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.

Forgiveness, the Major Point of Emphasis in Lent

March 22, 2019

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Prodigal son

A Vertical Thread. The readings for Lent in each of the three liturgical years have a vertical thread, a unifying theme or topic that runs up and down over a series of consecutive weeks. The thread is not built into the First Sunday of Lent, the temptations of Jesus in the desert, and the Second Sunday of Lent, the Transfiguration, but emerges on the Third Sunday of Lent and continues until Passion Sunday. In Year C the thread is forgiveness.

Why Forgiveness? We are all sinners. We have strayed from God and the commandments, been lost in the darkness, frivolous with our gifts, stuck in our evil ways, impatient and unkind, greedy and self-centered, angry and mean, impolite and impure, dishonest and unfaithful. Fallen and broken, we are in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Third Sunday of Lent (Luke 13:1-9). The gospel is the Parable of the Unproductive Fig Tree. The tree represents each of us. Over time, because of our sins, we have produced far fewer good fruits than we should have. Our good deeds are sadly lacking. The owner of the orchard, God, is rightfully upset, and considering a severe punishment, the removal of the tree. But the gardener, Jesus, asks for mercy, that we be given a second chance, and he offers to cultivate and fertilize, to provide more grace and blessings, so we might be given another opportunity to bear good fruit. Jesus takes no delight whatsoever in punishment.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Luke 15:1-3,11-32). The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or better stated, the Parable of the Forgiving Father, is the premier forgiveness parable in the gospel of Luke. Like the young son, we have strayed from God and squandered our gifts. We have so grievously offended God, our Father, that we no longer deserve to be called God’s children. Yet, if we return home, God is waiting with open arms, will embrace us and welcome us back.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 8:1-11). The gospel is the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Adultery is a grave sexual sin, and in the Jewish faith it was a capital offense punishable by death by stoning. But Jesus in his mercy said, “Neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8:11). Again, Jesus was kind and merciful. If we have committed sins against purity, or any other sins, Jesus takes no delight in punishment. His desire is that we would go forth and not sin any more (see Jn 8:11).

Passion Sunday (Luke 22:14-23:49). When Jesus was condemned and crucified, he was grossly mistreated by the religious leaders and his execution squad, yet he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), and when the repentant criminal asked for mercy, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). In every case, Jesus had no desire to punish. His deepest desire was to forgive and reunify the person to God. May each of us rejoice in God’s boundless compassion and promise of mercy and forgiveness, approach Jesus for pardon and absolution, and conduct ourselves in ways that are pleasing to God.

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St. Patrick – The Incident on the Hill of Slane

March 13, 2019

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Hill of Slane

One of the more memorable events in the ministry of St. Patrick (385-461) was an incident that took place at the Hill of Slane in 433 AD, one year after he returned to Ireland as its second bishop. Initially St. Patrick settled in County Down, but a year later he set sail southward, and he chose the Hill of Slane as a place to proclaim Christianity in the Boyne River Valley area.

The Hill of Slane is located in County Meath, ten miles inland from the coast of the Irish Sea and west of the modern Irish city of Drogheda. It is forty-five miles south of Armagh, thirty miles north of Dublin, and has an elevation of 518 feet above the valley below.

There was another important hill in the same region, the Hill of Tara, ten miles from the Hill of Slane, and when visibility was good, it was possible to see from one hill to the other. The Hill of Tara was a cultic center where people worshiped the Celtic god of the sun, Lugh. In a primitive, prescientific society, the sun was accorded exalted importance because it is the main source of light, it brings warmth, and it makes the plants grow, and without plant food, the people perish. Consequently, pagan sun worship was deeply embedded in the fabric of the Celtic people.

King Laoghaire (also Loegaire, Laoighre or Laoire), the Celtic High King, renowned for his ferocity and brute strength, resided in Tara, and he led a fire ceremony for the druids and his subjects each year at the time of the Beltaine Festival during the Spring Equinox called the Feast of Tara. The king lit a sacred fire at the top of the hill to honor the pagan sun god, and it was left burning for a number of days. The king strictly prohibited any other fires that could be seen from Tara during the entire duration of the festival.

St. Patrick was not intimidated and defiantly disregarded the king’s order. St. Patrick boldly and bravely lit and blessed the Paschal fire and the Easter Candle during the Vigil Service on Holy Saturday night. The fire was left burning and could be seen clearly from the Hill of Tara.

St. Patrick made an emphatic statement: Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 12:46), and none other, not even Lugh, the pagan sun god. Jesus is the true light that enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9), the light shining in the midst of the darkness (Jn 1:5a). On Easter Sunday, Jesus was the light rising in glory, the light that dispels the darkness of our hearts and minds (Roman Missal, 200), the light that inflames the hearts of believers with heavenly desires and purifies the mind (Roman Missal, 198), the pillar of fire that banishes the darkness of sin (Exsultet, 208), a light that mingles with the lights of heaven, and a peaceful light shed on all humanity (Exsultet, 209).

At one time King Loegaire and the druids planned to have St. Patrick killed, but St. Patrick was so convincing and persuasive, and the king was so impressed by his extraordinary devotion, that he allowed St. Patrick to continue his missionary work in his kingdom.

The Hill of Slane served for centuries as a monastery and religious school. Today remnants of the monastery chapel and friary can be seen, as well as a tower, the college building, and a cemetery with many distinctive Celtic crosses. A statue of St. Patrick is displayed prominently at the front of the ruins.

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The Transfiguration: Hope in the face of hardship

March 13, 2019

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Hardships are part of life. So is death. Both are inescapable. Jesus went through it. So did Peter, James, and John. And so do we. When one is worried and burdened with the trials and tribulations of life, how is a person to handle it and carry on?

Jesus could see immense hardship coming his way and he was deeply troubled. He had come to the terrifying realization, I “must suffer greatly” (Lk 9:22a). In fact, I will “be killed” (Lk 9:22b). Jesus could see his Passion and death looming in the not-too-distant future. Both would be inescapable. It was a deep, dark, low spot for him. He was afraid. He wondered, “How can I possibly get through this? Do I dare go to Jerusalem?”

TransfigurationJesus’ Father was well aware of his Son’s trembling heart, and it was time to intervene. The Father extended hope to his anxious Son with a mystical experience. For a moment is was as if Jesus was in heaven. His clothes turned dazzling white, the way that heavenly beings are clothed. Moses and Elijah stood beside him, guests from heaven. He was surrounded by a cloud, as a cloud encircles the angels and saints in heaven. The Father gave Jesus a brief glimpse of heaven to give him hope. The Father wanted to reassure his Son, “If you endure your suffering and death, the glory of heaven will be yours. If you place your hope in me and my promise, you will be able to carry on.” And Jesus, with his hope renewed, “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

Jesus knew that his apostles would face terrible hardships and their own deaths, and as the Father gave hope to Jesus, Jesus wanted to give hope to Peter, James, and John, so he took them with him to share in his mystical experience (Lk 9:28). While Jesus received a glimpse of heaven, so did his three apostles. As Jesus was given hope that the glory of heaven would be his, Jesus wanted to give his disciples hope that the glory of heaven would be theirs also.

Peter had many hardships. The religious leaders persecuted him, and on multiple occasions he was arrested, imprisoned, and placed on trial. It was painful to lead the Jerusalem community through its turmoil. It was a bitter pill to go to Rome, only to be imprisoned again, and then to be crucified on an X-shaped cross. Peter persevered. He placed his hope in Jesus, and it was Jesus who transformed Peter’s lowly body to conform with his glorified body (see Phil 3:21).

James was beset by hardship. He made a grueling missionary trip to Spain where he was widely rejected. He considered himself a dismal failure. After an appearance of the Blessed Mother and the child Jesus, things improved. He then returned to Jerusalem, only to be beheaded by King Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2). James persevered. He placed his hope in Jesus, and it was Jesus who transformed James’ lowly body to conform with his glorified body (see Phil 3:21).

Finally, John was afflicted with hardship. He went to Rome where he was immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil and miraculously survived. Then he went to Ephesus, was persecuted, and exiled to a solitary life in a cave on the Island of Patmos. When he returned to Ephesus he was given poison to drink, miraculously survived again, suffered the struggles of declining health, and died at the age of 94. John persevered. He placed his hope in Jesus, and it was Jesus who transformed John’s lowly body to conform with his glorified body (see Phil 3:21).

Every person, like Jesus, Peter, James and John, has hardships and is facing eventual death. It is cause for worry and anxiety. Jesus wants us to know that if we place our hope in him, take up our cross each day, and follow in his footsteps (Lk 9:23), that glory that his Father showed to him will be ours.

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A fresh approach to self denial and good works

March 8, 2019

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This Lent don’t be stuck in a rut. “Same old, same old” – is old. If nothing changes, nothing changes! The same old routine yields the same old results. If we want things to be different (i.e., better), we must do things differently. Except different requires change, and change requires effort, and change can be uncomfortable. Fear and laziness are the two biggest obstacles. Don’t be afraid. Give a little extra effort. Keep what works but add or substitute something new. A fresh approach can be invigorating.

I will give you restConsider a two part-plan for starters. Part One: Give something up for Lent! About this time of year I brace myself for my one big pre-Lent pet peeve. As Ash Wednesday approaches it is a strange annual phenomenon, but several people will whisper their little secret to me: “Father, I’m not going to give up anything for Lent this year. All of this denial stuff is too negative.” And then proudly declare, “I am only going to do something positive this Lent.” It is not nice to say in reply, “Bad plan,” but it is misguided. Lent is a penitential season, and self-denial is an indispensable penitential practice.

The “negative” part of Lent is the focus on sin. It is not very “positive” to pay attention to our evildoing, but we must. Jesus said “Repent” in his opening statement in Mark’s gospel (Mk 1:15). “Repent, and believe in the gospel” is the formula for the signing with ashes. Repent means “Quit sinning,” “Be sorry for sin,” and “Change for the better.” It takes tremendous self-control and self-denial to stop sinning. We may not like self-denial, but Jesus demands it: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself” (Mk 8:34).

Self-denial is extremely beneficial because it teaches self-mastery and builds strength to battle temptation. It is relatively easy to give up a little pleasure. Select something different to give up this year. It could be sweet rolls, cookies, popcorn at bedtime, or a favorite TV program. We all have something we really like that we really do not need. Make a firm resolution to give it up for forty days, no exceptions. Our desires should not control us, God should. If the item is a sweet roll, when it comes to mind, it is a moment to be mindful of God because our goal to please God is the motivation behind our self-denial. And we need to practice saying, “No!” As we get better and better at refusing the sweet roll time after time throughout the day, we gain spiritual mastery over our preferences, particularly our sinful ones, and we become increasingly adept at saying no when temptation comes knocking.

Part Two: Do something positive for Lent! The person who only wanted to do something positive had a good idea, but it was incomplete. A balanced approach is both negative and positive; we should give something up and do good works.

When it comes to good works, try to be sneaky and invisible! In the gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus tells us, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see” (Mt 6:1). Jesus wants us to be invisible. Jesus also advises, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). He wants us to be sneaky – in a good sense! The purpose of our good works should not be to gain the admiration or thanks of others. If our good works are “sneaky,” they will be a pleasant surprise to someone, and if they are “invisible,” the person will have no idea who did it and be unable to offer a complement, sing our praises, or return the favor. Surprise blessings of unknown origin are gifts from God. When we are sneaky and invisible we are like angels, God’s messengers bringing God’s blessings.

It is like Secret Santa for Lent. Leave an encouraging note in someone’s cube at work. Put a candy bar on someone’s desk or a little gift in someone’s mailbox. Let someone else go first. Anonymously pay for the meal of someone at another table. The possibilities are endless. Be creative in finding new ways to be kind to others, and be so clever as to go unnoticed. Then, to God goes the glory!

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St. John of God, Religious

March 1, 2019

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St. John of God was born in Montemoro, Novo, Portugal on March 8, 1495. He had a difficult childhood. His mother died and his father departed to enter a monastery. He worked as a shepherd during his early years.

St. John of God moved to Spain, abandoned his faith, fell into immorality, became a mercenary soldier, and fought for King Charles V of Spain in campaigns between Spain and France, and against the Turks in Hungary.

St. John of GodAround the age of 40 he had a conversion experience, came to regret his former life of dissipation, and decided to embark on a life of prayer and penance. It was his intention to go to North Africa to serve Christians enslaved by the Moors and possibly to become a martyr. A Franciscan monk intervened and convinced him to remain in Spain, serve as an itinerant missionary, and distribute religious literature and holy pictures to the people he met along the way. He eventually settled in Granada, Spain, where he opened a bookshop.

In 1538 he heard a sermon by St. John of Avila, a mystic and gifted preacher, who challenged people to greater personal sanctity and to reject the pursuit of worldly things. John of God was overcome with guilt and shame over his former life and went overboard with his response. His spiritual fervor seemed so excessive and his personal penance so severe that he was committed to an insane asylum.

St. John of Avila visited him during his confinement and suggested that he take up a ministry to the sick and poor. He also mentioned that John would have a special compassion for the ill after his long suffering with his fellow inmates in the asylum.

After his release in 1539, St. John of God devoted the rest of his life to the care of the sick and dying. He opened a house that cared for “the crippled, the disabled, lepers, mutes, the insane, paralytics, those suffering from scurvy and those bearing the afflictions of old age, many children, and above all, countless pilgrims and travelers” (Office of Readings, Vol. III, 1405). His ministry was beneficial to others, but it also offered a spiritual benefit to him: “Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin” (1404).

He went on to found a hospital in Granada, Spain. Many were attracted by his extraordinary compassion and burning love for the troubled, and a community of volunteers formed quickly. He appointed several of his associates as chief assistants and after his death they founded a religious community, the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of God, or, the common name, the Order of Hospitallers (O.H.). Their special charism is ministry to the sick and their worldwide membership today is approximately 1000.

St. John of God died in Granada on March 8, 1550, and he was canonized a saint in 1690.

St. John of God’s primary symbol is a double cross which has a smaller cross above a larger cross. Each of the eight ends has a rounded bud in the center and points on either side. There is an open pomegranate where the crossbeams meet, and along with its seeds; it represents healing and recovery. He is often depicted holding a pomegranate or with two bowls hanging around his neck. His other symbols include a crown of thorns, a heart, an alms box, and a basket.

St. John of God is the patron saint of the sick, the dying, the mentally ill, alcoholics, nurses, and hospitals; booksellers, publishers, and printers; Montemoro Novo, his birthplace in Portugal, and Tultepec, Mexico.

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Jesus Catches Peter

February 8, 2019

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On one occasion, Jesus and Peter were in a boat together, just the two of them. It was a wonderful moment. Peter sat there and watched and listened, amazed as Jesus taught the crowd along the lakeshore. Peter had never heard someone so knowledgeable. He had never witnessed someone hold people’s attention so well. He had never felt so enlightened. Peter instantly came to admire and respect Jesus. What a privilege to have Jesus in his boat.

The crowd was awestruck by Jesus. He was a celebrity, a superstar. After Jesus had mesmerized the crowd, he turned to Peter with a startling request: “Please, push off and go further out onto the lake” (see Lk 5:4). Earlier Peter had to share Jesus with the crowd. Now Peter would have him all to himself. And it was Jesus’ idea. What an unexpected thrill. Usually a common person takes the initiative to reach out to a famous person hoping for a little time and attention, but this time the famous person wanted to spend time with an ordinary fellow.

When two men are out in a boat for a long while fishing, it is connect time. Fishermen are talkers, and usually there is a constant line of chatter between them. It is not known what Jesus and Peter spoke about, but it surely was meaningful, and it is not known how much time they spent together, but it surely was quality time.

Then Jesus made a bizarre request, “Lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). It is not strange for a fisherman to lower his nets. It was Peter’s job. He did this over and over again. But it was really strange to lower his nets during the daylight hours because fish feed in shallow water at night and swim out into deeper, cooler water during the heat of the day. Peter had to make a quick decision. He thought, “No one has ever been nicer to me. I do not want to offend him. He has been right on everything else. I will go along with him and see what happens.” Incredibly, Peter had a catch like never before – at the wrong time of the day, at the wrong place in the lake.

Peter was not just amazed. He was overwhelmed by the man in his boat. This Jesus is all-powerful, omnipotent; all-knowing, omniscient; and truly loving. It dawned on Peter that Jesus is not just a celebrity. Jesus is almighty, sovereign, and supreme, and he instinctively blurted out, “Lord,” because that is exactly what Jesus is, divine, the Son of God.

In the same moment, Peter realized that Jesus is pure goodness, holiness personified, and suddenly he was mortified that Jesus was in his boat. Peter thought, “Jesus is so good all the time, and I have been so bad so many times. I am unworthy. I do not deserve to have him in my boat.” Peter’s kneejerk response was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).

Jesus does not take orders from Peter. Jesus was on his own fishing expedition, and that day Jesus caught Peter. Instead of departing, Jesus stayed, and instead of breaking ties, Jesus formed a partnership. Jesus wanted Peter to catch people (Lk 5:10). His plan was to give him the keys and to build his church upon him (Mt 16:18,19), and he wanted him to be his successor, to serve as shepherd, to feed his lambs (Jn 21:15,17) and tend his sheep (Jn 21:16). Peter was a sinner and unworthy, but if a person has to be perfect or blameless to serve, Jesus would have no one laboring in his vineyard. Jesus loves sinners and he asks them to be his co-workers, and as frail and flawed as they may be, through his healing grace the unworthy are chosen to serve.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

January 31, 2019

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

St. Brigid (450-525) is also known as St. Brigit, St. Bridget, and St. Bride. She is revered as one of the greatest Irish saints, and along with St. Patrick, is regarded as one of the two columns upon which all of Ireland rests. Her memorial is not celebrated on the general Roman calendar, but it is celebrated on February 1 in Ireland.

St. Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, in 450. There are few historical facts available regarding her life, and much of her story may be legend. Her father reportedly was Dubhthach, the pagan Irish chieftain of Leinster, and her mother was Brocca, one of his slaves. She most likely heard St. Patrick’s preaching as a young girl, and may have been baptized by him before his death in 461.

As a young lady, she had great zeal for the spiritual life, dedicated herself to prayer, demonstrated exceptional humility and compassion, and performed many works of charity. She indicated an interest in religious life, was given her veil by St. Macaille at Croghan, and professed her religious vows before St. Mel of Armagh when she was eighteen.

St. Mel declared St. Brigid an abbess, the religious superior of a congregation of religious sisters. She gathered seven other virgins in 468 and established a community, initially at Croghan Hill, and then at Meath. In 470 she founded a double monastery in Kildare, one side for women, the other for men, and she served as the religious superior of both. St. Kieran reported that she wrote the regula Sanctae Brigidae, St. Brigid’s rule of life, the spiritual ideals for the members of the convent, as well as the specifics of its organizational structure. She is regarded as the founder of monastic life in Ireland, which had a major impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland, and later with Irish missionaries, throughout Europe.

Under St. Brigid’s leadership, the convent in Kildare became a regional center for spirituality and education. She founded a separate art school which produced many beautifully decorated manuscripts, among them the Book of Kildare.

Numerous legends circulate about miracles she performed: butter she gave to the poor was mysteriously replaced, bathwater was changed into beer, a glass of water for a leper changed into milk, sight was given to two blind men, and two women were cured of their speech impediments.

St. Brigid died in Kildare in 525 and is buried in Downpatrick with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Her symbols are a lamp, flame, or candle, St. Brigid's Crossall of which represent knowledge, because she is the patron saint of scholars. She is also the patroness of County Kildare, the country of Ireland, poets, and dairy workers.

St. Brigid is also remembered for the St. Brigid’s Cross, one of the foremost symbols of Ireland. According to the legend, she visited a pagan man who was dying, took some straw that was on the floor near his bed, wove it into the shape of a cross, showed the cross to the man, and explained how salvation is made possible through the cross of Jesus. The man was so deeply moved that he asked to be baptized.

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St. Anna, the prophetess

January 25, 2019

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St. Anna

Anna, the prophetess, an exceptionally holy woman, was present with Simeon the priest when Mary and Joseph presented their child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22-38). Throughout the world February 3 is the memorial of St. Blasé, but in the Holy Land, February 3, the day after the Presentation, is the dual commemoration of Saints Simeon and Anna. Saint Luke mentions a number of praiseworthy spiritual characteristics of this remarkable woman.

Seven years married. In this case, the number seven is not to be taken literally, but metaphorically. Seven represents perfection. When Anna was married, she was the perfect wife, completely faithful to her husband, loving, generous, and kind.

Age 84. Anna was advanced in years. Biblically, a long life is regarded as a reward from God for living a good and holy life. Sarah lived to be 127 (Gn 23:1), and Judith, who also was a longtime widow after the death of her husband Manasseh, lived to be 105 (Jdt 16:23). Anna was virtuous, honest, blameless, and respectable, an outstanding example of righteousness.

A widow. Throughout Scripture, the widow, along with the orphan and stranger, are considered to be weak and powerless, but not in this instance. Anna was strong spiritually. When she was married, her focus was divided between her love for her husband and her children and her love for God. Freed of the responsibilities of marriage and family, her sole focus was upon God, her first love, and freed of household duties, she was available for prayer and service. In ancient times and today, women have a longer life expectancy than men, and over the final portion of their lives are in a position to accept a variety of church ministries such as visiting the sick, serving meals, teaching religion, and caring for the disadvantaged.

She never left the temple. After the death of her husband, Anna could have stayed home, depressed and withdrawn, but after a period of grief and mourning, she decided to re-engage, to get up and get going, and instead of remaining in her home she went to God’s house. By doing so, she imitated her namesake, Hannah, who also spent long hours in the temple fervently praying to God (1 Sm 1:9-16; 2:1-10). Anna went to church every day, and her example is an inspiration to older women to go to church not only on Sundays but also on weekdays.

Fasting and prayer. Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert, and he prayed in synagogues and the Temple, as well as along the seashore, on mountainsides, and in gardens. Anna did what Jesus would do. Fasting and prayer were spiritual practices that Jesus and Anna had in common, and her example is an invitation for believers to do likewise.

She gave thanks to God. Many losses are associated with the aging process, the death of family and friends, as well as diminished health, strength, energy, and mobility, all which can lead to discouragement and a sour attitude. Anna was not mired in self-pity. She was able to see and count her blessings, was cheerful and upbeat, and had an attitude of gratitude.

A prophetess who spoke about the child. A prophetess speaks about God, and there are several examples in the Hebrew Scriptures, Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Jgs 4:4), and Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14; 2 Chr 34:22), who offered prayers, led the people, and spoke on God’s behalf. Anna was an early evangelizer and is a shining example of how to speak about Jesus to others.

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Mother Mary’s Advice

January 18, 2019

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In the account of the Cana wedding feast, Mary gives the best advice anyone has ever given. These are Mary’s words to the wise: “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you” (Jn 2:5). Another way to say this would be, “Obey him all the time.” Mary initially addressed these words to the servers, but they apply to all of us.

It is important to consider the source. Who gave the advice, and is the advice worth following? Mary is the Seat of Wisdom. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:25). She is filled with knowledge and insight, knows the truth, and is a fountain of wisdom. She is without sin, full of grace, and the Lord is with her (see Lk 1:28), her heart is pure love, and she wants nothing but the best for us. Mary would never point us in the wrong direction or recommend something that would be harmful to ourselves or anyone else.

The wedding at Cana

The Cana Wedding Feast, St. Louis King of France, St. Paul, MN

Moreover, Mary is the Mother of Good Counsel. One of Mary’s most important roles is to give instructions and directions, guidance and recommendations. She is the greatest of all spiritual directors, she always gives sage advice, and she helps us to do the right thing.

Mary knew her son Jesus better than anyone else. She had experienced his personal holiness, the brilliance of his thinking, and his power to do amazing things. She knew the depth of his love and compassion for others, and his concern for their well-being. Mary knew that her son knows best, that his instructions provide the best plan for how to proceed and the best solution to the problem at hand. Sometimes his instructions led to a miraculous outcome. So when a problem situation developed during the latter portion of the wedding celebration, Mary delivered her wise counsel: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Obey him.

Jesus was obedient himself. In fact, he is the model of perfect obedience, which is reason for us to heed Mary’s advice and obey her son. Initially Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph as a child (Lk 2:51), but ultimately he was obedient to his Father as he said during his agony, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Obedience was Jesus’ test of Sonship, and obedience is our test of discipleship.

Obedience is hard for us. We want to make our own choices. We want to do things our way. We do not want anyone else telling us what to do or bossing us around. Obedience is one of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life, to submit our will to God’s will, to do – not what we want – but what God wants, to do whatever Jesus tells us. And because Jesus is all good, his instructions are completely reliable and give us the right way to think and act.

Mary has given us good advice, and we can follow her example and give good advice to others. It can flow from one spouse to another, parent to child, teacher to student, friend to friend, or counselor to counselee: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). It is the best possible advice, and when we do what Jesus tells us, we will always be on the right road, always be headed in the right direction, on the path that leads to salvation and a share in Jesus’ eternal glory.

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St. Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

January 11, 2019

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St. Hilary was born in Poitiers, a town in southwest France, in 315, into an upper-class, non-Christian family. He was raised as a pagan, given a solid liberal education, and was fluent in both Latin and Greek. He was married as a young man, and had a daughter named Apra.

St. HilarySometime later he became aware of the Bible, and out of curiosity, and with his facility in the biblical languages, he began to read Scripture. He was fascinated with the prologue to the Gospel of John (Jn 1:1-18), and developed a deep appreciation for Jesus, the gospels, and the wisdom and truth of the Bible, which led to his conversion and baptism in 350.

Three years later, in 353, Hilary was elected bishop of Poitiers, over his objections, while still a married layman. He was a staunch defender of the Trinitarian doctrine of the Council of Nicaea (325) which declared that Jesus is divine, eternal, and consubstantial, of the same substance, as the Father. Furthermore, he strenuously opposed Arianism which held that Jesus is the greatest of human beings but less than God, created, and not eternal.

Arianism had many adherents, both in France and throughout the West. The emperor, Constantius II, himself an Arian, called a synod in Milan in 355 which Hilary refused to attend. The synod produced a document that condemned Athanasius, the chief proponent of Nicaea in the East, which all bishops were required to sign. Hilary defiantly refused. The synod of Beziers followed in 356, comprised mainly of Arian bishops, which condemned Hilary for his orthodox beliefs. Subsequently, Constantius exiled Hilary to Phrygia, a region in Asia Minor.

Upon his arrival in the East, Hilary was invited to attend the Council of Seleucia in 359, where he, like Athanasius, remained insistent about the divinity of Jesus. He was deeply disappointed that so many resisted him and clung to their erroneous ideas, and that so many bishops who supposedly were his allies remained silent and in effect yielded to the opposition. The Arians detested his presence, regarded him as “the sower of discord and the troublemaker of the Orient,” and petitioned the emperor to end his exile and allow him to return to Poitiers, and they were overjoyed when he departed in 360.

Hilary was warmly received upon his return. He convoked a synod of Gallic bishops in Paris in 361 to unify and solidify their support of Nicaea. He exerted his leadership, not only in France, but throughout Europe, and he traveled extensively, constantly a vigorous proponent of the Nicene Trinitarian doctrine. In 364 he publicly denounced Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan. He also objected to the emperor’s interference in the church, and insisted on separation between the church and government.

Hilary wrote De Trinitate, his most famous work, a multivolume treatise on Trinitarian theology, as well as De synodis and Opus historicum. He also wrote scripture commentaries, most notably on the gospel of Matthew and the Psalms, and composed a number of liturgical hymns. Hilary died at the age of 53 of exhaustion, worn out from his travels, his exile to the East, and the relentless bitter wrangling. St. Augustine called him “the illustrious doctor of the churches,” and in 1851 Pope Pius IX declared Hilary a Doctor of the Church.

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