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.

St. Paul: Looking Back, Looking Forward

October 20, 2016


Dissolution Time.  The year was 67 AD.  St. Paul was in his mid-70s, an old man by First Century standards.  He was in Rome, a bad place for Christians.  The Roman Emperor Nero was waging a large scale persecution against Christians.  Paul was in prison.  Many other Christians had already been put to death, and Paul could see the handwriting on the wall.  When he wrote, “The time of my dissolution is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6), “dissolution” means death.  It was Paul’s way of saying that he knew that the time of his martyrdom was drawing ever nearer.

Paul as a Libation.  Today a libation is an alcoholic beverage, but that is not its original meaning.  Initially a libation was a blood sacrifice (e.g., Ex 24:5-8).  Over time there was a shift away from animal sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  Eventually wine was used as a substitute for blood, and the pouring of wine on the ground was an alternative for sprinkling the blood of an animal.  When Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out like a libation,” it was a metaphorical way to describe how he had poured out his life completely in service of Jesus and the gospel.

The Race to the Finish.  Paul compared his life to a long-distance running race (2 Tm 4:7).  He was born and raised in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Turkey.  He had moved to Jerusalem to become better-educated in the Jewish faith.  As a young man he was zealous and persecuted Christians, but then came his dramatic conversion after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  It had been roughly forty years since his baptism.  His “race” was one long-distance event after another, three missionary journeys in all, to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, widely over the Middle East and the northern Mediterranean.  He was an elite Christian endurance athlete, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who took the gospel of Jesus to the world.

Fighting the Good Fight.  As Paul looked back over his life, he enjoyed a sense of inner peace knowing he had given Jesus his best effort.  Yes, he had regrets about the terrible things that he had done in his early years, but with the grace of God he was able to turn his life around.  Great love, heroic service, and long-suffering for the sake of the gospel cover a multitude of sins.  For whatever Paul may have done wrong in the past, in his final years he was in superb spiritual shape.  Paul had grown close to Jesus and knew that they were on the best of terms.

Looking Ahead.  Paul concluded, “The crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tm 4:8).  It was his poetic way to say, “After I die, I am confident that God will reward me with a place in heaven.”  Despite the fact that he was in dreadful anticipation of his execution, spiritually he was totally at peace knowing that he had dug down and given his best.  All would be well in the end.

Now it is Our Turn.  Paul’s race is over, but ours continues.  Paul turned his life around.  No matter what sins we may have committed, we still have time to turn away from sin and rededicate our lives completely to Jesus and the gospel.  The goal is to be able to look back knowing that we have done our best and to look forward to our heavenly reward.

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Sacred Scripture, Wisdom for Salvation

October 14, 2016


The Word of God.  Sacred Scripture is the writings of the Holy Bible, all of the books in both the Old and New Testaments.  These books are on an approved list called the Canon of Sacred Scripture because they are considered authentic, contain correct teaching, and have been in continuous use throughout the centuries.

The Human Word of Almighty God.  Sacred Scripture is the Word of God and inspired by God.  The words are “human,” the words that people use to express themselves, and the authors are human, real people such as Moses and Isaiah, Matthew and Mark, Peter and Paul.  God did not dictate the words that were to be written, nor did God insert the words into their brains or direct their pens.  Each author wrote freely.

Inspiration.  The composition of Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit.  It is “revelation,” something about God or the truth that the author could not have known or learned on his own.  Revelation comes in mystical ways such as dreams, messages brought by angels, voices, visions, thoughts, and insights.

Scripture’s Limitations.  Scripture is one way that God communicates with us.  God uses words, yet words in themselves are finite, limited, and cannot say everything.  Words reveal something of God but not everything of God because God is infinite and transcends the limited nature of words.  They cannot convey everything that there is to know about God, but they do reveal a great deal.  Scripture is an act of love by God, God taking the initiative to communicate with us.

Scripture, the Source of Wisdom.  St. Paul wrote that “sacred scriptures which are capable of giving you wisdom” (2 Tm 3:15).  The word “wisdom” is carefully chosen.  He avoided the word “knowledge.”  Scripture is not information, a history book to learn or a theology book to study, matters of the mind to know and understand.  Scripture is a matter of the heart.  It is not only what we know but what we believe.  It is what we love, value, and treasure.  It is our passion.  It is to be devoured by us and become the fabric of our being (see Ez 3:1-4).

Wisdom.  Wisdom is the first gift of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2).  It is the ability to exercise good judgment.  It distinguishes between right and wrong.  It seeks and upholds truth and justice.  It is oriented toward the common good.  It is the parent of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.  It is one with the truth, and the closer we get to the truth, the closer we get to God.

Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training.  Scripture is useful for teaching:  it contains the truth about God and serves as the basis for doctrine; for reproof, to reject errors, distortions, deceptions, heresies, and false teaching; for correction, to correct misunderstandings and misapplications, to expose wrong decisions and actions, and to help a person get back on the right track; and for training in righteousness, to help a person to grow in goodness and virtue, and to increase in their desire to obey and please God.

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Give thanks to God!

October 7, 2016



One of the greatest miracles that Jesus performed was to cure ten lepers of their disease (Lk 17:11-19), and after having received such a tremendous gift from Jesus, only one of the ten came back to thank him.  In disappointment Jesus asked, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18).

St. Paul tells us that we should “be thankful” (Col 3:15b).  Every Mass at the Preface Dialogue we say that it is right and just to give thanks to the Lord our God.  Yet Jesus rarely received any thanks.  In fact, when the Samaritan fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him (Lk 17:16), it is the only time in all four gospels that someone thanked him.

There may have been other occasions when someone received something from Jesus and then came back to offer their praise or express their gratitude, but none of the four evangelists records one other instance, and as memorable as such an event would have been, it would have been worthy of inclusion.  It seems that Jesus was rarely thanked, not by his apostles, not by those who were cured, not by those who were forgiven, and not by those who were taught by him.  Jesus’ ministry was a thankless task.  He was grossly underappreciated.

The twelve apostles were among the worst offenders when it came to ingratitude.  When Jesus called them to be his disciples (Lk 6:13), they did not thank him for choosing them.  When Jesus invited them to accompany him (Lk 8:1), they did not thank him for making them his partners.  When Jesus took them aside and gave them private explanations (e.g., Lk 8:9-15), they did not thank his for his extra time and attention.  When Jesus commissioned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (Lk 9:1), they did not thank him for their special appointments or exceptional powers.

The apostles’ lack of gratitude seems more reprehensible during their final days with Jesus.  No one thanked him for the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  Worse yet, no one thanked Jesus’ for his death on the Cross and his gifts of redemption and salvation.  When Jesus appeared to them after his Resurrection and greeted them with the words “Peace be with you,” no one thanked him for his mercy and forgiveness.  It took until after Jesus had ascended to heaven until the apostles did him homage and praised God (Lk 24:52,53).

The disciples had many reasons to be thankful and so do we.  The process begins with our ability to recognize what we have been given.  For starters, we need to set aside time to reflect and count our blessings.  Next, with our blessings in mind, we should thank God and with our prayers of praise, both personal prayers of gratitude said alone and prayers at Mass said with others.  St. Paul specifically mentions singing as a particularly good way to express our thanks:  “Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  Another excellent way to express our gratitude is to put our gifts to good use, to place them at the service of others, and to do so in ways that give glory to God.

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St. Theresa of the Child Jesus

September 30, 2016



October 1 is the memorial of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.  She is also known as “St. Theresa of Lisieux” and the “Little Flower.”  Her life story is also the subject of the feature film “Therese” released by Xenon Pictures in 2006.

St. Theresa was born on January 2, 1873 at Alencon in Normandy, France.  She was the youngest of nine children.  Five siblings died during infancy, and only Theresa and three older sisters survived.

After Theresa’s mother died when she was four, her older sister Pauline helped to raise her and taught her about Jesus and the gospel.  Pauline entered the convent when Theresa was nine, and at that point Theresa decided that she wanted to be like her older sister.  Theresa suffered a life-threatening illness when she was ten but she miraculously recovered, a cure attributed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Two years later another sister, Mary, also joined the convent.  Then on Christmas Eve, 1886, when Theresa was thirteen, she had a profound mystical experience in which the child Jesus brought light to the darkness of her soul.

The following year Theresa announced her intention to join her sisters Pauline and Mary in the convent.  Her father approved but the mother superior and the bishop refused, citing her age.  Subsequently, she accompanied her father on a pilgrimage to Rome and attended a papal audience.  While kneeling before Pope Leo XIII she asked for his permission to enter the convent, but the delay continued only a short while longer.

The local bishop relented and gave Theresa permission to enter the Carmel at Lisieux in 1888 when she was fifteen.  She was guided by Jesus’ words, “Unless you change your lives and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 18:2).

At first Sister Theresa wanted to be a martyr, but she discovered “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), love.  Her plan was to perform ordinary kindnesses throughout the day, small good deeds done frequently, humbly, generously, quietly, and without fanfare, a spirituality that she called the “Little Way.”  She practiced this herself, and her example served as an inspiration for others to do likewise.

She was appointed director of novices when she was twenty, but three years later contracted tuberculosis.  During her final 18 months she wrote her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, in which she explained the way of doing little things with great love.  She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI twenty-eight years later in 1925.

St. Theresa is the patron saint of florists, airline pilots, Vietnam, and religious freedom for Russia; as well as the co-patron saint of missionaries with St. Francis Xavier and the co-patron saint of France with St. Joan of Arc.  She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997.



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The Children of this World vs. the Children of the Light

September 15, 2016



Jesus made a troubling comment when he was teaching his disciples:  “The children of this world are more prudent … than are the children of the light” (Lk 16:8b).  This is sad but true.  It is human nature.  Jesus was deeply disappointed, and in this case not so much with “the prudent,” a veiled reference to people who connive to make more money and get their way, but with those who claim to be righteous, decent, religious people.

The dishonest steward was a child of this world.  He was preoccupied with himself and his commission, or put in modern terms, he was self-centered, greedy, and on an all-out quest for the almighty dollar.

This world is obsessed with money, and tremendous amounts of time and energy go into making it.  Young people go to good schools and try to get good grades so they can get into good colleges so they can get a good job so they can make more money.

The children of this world are enterprising. Whether they are starting their own business or working for someone else, those who excel in business are enthusiastic and energetic, creative and imaginative, shrewd and resourceful.  They are experts at analysis and evaluation, skilled at developing an ingenious business plan, and eager to modify, improve, and update it.  They are dedicated to the task and willing to work long and hard, even if it means coming in early, staying late, or traveling.  They are not afraid of change and able to act quickly and decisively.  Their objective is a quality product or service, but it is also profit, and as much as possible.

Meanwhile, there are “children of the light.”  This probably refers to Jesus’ new followers, his children, with him as their light.  It also may have referred to good and faithful Jews in general or to the Essenes, a group of Jews, some who lived in the desert, who separated themselves from world and its evil ways to embrace an ascetic lifestyle in which they dedicated themselves totally to God.  Children of the light are those who love, follow, and obey God.

Jesus was upset.  His observation was that business people put more time and energy into making money than supposedly religious people put into their spiritual lives.

It would be a grand and glorious day when the primary objective of a school is to form disciples in God’s ways.  Jesus is longing for followers who are enthusiastic and energetic about him and his gospel, and creative and imaginative in the application of his gospel values to their daily lives.  Jesus wants disciples who can size up the situation and develop an ingenious plan to root out evil and replace it with great good, both in their individual lives and their organizations, and to do so decisively and without delay.  He also wants believers who are willing to put in their time when it comes to prayer and service.  Jesus wants to surround himself with people who want to get ahead, not with money and possessions, but in holiness and God’s grace.


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Mercy for miserable sinners

September 7, 2016


St. Paul

Mercy is one of God’s most wonderful attributes.  God is kind and merciful.  Paul was utterly dependent upon God’s mercy.  So was Peter.  So are we.

Paul and Peter had something in common:  both were intensely aware that they were miserable sinners.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost [the worst]” (1 Tim 1:15); and Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).  Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and arrogant.  Peter tempted, doubted, denied, and abandoned Jesus.  They badly missed the mark when it came to doing the right thing.  They were not pleasing to God.  They offended God.

After all of Paul’s wrongdoing, he should have been in serious trouble.  He deserved condemnation and punishment, but he did not get what he deserved.  Instead of a conviction and a fine, prison time, misfortune, or some other penalty, God treated Paul mercifully (1 Tim 1:13,16).  God still loved Paul.  Jesus even asked Paul to preach the gospel.  Paul was completely overwhelmed by such unwarranted kindness.  The mercy of God was a gracious gift.  He did not deserve it but he received it nonetheless.

Paul mentions this to encourage us.  Paul would like to tell us:  “With how bad I was, if God was merciful to me, no matter how bad you may have been, God will be merciful to you, too.”

God is merciful.  There are many aspects to God’s mercy.  God gives us the benefit of the doubt.  God is lenient instead of severe, soft instead of heavy-handed, gentle instead of rough, gracious instead of high and mighty, kind instead of mean, tender instead of harsh, compassionate instead of irritated or irked, understanding instead of aloof, patient instead of perturbed, sympathetic instead of hostile, quiet instead of lecturing or scolding, calm instead of angry, serene instead of furious, accepting instead of rejecting, forgiving and absolving instead of condemning, reconciling instead of isolating, and pardoning instead of punishing.

Each of us is like Paul, a sinner.  It is almost impossible to make it to the end of the day unblemished.  When we add up the sins of the past day or week, it is humbling, and when we add up all of the sins of our past life, it is devastating, downright demoralizing.

Despite our sins we must never lose hope.  Paul states emphatically, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).  Jesus went to the Cross to save us.  It is through the Cross that we receive divine mercy and the forgiveness of our sins.  God was merciful to Paul, and no matter what sins we may have committed, God will grant us mercy!

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Jesus, model teacher for instructors and catechists

September 1, 2016

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Summer vacation is over, and another school year is about to begin.  Instructors are headed to their classrooms, and catechists are headed to their faith formation groups.  The main focus of education rightfully belongs on the students, but it is also a high priority to reflect on the role of those who facilitate the learning process, teachers and catechists.

In education, a teacher who is experienced, highly effective, and an expert at training new teachers is a “Master Teacher.”  Jesus explained that these attributes belong to him when he told his disciples, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am” (Jn 13:13).  Christian teachers who wish to excel in their ministry would be wise to take their cues from the greatest teacher of all.

Love all the students.  It is difficult to love every student.  Some resist.  Others are slow.  Peter was impulsive.  James and John wanted the best positions, the others were indignant, and they squabbled among themselves.  Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him.  The disciples had their shortcomings.  Every student does.  Yet, Jesus loved each of them, and his authentic love for his learners was the single greatest secret to his success.

Pray for your students.  Jesus prayed for his disciples, and teachers should pray for their students.  Prayer not only asks God’s grace and blessing for the students, it also has a transforming effect on the teacher’s disposition toward their students.

Ask the Holy Spirit for help.  The Holy Spirit came down on Jesus at his baptism before he began his public ministry as teacher, and the Spirit gave him wisdom, insight, inspiration, energy, and courage.  Teachers should pray to the Holy Spirit for the guidance and understanding they need to carry out their ministry.

Prepare; study before teaching.  Jesus may have lacked a formal education, but he had an inquisitive mind, and he learned from others and on his own.  Mary and Joseph homeschooled him.  He was in the custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Lk 4:16) where he was taught by the rabbis.  He went to the Temple in Jerusalem where he sat “in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk 2:46).  From the way that he quoted Scripture, it is evident that he spent long hours in study and memorization with the books of the Bible.  Teachers who follow the example of Jesus do their homework.  They study before they teach, and they come to class with a well-prepared plan.

Use a variety of methods.  Jesus taught with lectures such as the Sermon on the Mount.  He was fond of storytelling with his parables.  He frequently taught large groups, but there were a number of occasions when he pulled his disciples aside for small group learning, and he also taught individuals as a tutor.  An assortment of approaches keeps learning interesting.

Be patient and kind.  The disciples were confused when Jesus taught in parables and asked, “Why do you speak … in parables?” (Mt 13:10).  Jesus did not get irritated.  Instead, he patiently explained his imagery (Mt 13:18-23; 36-43).  Many students do not comprehend the first time.  Jesus shows how to treat slower learners with extra kindness and provide additional instruction.

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The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 26, 2016


Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

August 29 is the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  It was known formerly as The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Annual Memorial.  This memorial in honor of the Baptist began in the Fourth Century AD at the dedication of the Church of St. John at Sebaste in Samaria, Israel, where, according to tradition, John’s skull had been buried by his disciples.  This commemoration gradually spread to the universal church, first to the East in the Fifth Century and to Rome by the Seventh Century.

The Historical Event.  The account of the Baptist’s passion is given in two of the four gospels, the original version in Mk 6:17-29, and an edited and shortened account in Mt 14:3-12.  Biblical historians believe that the beheading of John took place at Machaerus, a fort in the desert on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.  It had been built by King Herod the Great as a desert hideaway, and his son, King Herod Antipas, went there occasionally.

Foreshadowing.  John the Baptist is the forerunner or precursor.  John went ahead of Jesus with his miraculous birth and his unique role as prophet, preacher, and baptizer.  These set the stage for Jesus’ own miraculous birth, as well as his baptism and his ministry as prophet and teacher.  John the Baptist’s suffering and death prefigures Jesus’ suffering and death, and the details in the account of the passion of John anticipate the Passion of Jesus.  Specific similarities include:  John spoke the truth, Jesus is truth; it was the festive occasion of a birthday, it was the festive occasion of Passover; Herodias bitterly opposed John, the religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus; John was arrested and bound, Jesus was arrested and bound; Herod declared John innocent, Pilate declared Jesus innocent; John was held in a prison cell in Machaerus, Jesus was held in a prison cell below Caiaphas’ palace; Herod tried to please his wife, Pilate attempted to please the crowds; Herod condemned John, Pilate condemned Jesus; Roman soldiers put John to death by beheading, Roman soldiers put Jesus to death by crucifixion; John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb.

Larger Gospel Context.  Mark carefully placed the account of the Baptist’s death between two sections on the missionary work of the first apostles.  In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, and in Mark 6:30-33 the apostles return to Jesus to report what they have done.  Mark wants to show that it requires tremendous courage to speak the truth and proclaim the gospel, and that it will lead to bitter suffering.

Gospel Preview.  The Cross is not mentioned explicitly in the Baptist’s passion account, but it is Mark’s underlying mindset.  The death of John is a preview of the death of Jesus, and for John his beheading was his cross.  Everyone who is a disciple must carry their cross.

Spiritual Applications.  The Baptist had a number of outstanding spiritual qualities.   He was a fierce advocate for truth and justice, fought hard for what is right, demonstrated his faith in a very public manner, walked in straight paths and urged others to do likewise, directed attention away from himself to Jesus, had a humble estimation of himself, and endured the suffering that came his way.  These admirable traits serve as inspiration and guidance for our spiritual lives.


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Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 19, 2016


StBartSaint Bartholomew is one of the original twelve apostles.  In Aramaic, his name is bar talmai, “son of Tolmai,” or the Graeco-Roman equivalent, “son of Ptolemy.”  The only time that he is mentioned in the New Testament is on the four lists of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).  Because he is paired with Philip in the three Synoptic Gospels, and because Philip is paired with Nathanael in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:43-51; 21:2), biblical scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael may be one and the same person.

Apart from Bartholomew’s name on these four lists, there is no other information about him in the New Testament.  There is wide agreement among early church historians that Bartholomew went on multiple missionary expeditions preaching the gospel with great fervor and conviction, but there is little agreement about where he went.

In the Fourth Century AD Eusebius reported, based upon Second Century information obtained from St. Pantaenus, a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, that Bartholomew had gone to India, possibly in partnership with Thomas the apostle.  Pantaenus had visited India between 150 and 200 AD, and when he visited the Malabar Coast he came upon Christian communities that claimed that Bartholomew was their founder and that he had brought them copies of Matthew’s gospel.  Rufinus, another early church historian, reported that Bartholomew went to Ethiopia in North Africa and Arabia which is south of Israel.  Others reported that Bartholomew went to Mesopotamia and Persia, both east of Israel in modern-day Iraq, and Phrygia and Lycaonia, both in south-central Asia Minor or Turkey, possibly in partnership with Philip the apostle.

While there is little agreement about where Bartholomew went on his first missionary journeys, there is wide consensus about where he finished his missionary work.  Bartholomew made his final missionary trip in 44 AD to Greater Armenia, the area in modern-day southern Russia south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

There are two divergent accounts of Bartholomew’s ministry and martyrdom.  According to the predominant tradition, Bartholomew, through his persuasive preaching, made a large number of converts to Christianity in Armenia.  This angered pagan barbarians who protested vociferously to King Astyages.  The king agreed and ordered that Bartholomew be put to death.  According to ancient Persian custom, Bartholomew was first flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded.  This took place at Derbend, Albanopolis, in Upper Armenia, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.  Bartholomew’s remains were placed in a sack and tossed overboard into the sea.

According to another tradition, Bartholomew converted King Astyages to Christianity.  This legend claims that the king’s brother was so infuriated that he ordered Bartholomew be put to death by flaying and decapitation.


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Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016


Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

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