuel is derived from the Hebrew language meaning “God with us.” This is truly the essence of who we, as Christians, believe God to be: “with us.”
Too often we are tempted to relegate God to far off places. Imagining God in a magnificent setting of heaven is in a way a very safe approach. The further God is removed from us the easier it is for us to ignore God. Some people could not be more content than to offer prayers and burn incense to a far away God in the certain hope that God indeed stays far away.
Things are very different when we believe and proclaim that God is “with us” because there is no way we can avoid or ignore God “with us.”
We experience that God is truly with us most especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Pope Paul VI identified 4 ways in which Christ is present in the Eucharist: in the gathered assembly, in the celebrant, in the Word proclaimed and in the Bread broken and Wine shared.
It is very important for us to experience this on a regular basis because as we learn how to recognize Christ in the Eucharist, we also learn to embrace that God is with us outside of the Eucharist in one another.
Advent and Christmas are clear reminders that our God is not content with being far removed from us. On the contrary by being born as the son of Mary, God chose to be “with is,” not far off but near by.
Theologically speaking, Advent is the affirmation of the three manifestations of God among us: in the past, some 2000 years ago when Jesus was born; in the present as we recognize God at work here and now; and in the future as Christ will return at the end of time to complete the messianic promise.
This Advent I invite us not to focus on the past and future manifestations of God in Christ, but rather to focus on the present and to open our heart and soul to God among us, here and now.
Sometimes it is not easy to accept that God is with us, especially when we face all the pain and evil that confronts so many people on a daily basis with no relief in sight. Where is God in all of this we might ask ourselves? The answer is quite simple: God is in the midst of it all, rejoicing with us and mourning with us.
Our God is not the kind of God who holds the strings to our history as if we were mere marionettes or puppets in a divine comedy or tragedy. Rather, our God is with us, accompanying us in the worst of times and in the best of times, helping us to face everything that comes our way either as a result of our choices, both good and bad or as the result choices made by others.
Moreover, God is not just a passive presence; rather God is with us as our guide and moral compass. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we find the blue print for how God wants us to live and interact with one another and with our planet.
It is also important to remember that Emmanuel does not mean “God with me” but rather “God with us.” It is God who binds us all together as we journey toward the fulfilment of the messianic promise when all will be as God had hoped it to be from before the beginning of time.
So, when we sing “O Come, Emmanuel” let us take to heart that God is with us and together let us recognize and celebrate God in our midst, here and now.
The Sistine Chapel with the Creation Story and the Last Judgment by Michelangelo as well as the world-renowned Rafael Rooms are often referenced when speaking about the Vatican Museums. Some people might make mention of the early Christian collections with the famous Good Shepherd and numerous Christian Sarcophagi. Others will remark about the amazing collection of modern and contemporary sacred art started by Saint Pope Paul VI. But who would expect to find a vast collection of indigenous art and artifacts from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania in the Vatican Museums?
In 1925, Pope Pius XI organized a major exposition of art and artifacts that reflected the artistic, cultural and spiritual traditions of the different peoples of the world. Of the 100,000 objects that were sent for the exhibition some 40,000 were given to the pope and remained in the Vatican collections after the exhibition. This was the beginning of what was then known as the Vatican’s Ethological Museum.
A few years ago, Pope Francis renamed this museum and gave it the title of Anima Mundi or Soul of the World. At the same time he asked that this museum be completely re-imagined and be given a much more prominent place among the different collections in the Vatican Museums.
During the opening of the partially completed Anima Mundi Museum in October of 2019 Pope Francis commented on the transparency of this new museum. All walls and exhibition cases within the Anima Mundi Museum are made out of highly transparent glass which allows the visitor to experience art from one continent while seeing art from all the other continents. Pope Francis said: “In these showcases, over the course of time, thousands of works coming from every part of the world will find space, and this kind of installation is meant to place them effectively in dialogue among themselves. And as works of art are the expression of the spirit of peoples, the message received is that one needs to always look at every culture, at the other, with openness of spirit and with benevolence.”
On October 7, I was able to visit the Anima Mundi Museum with Fr. Nicola Mapelli who is the director of this museum. He spoke about the objects in the transparent cases as ambassadors of the different cultures in our wonderfully diverse world. I was very moved by the deep longings; the fears and hopes; the joys and sorrows all of us share as they are expressed in these many objects, no matter where and when they were made. We are so very different from one another, and yet we are so very much the same.
The following Wednesday, during his weekly audience Pope Francis spoke about the relationship between Christian freedom and our diverse cultures during his meditation on the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. He was clear to state that welcoming the Christian faith does not “involve renouncing the heart of cultures and traditions, but only that which may hinder the newness and purity of the Gospel.”
True Christian freedom, the Pope said, enables us “to acquire the full dignity of the children of God,” while allowing us to remain anchored in our own cultural heritage and at the same time being open to what is good and true in every culture.
The Pope deeply lamented the “many errors” that have occurred in the history of evangelization “by seeking to impose a single cultural model.” These errors, he said, have deprived the Church of “the richness of many local expressions that the cultural traditions of entire peoples bring with them.”
It was not lost on me that my visit to the Anima Mundi Museum and Pope Francis’ meditations fell on either side of October 11, a day known by some as Columbus Day and by others as Indigenous People’s Day.
As we move forward toward a world and a Church that is more inclusive, diverse, and equitable let us take an honest look at our past, let us be transparent about our present and let us courageously march toward the future, embracing the open and respectful dialogue so needed for the well-being of our world, our church, our community and ourselves.
As we are returning to in-person liturgies I wonder if you have ever asked yourself why you participate in the celebration of the Eucharist? Is it maybe out of a sense of obligation? Is it out of guilt or fear? Is it simply out of habit? Is it because someone makes you go? Is it because you think it’s your part of some kind of bargain with God? Or maybe it is because you are moved to celebrate the unfathomable mystery of the Creator of the Universe becoming human so as to show us the path to salvation which passes through the cross?
And if you are like me, when we participate in the Eucharist, sometimes the liturgy really speaks to us and sometimes it does not. There are times when we are moved to tears, while other times it may feel like we just go through the motions. Often this has little to do with the liturgy itself but with how we are feeling on any given day.
Yet, even when the liturgy seems boring and ineffective, as long as we open our heart to the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit the Eucharist will change us and will mold us more and more into being the Body of Christ to the world. That is the power of the liturgy.
The first reading today is from Deuteronomy. This book illuminates the evolving relationship between God and God’s people. The Covenant which God made with Abraham was unconditional, based on the profound relationship between God and Abraham. Deuteronomy presents a shift as the covenant between God and Israel becomes bilateral. God offers to uphold the covenant and bless Israel as long as the people hold up their part of the bargain by remaining faithful to the commandments and the Law of Moses.
This is exactly what Moses affirms in today’s reading. But there is a hidden danger in his emphasis on strict adherence to the law, as the law can become an idol in itself. That is what Jesus points out in today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
The Pharisees take offense at the fact that Jesus’ disciples fail to wash their hands before a meal. Purification of the body in many circumstances and for many reasons was deemed important because this was prescribed in the Law of Moses. It must have been a true shock for the Pharisees to see the disciples of Jesus ignore these prescriptions.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees by challenging the relationship between the law and the covenant. Merely following the letter of the law is not enough, according to Jesus. Much more is needed. The covenant between God and God’s people is not just about what is on the outside; rather it is about what is on the inside. It is not just about washing one’s hands but about the cleanness of heart.
The same holds for us. Our relationship with God is not just about the outside but about what is on the inside. Our celebration of the Eucharist is not just about fulfilling an obligation. It is not just about listening, saying the correct words and engaging in the correct actions. It is about singing God’s praise for the marvelous deeds accomplished in Jesus Christ. It is about opening our heart so we might become more like the one whose sacrifice we celebrate: Jesus, the Christ. It is about becoming more like Christ so we can be Christ to the world.
Or in the words of our second reading from the Letter of James: “Being hearers of the word is not enough; we have to be doers of the word.” And according to today’s Responsorial Psalm, it is the one who does justice who “will live in the presence of the Lord.”
So let’s end by returning to my original question: why do we participate in the Eucharist on Sunday? During the Eucharist we are invited to listen to the Word so that we may become doers of the Word. And we are invited to share in the Body of Christ so we may become Christ’s hands, feet and heart to the world. These are two of the many reasons why we are called to participate in the Eucharist every Sunday.