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.

A six week series from the letter to the Galatians

June 17, 2016

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StPaulStainedGlassThe second readings for the Sundays of Week Nine through Week Fourteen of Ordinary Time, Year C, are taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The Location of Galatia.  Galatia is a large area in central Asia Minor or Turkey.  It is surrounded by Bithynia to the northwest, Pontus to the northeast, Cappadocia to the east, Cilicia to the southeast, Pamphylia to the south, and the Province of Asia to the west.  It was a Roman province in the First Century AD.  Some of its principal cities were Ancyra, Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.

Galatians.  Galatians is a collective term for the diverse peoples of the cities and regions of the Province of Galatia.  It was a predominantly Gentile area with a variety of pagan cults to the Greek gods, and there was a small minority of Jews and a synagogue in some of the cities.

Paul’s Time in Galatia.  Paul visited Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys.  Paul visited Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:25), sometime between 42 and 45 AD.  He went to Galatia again, this time with Silas, as part of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6), during portions of 46 and 47 AD.  Paul returned to Galatia a final time with Timothy on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23) in 52 AD.

Paul’s Missionary Activity in Galatia.  Paul initially would go to the local synagogue where he preached the gospel with great fervor, attracted large crowds, and made a number of converts.  This quickly led to bitter opposition from local Jewish leaders who were jealous of his dynamism and popularity, and were enraged that he was taking their members.  Paul, no longer welcome in the synagogue, would then extend his outreach to Gentiles where he also made new believers, but he was opposed by family members who did not convert.  Paul would found a new Christian church in the locality and then travel to another city.  At a later date Paul would circle back to the cities where he had established a community to revitalize and encourage the members.

The Situation in Galatia.  Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians while in Ephesus in spring of 53 AD (see Paul:  A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 180-182).  The letter was in response to the Judaizers, Christian converts from Judaism, who would sweep into an area after Paul had departed, and vehemently criticize and undermine him and his preaching.  While Paul preached salvation through Jesus and his redemptive death on the Cross, the Judaizers insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must follow the Mosaic Law and that salvation comes not through Jesus and his grace but through legal observance.  Moreover, they claimed that Paul was not an authentic apostle because he had not been taught by Jesus as were the twelve apostles who accompanied him for three years, that there were discrepancies between the preaching of Paul and the other apostles, and that Paul had wrongly relaxed the requirements of the Law for Gentiles to make the Christian faith easier and more attractive.

The Letter to the Galatians.  The letter has three parts.  Paul begins with a defense of himself as a true apostle who preaches the gospel with full authority.  Next, he uses multiple arguments to explain the difference between faith in Jesus and the works of the Law, and how justification comes through faith.  He concludes with an appeal to new converts to recommit themselves to an active Christian life in accord with the ways of the Spirit.

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St. Barnabas, apostle and martyr

June 9, 2016

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StBarnabasBarnabas was born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  He was a Jew of the tribe of Levi.  He was given the name Joses or Joseph, but the apostles changed his name to Barnabas, which means the “son of encouragement” or the “son of consolation” (Acts 4:36).

Barnabas is not one of the original twelve apostles, yet he is considered an apostle because of his close association with the Twelve, his advocacy for Paul as a trustworthy apostle, his leadership in Antioch, his companionship with Paul on his first missionary journey, his tenacity as an evangelizer, his prominent role in the Council of Jerusalem in support of the inclusion of the Gentiles, and his work as the founder of the church of Cyprus.

Barnabas first appears in Scripture in Acts 4:36-37.  It recounts how Barnabas “sold a piece of property that he owned, [and] then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles.”  Not only was this a powerful act of faith, it also was a demonstration of how to practice stewardship and a validation of the role of the apostles in the fair distribution of donations to the needy.

One of Barnabas’ greatest contributions was his willingness to vouch for Paul’s authenticity as an apostle.  Paul had persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:9-11; Gal 1:13), and his hostility was widely known.  While some had heard of his supposed conversion, they doubted that someone who had opposed them with such ferocity could now be on their side.  It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the apostles, and Barnabas who spoke on his behalf (Acts 9:27).

Barnabas made a number of significant contributions to the early Church.  He was commissioned by the apostles to be a missionary to Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:22).  Barnabas, along with Paul, who he asked to be his partner (Acts 11:25-26), made numerous converts in Antioch.  Barnabas was Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey, and he accompanied him to Cyprus, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13 and 14), and he proclaimed the gospel with exceptional conviction.  Barnabas accompanied Paul to the Council of Jerusalem, and he, along with Paul, vigorously defended the inclusion of Gentiles, and he argued that Gentiles should not be subject to the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, a proposition that was accepted and the scope of the Church forever widened (Acts 15:1-21).  Barnabas was commissioned to return to Antioch of Syria to announce the good news that Gentiles are welcome (Acts 15:22-35).  Then, after a dispute with Paul, Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with John Mark to establish the Christian church in his native land (Acts 15:36-41).

Barnabas was bitterly opposed by Greco-Roman pagans on Cyprus, and they eventually killed him by stoning in Salamis, a seaport city, in 60 or 61 AD.

The symbols for Barnabas are a book, because he preached the gospel with Paul on his missionary journeys and to the people of Cyprus, and an olive branch because he was an effective peacemaker.  He is often depicted with St. Paul.

Barnabas is the patron saint of peacemakers because he quelled the antagonism of the apostles toward Paul and helped to resolve the conflict over Gentile admission.  He is also the patron saint of Cyprus, and invoked against quarreling and hailstorms.

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St. Norbert, Bishop

June 3, 2016

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StNorbert

Norbert was born in 1080 in Xanten, a town in western Germany.   His father was Count Heribert of Gennep, his mother Hedwig of Guise.  His family was both nobility and Christian.  As a young man he was ordained a subdeacon, not because of his faith, but to gain the advantage of clerical position and a financial subsidy from the church.  He became a spiritual advisor to Emperor Henry V in Cologne, and he reveled in a life of political influence, luxury, and wealth.

Norbert accompanied Henry V to Rome in 1114 for a contentious meeting with Pope Paschal II over lay investiture, the appointment of bishops by secular rulers.  Norbert was moved by the Pope’s firm adherence to spiritual principles, and it proved to be the beginning of his conversion.  A year later Norbert was riding his horse, caught in a thunderstorm, struck by lightning, and thrown from his mount.  Spared, he experienced a conversion like St. Paul.

Norbert resigned his position with the Emperor and withdrew to the Benedictine Abbey of Siegberg outside of Cologne for a period of penance, fasting, and prayer.  At the end of his seclusion, he was ordained a priest in 1115, and to prove the genuineness of his vocation, he sold all of his land and material possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor.

Filled with zeal, Norbert returned to Xanten, but the local clergy were lax, not enamored with his call to holiness, and ostracized him.  Norbert departed for France, barefoot over snowy roads, to meet with Pope Gelasius II who had fled from Rome.   The Pope commissioned Norbert to be a missionary preacher, and for the next several years he traveled throughout northern France preaching Jesus, the gospel, and repentance, and he performed a number of miracles.

In 1120 the new Pope, Callistus II, sent Norbert to Laon to lead a spiritual renewal of the Canons of St. Martin.  Again, he encountered bitter resistance, and unable to lead a reform, he was given permission to found his own community, which he did on Christmas Day, 1120, with thirteen members, at Premontre in northern France.  The new community was called the Canons Regular of Premontre, or simply, the Premonstratensians, today called the Norbertines.  Norbert adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and implemented some of the practices of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians regarding simplicity of life.  He combined the contemplative spirituality of monastic living with the active spirituality of outside ministry.

Norbert was appointed the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany, in 1126.  He instituted a clergy reform that enforced celibacy, eliminated corruption, and ended absenteeism.  Opposition was so intense that several assassination attempts were made on his life, and he fled Magdeburg briefly.

Pope Honorius II died in 1130, and two cardinals were elected separately, one legitimately, Innocent II, and one falsely, Anacletus II, the antipope, which caused a schism.  Norbert went to Rome in an attempt to support Innocent II and resolve the conflict.  Unsuccessful, he returned to Magdeburg, fell ill, and died on June 6, 1134.

Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  He is the patron saint of Magdeburg, Bohemia, and the Premonstratensian Order.  His symbol is a monstrance because he vigorously upheld the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in his preaching.

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Transubstantiation: A fundamental Catholic belief about the Eucharist

June 3, 2016

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EucharistWheatTable

Transubstantiation is a theological term derived from two Latin roots, trans (prefix), a preposition that means “over” or “across,” and substantia (root), a noun that means “substance.”  To transubstantiate is to change one substance into another.  The initial substance is bread and wine, and it changes into a new and different substance, the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is no longer bread, but the Body of Christ under the appearance of bread; and no longer wine, but the Blood of Christ under the appearance of wine.  The physical appearance and chemical composition remain unchanged, but the substance is entirely changed.

This belief is firmly grounded in Sacred Scripture, particularly the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood’” (Mt 26:26-28; see also Mk 14:22-24 and Lk 22:19-20).  During the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-59), Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven … and the bread that I will give is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

St. Paul further reflected on the words of Jesus.  He asked, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16).   He also provided the earliest written account of the Institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26), written around 56 AD, well before the gospels written sometime between 68 and 100 AD.

This transformation happens by the power of God to whom the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed and through the action of the Holy Spirit who is called down over the offerings at the Epiclesis before the Words of Institution.  The Consecration is the moment when this takes place, yet the entire Eucharistic Prayer is consecratory.

EucharistWheatTransubstantiation only occurs within the context of a valid Mass with a properly ordained priest who is serving in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.  The priest must be in union with the Church and in line with Apostolic Succession.  The priest pronounces the words, but their power and grace are God’s (St. John Chrysostom).

Historically, transubstantiation was first taught by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and reaffirmed, clarified, and strengthened at the Council of Constance in 1415 and the Council of Trent in 1551.  Trent was the Catholic Counterreformation in response to Protestant reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli who denied transubstantiation entirely and Luther who proposed consubstantiation.  Trent declared that in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Trent, 1551; Catechism, No. 1374).

There are several things that transubstantiation is expressly not.  It is not consubstantiation, the Reformation teaching that the bread and wine are simultaneously both bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Christ.  Transubstantiation is also not “transsymbolization,” that the bread and wine are symbols or reminders of the Body and Blood of Christ, or “transignification,” that the consecrated bread and wine come to have new significance or meaning.

The fullness of the true presence of Christ is in each form of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament alone, the Precious Blood alone, or both together.

There are many other forms of the presence of Christ, particularly in the Word, the people, and the priest, all which are “real,” “but because it is presence in the fullest sense:  that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium fidei, No. 39).

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The fruits of the Holy Spirit

May 13, 2016

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HolySpiritDoveThe Fruits of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Triune God, the Most Holy Trinity, and St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians provides a list of nine fruits of the Spirit:  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).  These fruits emanate or proceed from the Holy Spirit, and they reveal what the Holy Spirit is like.  They serve as the Spirit’s character traits.  And because the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, and because the three persons are one, the fruits of the Spirit reveal what God is like.

Good Fruits Intended to Grow.  The grace and power of the Holy Spirit give increase to these fruits.  Wherever the Holy Spirit receives welcome and cooperation, the fruits expand and intensify.  It may be a person or any size group, as small as a married couple or a family, or as large as a school or a parish, a business or an organization, a nation or the Church.  Whenever an individual or a group follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and the other fruits increase, but when the Spirit is opposed, these fruits diminish or vanish altogether.

Love.   Agape love is the highest form of love, love for both God and neighbor.  It is selfless, focused on the other person, given freely and gladly without condition or the expectation of repayment, expressed in service, and willing to suffer on another’s behalf.

Joy.  Joy is an interior contentment that comes from being close to God and in right relationship with others.  It is joy to know God’s love, presence, and compassion, to realize that all is an undeserved gift from God, and to be in compliance with God’s will.  Joy also comes with speaking and upholding the truth, honesty and integrity in relationships, enduring hardships, and decent conduct.

Peace.  Peace is the harmony that occurs when justice prevails.  It happens when resources are shared equitably, power is used for service, interdependence is fostered, information is shared openly and honestly, the dignity of each person is respected, legitimate differences are tolerated, the disadvantaged receive help, hurts are forgiven, and the common good is upheld.

Patience.  Patience is the virtue of suffering interruption or delay with composure and without complaint; to suffer annoyance, insult, or mistreatment with self-restraint, refusing to be provoked; and to suffer burdens and difficult tasks with resolve and determination.  It is also the willingness to slow down for another’s benefit, to set aside one’s personal plans and concerns, to go at another’s pace, and to take whatever time is necessary to address their need.

Kindness.  Kindness is a warm and friendly disposition toward another.  A kind person is polite and well-mannered, respectful and considerate, pleasant and agreeable, cheerful and upbeat, caring and helpful, positive and complimentary.

Generosity.  God gives beyond all measure and is lavish in generosity, and thus blessed with such munificence, it behooves a person to have an abundance mentality, a bigheartedness, and an unselfishness that shows itself in giving and sharing.  It is extended to family and friends, strangers, and particularly those in need, and is offered not only as money, food, and clothing, but also as time shared and assistance provided.

Faithfulness.  God is faithful to the covenant and infinitely reliable, dependable, and trustworthy.  Faithfulness is demonstrated by loyalty to friends, duties performed, promises kept, commitments fulfilled, contracts completed, vows observed, and being true to one’s word.

Gentleness.  Gentleness is sensitivity for another person.  It is concerned with another’s welfare, safety, and security.  It is grounded in humility.  The approach is careful, tender, delicate, considerate, affectionate, and mild-mannered, free of all pushiness, roughness, or abrasiveness.

Self-control.  Self-control is self-mastery regardless of the circumstances, to be in control of one’s self rather than to be controlled by temptations, events, or other people, especially when under pressure or in times of crisis.  It is a virtue to remain calm, cool, and collected, reasonable and even-tempered; to be alert and conscious, able to slow down, proceed with caution and prudence, and avoid an impulse or kneejerk response; to be a moderating influence; and to have the strength and courage to reject evil and choose good.

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St. James the Lesser, Apostle and Martyr

April 29, 2016

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StJamesLesserApostolic Identity.  There are two St. James among the original twelve apostles:  St. James the Greater whose feast is on July 25, and St. James the Less, the Lesser, or the Minor, whose feast is on May 3 and shared with St. Philip.  He is the second James on the New Testament lists of apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).  There are several explanations for why he is called “less.”  The most widely accepted reason is that he was younger than the other James who was greater in years.  Some believe that it was because of his short stature, that he was lesser in height, or because he was called at a later time than James the Greater.

Family Relationship.  St. James was the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40).  His brother was Joseph or Joses. He is also known as the brother or cousin of the Lord.  The people of Nazareth asked of Jesus, “[Are not] his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55; see Mt 12:46), or “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk 6:3).

Special Encounter.  Jesus appeared to James after he rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:7).

Apostolic Ministry.  James was the head of the early Christian church in Jerusalem and is regarded as its first bishop. When Peter was released from prison, he asked that word be sent to James (Acts 12:17).  James presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51 AD, and with great wisdom and compassion, argued that Gentile converts not be obligated to follow the Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15:13-21), and because of his fairness, he is also known as James the Just.  Paul met with James in Jerusalem at least twice, once in 37 AD after he had spent fifteen days with Peter (Gal 1:18-19), and again in 56 AD when he conferred with James and the other presbyters (Acts 21:18).  Paul called James a “pillar” of the community, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9), and acknowledged that he had a role in commissioning Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  The Letter of James is attributed to him (Jas 1:1).

A Martyr’s Death.  James preached the gospel with exceptional zeal in Jerusalem for over thirty years, and he inspired many people to become believers in Jesus.  His successes were met with fierce opposition by the leaders of the Jews who wanted to kill him.  In 62 AD a group of furious scribes and Pharisees demanded that James renounce Jesus, and when he flatly refused, they apprehended him, stormed to the pinnacle of the Temple and hurled him down to an angry mob below.  Still alive, the mob began to stone him, and as he prayed for their forgiveness, he was bludgeoned to death with clubs.

Symbols.  In religious art, St. James is represented by a bat or a fuller’s club as well as one or more stones, the instruments of his martyrdom, or an image of the Temple because he was thrown from it.  He is also sometimes depicted with a book or a scroll because he preached the gospel, with a pastoral staff or a walking stick because he was the shepherd of the church of Jerusalem, or a green branch or palm because he was a martyr.  There is another not widely accepted tradition that he was cut in half, so he is sometimes represented by a saw.

Patronage.  Along with St. Joseph, he is the patron saint of the dying.  He is also the patron saint of fullers, those who clean, shrink, and thicken cloth; hatters; and druggists.

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St. Adalbert of Prague, Bishop and Martyr

April 22, 2016

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StAdalbertSt. Adalbert of Prague was born in 956 in Bohemia into the Christian upper class Slavnik family.  His baptismal name is variously reported as Wojciech, Voytiekh, and Voytech.  He went to Magdeburg, Germany, and was educated by its archbishop, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, who changed his name to Adalbert when he received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When the older St. Adalbert died in 981, the younger Adalbert returned to Bohemia, and a year later, in 982, at the age of 26, was elected the bishop of Prague.  He entered the city barefoot, intent on bringing Christianity to the Czechs.

As bishop, he worked tirelessly to inspire Christians to live holier lives, to bring the gospel to non-believers in Hungary and Bohemia, and to reform the clergy. It was a bitter struggle.  He was resisted by stubborn clergy and political opponents.  His missionary work had achieved modest success.  Deeply disappointed, he was forced to leave Prague in 990 and fled to Rome.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Bishop Adalbert went to the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Boniface and Alexis where he became a monk.  Meanwhile, in 992 Duke Boleslaus of Poland petitioned the Pope that Bishop Adalbert be sent back to Prague, and subsequently Pope John XV reassigned Adalbert to his former post.

Bishop Adalbert had a tumultuous return.  A noblewoman had been convicted of adultery.  The crowd wanted her punished, but because she was repentant and the mob unruly, as an act of compassion the bishop gave her safe haven in the church.  The mob attacked, stormed the church, and killed her, by some reports, at the altar, by other reports, in the street.  In punishment for their evildoing, Bishop Adalbert excommunicated all those who participated in her execution.  The throng considered the penalty excessive and shifted their rage toward the bishop and his family.  Some of his relatives were murdered.  He was rejected, and fled to Rome a second time.

Again, there was a papal intervention.  The new pope, Gregory V, ordered Bishop Adalbert to return, but not to Prague.  Instead, the Pope allowed Adalbert to be a missionary.  Initially, he went to Poland, and then to the Prussians in Pomerania along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.  While he went to preach the gospel, the local residents thought he was a Polish spy and executed him with his two companions, Benedict and Gaudentius, near Gdansk (Danzig) on April 23, 997, and was buried in Gniezno, the first capital of Poland.  His relics were transferred to Prague in 1039.

St. Adalbert of Prague was held in great esteem as a courageous martyr, outstanding missionary, and a monastic, and his popularity spread rapidly throughout Poland, eastern Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and his heroic witness served to inspire further missionary efforts in central and eastern Europe.  He is the patron saint of Poland, Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and Prussia.

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

April 15, 2016

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GoodShepherd1Good Shepherd Sunday is the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  This custom began in 1963.  It is a day set aside to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the permanent diaconate, as well as to the consecrated life, the vocation of priest, brother, or sister within a religious order that observes the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Sheep without shepherds.  Jesus was distraught over the dismal quality of spiritual leadership during his time.  When he looked out over the people, “his heart was moved for pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).  So Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37; see Lk 10:2).

The laborers are few.  The number of priests and religious has declined, there is a shortage, and there is a great need.  Bishops are anxious because there are not enough priests to staff the parishes in their dioceses.  Parishioners are anxious because parishes with multiple priests have been reduced, small parishes have been combined, and some parishes have gone without a priest.  Priests are anxious because more duties have fallen on their shoulders.

Ask the master.  Jesus told his disciples to pray for vocations, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Mt 7:7), and he reassured them, “For everyone who asks, receives” (Mt 7:8), and, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Mt 21:22).

Pray for vocations.  Prayer should be offered by the Church at its liturgies, and this can be easily done with a petition in the General Intercessions or a special prayer offered by the congregation after Holy Communion.  A prayer for vocations can be offered before council, staff, faculty, and committee meetings.  Vocation prayer cards can be placed on the inside cover of hymnals, in the pews, on tables at the entrances, and in the Eucharistic Adoration chapel.

Family prayer.  It is also extremely important for families to pray at home together for vocations.  Parents who pray for vocations encourage their own children to consider such a calling, and children who are reminded regularly about service to the Church are more likely to keep an open mind, be better able to hear the call, and be more inclined to respond favorably.

Priests, deacons, and religious, and prayer.  It may seem obvious, but those who have accepted a religious vocation should pray for vocations.  It is a sad phenomenon that some priests and religious have grown disenchanted with their own vocations, their religious superiors, their diocese or religious institute, or the Church, and do not pray for vocations and do not invite others to consider one.  Statistically, over eighty percent of newly ordained priests report that a major element of their call was the personal invitation of a priest, but surveys of priests reveal that only thirty percent offer invitations.  Parishioners should pray that their priests and religious would be more positively disposed and actively engaged in vocation promotion.

Once is not enough.  The World Day of Prayer is a single day, and while it is important to prayer for vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday, it is important to prayer for vocations on other Sundays and weekdays, too.  It is tremendously important to pray for vocations regularly.

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What makes Jesus, The Good Shepherd, good?

April 15, 2016

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GoodShepherd2Good vs. Bad.  The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday.  It is important to know the difference between a good and bad shepherd, and both Jesus in the Good Shepherd Discourse (Jn 10:1-21) and God through the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 34:1-10) highlight the differences.

Bad shepherds work for money.  Bad shepherds put in their time to get paid, but they really do not care about the sheep.  It is all about the money and not about the sheep.

Bad shepherds do not pay attention or listen.  Bad shepherds do not spend quality time with their sheep.  They do not learn the names of their sheep, nor do they get to know their individual problems or concerns, nor do they offer personalized help and advice.  Then, when it comes time to lead, the sheep do not listen or follow because there is no relationship or trust.

Bad shepherds put themselves ahead of their sheep.  Bad shepherds are more interested in their own pursuits than in the needs of their sheep.  In times of crisis when the sheep are under attack, whether it is from the outside, such as wild predatory animals or thieves, or from the inside, such as a corrupt or evil shepherd, a bad shepherd is not willing to sacrifice or suffer on behalf of the sheep, and instead of battling the evil threat, the bad shepherd sits by idly and does nothing, withdraws, resigns, or flees.

Bad shepherds take advantage of their sheep.  The sheep produce the wool; the bad shepherds wear fancy clothes.  The sheep produce mutton; the bad shepherds dine in elegance.  The goats produce milk; the bad shepherds drink fine wines.  The affluence of bad shepherds is at the expense of their own flock.

Bad shepherds are controlling and harsh.  Bad shepherds are authoritarian.  Their rule is top-down.  They do not take advice.  They are unconcerned about the input, opinions or feelings of others.  They are heavy-handed and mean-spirited.

Bad shepherds do not put in extra effort.  Every flock has sheep that need special care.  Some are weak, others are sick, and a few wander off.  Bad shepherds are unwilling to put in extra time or go the extra mile.  Sheep in distress are left to fend for themselves, and vulnerable and defenseless, their plight often goes from bad to worse, and bad shepherds do not care.

The Good Shepherd.  Jesus is good, and there are many factors that make him good.  His primary concern always is his sheep.  For Jesus, it is never about him, the money, a high lifestyle, an influential position, or power.  He has a special concern for each and every sheep, particularly those who are troubled.  He is present.  He listens.  He is strong, yet humble and gentle.  He upholds the truth, yet he is kind and compassionate.  He lived simply. He came to serve.  He emptied himself.  He was willing to suffer and lay down his life for his sheep.

Good Shepherd Ministry.  Parents are shepherds for their children, teachers for their students, coaches for their athletes, managers for their workers, civil officials for their citizens, and priests for their parishioners.  Anyone in a position of leadership should avoid the pitfalls of the bad shepherds and pattern themselves on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

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The Acts of the Apostles – Scripture for the Easter Season

April 6, 2016

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StLukeEaster Prominence.  The Acts of the Apostles is used at Mass during the Easter Season more than any other book of the Bible.  Excerpts from Acts serve as the first reading for every Sunday Mass from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, as well as for the first reading for every daily Mass for all seven weeks of the Easter Season.

One of a Kind.  The Acts of the Apostles is unique.  There is no other book like it in the rest of Sacred Scripture.  It is not a gospel or a letter, the two other main genres of the New Testament.  Acts is in a class by itself, and it records the history of the beginnings of the early Church.

The Ascension Dilemma.  The first generation of Christians was faced with a serious question:  now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer present on earth in physical or bodily form, where is the risen Christ to be found?  According to St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, one of the primary and favored ways that the risen Christ continues to be alive, well, and present is in the community that Jesus formed, the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Risen Christ’s Fourfold Presence.  The first Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  The apostles taught about all that Jesus said and did, and the risen Christ is present when he is remembered and his story is told.  The communal life is the fellowship shared among believers, personal relationships based upon shared beliefs and values, work done jointly, and the companionship of fellow travelers on the spiritual pilgrimage through life; and the risen Jesus is present when his followers are together.  Christians assembled for the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist; and the risen Christ is present in his Body and Blood.  Christians also devoted themselves to common prayer.  It may have been two or three individuals, or a family, or a group of families, and whenever Christians pray together, the risen Jesus is present in each other and in their prayer.

Witness and Miracles.  “Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43; see Acts 5:12).  The apostles gave heroic witness, and the risen Christ was present in their excellent example.  The apostles also worked great miracles, such as when Peter cured a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10), healed a paralytic (Acts 9:32-34), and raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42); and the risen Christ was present in every mighty deed that they performed.

Mutual Concern, Generosity, and Unity.  Furthermore, “All who believed … had all things in common” (Acts 2:44; see also Acts 4:32).  Christians were attentive to each other and shared with each other so that no one among them would be needy; and the risen Christ was present in their mutual concern and in their generosity.  Finally, “the community of believers was of one heart and one mind” (Acts 4:32).  Unity is a distinguishing characteristic of Christians.  Oneness of mind is a common way of thinking and shared set of core beliefs, and oneness of heart is a common love and passion for Jesus and his gospel, God and neighbor.  When the Christian community exemplifies this sort of unity, the risen Christ is present.

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