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The first two Sundays of Lent relate the story of the temptation of Jesus and his transfiguration. The Church has celebrated these two events on the first two Sundays of Lent since the fourth century.
The desert has a starring role in the season of Lent. It is a place of temptation and a place where the people of Israel were both faithful and unfaithful. The desert is a symbol of communion with God. Those who enter into the desert are free of distractions so that they may encounter God without any trappings or worldly possessions. The desert is also a place where they can lose hope and waver in their trust in God. It is a place of real thirst and hunger for God.
Each of the three temptations begins with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is very manipulative using this statement with Jesus. He is egging Jesus on, or so it seems. How many times have you been baited to cross the line into temptation by someone or something asking you if you are brave enough, or smart enough, or clever enough, or wise enough. It is such a temptation for all of us and speaks about power and control over our lives and others. It also plays into our self-esteem and our love or lack of love for ourselves. If we are not secure that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God and have not come to love ourselves in a healthy way, then we will be swayed by such temptations. But Jesus was so assured of God’s love that he didn’t react to those temptations. He stood his ground knowing that he was God’s Chosen One who has a mission that he would be true to it till the end.
The good news of this desert story is that Jesus was victorious in his struggle with Satan. The Gospel is a reminder to us today that we are all to stand in the struggle against evil with the understanding that because of our faith in Christ, the power of hell will not prevail against us.
The liturgies of Lent prepare us for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter and also ask us to reflect on the power of sin in our lives but also the undeniable reality of grace that overcomes sin. Lent is an extended meditation on our need to turn our lives completely over to God, to express sincere sorrow for the sin in our lives and to renew our participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Another important focus of Lent is mercy. Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015. He has been talking about the mercy of God everywhere he goes. He claims that he came up with the idea before he was even pope.
“Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love, to put you back on your feet,” he states. “We need mercy….God does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that he has to heal.”
We can all walk into Lent remembering these words and fall into the arms of God who awaits us with infinite love and mercy.
A couple weeks ago when I was driving back to The Basilica I heard a news report on coloring books for adults. While I was listening to it, I flashed on the memory of an experience I had many years ago. I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law—and trying to be a good uncle—I spent some time playing with my niece and two nephews (all of whom are now adults). At one point the younger of my two nephews was attempting to color a picture. I say “attempting” because while he was using a variety of different crayons to color the picture, his efforts at staying inside the lines were being met with only marginal success. I commented on this and suggested that he try harder to stay inside the lines. His reply was a masterpiece of childhood simplicity. He looked at me and said: “That’s okay; I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet.” Silly me, I thought the picture was determined by the pre-drawn lines. My nephew, on the other hand, had a slightly broader vision. For him, the picture was whatever it turned out to be. He wasn’t limited by any preconceived ideas or pre-drawn lines. For him, the end result—what it looked like when he was finished—was what really mattered.
What stayed with me about this experience was that I think I often approach life the same way I approach coloring. I think I see the whole picture, but in reality my perception is limited and I see only what I want to see. In my mind the lines have already been drawn and all that is left is for me to try to stay within them. More often than I care to admit, I think I see the full and complete picture, only to discover later that there was more to be seen just outside my preconceived lines. In a nutshell, I often miss the big picture and instead see only a limited/reduced version.
I think the above is particularly true with God. I have discovered that more often than not, God draws “outside the lines” in my life. God sees a bigger picture than I do, and am often surprised (actually, more often amazed) when I finally get enough perspective to see that bigger picture. There are times when I have faced adversity or distress only to discover later that it was the source of great blessing and grace. On the other hand, there have been times when something I initially thought was a blessing, turned out not to be the blessing I thought it was.
It is indeed fortunate for us that God is not limited by our pre-drawn lines or our pre-conceived ideas. God sees a bigger picture. Often times, God draws outside the lines of our picture to make a picture of God’s own design. In this new year perhaps one of our resolutions could be that we strive to be open to the picture of ourselves, our lives, and our community that God has in mind. And may our prayer be that we might be open to God’s grace, that the picture God has in mind for us might become a reality.
Recently a young man approached me following one of our Sunday liturgies. He asked if we needed him for the liturgy. Eager to recruit I immediately said “yes, of course.” He thanked me and walked away. I was surprised he did not ask where he could sign up or how he could be most helpful. Maybe his question was more complex?
Reflecting on this interaction, I was reminded that shortly after the post-Vatican II liturgy had been implemented, Pope Paul VI said that up until then it had been sufficient for lay people to merely assist at Mass. “Before,” he said “being there was enough; now attention and activity are required. Before, everyone could doze or chatter, now all must listen and pray.” (see Documents on the Liturgy, 1963-1979 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1982) 27, 401, 115).
This most major shift from ‘assisting at Mass’ to ‘actively participating in the liturgy’ has revolutionized our Catholic understanding of the liturgy. No longer is it acceptable for the laity to watch the ordained ministers celebrate the rites of the church. Since this momentous shift, all Catholics are invited, encouraged, and even required to participate in many and various ways in the celebration of the liturgy.
However, this does not mean that everyone participates in the same capacity. The Pauline image of the Body of Christ, which is one but has many parts, helps us understand how this participation might be best understood. Though the entire Body of Christ celebrates the liturgy, different members of the Body of Christ exercise different ministries in the liturgy.
Thus, the first ministry is that of the entire Church. We, the Church, celebrate the liturgy as the one Body of Christ. Therefore it is important that the entire Body of Christ be present at the liturgy. And it is important that the entire Body of Christ participate actively, fully, and consciously.
Second, some members of the Body are called to participate in a more particular way relative to our gifts and talent. Certain members of the Body of Christ, e.g. have been given the talents to lead the community in prayer and are ordained to do so. Other members of the Body of Christ who have been gifted with musical talents are called to lead the community in song. Those who have the talent of public speech are called to proclaim the Word of God, etc.
Talents are entrusted to us by God for the betterment of the world and the church. Liturgical talents are entrusted to us for the betterment of the liturgy and the proclamation of the Gospel. As members of the Body of Christ we are called to use those talents.
Like the young man who stopped me after Mass, you may wonder if we need you for the celebration of the liturgy at The Basilica of Saint Mary. The answer is plain and simple: “Yes we do!” First of all we need you to participate actively in the liturgy through praying, singing, listening, etc. Second, we need you as a minister of hospitality (usher); as a lector; as an Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion; as a cantor; as a choir member; as a sacristan; as a server; etc. Whatever your talents are, they can surely be put to the service of the liturgy.
As you serve in one of those capacities you will discover a new and deeper appreciation for the celebration of the liturgy; you will learn how to better serve the Church and ultimately you will assist with the bringing about of the Reign of God. And if you think our community is too large, this is a great way to make it smaller. So, do not hesitate. Please go to www.mary.org/liturgicalministry and start the process. And remember: ‘don’t ask what the liturgy can do for you. Ask what you can do for the liturgy!’
The little things in life can be the most powerful.
I have witnessed this first-hand while negotiating appropriate school clothes with a pig-tailed, rosy-cheeked three-year-old. Would it be snow gear or the sundress that was more appealing to her that particular morning?
It is days like this that make me especially grateful for the delayed winter this year. But, it’s always inevitable. It got cold. And I don’t mean a little chill in the air, but Minnesota cold: sleeping-bag style, parka-wearing, run—don’t walk—to the car, stay-inside, electric-blanket, bone-chilling cold.
When the temperature drops below freezing, you can usually expect some complaints to follow. That morning, a few hours after “snow-pants gate,” I was voicing my grievance with our receptionist at The Basilica when she casually reminded me of what the cold brings to The Basilica.
The doorbell rings more often.
The common, sometimes constant buzz you hear on the first floor of the Rectory on the cold mornings actually presents the opportunity for small actions to change our community for the better. For decades, we have provided for the basic necessities of those in need who come to our door.
Little things impact lives for the better at The Basilica. Little things, like a sandwich and a cup of coffee handed out at the door for those who are hungry, or a bus card—or shoes for school.
Really, these “basic” necessities are anything but basic.
The St. Vincent de Paul ministries give authenticity to our faith. It strengthens the outreach, not only to those in need but to those who are searching for a spiritual home on their own faith journey because it demonstrates the love and acceptance so many are hungry to find in their spiritual lives. It is an incredible ministry of our parish, and led by dedicated staff and volunteers. It is when a cup of coffee is not such a little thing.
And there’s the simple message you hear each Sunday. “Wherever you are on your faith journey, we welcome you.” It’s a little sentence but a big statement. It represents the inclusivity that continues to extend an invitation and welcome hundreds of new members to The Basilica each year.
Its repetition reinforces the meaning behind it—and is not for those who are visiting, but those who might be sitting in the same pew each Sunday. It grows when it is not just spoken, but lived.
This year, my family celebrated Christmas at The Basilica. We usually visit family on the farm in South Dakota, and as much as I love the small white chapel on the prairie, celebrating Mass in the magnificence of our inspiring Basilica was a real treat. In the thousands of people who gathered together, God’s presence was so big. Witnessing thousands of people praying, seeing the children stand in awe of the nativity scene, and to hearing the emotional song of the choir—it all reminds me of the importance of our stewardship at The Basilica. It is all so immense, yet so intimate.
As you consider your own participation in the small things at The Basilica, keep in mind that even if it seems small to you, it does make a difference. If you are considering volunteering your time or giving a financial donation, please know that when the community comes together, the communal outcome is so big that the outcome can change and even save lives.
Whether it is supporting the parish through stewardship, or a special gift for St. Vincent de Paul or even a donation for The Basilica Landmark, we are grateful for your consideration and support.
The Jesuit priest, Fr. Karl Rahner, perhaps the premier theologian of the 20th century, was once asked whether he believed in miracles. He answered: “I don’t believe in them, I rely on them to get through each day!” I thought of these words a few weeks ago when a song by Sarah McLaughlan entitled “Ordinary Miracle” came on the radio. I googled the lyrics when I got home and then downloaded the song. The lyrics are simple, and they reminded me that while we may think of miracles as extraordinary, powerful, and unexpected happenings, there are “ordinary” miracles that occur every day.
Why, though, is it often so hard to recognize these “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us? I suspect part of it is the age in which we live where we look for logical explanations or clear reasons for the things that happen in our lives. The thing is, though, that there are some things beyond reason and logic. There are some things that defy explanation and/or don’t yield to easy answers. I believe these are “ordinary” miracles that are often overlooked. When people are able to let go of their hurt and pain and are able to forgive, that is a miracle. When someone gives a lot from the little they have, that is a miracle. When we are able to carry on in the face of disappointment, sorrow, and sadness, that is a miracle. When we are able to let go of our selfishness and live in a more selfless manner, that is a miracle. These are “ordinary” miracles that occur all around us every day.
I believe what helps us recognize the “ordinary” miracles that exist around us is faith. When we look through the eyes of faith, we are better able to recognize those miracles that are present all around us. Faith helps us to realize that sometimes logic and reason can only take us so far. Faith helps us to “see” things in a different way. And faith helps us to understand and accept that God is often working behind the scenes in our lives making “ordinary” miracles happen all around us.
I believe that those “ordinary” miracles that occur each and every day are a gracious gift from a loving God. When we are able to recognize the “ordinary” miracles that happen all around us, it can make a difference in our lives. They give us hope in the face of darkness, and they help us continue on when the way is difficult and the outcome uncertain.
Do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. And like Fr. Rahner, I don’t just believe in them, I rely on them to get me through each day. Miracles, though, are not just those extraordinary and astonishing happenings that sometimes occur. They are that, certainly. But there are also “ordinary” miracles that happen all the time. These miracles remind me that God is always at work in our lives and in our world, and inviting us to recognize and respond to the grace God wants to give us.
Day after day we watch the desperate journeys of refugees making their way towards Europe and a better life. At home the flow of undocumented children briefly caught media attention last year, but now there’s not much news about our southern border. We don’t hear about these grim statistics—nearly 3,000 people died in the Sonoran desert attempting “to cross” since 2000, and last year alone the remains of 133 people were identified. Advocates at Derechos Humanos speak of “remains,” because they think many more have died in the desert. They tell of receiving frantic calls from family and friends, who have not heard from loved ones, because they lost their cell phone coverage in the desert.
In early October Elisa Johnson and I joined the Loretto (Sisters) Border Patrol. We met advocates on both sides of the border. We spent several hours in Tucson at Derechos Humanos learning about Operation Streamline. Started by President Bush and accelerated last year by President Obama, Operation Streamline speeds up the prosecution of border crossers who have attempted it a second time.
We visited the federal court house in Tucson where 86 percent of the court’s cases are marked, “Illegal Entry.” Humiliated detainees are shackled with a chain around their wrists and manacled at their ankles when, in groups of five, they face a judge. Lawyers urge the border crossers to accept a plea deal in return for dropping a felony charge. In Tucson, 70 detainees (the same number of jail cells in the court house) can be sentenced in under two hours every day. The cost to taxpayers is estimated to be $100 million per year. Deportees receive anywhere from 30 days to 6 months in for- profit prisons and leave with a federal criminal record before being deported.
I was surprised to learn the U.S. pays for a veritable cottage industry of for-profit jails, the largest run by the Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. Of the 34,000 jail beds slated for detainees, 62 percent of those are in private prisons. According to Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, more than 2,000 Central American immigrant mothers and children are currently being held in remote locations. The children and their mothers are held indefinitely for seeking asylum—a legal right under both international and U.S. law. In an effort to minimize asylum applications, the U.S. is paying the Mexican Government to stop immigrants from leaving Mexico by sending U.S. border agents to train Mexican agents in apprehension and detention.
Elisa and I crossed the border near Nogales, Mexico. She dragged a large red suitcase filled with toiletries and first aid supplies for the deportees at El Comedor. No one stopped us or asked us for our papers.
Started by the Jesuits and run by a Mexican sister and many volunteers, El Comedor was literally dug out of a hillside in sight of the border crossing. I spoke to a farm worker, who had been apprehended one night outside of a Walmart in upper Michigan where he had purchased groceries for his family. The sole support of his wife and five children, he was fearful of a desert crossing to reunite with his family. Before his deportation, he said he had been in detention centers for the past six months. He had no criminal record—his only crime was crossing our border.
That morning at El Comedor, we served soup and tortillas to the men, a few women and one two-year-old boy. Before they ate, the group bowed their heads and prayed, not just a quick blessing but a long prayer for the journey ahead.
A few weeks ago, after dinner in the rectory, a small group of us went to church to hear our choir perform a couple of choral pieces. I was particularly struck by the second piece. It was a Hymn of Thanks written by Don Krubsack, the husband of our choir director, Teri Larson. The text was part of a poem by George Herbert. The entire piece only takes a couple of minutes, but I was and continue to be struck by its beauty and simplicity. The words are simple, but compelling, and made more so by Don’s beautiful musical accompaniment. “You, Lord, have given so much to me. Give me one thing more, a grateful heart, a grateful heart. Not thankful only when it pleases me, but a heart whose pulse may always give you praise.”
I think one of the reasons I was so struck by this hymn was that for several months now I have been closing my prayer time in the morning by asking God to give me a grateful heart, a generous heart, a compassionate heart, and a humble heart. And while I have a long way to go in terms of these things being a part of my life, I want to believe that when I heard this beautiful Hymn of Thanks, God was giving me a sign that I am on the right track.
In a world where so much is available to us at the tips of our fingers, it is hard sometimes to remember that all that we have and all that we are comes to us from our loving God. Now certainly many of us work long and hard. We are used to making our way in the world, and earning our passage. All of this is possible, though, only because our God first loved us into being and gave us the talents, the abilities, and the resources we need to succeed and to flourish.
When we focus, though, only on our own efforts and consider only what we don’t have and/or what we still want, it can be hard to remember, let alone to feel gratitude. And yet, we could accomplish nothing, if not for the completely gratuitous love of God. Developing a grateful heart is at the core of our relationship with God.
How do we develop a grateful heart? Well, while I believe this is the task of a lifetime, I also believe it begins by asking God to help us want to be grateful. I am more and more convinced that unless we want to do something, we are not apt to do it. So we need to begin by asking God to help us want to be grateful. We then need to acknowledge those things for which we need to be grateful. And we need to close the loop by asking God to help us be grateful—not just when it pleases us—but at all times.
At times gratitude is instinctual. More often, though, I think it is a behavior that we learn through prayerful practice. Given this, may we who have been given so much, remember to ask God for one thing more—a grateful heart—not thankful only when it pleases us, but a heart whose pulse may always give God praise.
Over the years, I have amassed a substantial collection of nativities. New to my collection are several images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on their way to Egypt. Some depict the Holy Family in the traditional way with Mary sitting on a donkey. She holds the baby Jesus in her arms. Joseph leads the donkey. Others are less traditional depicting them in a boat, in a car or on a plane. Regardless, in each of these cases they are on a journey. Theirs was a journey that led them from danger to safety; from darkness to light; from death to life.
The Holy Family’s journey exemplifies our own journey, for life indeed is a journey. For some people it is a long journey. For others, it is short. Some people’s journey is straightforward. Other people’s journey may be more circuitous. Some people’s journey is easy. Other people’s journey can be very difficult. But what all of us share is that we are on a journey from birth to burial.
For Christians, this journey is more than just a journey. We consider it to be a pilgrimage. The English word “pilgrim” is a translation of the Latin peregrinus which means “stranger,” more precisely “from another country.” Being a Christian means being a pilgrim, being a “stranger,” even when living in a Christian land. For myself, living and working in the United States, my adopted homeland, I have often had the sense that I am a stranger. I sense that not only literally, for I do come from another country. Being a Catholic I have sometimes felt a spiritual stranger in this country. I don’t consider this a bad thing, on the contrary. Lest we become complacent, Christians always should feel a little “out of place” and a little restless. For as St. Augustine said: “Our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.”
The Year of Mercy, which we began December 8, is an invitation to all of us to rediscover this sense of restlessness; a sense that we don’t really belong; a sense that we are strangers; a sense that we are not at home, yet. The Year of Mercy offers us an opportunity to break out of our complacency and rediscover the riches and the challenges of the Gospel. The Year of Mercy invites us to renew our spiritual journey or pilgrimage.
Some of us will literally leave our homes this year to go on a pilgrimage to a sacred place. Some will take a pilgrimage to Rome during this Holy Year to walk through the Holy Doors. Most of us will stay near our home and make a pilgrimage to The Basilica or the Cathedral to walk through the Holy Doors here. No matter how far or near our pilgrimage takes us our shared goal is to rediscover what it means to be a pilgrim, a stranger, “from another land.”
I love looking at the sculptures I have of the Holy Family. Each one is different. One of them is from Mexico, another from Kenya, another from Palestine… in each one of them the Holy family is depicted in the image of the people who made them. It is a constant reminder to me that The Holy Family’s treacherous journey is a pre-figuration of all our journeys. The journey and indeed, the entire life of the Holy Family is a symbol of the life-long pilgrimage all of us are asked to undertake. May we be inspired by their faith, their trust, and their endurance.
So, let’s pack our satchel and continue our pilgrimage from darkness to light; from death to life as we journey to that Promised Land where we will be strangers no more.
Since the beginning of time, people of faith have searched for the God who had left so many proofs of His existence, yet had always remained hidden from sight. His presence was real, yet always mediated through created things, and therefore always elusive.
And then, in the fullness of time, all that changed. While all was quiet, in the deep stillness of a winter night, God came to a small country town and dwelt among His people in human form. God’s presence was no longer mediated and mysterious, but now real and actual.
It was first noticed by shepherd folk with keen ears and star gazers with sharp eyes. Yet soon a waiting world was to know of this miraculous event. And down through the centuries believers of every age have continued to search for and discover God made manifest in that tiny infant born in Bethlehem.
Today we celebrate the birth of Christ, not as a past event, but as a living reality. For we believe that God did not come to dwell among us once long ago and then return to heaven. God continues to abide with us. He is Emmanuel—God with us now and always.
May we attune our eyes and our ears as we seek to discover the living God present among us. May we open our hearts to his presence and love. And may this Christmas be a time for all of us to recognize anew the presence of God revealed to us in our newborn king, Jesus Christ.
We are excited to announce The Basilica of Saint Mary will be partnering with Lutheran Social Services to sponsor a refugee family. We are proud to be able to respond to the call from Pope Francis for parishes to sponsor refugee families.
It is not only difficult to underestimate the suffering of refugees, but also the struggles in transitioning to life in the U.S. As an attorney, I have had the opportunity to work with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and have seen how important it is to help families navigate the trials of resettling here.
This year, I worked with a woman (I will call her Maria) who was seeking asylum in the U.S. from Guatemala. As a child, Maria was persecuted at the hands of the Guatemalan government. When she was born in 1981, Guatemala was in the midst of a bloody civil war, and the government had begun to wipe out entire villages of indigenous groups, including Maria’s group, the Q’anjob’al, for fear they were part of a rebel resistance. When Maria was three months old, the Guatemalan military came to her village, and brutally killed her father, five-year-old brother, and burned all their family’s belongings.
After the war, Maria was able to resettle with her mother and sister in Guatemala. She later married and had two children. In 2007, her husband moved to Minnesota to be able to better provide for the family. He soon began sending her money regularly. However, during this time, a gang known as M-18 had become very powerful in Guatemala, with members across Central America, Mexico, and Southern California.
The gang discovered that Maria’s husband was sending her money and began extorting her. The gang eventually became dissatisfied with their cut and began issuing death threats to Maria and her two young children, who were now nine and seven years old. Fearing for her life and the lives of her children, she fled Guatemala with her children to the U.S. in hopes of reuniting with her husband and starting a new life.
After traveling overland for two weeks, they were detained as she crossed the border in San Diego. Fortunately, after several months of court battles, a Minnesota judge granted Maria and her two children asylum. She is now living in Alexandria with her husband and two children.
Obtaining asylum was a monumental relief for Maria, as she was now safe from the M-18 gang, however there were still significant hurdles adjusting to a new life in the U.S. For example, no one in the family speaks English. Maria’s first language is her indigenous dialect and her second is Spanish, so she is now learning a third language from scratch in a foreign country. In addition, Maria’s husband was undocumented while living in the U.S. He will soon have asylum, but we had to apply for it separately and the application has been pending for six months.
Maria was also four months pregnant when she was granted asylum. We had to spend hours working with MNsure, Maria’s and her husband’s employers, and the U.S. government to track down the correct documentation to provide Maria basic health insurance so that she could have her baby (who was born healthy in September).
These are just a handful of the myriad of issues that Maria has faced and will continue to face as she adjusts to life in the United States. But she is also one of the lucky ones. She represents one of the few refugees that got the resources she needed to be resettled. Had she not had these resources, who knows if she would be alive today.
For these reasons, The Basilica is both excited and proud to be able to sponsor a refugee family and help them navigate these same issues and adjust to life in our Twin Cities community.