Archive | August, 2017

Through Blood and Faith

August 19, 2017


Today marks the one year anniversary of my dear cousin’s death.  Fr. Marvin O’Connell was technically my first cousin once removed and he is the one who taught me how to figure out those confusing family lines.  A priest of this diocese and history professor at the University of St. Thomas for a number of years, he spent most of his years teaching at Notre Dame in South Bend.  Early in my life I remember hearing that I had a cousin who was a priest. I met him on a couple of occasions. A priest in the family gets called in for weddings, funerals and baptisms.  I didn’t pay him much thought until I had a (re)conversion to my Catholic faith and suddenly the thought of a cousin who was a priest gave me someone else (besides my pastor) that I could take my many questions to.  My connection to him was through blood and faith, it was only latter that I learned of his academic notoriety.

When my son was little he kept Fr. Marvin’s ordination picture in his room. It seemed at the time he thought he looked like Fr. Andrew Cozzens (now Bishop Cozzens) and Fr. Andrew was an associate at our parish at the time and my son had idolized him. The physical resemblance of the two was mostly in my  son’s eyes, but a young priest looks like any young priest to a 7 year old. One day we invited our pastor over for dinner and when touring the house he asked who the priest was in the picture.  When I explained it was my cousin Fr. Marvin O’Connell, he responded with excitement, “You mean THE Fr. Marvin O’Connell?!” Prior to that I never knew he was so well known – at least in priest circles.

He authored 10 books and lectured often.  His notoriety at Notre Dame is legendary. He even threw Joe Montana out of his classroom once  for falling asleep. (Check out this beautiful tribute written by one of his students here). Right now, a group of alumni are making the historic walk in the footsteps of the founder of Notre Dame, Fr. Edward Sorin.  The group studied Marv’s biography of Fr. Sorin in preparation for this trip. (Follow them here).

I called him Marv and when I attended his funeral many were surprised by this affectionate nick name I had for him. It seems many of even his close friends called him Fr. O’Connell – at his insistence.

It is not for his academic prowess that I miss and remember his passing today. It is for his love and encouragement to me. On one trip to visit my family in Faribault, he not only anchored me to the history of the town in which I lived by telling me about the Faribault Plan, (A plan which could force the state’s financial support of Catholic schools which he wrote about in his book on Archbishop Ireland) but also anchored me in my family history.  As he left that day, he held my chin lovingly and told me that I reminded him of our shared grandmother (His grandmother and my great-grandmother) Grandma Hannah O’Connell was a formidable woman. She painted, wrote poetry and prose and volunteered as an Army nurse for a time.  Our shared family resemblance didn’t end there.  At one point while I was working for the Archdiocese, I found myself getting into hot water because of my outspoken opinions.  Seeking council from Fr. Marvin he told me he wasn’t surprised. “It seems to run in the family,” he said.  Blood (family) seems to bind us in many ways.

His encouragement of my writing was especially important to me.  As I was just starting to develop this skill, he encouraged me to press on and saw a gift in my work.

To honor his memory, sharpen my writing skills and possibly grow closer to knowing this “old goat” better through his work, I am planning on finally reading his last book: Pilgrims to the Northland – The  History of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, 1840-1962. In addition to reading it – I hope to travel to a few of the places mentioned and write about it here in this blog.

I hope you follow me on these periodic posts as I hope to also grow closer to God on this journey through blood and faith.

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St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 18, 2017


St. Bartholomew

A true Israelite without duplicity

When Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel, saw Bartholomew, Jesus said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). This was not an ordinary comment or simple observation. It was a keen insight and a tremendous compliment.

The “true Israelite” of the Old Testament is Jacob. After Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel gave him the name “Israel” (Gn 32:29), a name that God confirmed (Gn 35:10). Jacob is the first and original Israelite. He is the third patriarch. His grandparents were Abraham and Sarah, and his parents were Isaac and Rebekah. He had a twin brother, Esau, who was born first (Gn 25:21-26) and possessed the birthright. Jacob was devious or duplicitous because he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that he intended to give to his firstborn son Esau (Gn 27). Jacob may have been a true Israelite, but he sinned; he was a man with duplicity.

Bartholomew excelled his ancestor Jacob. Bartholomew was not an Israelite in name alone. It was a description of his spiritual condition, the state of his soul. He was a model Jew, a man who loved God with his whole heart and embraced his Jewish faith. He was righteous in that he meticulously observed the Mosaic Law. He was just and honest, truthful and trustworthy, a man of integrity with impeccable character. As a true Israelite, he was also a man of prayer, and his prayerfulness showed itself in his virtue. He was loving and kind, patient and understanding, humble and gentle, well-mannered and polite, compassionate and merciful, generous and faithful, modest and pure, industrious and reliable, and attentive to the needs of others, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. He was pleasing to God and a shining example to others of how to live the Jewish faith.

Bartholomew was unlike his spiritual ancestor Jacob. Jacob was duplicitous and Bartholomew was not. Duplicity means two or double. A duplicitous person is two-faced, someone who projects a good and honorable outward appearance yet has a hidden dark evil side; an individual who is sly, sneaky, and dishonest. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Jacob wore his brother’s clothes, covered his smooth skin with animal hides, brought his father a meal that he neither caught nor prepared, and lied when he impersonated his brother.

Bartholomew, on the other hand, was a man without duplicity. He was good inside and out. There was no conniving or scheming, no secret agendas or ulterior motives. He was honest, straightforward, trustworthy, and innocent. Everything was above board. When it came to Bartholomew, “what you see is what you get.”

Bartholomew is a model and an inspiration for how to be a disciple of Jesus. As Bartholomew was a true Israelite, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be a true Christian, and as Bartholomew was a man without duplicity, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be good inside and out.

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The Queenship of Mary

August 18, 2017


August 22 is the annual memorial of the Queenship of Mary. The date was chosen to coincide with August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption, which was celebrated eight days earlier. Mary’s Queenship is remembered on the “octave” of the Assumption.

What we believe about Mary is drawn from what we believe about her Son, Jesus. If Jesus is a king, then his mother is a queen; and if Jesus is the greatest of all kings, the King of kings, then his mother ranks first above all other queens. If Jesus ascended to heaven because he did God’s will and was all holy, then Mary was assumed to heaven because she was completely obedient to God (Lk 1:38), full of grace (Lk 1:28), and blessed (Lk 1:48). If Jesus was glorified by his Father and now reigns as king of heaven and earth, then Mary was glorified by the Trinity and reigns with her Son at his throne.

When the title “queen” is associated with Mary, it should not be considered in earthly terms of imperial rank, authority over others, immense wealth, elegant clothes, and the like. Mary is a spiritual queen, she ranks first in holiness, she is “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42).

A number of Scripture passages are associated with Mary’s Queenship. The verse most frequently cited comes from the Magnificat or Mary’s Canticle, a beautiful prayer in which Mary said, “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). Mary has always been regarded as the lowly one, and she has been given the throne that sinful rulers were unworthy to hold. Other texts traditionally associated with Mary’s queenship include, “A princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand” (Ps 45:10b); she “comes forth like the dawn, beautiful as the white moon, pure as the blazing sun” (Sg 6:10a); and, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rv 12:1).

The Queenship of Mary corresponds to the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Coronation, and serves as a rich source of inspiration for the faithful while at prayer. Mary’s Queenship is also a popular topic in Christian art, and Mary is typically shown receiving an resplendent gold crown from God the Father and her Son Jesus together with the Holy Spirit hovering aloft, while sometimes only her Son Jesus is shown bestowing the crown.

God has given us the mother of his Son as our queen and mother. Through the intercession of Mary, may we come to share in her glory in the kingdom of heaven.

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A pastor recalls a transfigured moment

August 3, 2017


The day was October 23, 1981. The place was the Monticello Golf Course. The occasion was the Region 5A cross country championship. Twelve boys’ teams had qualified, including this pastor’s team, Crosier Seminary. The stakes were high. The top two teams would advance. The other ten would be done. No Crosier cross country team had ever reached the state meet. The Crosier coach was a young fellow, age 29. It was his sixth season. The team was ranked in the state poll and on an impressive winning streak, but still had never made the elusive trip to state, never climbed among Minnesota’s elite.

It was a crisp, cold fall afternoon, 30 degrees, and snowflakes were in the air. Stocking caps, gloves, and tights were the order of the day. Sweats came off at the last second before the starting gun. Shivering and focused, it was off to the races, and race the Crosier boys did!

Two Crosier runners placed in the top ten. Three others were in the top twenty. It was solid, but was it enough? Results were tabulated. The wait seemed like an eternity. By now it was dark. The adrenaline kept the cold at bay. And finally, with bull horn blaring, the scores were announced, starting with the 12th place team and working up the list. One by one, nine teams were named, Crosier not among them. The next team announced would be out, the other two in.

“And finishing third,” the announcer shouted, “is St. John’s Prep.” The Crosier delegation erupted. There were high fives and hugs, glee and jubilation. Our best-ever second place region finish propelled us into our first-ever state meet appearance.

And then, the frosting on the cake, the announcer added, “The Region 5A coach of the year is Br. Mike Van Sloun.” Quite unexpectedly two of my athletes hoisted me up, parked me on their shoulders, and to cheers and applause, put me on parade. It was storybook, right out of the movies! The thrill of victory! An instant of glory! Biblically, it was a transfigured moment.

The glory lasted fifteen or twenty seconds, and it was gone in a flash. Then it was back to the ground and back to work. Round up the kids. Load the bus. Drive the bus home. Supervise the dining room. Clean up after dinner. The next day was the regular routine. After such a fantastic experience, it was easier to recommit to my duties, and my energy and motivation had been given a tremendous shot in the arm, and the effect lasted for weeks and months, actually years.

Later I came to realize that this is what the Transfiguration is about. Jesus had a glorious moment, but it came and went in flash, and then it was back down the mountain (Lk 9:37) to get back to the task at hand. His Father gave him a lift so he could recommit to the mission he had recently announced, his suffering and death (Lk 9:22), and with firm purpose, he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

We are blessed by God with glorious moments, a college graduation, the birth of a baby, or a retirement party, all which come and go quickly, and then it is back to the task at hand, a new job, the endless duties involved with caring for a child, or the aches and pains of aging. God sprinkles transfigured moments into our lives to renew our strength and resolve, so that if we are faithful to the end, as Jesus was, we will share in his eternal glory.


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Peter’s flub ups at the Transfiguration

August 3, 2017

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The Transfiguration may have been a great day for Jesus, but it was a bad day for Peter. Jesus sparkled, but Peter failed to shine.

Peter fell asleep on Jesus. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray (Lk 9:28), and Jesus asked Peter to pray with him on this very important occasion. As Jesus began to pray (Lk 9:29a), Peter and the others promptly dozed off (Lk 9:32a). It was perfectly understandable. They had traveled from one town and village to another (Lk 8:1), they had just finished an arduous mountain climb, and they were tired. It foreshadowed the Agony in the Garden when Jesus again would ask Peter to pray (Lk 22:40), and Peter would again fall asleep (Lk 22:45). Peter disappointed Jesus when it came to praying with him and for him.

Peter wanted to do all of the work himself. Peter had a close partnership with James and John, so close, in fact, that Peter had invited them to his house in Capernaum (Mk 1:29), and they may have lived together. All three were with Jesus for the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:4-10), the visit to Jairus’s house (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), and a conversation on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). They were mutual friends and fellow workers. Yet, as Jesus was transfigured, Peter brazenly suggested, “If you wish, I will make three tents” (Mt 17:4). What is with “I”? Peter disregarded and disrespected James and John with his desire to go it alone and leave them out. He was being a controller. He wanted to be in charge. It was a selfish and prideful move.

Peter offered to make three tents, not one. If tents would have been necessary, Peter had a poor grasp on how many would be needed. He may have thought that Moses and Elijah were going to stay with Jesus for a while, or that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are similar in rank and importance. Yet, “when the disciples raised their eyes, there was no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:8). Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus stands alone as the supreme law giver and the greatest of all prophets, and if tents were going to be built, only one would have been needed.

Peter wanted the high life on the mountain. The Transfiguration was awesome. Peter had scaled the heights and been swallowed up in the clouds. There were bright lights, celebrity guests, and a heavenly voice. It was sensational, exhilarating. His spirits were soaring. When Peter offered to set up the tents, it was as if he were saying, “I wish this moment could last forever. Let’s stay up here and bask in the glory. This is fun. This is the good life. Who needs to go back to work?” Peter wanted sit tight and take it easy.

Peter was duped into tempting Jesus. Peter had been fooled by the devil once already. When Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time, Peter rebuked Jesus and discouraged him from embracing his suffering and death (Mt 16:22). Jesus knew that Peter loved him and wanted the best the best for him, yet Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew that Satan had tricked Peter into tempting him. When Peter offered to build a tent for Jesus, “he did not know what he was saying” (Lk 9:33b). Unfortunately, like before, Peter was tricked into being Satan’s mouthpiece. If Satan through Peter could entice Jesus to allow him to build a tent, and then if Jesus would move into the tent and stay there, it would have delayed or prevented Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus ignored the offer, fended off the temptation, and went down the mountain the next day.



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