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.

Zechariah, an inspirational father figure

June 15, 2017

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St. John the Baptist. His name is John

Father’s Day is an occasion to reflect on the vocation of fatherhood.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is most remembered for not believing the angel Gabriel’s announcement and being struck speechless as a punishment, but he has many admirable qualities for fathers.

Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, and both of them were advanced in years and still together.  Zechariah loved his wife and he was completely faithful to their marriage covenant.  Fatherhood is not a married man’s first vocation, but rather being devoted to one’s wife and being an excellent husband.  Good husbands make good fathers.

Zechariah was righteous.  A righteous Jew is law abiding.  This does not refer to his observance of civil law and his status as a citizen of his country, but rather his observance of the Mosaic Law and his spiritual standing before God.  Zechariah carefully and conscientiously obeyed the Ten Commandments as well as all of the other 603 precepts of the Law.   A good father observes God’s laws and has high moral standards, and then teaches these laws to his children, first and foremost with his example, and also with his instruction, house rules, and implementation.

Not only was Zechariah righteous, he was righteous in the eyes of God.  God sees everything, not only public and external things, but also private and internal things.  Zechariah obeyed God’s laws whether people were watching or not.  His observance was not for show.  He was good inside and out.  He was authentic, a man of integrity, truthful and honest.  Fathers like Zechariah help their children understand that God’s laws apply at all times under all circumstances, and that the top priority should be to please God in every instance, not to win the approval of others.

Zechariah was old and had no children.  This was a tremendous disappointment to him, but he did not turn sour, negative, rebellious, or cynical.  Zechariah was stable and he handled his troubles with grace and composure.  All fathers are faced with various setbacks, and fathers like Zechariah are able to remain calm and levelheaded, and able to carry on with purpose.

Zechariah went to the Temple where he prayed, and he took regular turns doing so.  He had a personal relationship with God which he nurtured with frequent prayer which was an intimate conversation which kept them closely bonded together.  Fathers who go to church and pray on a regular basis are guided by God in how to raise their children, and they receive God’s help.

When Zechariah’s son was born, he insisted that his name would be John.  This choice violated the custom of naming a child after his father or another relative.  Zechariah was not swayed by pressure or the expectations of his neighbors and relatives.  The angel had conveyed God’s wish, and Zechariah was adamant and unyielding when it came to obeying God.  There are many opinions and social expectations for how to raise children.  Fathers like Zechariah take their cues from God and are not unduly influenced by other people, old customs, or modern trends.

Finally, Zechariah offered a canticle of praise (Lk 1:68-79).  Zechariah was able to see and count his many blessings, and with faith and gratitude, he honored and glorified God with words of thanks.  Fathers like Zechariah are alert enough to take stock of the good things that God has given them, have an appreciative attitude, and frequently lift God’s name in praise.

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The theophany of Pentecost

June 2, 2017

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Pentecost

On Pentecost “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).  It was sudden, startling.  It came up like a storm.  The noise was loud.   The wind roared.  Presumably, the house shook.  For the disciples, it was frightening yet awesome, glorious and enthralling.  They were immersed in a mystical experience, the powerful presence of almighty God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.  It was a theophany.

A theophany is an appearance of God accompanied by astounding signs and wonders that attest to God’s divine majesty, supreme authority, and infinite power.  A theophany involves one or more major forces of nature:  an earthquake, crushing rocks, dark clouds, storm, thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hail, howling winds, raging fire, billowing smoke, and blaring sounds.

The theophany of Pentecost recalls the great theophany of the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearance of God when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  The sequence of occurrences was phenomenal:  peals of thunder, lightning, a heavy cloud, and a very loud blast (Ex 19:16); rising smoke, fire, and a quaking mountain (Ex 19:18); and the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder, and yet more thunder (Ex 19:19).

The combination of natural signs pointed to a supernatural reality, that the omnipotent God was truly with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and that this would be an encounter of epic proportions.  God created the world with a mighty wind (Gn 1:2) and put into place all of the forces of nature.  Then, with the forces of nature making a dramatic and impressive display, God confirmed Israel as the Chosen People and renewed the covenant through the conferral of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

On Pentecost the disciples were all together in one place for a theophany that was similar, yet different.  God had appeared in the desert.  This time God appeared in Jerusalem.  The former appearance took place at Mount Sinai.  This appearance took place on Mount Zion.  Previously the Lord came down upon the mountain in fire.  This time the Holy Spirit came down over the heads of the disciples as tongues as of fire.  The former appearance enabled Moses to speak on God’s behalf.  This appearance enabled Peter and the other disciples to serve as God’s spokesmen.  The former involved spectacular natural signs.  This appearance involved fewer and smaller natural signs.

Like the appearance at Sinai, this appearance would be an event of epic proportions.  The coming of the Holy Spirit established the Church as the People of God.  After Jesus, both priest and victim, sealed the new and eternal covenant with the blood that he shed on the Cross, the Holy Spirit joined the Son in the institution of an everlasting unbreakable covenant extended to all of the nations on earth.

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Lesser Known but great mothers of the Old Testament

May 12, 2017

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Zipporah

Zipporah.  Zipporah was the wife of Moses and the mother of Gershom (Ex 2:21-22; 18:3) and Eliezer (Ex 18:4).  When Moses returned to Egypt, she accompanied him (Ex 4:20), but later Moses sent her back to her father Jethro with their two boys (Ex 18:2) where she raised them by herself.  Zipporah serves as an inspiration to single mothers whose husbands have left to pursue their careers.

Deborah.  Deborah was the wife of Lappidoth (Jgs 4:4) and “a mother in Israel” (Jgs 5:5).  It is not known whether she had one or more children, or how she served as a mother.  She was a prophetess, a holy woman who obeyed God and urged others to do likewise.  She was the fifth judge, and she led Israel’s army against Sisera and triumphed.  In addition to her duties as a mother, Deborah shows that mothers can be powerful forces for spiritual good outside the home.

Manoah’s wife.  Manoah’s wife was childless (Jgs 13:2), and an angel appeared and announced that she would have a miraculous birth (Jgs 13:3-7,9), and as foretold, she gave birth to her son Samson (Jgs 13:24).  She teaches mothers that every child is a miracle and a gift from God.

Naomi.  Naomi was the wife of Elimelech and the mother of Mahlon and Chilion (Ru1:2).  In a time of famine her family moved from Bethlehem to Moab.  She was totally committed to caring for her boys.  Her husband died in a foreign land, and after both her sons married, they also died (Ru 1:3-5).  Heartbroken, she is a touching example of a grieving mother who remained faithful to God, never despaired, returned home, and re-engaged in life with her daughter-in-law Ruth.

Ruth.  Ruth was the wife of Boaz (Ru 4:10,13) and the mother of Obed, who “was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ru 4:17).  Ruth is one of four mothers named in Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:5), along with Tamar, Rahab, and Mary.  Mothers have a key place in Salvation History.

Hannah.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah (1 Sm 1:2).  She wept copiously because she was without child.  She pleaded with the Lord to give her a male child, and promised that if God would grant her request, she would dedicate him to God (1 Sm 1:11).  God gave her a son that she named Samuel (1 Sm 1:20), and true to her word, she dedicated him to God (1 Sm 1:28).  Hannah teaches that mothers should dedicate their children to God.

The widow of Zarephath.  She lived in Sidon with her son at a time of severe drought.  With only a handful of flour remaining, she told Elijah, “When we have eaten it, we shall die” (1 Kgs 17:12).  She was fiercely dedicated to her son.  They lived together, and if need be, they would die together.  She exemplifies the bond between mother and child and doing whatever is necessary for a child’s welfare.

Anna and Edna.  Anna was the wife of Tobit and the mother of Tobiah (Tb 1:9), and she lived in Nineveh; and Edna was the wife of Raguel and the mother of Sarah (Tb 7), and she lived in Ecbatana, Media.  Both mothers were good and faithful Jews who raised their children to be good and faithful Jews, even though they lived far from home in places not supportive of their faith.  They are shining examples of how mothers are to pass on the gift of faith to their children.

The mother of the Maccabees.  She had seven sons (2 Mc 7:1).  During a fierce persecution, Jews who refused to eat pork were tortured and put to death.  The mother had taught her sons to obey God’s laws always and everywhere.  One by one, they were martyred before her, and in the end, she was also put to death (2 Mc 7:41).  She taught her family to love God above all else, and she proved her faith by all she suffered and with her heroic deed.

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

May 5, 2017

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Good 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 out 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 promised that prayers for vocations would be effective, because if a person asks for a good thing, “It will be given to you” (Mt 7:7); and, “For everyone who asks, receives” (Mt 7:8); “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 pray for vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday, it is important to pray for vocations on other Sundays and weekdays, too.  It is tremendously important to pray for vocations regularly.

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Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

April 28, 2017

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StKate

St. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347, the youngest of twenty-five children.  As a young girl she had a vigorous spiritual life, and her mystical experiences began at age six when she reported her first vision when Jesus appeared to her along with Peter, Paul, and John.

When Catherine was sixteen, her parents insisted that she prepare for marriage.  Catherine steadfastly refused, cut off her long hair, and reserved herself completely for Jesus.  In an effort to seek greater spiritual perfection, she then joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay religious association.  She wore a Dominican habit but continued to live at home.

At age nineteen, Catherine had another profound mystical experience.  Both Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to her, and during this encounter she entered a spiritual marriage in which she became the bride of Christ and Jesus became her divine spouse.

Catherine dedicated herself to a life of solitude, intense prayer, and severe fasting, and she restricted herself to the least amount of food to survive.  Later, she also felt called to a life of service, left her home, and began to care for lepers and cancer patients, as well as those afflicted by the famine of 1370 and the plague of 1374.  She did much to promote harmony between rival factions in the city of Siena.  Because of her apostolic zeal, others joined her, and she challenged them to reform and repent, a message welcomed by her followers, but harshly criticized by those who felt her preaching was out of place for a lay woman.

As Catherine and her associates traveled about Italy, she visited Pisa in 1375.  She made a visit to the Church of Santa Cristina, and while she was in prayer before a crucifix she was given the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, visible to herself but not to others.

The Church was deeply divided by the Avignon Papacy which had begun in 1309, a scandal in which the Pope resided in France, not Rome.  Catherine was a fierce advocate for unity in the Church, and initially sent a letter to Pope Gregory XI requesting that he return to Rome.  Catherine went to Avignon during the summer of 1376 to make a personal plea.  Gregory XI left France in September, and arrived in Rome on January 17, 1377.

Catherine contributed greatly to the spiritual writings of the Church.  Not a writer herself, she dictated her thoughts to a number of secretaries.  She composed many prayers, 382 letters, and her most significant work, the Dialogue of Divine Providence, a treatise on the spiritual life that included some of her mystical experiences.

Pope Gregory XI died on March 27, 1378, and his successor, Pope Urban VI, asked Catherine to come to Rome.  Catherine was weak because of her severe fasting, and the journey to Rome led to exhaustion.  In January, 1380, she went into convulsions and then into a coma.  Four months later she suffered a stroke and died on April 29, 1380, and she was buried under the altar in the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Catherine was canonized a saint by Pope Pius II in 1461, named the co-patron saint of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi in 1939, declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and named co-patron saint of Europe along with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1999.  She is also the patron saint of nurses.

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Thomas: Doubting may not be his worst mistake

April 21, 2017

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ThomasWoundsChrist

Thomas doubted.  This was a startling shift for him.  Only a short while earlier in Bethany Thomas had urged the other disciples to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, despite the vicious threats against his life, when Thomas declared, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16).  How is it that the apostle who was so confident earlier would say, “I will not believe” (Jn 20:25)?

Thomas got himself into serious trouble when he decided to go off by himself.  When the disciples were together in the Upper Room, he “was not with them” (Jn 20:24).  Jesus had gathered together a group of disciples, and prayed that they would be a strong collective unit when he prayed that they would be one, and he did not send them out separately but at least two-by-two, yet Thomas decided to separate himself from the group and try to make it on his own.  His decision to go off by himself was more than a foolish mistake.  It was wrong.

Thomas was guilty of individualism.  His main concern was himself and what he wanted to do, not his partners and their welfare.  He may also have been guilty of pride, arrogance, or elitism.  He may have thought:  “I do not need them”; “I am better than them”; “They drag me down and I am better off doing things my way apart from them.”  Or he may have been deeply depressed and gone off to pout by himself.  His isolation cost him dearly.

When the disciples were fearfully huddled together in the Upper Room, they supported and encouraged each other.  When Thomas distanced himself from them, he failed to receive the mutual support and encouragement that he so desperately needed.

The disciples had all sinned during Jesus’ Passion when they deserted their Master, and they were in serious need of forgiveness, and they received special pardon and mercy when Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).  Absent, Thomas missed the chance to be forgiven.

Jesus gave the disciples great joy and new hope when he appeared to them.  Thomas remained unaffected because he missed the opportunity to receive these gifts.  Next, Jesus gave his disciples their commission when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21b).  Thomas received no such commissioning.  Jesus gave the disciples a special blessing when he imparted the Holy Spirit upon them:  “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).  Thomas was not sealed or confirmed in the Spirit.  Jesus empowered his disciples to forgive the sins of others.  Thomas received no such mandate.  Thomas missed innumerable graces and blessings apart from the others.  Absence from the community is a serious blunder with major consequences.  Fortunately, Thomas’ problems were quickly resolved when he returned to the community.

Many Catholics make the same mistake as Thomas when they separate themselves from their parish community and try to make it on their own.  They go to Mass on Easter Sunday, and then only sporadically or not at all during the spring and summer.  They infrequently receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, and are weakly connected to ongoing faith formation or parish festivals and other community building events.  It should be no surprise that when it comes to the faith of those who are absent, there would be more doubt.  Thomas corrected his mistake when he returned.  Easter teaches us that the risen Christ is found in the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we need to remain closely connected.

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Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 14, 2017

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Resurrection

After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone.  But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory.  The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification.  God raised Jesus to glorify him.  God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross, and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9).  Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment.  Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead:  “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33).  When Jesus rose, he proved that all that he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation.  The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50).  Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures.  Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them.  Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said,   “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction.  The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity.  “They doubted” (Mt 28:17).  Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45).  For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening.  After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver.  Seeing is believing!  The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith.  Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning.  Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20).  He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance.  Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion:  “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

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Prayer for the Sacred Paschal Triduum

April 7, 2017

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Resurrection

The three days of the Sacred Paschal Triduum are the three holiest days of the year:  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.  They celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ, the central mysteries of our faith, both the Passion, his suffering and death, and the Resurrection, his glorious triumph over sin and the grave.

Every day is a day for prayer, but the Triduum stands above all other days as three special days for prayer.  It is a time to enter these profound mysteries.  There are two principle ways to pray during this time, communal liturgical prayer at church and personal private prayer, and both are highly recommended.

There are three sacred liturgies over these days:  the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the Passion of our Lord on Good Friday, and the Resurrection of the Lord, first celebrated at the Easter Vigil and then also at the Masses on Easter Sunday morning.  If there ever was a time to go to church to pray, it is on these three days.  It is extremely important to make prayerful participation in these liturgies a top spiritual priority.

The other indispensable way to pray during these three days is personal private prayer.  Our lives are so hectic.  There are so many things to do and so many places to go.  And our lives are so noisy.  We talk, talk, talk, and the noise is amplified by television, radio, and all sorts of music media.  If there ever was a time to be silent and still, it is on these three days.   Turn off the TV or radio.  Set the gadgets aside.  Reserve the time.  Find a quiet place.  Center yourself.  Focus on God and listen, listen, listen.

There are a number of other special ways to prayerfully participate in the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday, at the conclusion of Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the church and then transferred to another place where it is reposed, so one option is to spend a period of time in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  During the Last Supper Jesus gave his final words of instruction to his disciples, so it would be timely to reflect upon his Last Supper Discourse, John 13:31 to 16:33.  After teaching the disciples, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, so it would be an opportune time to ponder the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, John 17:1-26.  After the Last Supper Jesus went to Gethsemane, so it would be appropriate to pray the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden.  Finally, mindful of the footwashing, it is the perfect day to pray about God’s call to humble service.

Good Friday is a solemn and somber day.  Fasting and abstinence set a prayerful tone.  The scourging at the pillar and the crowning of thorns took place on Good Friday morning, so it would be good to pray the Second and Third Sorrowful Mysteries.  Jesus hung upon the Cross for three hours, so an extended period of silent prayer between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m. is an excellent option.  During these three hours, or at any time on Good Friday, special ways to pray include reading the Passion, John 18:1-19:42; the completion of the Sorrowful Mysteries; the Stations of the Cross; a prayerful reading of the Suffering Servant Canticles (Is 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) or the seven Penitential Psalms (Ps 6; 32; 38; 51; 102, 130; 143); and to offer prayer for the Church, the world, and all those in need.  It is an ideal time to pray with a Cross, either before a crucifix or to take one in hand, to venerate it, and to gaze upon Jesus’ crucified body and to ponder the meaning of his redemptive suffering and death.

Holy Saturday is a day to keep vigil.  As Mary Magdalene kept watch at the tomb in somber silence, it is a time to remain subdued, observe the Triduum fast, and make preparation to celebrate the greatest feast of our faith, the Resurrection of the Lord.

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Laetare Sunday a joyful pause in a somber season

March 23, 2017

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A Joyful Sunday.  The Fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a Latin word which means “rejoice” or “rejoicing.”  Other nuances of the word include joyfulness, gladness, cheerfulness, and happiness.  This elated or jubilant mood is a striking one-day reprieve from the somber, sorrowful, penitential tone of the other days of Lent.

A Joyful Beginning to Mass.  The word “Laetare” is taken from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass:  “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who were mourning” (see Isaiah 66:10).

Joyful Symbols.  Exceptions from normal Lenten practice are permitted on Laetare Sunday:  “In this Mass, the color violet or rose is used.  Instrumental music is permitted, and the altar may be decorated with flowers” (Roman Missal, pg. 106). Rose is the liturgical color for joy.  Instrumental music is a joy to hear.  Beautiful flowers are a joy to see.

Joyful Anticipation.  There are multiple reasons why the Fourth Sunday of Lent is cause for joy, the most important of which is the proximity of Easter.  On Ash Wednesday Easter was a long way off, six and a half weeks, but on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Easter is only three weeks away, and as the greatest of all Christian feasts draws ever nearer, joy increases.  Joy is also on the upswing because the amount of time remaining with the rigors of the Lenten discipline, the penitential practices of fasting, abstinence, and self-denial, are more than half over.

Joyful Prayers.  The Collect Prayer mentions “the solemn celebrations to come” that the Church anticipates with joy.  The Prayer over the Offerings says, “We place before you with joy these offerings which bring eternal remedy”:  not only is it a joy to celebrate Mass, the thought of everlasting life in heaven brings enormous joy.  The Preface joyfully give thanks for Jesus, light, faith, liberation from sin, the grace of Baptism, and our status as God’s adopted children.  The Prayer after Communion explains how God enlightens us which also is reason for joy.

Joyful Scripture Readings.  The texts for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A, are a series of joyful messages.  The first reading gives the joyful account of the selection and anointing of David as the future king of Israel (1 Sm 16:1,6-7,10-13).  The Responsorial Psalm rejoices over the fact that the Lord is the shepherd who refreshes our souls, guides us in right paths, and accompanies us through dark valleys (Ps 23).  The second reading conveys the joyful message that Christ has given us light and made us children of the light (Eph 5:8-14).  Finally, the gospel recounts Jesus’ encounter with a man born blind (Jn 9:1-41).  Not only was his cure reason for joy, so also was his miraculous increase in faith.

Joyful Conversion.  It is with great joy that the catechumens who are preparing to receive the Easter sacraments celebrate the Second Scrutiny on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.  Also, it was an ancient custom on this Sunday to ceremoniously present the Apostles’ Creed to each of the catechumens to highlight the tenets of the faith in which they were about to be baptized.  The thought of the upcoming Easter Vigil and the reception of the catechumens into the Church is cause for great joy for the catechumens themselves and the entire community.

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The meaning of the season of Lent

March 10, 2017

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GoodFriday

There are four general Prefaces in the Roman Missal for the Season of Lent, and these texts are not only spoken liturgical prayers, they also serve as texts for personal prayer and meditation, and they express the spiritual purpose and importance of the season.

Preface I of Lent explains the meaning of the season.  It begins by noting that Lent is God’s gracious gift to us each year.  Lent is not monthly, quarterly, biannually, or every five years, but once a year.  God gives us the season of Lent for our own spiritual good.  Sin is insidious.  New sins pop up.  We fall deeper into the rut of old habitual sins.  Laxity creeps in.  God knows that we need to set aside time each year to reexamine our lives, face our shortcomings, renounce our evildoing, admit instances when we should have done good and failed to do so, repent, be cleansed, and start anew.

Lent is the time that God’s faithful await the sacred paschal feasts.  It is a forty day journey of preparation for the three holiest days of the Church year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, all three woven together into the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

The goal is for each believer to be able to celebrate the Triduum with joy, a genuine sense of inner peace and contentment that comes from being in right relationship with God and neighbor, loving others, speaking the truth, performing good deeds, and observing the commandments.  Joy is the result of minds made pure.  Our minds are impure when we think about bad things like how to get back at someone, how to get away with something without being caught, or how to treat ourselves to something that is harmful, and then to desire the bad thing for ourselves and devise a plan for how to get it.  Lent is a time to cleanse our minds of all mental impurities and to desire what is good and wholesome, and for our desires to conform with the gospel and God’s will.  A pure mind is the path to true joy, and a joyful heart is the ideal spiritual disposition for the celebration of the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

Lent is a season to be more eagerly intent on prayer and works of charity.  To be eagerly intent is to strongly want something, to recognize it as worthwhile, and to pursue it with excitement and energy.  It is a time of intensification.  Presumably prayer is already a part of our spiritual lives.  Lent is a time to improve the quality or the quantity of our prayer.  Presumably we already perform good deeds.  Lent is a time for additional or new acts of kindness.

During Lent we participate in the mysteries by which we are reborn.  Each Christian is born of flesh, and reborn of water and spirit (see Jn 3:5,6).  Lent features conversion, a stronger belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, he who is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25); the mystery of the Cross, how Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer washes away our sins with the blood that he shed and gives us new life in his grace; and forgiveness, how Jesus is compassionate and merciful and grants pardon and peace to the sinner.  Lent looks ahead to Holy Thursday, the Eucharist and how Jesus lives within those who receive his Body and Blood (Jn 6:53-58); Good Friday, and how Jesus’s death on the Cross leads to salvation and eternal life; and Easter, how in the waters of Baptism each believer dies to sin and is reborn in the fullness of God’s grace.  It is through Baptism, the featured sacrament of Easter, that we become members of the Body of Christ, and God claims us as his sons and daughters.

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