Author Archives | Father Michael Van Sloun

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

The Sower: Perseverance in the Face of Disappointment

July 10, 2020


Often when we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9), the point of emphasis is the disciple as rich soil. The metaphor is that the sower is Jesus, the seed is the Word of God, and the soil is the person who receives the Word. The desired outcome is for the listener to be rich and fertile soil, cultivated, soft and receptive, eager to welcome the seed, to let it take root, permeate one’s life, grow and flourish, and produce astonishing results.

Another angle for reflection is the disciple – not as soil – but as the sower. Jesus is the first sower, and we are supposed to imitate him. As Jesus scattered seeds, as he preached the gospel to others, we as his disciples are also supposed to be sowers, to share the gospel with our children, students, and others.

“The sower and the seed.”
Mount Carmel Catholic Church. Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There is a notion that Jesus, because he is the Son of God and all-powerful, was incredibly successful as a sower. But he was not, at least in every instance. Sometimes Jesus was able to achieve wonderful results, yields of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8), but there were many occasions when his results were downright disheartening.

Jesus had tremendous challenges as a sower. One group of potential listeners was totally resistant, hard and rocky, dismissed him, refused to listen, and completely ignored him. It must have been very depressing to Jesus. Another group at least paid attention to Jesus’ preaching. While they had a bit of initial fervor and enthusiasm, they were not very motivated and when it came time to implement the Word that Jesus had spoken, they had so little determination and commitment that they fell by the wayside. Again, this must have been very discouraging. There was yet another group that listened carefully to Jesus. They liked Jesus, were intrigued by his gospel, and were ready to give it a try. But when those in the third group encountered obstacles, either their own inclinations to wrongdoing, or the evil forces of the outside world, or the antagonism of others, they gave up and quit. It must have been a very bitter pill for Jesus to swallow. It was only with the fourth group that Jesus had success. According to the imagery of the parable, Jesus was successful about one-quarter of the time which is a surprisingly and alarmingly low success rate.

What did Jesus do in the face of such disappointment? Did he get angry? Did he become bitter? Did he pout? Did he quit? No. Jesus refused to give up. He had amazing resiliency. He persevered. With an indomitable spirit Jesus went on to other towns and to other people to proclaim the Good News (see Lk 4:43; 8:1).

Every Christian is a sower, parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists, neighbors and priests, and we scatter the seed of God’s holy Word to our children and grandchildren, students, friends, and parishioners. If Jesus had many disappointments, we should anticipate similar results. When we share our faith, there will be occasions when it seems no one is watching or listening, and other times when it seems like we are having a positive impact at the beginning, but with little lasting effect. Hopefully some of our “scattering” will have tremendous results. When we are unsuccessful, which may happen more often than not, like Jesus we must keep scattering and never lose heart because of discouraging results. We must be resilient and persevere. The seed is such a treasure that it must be sown.

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The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

June 26, 2020


The memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church comes one day after the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The first day, June 29, is the remembrance of the two most famous martyrs who died during the persecution of Nero, St. Peter crucified upside down in 64 AD and St. Paul beheaded in 67 AD. The second day, June 30, is the remembrance of the countless other nameless saints who died during the same persecution.

The great fire of Rome began in mid-July, 64 AD. It started in the vicinity of the Circus Maximus, a place densely packed with shops, merchants, and pedestrians. The wooden partitions and furnishings, the clothes and many other highly combustible materials made the area a tinder box, and once the fire began, it spread rapidly, consuming not only the shops but also public buildings, temples, monuments, and homes. It raged for a week. Two-thirds of the city was destroyed. Some historians believe that the emperor Nero, a demented and rage-filled person, ordered the fire set. Others believe that he ordered that it be allowed to burn.

Nero reigned as emperor from 54 to 68 AD. He despised Christians because they steadfastly refused to participate in the worship of the wide array of Roman gods. He did not need an excuse to begin a persecution against Christians, but the devastating fire provided one. He made the Christians the scapegoats and initiated a massive persecution.

The emperor and the residents of Rome took sadistic pleasure in grotesque displays of violence and suffering, usually satisfied by gladiators fighting to the death and savage beasts brutally devouring humans or other animals. This time Christians would provide the spectacle. Roman soldiers combed the city. Christians were torn from their homes, apprehended, and forcibly taken either to Nero’s palace gardens on the Vatican Hill or to various arenas.

The public tortures and executions were horrific. At nightfall Christians were tied to stakes, covered with wax, set aflame, and burned alive – human torches. Others were crucified. Neither method fully satisfied the crowd’s cruel and sadistic appetites, one getting over too fast, the other taking too long. Most of the Christian martyrs were mauled and devoured by wild animals. The victims were either smeared with animal scent or covered with animal hides and then placed in an enclosure at the palace or the center of the arena. Then raging wild beasts that had been deprived of food were released as the emperor, his entourage, and the crowds beheld the gruesome sight. Many Christians were put to death from 64 AD until the end of the persecution four years later.

The First Martyrs “loved Christ in this life and imitated him in their death; and so they will rejoice with him for ever” (Antiphon, Evening Prayer). God “sanctified the Church of Rome with the blood of its first martyrs. May we find strength from their courage and rejoice in their triumph” (Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours).

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St. Aloysius Gonzaga

June 19, 2020


St. Aloysius Gonzaga was born on March 9, 1568, at the family castle in Lombardy, Italy. He was born into the Castiglione clan, an aristocratic and extremely wealthy family. His father, Marquis Ferrante, was a Venetian knight who served under King Philip II of Spain, and he made it clear that he wanted his son to pursue a career in the military.

St. Aloysius’s mother was a deeply spiritual woman who raised her young son in the faith, and he manifested a strong spiritual side from an early age. He prayed. He expressed a budding interest in a religious vocation. He was offended by vulgarity and reportedly fainted several times at the sound of vulgar language. He detested the brutality of soldiers. He consecrated himself to God with a vow of virginity at the age of ten, and he received his first Holy Communion from St. Charles Borromeo at the age of twelve.

St. Aloysius dressed in a white surplice and black cassock looking at a cross:
“St. Aloysius Gonzaga,” San Ignazio, Roma, Italia (St. Ignatius Church, Rome, Italy). Father Michael Van Sloun

When St. Aloysius turned thirteen his family moved to Spain where he served for three years as a page in the luxurious court of Philip II of Spain. There were many beautiful young ladies at the royal court, he was totally committed to purity, was on edge in their presence, and never allowed himself to be alone with any of them.

During this period, St. Aloysius engaged in some extreme ascetical disciplines, rigorous forms of self-denial and mortification. He placed small blocks of wood in his bed to cause discomfort to enable him to resist temptation. He practiced self-flagellation, to whip himself with a scourge in reparation for sin. He volunteered to carry slop buckets, a lowly and humiliating task. When he climbed a flight of stairs, he would stop to say a Hail Mary at every step. Amid all this, he asked his father to join the Jesuits, and he sternly refused.

His family moved back to Italy in 1584. St. Aloysius was sixteen. His father walked in on him whipping himself, relented, and finally gave him permission to enter religious life. He renounced his share of his inheritance, gave it to his brother, and entered the Jesuit novitiate on November 25, 1585. He spent the next six years in Rome, first studying philosophy, then theology, in preparation for the priesthood. He hoped one day to be a foreign missionary and possibly a martyr. St. Robert Bellarmine served as his spiritual director and helped him to curb his excessive self-punishing pieties. St. Aloysius made his first profession of vows in 1587, and sometime later received minor orders at St. John Lateran. He had a strong devotion to the Eucharist, a rich interior life of prayer, and a strong commitment to charitable service.

A plague struck Rome in 1587, the Jesuits opened a hospital, and St. Aloysius served the sick and dying. In 1590 he claimed to have received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel who told him that he would die within a year. He contracted the plaque himself while caring for the ill, and died on June 21, 1591, in Rome, at the age of twenty-three, a scholastic who never reached ordination to the priesthood.

St. Aloysius was beatified in 1621, canonized a saint in 1726, and declared the patron saint of youth in 1729. He is also the patron saint of Jesuit novices, students in Jesuit colleges and universities, and AIDS caregivers. His symbols are a rosary, lily, cross, skull, and a scourge.

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Ordinary Time

June 19, 2020


The Liturgical Year. Calendars are divided into sections. For example, the calendar year is divided into months, a month is divided into weeks, a week is divided into days, and a day is divided into hours. The liturgical year is divided into six sections: Advent, Christmas, early Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and late Ordinary Time.

Two Divisions. Early Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord and continues until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Late Ordinary Time begins on the Monday after Pentecost and continues until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.

“Jesus invites us to come to him,” St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Cottonwood, Minnesota. Father Michael Van Sloun

Duration. The usual length of early and late Ordinary Time together is thirty-four weeks, although occasionally it is thirty-three weeks.

The “Missing” Sundays. There is no First Sunday of Ordinary Time because the Sunday of the first week belongs to the Christmas Season and it begins on a Monday. The first two Sundays after Pentecost are doctrinal feasts, the Most Holy Trinity and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and even though they belong to Ordinary Time, they are not numbered Sundays.

The Word “Ordinary.” The liturgical meaning of the word “ordinary” is very different from its use in usual conversation. Ordinary means normal, unexceptional, or regular, and sometimes it carries the notion of boring, dull, or monotonous. Ordinary Time is none of these. It is derived from the Latin words ordinatim, something arranged in good order, and ordo, a series or a row of things, a lineup. In a liturgical sense, Ordinary Time is well-ordered time.

A Well-Ordered Journey. The Sundays of Ordinary Time are a well-ordered journey through one of the three gospels. It follows the principle of lectio continua, a liturgical term for a continuous reading of a book of the Bible, not in its entirety, but a selection of the most important or distinctive passages, proceeding chapter by chapter, week by week, throughout the course of the liturgical season. In Year A the journey is through the Gospel of Matthew, in Year B, Mark, and in Year C, Luke. The Gospel of John does not have its own year, but rather is inserted into the other three cycles at various places, particularly in the Easter Season.

Point of Emphasis. Each liturgical season has a special focus, Advent on the coming of Christ, Christmas on the birth of Christ, Lent on penance and the Easter sacraments, and Easter on the Resurrection. The focus of Ordinary Time is discipleship, how to live the Christian faith, week by week, with deeper faith and greater conviction, and how to apply the gospel to daily living.

A Symbolic Color. Green is the liturgical color for Ordinary Time, and it has rich symbolic meaning. Leaves are green. It represents life, growth, and increase, and as the year goes on, a person’s spiritual life is to be alive, vibrant, and developing. It also represents hope. When a seed is placed in the ground, the hope is that it will sprout; when it sprouts, the hope is that it will grow; and when it grows, the hope is that it will bear fruit. The hope is that our faith will sprout, grow robustly, and bear much fruit. It also represents eternity. Coniferous trees are green all year long, their needles are green forever, so green pine trees represent eternal life. The objective of Ordinary Time is everlasting life in heaven with almighty God.

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Father Bloom, The Eucharist, and Eternal Life

June 12, 2020


Fr. John C. Bloomenstein, O.S.C., was a character, to say the least. The first time I met him he had a cigar in one hand, a glass of gin in the other, a smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eye. He was fun, abuzz with energy, the life of the party. He had the gift of gab, and he helped others gab more. And the laughter. Smart quips. Jokes. Teasing. He was joy personified. Everyone called him “Father Bloom” and affectionately nicknamed him “The old goat.”

This is Crosier Fr. John C. Bloomenstein, O.S.C. Born in the Netherlands, January 20, 1902; Ordained a priest July 25, 1927; Died at the Crosier Monastery, Onamia, Minnesota, February 3, 1983.

This is Crosier Fr. John C. Bloomenstein, O.S.C.
Born in the Netherlands, January 20, 1902; Ordained a priest July 25, 1927; Died at the Crosier Monastery, Onamia, Minnesota, February 3, 1983.

We became fast friends. I arrived at the Crosier House of Studies in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the spring of 1973. I was a twenty-one-year-old novice, Father Bloom was a seventy-one-year-old retiree, and I came to discover that behind the fun and games, I had met a spiritual giant. He was born in the Netherlands in 1902, made his first profession as a Crosier at the age of twenty, was ordained to the priesthood at the age of twenty-five, and was a Dutch missionary priest to the United States. He loved the Lord, said Mass, preached the gospel, and practiced what he preached. And he was a genius, a financial whiz. He spent many years on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, as an economics professor. He managed the Crosier financial investments – by himself, unheard of these days. He was honest through and through, totally trustworthy, completely reliable, and everything he touched turned to gold.

I was transferred to Crosier Seminary in Onamia in 1976. When the Crosier House of Studies closed a while later, Father Bloom followed me to Onamia, and we shared his final years together. He died February 3, 1983, and I attended his funeral Mass. The gospel was John 6:51-58, Jesus, the bread of life.

The homilist pointed at his casket and stated, “Father Bloom loved Jesus with all his heart.” We all nodded in agreement. He went on to say, “This man has been a faithful priest for 55 years.” Of course, he had his numbers right. He continued, “He has said Mass every day for all of that time.” Correct again, that is what a priest is supposed to do.

Then the homilist made a powerful statement. “This fine priest has received the Body and Blood of Christ every day for over half a century. Jesus promised, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ (Jn 6:54a), and Jesus keeps his promises. Let there be no doubt in your minds. If you are wondering where Father Bloom is at this very moment, he is in heaven, and we can say so with certainty. It is the Eucharist guarantee: go to Communion, go to heaven. The Eucharist comes with a promise: eternal life.”

I sat there consoled, thinking, “Yes, my friend Father Bloom is in heaven.” My thought continued, “And I want to go to heaven, too. If the Eucharist was Father Bloom’s way to heaven, it can be my way to heaven.” That day the Eucharist, which already was a treasure to me, exploded in significance. It was a glorious realization. If I receive the Eucharist regularly with great devotion, eternal life is mine. It is Jesus’ promise. No need to fret anymore.

Suddenly I was wrapped in a mantle of peace and joy, reassured that Father Bloom has received his heavenly reward – thanks to the Eucharist! Jesus has opened the gates. Heaven is the promise. The Eucharist is the way. Jesus is true to his word.

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The Trinitarian Coucils – Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus

June 4, 2020


During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, the Church was beset by conflict over different understandings of the God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who they are and their relationship to each other. A series of three major ecumenical councils addressed these questions and progressively defined the Church’s doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity.

The Most Holy Trinity. The Father is above, the Creator of the World. The Holy Spirit is in the middle, the dove. The Son, Jesus Christ, is below. Photo from Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, California, Father Michael Van Sloun

The Council of Nicaea (325). Nicaea is a city in northwest Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey, the location of the first ecumenical council, selected because it was the emperor’s summer residence. The council was not called by the Pope, St. Sylvester I, but instead by the Emperor Constantine who wanted to restore unity to a polarized Church that was feuding bitterly. Over two hundred and fifty bishops attended, but not the Pope who was elderly and unable to travel. The debate centered around Arianism, a position put forth by Arius (d. 336), a priest from Alexandria, Egypt, who denied the divinity of Jesus. He claimed that only the Father is unbegotten, and that Jesus is creature, made by the Father at some later time, is not preexistent, and is less than God but greater than any human being. Arius was supported by a large contingent of the bishops. The council debate was so contentious that a fistfight broke out between Arius and St. Nicholas of Myra. Arianism was condemned by the Council as heresy.

The Council established the Nicene Creed and clarified that Jesus is divine. The creed states that there is one God and three Persons: the Father, the Creator, in Greek Pantokrator, the Almighty; Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God; and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Jesus is not a creature made by the Father. Rather the council used a Greek word, homoousios, today translated consubstantial, emanating from the Father’s substance, “begotten, not made.” The Father and the Son are “one in being,” coequal and coeternal.

The First Council of Constantinople (381). Constantinople is in northeastern Asia Minor, was the capital of the East or the Byzantine Empire, and the location of the second ecumenical council. The Council was called by the Emperors Theodosius of the East and Gratian of the West, not Pope St. Damasus I. All 186 bishops in attendance were from the East; 150 reaffirmed the doctrines promulgated at Nicaea, 36 did not and were branded heretics. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed developed after the Council; the same creed recited at Mass. The Council reaffirmed and defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit in response to the Macedonians who denied the divinity of the Spirit. The Council also condemned Apollinarianism, a heretical belief that Jesus is divine, not human, and that Jesus did not have a human soul.

The Council of Ephesus (431). Ephesus is a city located on the western edge of Asia Minor along the Aegean Sea, and it served as the site for the third ecumenical council. The Council was convened by Emperor Theodosius II, not Pope St. Celestine. It reinforced the Church’s doctrine that Jesus is “true God from true God.” Also, to refute Nestorius and to underscore the divinity of Jesus, it declared that Mary is not only the mother of Christ but also the Mother of God, Theotokos, a Greek term meaning God-carrier or God-bearer. The Council also condemned Nestorianism, the heretical belief that Jesus is two separate persons, one divine, one human, and that Mary is the mother of Jesus but not the mother of God. The Council stated that Jesus has two natures, divine and human, but is one person.

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Pentecost – the role of the Holy Spirit

May 29, 2020


As we celebrate Pentecost, this is an opportune time to reflect briefly about the nature of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

As a youngster, my parish priests, the Sinsinawa Dominican religious sisters at Incarnation Catholic school where I grew up in South Minneapolis, and my parents taught me constantly about God the Father, the all-powerful Creator of the world, and Jesus, his only Son, our Savior and Redeemer, and what he did and said as reported in the gospels, but I heard next to nothing about the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is more mysterious and difficult to explain.

A stained glass window is from St. Emily’s Catholic Church in Emily, Minnesota. The dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, and the seven rays represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

As I have advanced in years, my devotion to and dependence upon the Holy Spirit has increased enormously. As I have searched for God, I learned that the Spirit is God’s abiding presence among us; as I have attended school, studied for tests, and written term papers, I discovered that the Spirit is enlightenment, truth, and understanding; as I have tried to live my faith with more conviction, I found out that the Spirit provides courage, stamina, and strength; as people have sought my advice, I learned that the Spirit is counsel and wisdom; and when I was ordained a priest and began the daunting task of writing homilies and articles, preaching, and exercising spiritual leadership, it became obvious that ministry is bigger than me or any human being, and the Spirit provides the insights, creativity, and inspiration.

When people ask me how they can support me as a priest, I ask them to pray to the Holy Spirit on my behalf. When it comes time to speak, the Spirit provides the words; when faced with hard decisions, the Spirit provides the guidance; when disputes arise, the Spirit is the source of justice and fairness; when tempted to react impulsively, the Spirit is patience; when sins have been committed, the Spirit makes forgiveness possible; when feeling downcast, the Spirit is joy; when self-absorbed, the Spirit teaches generosity; when filled with anxiety, the Spirit provides peace; and in the daily struggle to stay in right relationship with others, the Spirit is love, charity, and kindness.

Each of us desperately needs the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, our Advocate. As you pray to the Holy Spirit for me, I promise to pray to the Holy Spirit for you as well. The power of the Holy Spirit will wash over us, like it did over the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35), and the Holy Spirit will brace us to live according to God’s will (Lk 1:38). In fact, with the power of the Spirit we will be able to do great things because “nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).

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St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Doctor of the Church

May 22, 2020


St. Bede the Venerable was born in 673 in Northumbria, a remote and rugged area of northeast England near the twin Benedictine abbeys of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow. He was sent there at the age of seven to be raised by the monks and he was educated, first by Abbot Benedict Bishop of Wearmouth and then by Abbot Ceolfrid of Jarrow.

St. Bede

Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky.

St. Bede eventually joined the community as a monk, was ordained a deacon at age nineteen, and a priest at the age of thirty. He was content to spend his life within the abbey, rarely traveled outside, faithfully observed the Benedictine rule, and dedicated himself to a life of prayer and study. He was fond of meditation and chanting the Psalms. He knew the power of prayer for himself and often spoke about the value of prayer to others.

St. Bede was a true scholar, and toward the end of his life reflected, “My special joy was always study, teaching, and writing.” He was fortunate to have access to a wide array of books in the huge abbey library which had been collected by Abbot Benedict Bishop.

The primary focus of his study was Scripture and history. He meditated on Scripture himself and read the commentaries of the early Church fathers, and then wrote his own commentaries on the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible, as well as many homilies. He did not study for the sake of knowledge alone, but to make headway in virtuous living, and his long hours in contemplation with Sacred Scripture intensified his interior faith and personal holiness. He was distraught over how so many people had wandered away from prayer and the sacraments and was a strong proponent of devotion to the Eucharist and the regular reception of Holy Communion.

St. Bede was meticulous in his research and wrote over sixty books on a wide variety of topics covering things such as natural history, astronomy, poetry, aspects of theology, the lives of the saints, and biographies, particularly of Abbot Benedict Bishop and Abbot Ceolfrid. His greatest scholarly achievement was his five-volume Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People which was completed in 731. It is a comprehensive account of the Christianization of England from the Roman Period until the early Eighth Century, and because it stood as the single best history of the English people, he became known as the “Father of English history.” All his books were written in Latin except one, his translation of the Gospel of John into Old English, his native language. He also is remembered for being the first historian to use “A.D.,” Anno Domini, “the year of the Lord,” when he listed a date, a practice that became commonplace for historians from that point onward.

St. Bede was held in high esteem for his piety, charity, generosity, fairness, discipline, intellect, and scholarly achievements, and because of his exemplary holiness people began to speak of him as “Venerable,” a title formally bestowed on him by the Council of Aachen in 853.

St. Bede died in 735 in Jarrow, England. He was canonized a saint and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899. His symbols are items associated with study and writing: a quill pen, a book or scroll, a burning candle or table lamp, and rays of light which represent intelligence or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the patron saint of scholars, English writers and historians, and Jarrow, England.

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St. John I, pope and martyr

May 15, 2020


St. John I was born in Tuscany, Italy. His memorial is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, May 18, but in some localities he is commemorated on May 27. He became an archdeacon and a member of the Roman clergy. He was elected Pope on August 13, 523, despite his advanced age and poor health, and he served as Pope for three years (523-526).

The Arian heresy which claims that Jesus is not divine, that he is less than God but the greatest of all humans, still had many adherents in various places, despite having been condemned two hundred years earlier by the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381).

The king of Italy was Theodoric the Great. His palace was in Ravenna, and very importantly, he was an Arian, he espoused a heretical belief, and an Ostrogoth, a person of Germanic descent. Even though he rejected orthodox Catholic teaching, he allowed Catholics to practice their faith without interference throughout most of his reign which lasted over thirty years.

King Theodoric learned that the Byzantine emperor Justin I who resided in Constantinople had issued an edict against the Arians in the East in 523. Arians in public office were removed, Arian churches were closed or seized and returned to Catholics, and Arians were ordered to renounce their faith. King Theodoric summoned Pope John I to his palace and ordered him to go on a mission along with a delegation of bishops and Roman senators to convince the emperor to relax the measures that he had taken against the Arians. Pope John did not agree with the purpose of the mission. The trip was long. He was in poor health. But he submitted.

Upon his arrival in Constantinople in late 525, Pope John was enthusiastically welcomed by Emperor Justin and throngs of people. The Pope presided at Hagia Sophia according to the Latin Rite on Easter Sunday. Moreover, he was given the highest throne in the church and granted the privilege of placing the Easter crown on the emperor’s head, both honors normally reserved to the patriarch. The Pope needed Justin to make concessions so he would not appear as a traitor and to prevent reprisals against Catholics in Italy. Pope John I was able to persuade the emperor to reinstate Arian public officials and return Arian churches that had been confiscated, but Justin held firm on his insistence that Arians renounce their heretical beliefs.

When Pope John I returned to Italy, King Theodoric was outraged that the pontiff had not convinced Justin to tolerate the Arians. Furthermore, he was agitated that Justin had accorded the Pope such respect, and that the two of them worked together so happily and effectively, which he interpreted as disloyalty. The Pope was summoned to Ravenna, charged with treason, and sent to prison. He was physically weak and exhausted from the journey, was denied food and water, and died of starvation and dehydration on May 18, 526. His remains were transferred to Rome and he was immediately regarded as a martyr.

During his three-year reign, Pope John I convoked several councils, including the Council of Orange which defined the Church’s understanding of grace. He also settled the controversy over the date for Easter, promoted Roman chant for the liturgy which laid the foundation for Gregorian chant, and promulgated the instructions that are to be given before baptism. The epitaph on his tomb reads, “A victim for Christ,” Pope John I, a martyr and a saint.

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The Paraclete, our sure defense

May 15, 2020


Pentecost will be here in two weeks, the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. In this week’s gospel Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. He said that he would ask his Father to send the Advocate (Jn 14:16) and added that the Father would send it in his name (Jn 14:26). Jesus would also send the Holy Spirit himself (Jn 15:26; 16:7).

The Greek word that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit was parakletos, translated by the Revised New American Bible as Advocate, but because the word is so rich symbolically it sometimes is left untranslated and rendered Paraclete in English.

In common Greek, the word parakletos is a legal term that usually refers to a defense attorney. John explained that Jesus is our Advocate before God (1 Jn 2:1), the one to plead our cause. The Holy Spirit does likewise. The Paraclete is our sure defense.

According to this metaphor, the sinner is in criminal court, on trial before the judgment seat of God, charged with a lifetime of offenses and guilty on all counts. The Paraclete, matchless in brilliance and wisdom, is the sinner’s defense attorney. The Paraclete knows everything about the defendant, good and bad, exercises attorney-client privilege, holds everything in absolute confidence, and would never use the information against his client.

The Paraclete is the sinner’s Counselor, the one who knows the law (i.e., the commandments), the Judge (i.e., God), the court procedures, and the sentencing guidelines, and gives the sinner the best possible advice. The trial is a time of tremendous anxiety and worry for the defendant, and the Paraclete serves as Comforter and Consoler for the accused, the one who offers reassurance, encouragement, and hope. The Paraclete is the Advocate, the one who is seated next to the sinner in the courtroom of divine justice, a true friend and faithful companion who takes the sinner’s side, speaks on behalf of the sinner to the Judge, and does so more effectively than if the defendant was speaking for himself.

The Paraclete is the master litigator and eloquently cites mitigating circumstances, explains the sinner’s good intentions, provides a comprehensive list of the good deeds the sinner has done, adds a second list of acts of penance performed, and reminds the Judge of the sinner’s faith in him and love for him. Then the Advocate makes a plea for leniency for his client, asks that the sentencing guidelines be set aside, and that the defendant be granted a full pardon.

The Paraclete is truth and knows the truth, and the truth is this: God is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness (Joel 2:13); that God sent his Son into the world to save sinners (Jn 3:16); that God takes no joy whatsoever in punishment; that God wants each person to enjoy eternal peace with him in heaven for all eternity; and that for God, mercy outranks justice.

Then the Paraclete announced, “The defense rests.” The case did not go to twelve people, a jury of the sinner’s peers, all sinners themselves, but to God alone who is all holy. The Paraclete had provided a sure defense. The Son had died on the Cross for the sinner’s salvation. After due consideration the Judge read the final verdict: “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (see Mt 25:34).

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