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.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

March 16, 2018


St. CyrilCyril was born in Jerusalem in 315 AD. Both of his parents were Christian, and they faithfully handed on the gift of faith to their son. Cyril had an exceptional aptitude for learning, and as a young man he emerged a brilliant scholar.

It was a time of great change in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Roman Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 two years before Cyril was born. Construction on new shrines over Calvary and the tomb to commemorate the crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Martyrium and the Anastasis, began in 326 when Cyril was a boy, and the churches were dedicated in 335 as Cyril turned twenty. He studied Sacred Scripture, and was ordained to the priesthood by St. Maximus, the Bishop of Jerusalem, in 345.

Father Cyril’s specialized ministry was to teach the faith to catechumens, those who were preparing for Baptism, and then, after they received the sacrament, to continue their instruction during Mystagogia, the time immediately after Baptism during the Easter season. He wrote eighteen “Catecheses,” catechetical lectures, which provided well-developed explanations of the sacraments, the liturgy, Scripture, doctrine, and tradition; and he wrote five additional lectures, the “Mystagogical Catecheses,” for the newly baptized.

Cyril was ordained a bishop in 350 by Acacius, the Arian bishop of Caesarea, and he succeeded St. Maximus as the bishop of Jerusalem. It was a time of fierce controversy in the Church. The Council of Nicaea had taken place in 325, and it declared that Jesus is homoousios or consubstantial, one in being with the Father, an orthodox teaching that Cyril firmly defended. The Arians taught that Jesus is less than the Father but greater than any human being, a heretical belief espoused by Acacius, and a bitter conflict between the two bishops ensued.

Angered by Cyril’s opposition to Arianism, Acacius claimed jurisdiction over the church in Jerusalem, accused Cyril of insubordination, and had a synod condemn him for selling church property to provide aid to the victims of a famine. Acacius had Cyril removed and sent into exile in 357. After two years in Tarsus, Cyril was allowed to return to Jerusalem in 359, only to be expelled again by the Roman Emperor Constantius at the instruction of Acacius, and when Constantius died, the new emperor, Julius, permitted him to return in 361. Emperor Valens succeeded Julius, reversed his ruling, and banished Cyril from Jerusalem in 367. His third exile lasted from 367 to 378. Cyril spent sixteen of his thirty-five years as bishop in exile.

Bishop Cyril’s troubles continued when the Council of Antioch commissioned St. Gregory of Nyssa to go to Jerusalem in 379 to investigate Cyril on charges that he had vacillated on the homoousios doctrine. St. Gregory found the church in Jerusalem to be embroiled in controversy, but also found Cyril to be staunch in his opposition to Arianism and completely orthodox in his teaching. Vindicated, both St. Gregory of Nyssa and Bishop Cyril attended the Council of Constantinople in 381 which amended and repromulgated the Nicene Creed.

St. Cyril died in 386 at the age of seventy, and because of his catechetical letters, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

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Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs

February 28, 2018


Saints Perpetua and Felicity

March 7 is the memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, two courageous women who were martyred, along with three heroic men, Saturus, Saturninus, and Revocatus, as part of the persecution of Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor from 193 to 211 AD. Their deaths took place on March 7, 203, in Carthage, a city in North Africa located in the modern country of Tunisia. Perpetua and Felicity are held in such high esteem that they are two of only seven women on the second list of saints in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

Perpetua was born in approximately 180 AD. She came from a family of nobility, was a catechumen, and at the age of twenty-two, was married and recently had given birth to a baby boy. Felicity, also a catechumen, was Perpetua’s servant. She was also married and late in her pregnancy. Perpetua and Felicity were apprehended because of their Christian faith and held under guard in a private home. Perpetua’s elderly pagan father came to the place and tried to convince her to repudiate her Christian faith, but she flatly refused. The two catechumens were baptized, and shortly thereafter they were transferred to prison.

Perpetua prayed for a vision to see if she would suffer or be released, and she was shown a golden ladder of great length that reached up to heaven. There was a huge dragon at the bottom which tried to frighten anyone from making the ascent, and there were dangerous weapons on the side that would mangle those who climbed carelessly or without looking upward. The vision confirmed her upcoming martyrdom, but also her final glorious destination.

Felicity gave birth to a girl in prison. The guard tried to persuade her to avoid martyrdom and save her life so she could take care of her newborn child by renouncing her faith. The guard’s plea fell on deaf ears. Her child was adopted by a fellow Christian.

All five were brought before Hilarion, the procurator of the province, interrogated, convicted as Christians, and sentenced to a gruesome death, to be killed by wild animals before a large crowd of spectators during the games in the amphitheater. As they were led to the arena, they went joyfully with cheerful looks and a graceful bearing, as if they were going to heaven.

The three men were mauled by ravenous leopards, bears, and wild boars. Saturus perished almost instantly, while Saturninus and Revocatus, both bleeding profusely, still were breathing. Meanwhile, Perpetua and Felicity were attacked by a savage cow with sharp, curved horns. The heifer charged them, gored Perpetua, and crushed Felicity. Perpetua was in a state of spiritual ecstasy, and although wounded, she was oblivious to her pain. Seeing the others covered in blood, she exhorted them, “Stand firm in faith, love one another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.”

The sadistic and bloodthirsty crowd shrieked for more. The four were led to the middle of the amphitheater where they gave each other the kiss of peace. Gladiators advanced toward them, drew their blades, and thrust them through, to the crowd’s frenzied delight. Perpetua’s gladiator was inexperienced and his blow missed the mark, so she guided his knife to her throat herself. They “defied their persecutors and overcame the torment of death” (Collect). Saints Perpetua and Felicity are both buried in the basilica in Carthage.

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Four Glorious Realities to Encourage Disciples

February 23, 2018


TransfigurationThere is a second altar in the Basilica of the Transfiguration called the Grotto of Christ or the Lower Chapel. It is located beneath the high altar in the location of the first Christian church built on Mount Tabor during the Byzantine Period. The chapel has a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with a magnificent blue mosaic designed by A. Villani. The mosaic depicts four scenes, two on each side, and unexpectedly, they do not portray anything related to the Transfiguration of Jesus, but rather, portray four glorious realities that pertain to the life of Jesus. The purpose of the first Transfiguration was to encourage Jesus as he made his journey to Jerusalem, and the objective of the four scenes is to encourage the people of today as they make their pilgrim journey through life.

The Nativity. The first scene depicts the newborn Jesus with a golden halo around his head lying in a manger of straw at the feet of three angels, all looking down at him. The center angel has hands extended as if to present the infant to a waiting world, and the angels standing on each side have their hands raised in the orans position to praise God for the glorious birth of his beloved Son. Jesus is holding a globe with a Cross on the top because he was born to save the world which he accomplished through his triumphant Cross. With his birth comes the promise of salvation which provides immeasurable encouragement to all who place their hope in him.

The Eucharist. The next scene has three more angels. The center angel, with eyes gazing upward to heaven, is holding a consecrated host, the Body of Christ, in his right hand, above a golden chalice which contains the Precious Blood in his left hand. Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18), and Jesus fulfills this promise every time that he comes to person in the Eucharist. Jesus explained that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). It also carries the pledge of a share in his Resurrection, as Jesus also declared “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The Crucifixion. On the opposite side of the chapel is the third scene with three angels standing above a lamb with a halo above its head, neck slit and bleeding, lying dead upon an open book. The book symbolizes the fact that Jesus is “the word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and that he has “the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus is also “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rv 5:12) and “pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5; see Jn 19:34). The glorious news of the crucifixion is that by the precious blood of Christ, the unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:19), we are cleansed of all sin (1 Jn 1:7; see Rv 1:5) and our redemption and salvation accomplished.

The Resurrection. The fourth mosaic shows three more angels. The center angel has his hands crossed over his chest, the symbol of obedience, representing Jesus who obediently said, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42), and who was “obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8). The angel is standing above an open sarcophagus, an uncovered coffin or casket, which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus that no longer contains his body. It is empty. Jesus is risen. The glorious good news is that “if we have grown into a union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5), and we are encouraged with the assurance that “if we have died with Christ … we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

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The Transfiguration: A Glorious Moment to Encourage Jesus

February 23, 2018


As we begin Lent, we look ahead to the end of Lent and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the Sacred Triduum, the commemoration of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

At the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicted to his disciples that this would take place: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mk 8:31).

This alarming news shocked his disciples, but it was far worse for Jesus. Jesus had seen crucifixions before. He knew how cruel the Romans could be. The thought that he would have to endure something so ghastly and excruciating was dreadful, almost intolerable. Jesus understood that a person has to take up his cross (see Mk 8:34) and that a person has to lose his life to save it (see Mk 8:35). For Jesus, his words of advice to his disciples were not just religious slogans or pious platitudes; they would be a brutally harsh reality for him. It rocked him to the core. It would make a person stop in his tracks. It was time to reassess. How could he possibly carry on? It was a decisive moment, a moment of decision. Jesus wondered, “Shall I continue with my mission or shall I abandon the plan?” It was time to recommit.

His Father in heaven intervened. Jesus went up a high mountain and was transfigured. His clothes became dazzling white, like no robes on earth, only the robes in heaven. Moses and Elijah appeared, visitors from heaven. A cloud enveloped them, as a cloud surrounds all of the angels and saints in heaven. A voice was heard that came from heaven. Just when Jesus was tempted not to endure the suffering to come (see Mk 8:32b,33), the Father gave his Son timely help, a glimpse of heaven, a vision of the glory in store for him, the place where he would return and reign in majesty for all eternity, if he would only endure the hardships that lay ahead.

This glorious moment gave Jesus the boost he needed. He was more determined than ever to make the journey to Jerusalem. Without further delay, which the building of tents would have caused (Mk 9:5), he descended the mountain, and encouraged by his Transfiguration, even though he knew that untold torment and affliction were in his future, after having basked in glory only briefly, he could see that the Son of Man would also rise from the dead (Mk 9:9b).

The Father gave the Son a glorious moment to help him persevere, to let him know that there would be a glorious reward on the other side of his trials and tribulations. The Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel commemorates this event, and there is a beautiful mosaic in the dome of the apse above the high altar that depicts Jesus in radiant glory.

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St. Scholastica, Virgin and Religious

February 9, 2018


St. Scholastica

St. Benedict speaks to St. Scholastica Seven Dolors, Albany, MN

St. Scholastica (480-547) was born in Nursia, Italy, in 480 AD. She is the twin sister of St. Benedict. As a young woman she consecrated herself to God, and she remained at home to assist her father while her brother Benedict went to Rome to study.

St. Benedict is the founder of Western monasticism, the one who developed the concept of men living together in a religious community in a monastery for a spiritual purpose under a rule of life. Upon his return from Rome he founded a monastery at Monte Cassino.

In parallel fashion, St. Scholastica founded a house for women religious or a convent at Plombariola only five miles south of Monte Cassino. Previously women who wished to live a more intense spiritual life did so on their own in seclusion and occasionally a few women would live together. St. Scholastica expanded the communal life dimension. She gathered women who wished to focus more exclusively on God into larger groups, usually younger virgins and older widows. In the convent they were able to separate themselves from the concerns, distractions, and temptations of the world to concentrate on a life of prayer, mutual support, and good works.

St. Benedict was the abbot or superior of the monastery, and St. Scholastica was the abbess or superior of the convent. Even though they lived separately they stayed in close communication and shared a strong spiritual bond. Once each year they met for a single day to pray and discuss the spiritual life, and because Scholastica was not permitted to enter the monastery, they met at a house located between the monastery and the convent.

They had a remarkable final meeting. Scholastica was advanced in age and had a premonition that her time was short, so after dinner she asked her brother to stay longer. The Benedictine Rule requires a monk to be in the monastery every night, so Benedict declined. Scholastica broke into tears, said a prayer, and almost instantly a violent thunderstorm broke out which forced Benedict to stay inside. Benedict exclaimed, “Sister, what have you done?” She answered, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it. I asked it of God and he has granted it.” Thus, they were able to spend the rest of the night discussing their love of God, the joys of heaven, and their desire to increase in holiness and virtue.

Three days later St. Scholastica died and St. Benedict, who was praying in his room at that moment, looked up and saw her soul ascending to heaven in the form of a dove.

St. Scholastica was buried in the tomb that Benedict had prepared for himself. He died later the same year and was also buried there. The grave was discovered in 1946 when workers were digging through the rubble at Monte Cassino which had been bombed during World War II.

St. Scholastica is considered the founder of the Benedictine sisters. Her symbols are a dove, the book of the Benedictine Rule, and a pastoral staff. She is the patron saint of women religious; and she is a special intercessor against storms and lightening, and for children suffering convulsions.

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Jesus: the Divine Physician, the Great Healer

February 2, 2018


Divine PhysicianThe gospels in early Ordinary Time of Year B are taken from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, and the texts from Week Four to Week Seven constitute a vertical thread, a spiritual concept or theme that connects a set of readings over a series of weeks. The thread is that Jesus is the Divine Physician (see Mk 2:17), an astounding miracle worker, a phenomenal healer, one who possesses the creative and restorative power that belongs to God alone.

In ancient culture, people had four main fears: natural disasters, demonic possession, illness, and death. No human being has power over any one of these injurious or lethal forces, yet Jesus had power over them all. Collectively, these gospels make a convincing statement about who Jesus is. His cures far exceeded human power. He wielded unparalleled power. It was divine power. Jesus is the Son of God.

Week 4B: The Cure of the Demoniac (Mk 1:21-28). In this gospel Jesus encountered a man possessed by an unclean spirit. People knew nothing of metabolic disorders, neurologic disease, or mental illness. If a person demonstrated a peculiar behavior, had seizures or spasms, or went into convulsions, people thought that it was caused by an evil spirit because demons make bad things happen. Jesus sternly rebuked the demon, “Come out of him!” (Mk 1:25), and once Jesus issued his order, “the unclean spirit convulsed him and … came out of him” (Mk 1:26). If someone else had given the order, nothing would have happened, but when Jesus gave the word, the man was cured. It was power that the people had never witnessed before.

Week 5B: The Cure of Peter’s Mother-In-Law’s Fever and the People at the Door (Mk 1:29-39). Later the same day Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever. People knew nothing about bacteria and viruses. They did not have antibiotics, fever reducers like Ibuprofen or Tylenol, or IV fluids. People dreaded fevers because they quickly raged out of control and often caused death. All Jesus did was to grasp her hand, and the fever left her immediately. His power was simply astonishing. Later the same evening, the sick were brought to the door. There were no hospitals, diagnostics, or surgical options. Those with disease were hopeless and left to languish, but Jesus cured many of them (Mk 1:34).

Week 6B: The Cure of the Leper (Mk 1:40-45). People were petrified at the thought of leprosy. Without accurate medical information, skin disorders were lumped together and considered highly contagious. The victims were forced to live in colonies in isolated places and people “avoided them like the plague.” When Jesus cleansed the leper, not only did he cure his infirmity, he also restored him to his family and the wider community. The miracle changed the man’s life forever and was cause for tremendous joy.

Week 7B: The Cure of the Paralytic (Mk 2:1-12). A paralytic was brought to Jesus on a mat. Paralysis can be caused by a spinal injury, and it often is a permanent disability. There were no MRI or CT scans, no rod or pins, no reconstructive procedures, and no orthopedic surgeons. There was no hope for a normal future. Jesus told the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mk 2:11), and he was able to do so. Jesus did the impossible; he reversed an irreversible condition. It was awesome to behold. The people were so astounded that they immediately glorified God (Mk 2:12). The possessed, sick, and injured were blessed with life in his name.

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St. John (Don) Bosco

January 26, 2018


John Bosco was born in 1815 near Castelnuovo in the diocese of Turin in northern Italy. His family was extremely poor. His father died when he was only two, and he was raised by his mother and his two older brothers.

When John Bosco was ten he attended a traveling circus. He was nimble with his hands, learned magic tricks, and later conducted magic shows for his neighbors. He would conclude his performances with a prayer or a reflection on the gospel. In addition to making a small amount for his living and school expenses, it was the beginning of his journey to priesthood. He entered the seminary in 1835 at the age of twenty, and was ordained on June 5, 1841.

John Bosco’s first assignment was in Turin, and one of his ministries was to visit the local prison. He was horrified by the conditions and wanted to do everything possible to prevent young people from ending up there. With great zeal he reached out to boys and young men who were poor, neglected, homeless, uneducated, orphans, or roaming the streets. He used his magic tricks to grab their attention, and then would teach them about Jesus and the gospel. Through the generosity of wealthy local patrons, he was able to provide needy youth with food and shelter.

As the ministry grew, other priests joined the effort, and by 1852 over six hundred youth were in their care. Seven years later, in 1859, John Bosco founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales, commonly known as the Salesian Order, a religious community of men dedicated to the instruction of youth. It was the time of the industrial revolution. Youth were taught trades and manual skills such as bookbinding, printing, shoemaking, ironworking, and tailoring, and John Bosco became a pioneer of vocational education. These schools also taught arts, sciences, liberal arts, and religion for those preparing for higher studies or exploring a vocation to the priesthood.

There were many girls and young ladies who were also poor and neglected, so in collaboration with Sister Mary Dominic Mazzarello, in 1872 they founded a similar community for women, the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, commonly known as the Salesian Sisters.

A wave of emigration to Latin America began in 1875 which prompted a Salesian missionary apostolate. John Bosco traveled throughout Europe to solicit funds to support the missions to the needy, which caused some to refer to him as the new St. Vincent de Paul.

John Bosco also wrote a number of catechetical pamphlets that both explained and defended the Christian life. They were widely distributed throughout Europe and proved very popular. He also published the Salesian Bulletin, and he is the first saint ever to submit to a press interview.

John Bosco died on January 31, 1888, in Turin, Italy. His body was laid in state, and before his funeral forty thousand people filed by to pay their respects, and large crowds lined the streets for the procession. John Bosco was canonized on Easter Sunday, 1934, by Pope Pius XI. The next day a national holiday was proclaimed throughout Italy, the first time that a civic holiday had ever been declared to honor a canonized saint. Pope John Paul II gave him the title, “Teacher and father to the young.” He is the patron saint of Catholic publishers, editors, schoolchildren, apprentices, and laborers.

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Saint Fabian, Pope and Martyr

January 19, 2018


Saint Fabian was the twentieth pope. He succeeded Pope St. Anterus who was in office only six weeks before dying of natural causes. An assembly was called to elect the new pope, and both clergy and laity were in attendance. Eusebius, a historian from Caesarea, reported that during the proceedings a dove mysteriously appeared and alighted on Fabian’s head. The voters took this to be a sign from the Holy Spirit that Fabian should be chosen, even though he was not well known to them, a layman, a farmer who had come into Rome, and happened to be in the audience. Fabian was elected on January 10, 236.

Pope Fabian had a fourteen year pontificate (236-250), and he is considered one of the most effective popes of the early Church. He was a gifted administrator. He directed a reorganization of the local clergy. He also subdivided the Roman church into seven ecclesiastical districts, placed a deacon in charge of each district, provided a subdeacon to support each deacon, and appointed six additional junior assistants for each district.

Pope Fabian led a number of building and restoration projects for the Christian cemeteries or catacombs in and around Rome. Not only were they burial places for Christians, they also served as worship sites, and it was customary for Masses to be offered on the tombs of the martyrs. He also arranged for a papal burial crypt in the catacomb of St. Callistus on the Appian Way, and his predecessor, Pope St. Anterus, was the first to be buried there. He also arranged for the body of Pope St. Pontian, the pope from 230 to 235, to be returned from Sardinia, where he had been in exile and martyred, and he, too, was entombed in the papal crypt.

Pope Fabian wisely appointed a number of holy and gifted bishops to preach the gospel in Gaul. He also was forced to condemn Bishop Privatus of Lambaesa, Africa, who was teaching heresy.

The Church was free of persecution during the first thirteen years of his pontificate. The Roman emperors during that time, Gordian III and Philip the Arab, both tolerated Christians. This changed abruptly and dramatically when the emperor Decius rose to power in 249. He immediately unleashed a ferocious persecution against Christians, and Pope Fabian was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned. He was treated with extreme cruelty during his confinement, and finally tortured and executed on January 20, 250. He was buried in the papal crypt in the catacombs of St. Callistus, and sometime later his remains were transferred to the basilica of St. Sebastian (San Sebastiano) in Rome.

Shortly after his death St. Cyprian of Carthage, one of the highest ranking bishops of the Church, wrote that Pope Fabian was “an incomparable man, the glory of whose death corresponds to his holiness of life,” and that “it is encouraging when a bishop offers himself as a model for his brothers by the constancy of his faith.”

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Winter In Minnesota In January

January 12, 2018


We Minnesotans are a hearty bunch! We deal with prolonged cold day after day. The average high temperatures are below freezing for weeks on end. The weather map is mostly blues, purples, and whites. Weather reports do not only give the actual temperature; they include wind chill, too. The ice on the lakes gets thicker. The snow piles get higher. We shovel and run the snow blower. We icefish and snowmobile, cross country ski and snowshoe. Minnesotans are often heard saying, “We choose to live here!” “We enjoy the theater of seasons!” “We’re tough!” “We can take the cold!”

As much as we talk “Minnesota nice” about winter, after long periods of confinement indoors, bundling up to go outside, higher heating bills, snow emergencies, parking bans, slippery roads, traffic congestion, and a film of salt on the car, just to name a few of the hassles of winter, cabin fever sets in and our patience runs thin. If we Minnesotans are truly honest about the challenges of winter, it is not always so nice. For some, it causes sad, blue days. For others, it escalates irritation and agitation, crabbiness and complaining. Worn down and demoralized, sometimes tempers flare. Winter can be a time when it is increasingly difficult to love others and practice the virtues.

Aware of the spiritual dangers of wintertime, it is imperative for Christian Minnesotans to consciously and firmly recommit to Jesus’ Law of Love and virtuous living during these trying times. Jesus wants his disciples to go above and beyond “nice.” He gave us a new commandment, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34), not just on warm and sunny days, but every day. The standards of virtuous living apply all the time, especially when we are cold and tired. Not only should we clothe ourselves with heavy jackets and boots, caps and mittens, we should also clothe ourselves with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12). While there may be more slipping and falling during wintertime, not just on the ice but also to temptation, Christians do their best to stand firm in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to practice and exhibit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).

Spring is still a long way off. We dare not let anything, even snow and cold, derail our baptismal commitment to walk in Jesus’ ways. Winter is a time to persevere. Let us not only turn up the heat in our homes, let us also turn up the heat of our love for God and neighbor (Mt 22:37,39).

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The Star of Christmas

January 5, 2018


Christmas StarThe star is an important Christmas symbol. It is traditional to crown the top branch of the Christmas tree with a star. Star-shaped ornaments are common. Some manger scenes have a star on or above the roof of the stable.

The Christmas star is mentioned in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative. A star appeared in the night sky when Jesus was born, and it was seen in faraway Persia by a number of magi, highly esteemed scholars (Mt 2:2,7). It was a common ancient belief that when a great ruler was born, a new star would appear. When the Christmas star appeared the magi were convinced that a birth of epic proportions had taken place, they rejoiced at its sight, and they decided to follow the star wherever it went, and it finally stopped over the place where Jesus was (Mt 2:9,10).

The usual Christmas star has five points. This star, when it has a single point up, two to the side, and two pointed down, roughly resembles the limbs of a human person. The five-pointed star is also the Star of Balaam. In the Fourth Oracle of Balaam, he predicted that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Nm 24:17), which is a metaphorical way to say that one of Jacob’s descendants would be a great king, and we believe that Jesus is both the star and the king. The five-pointed star also represents Jesus, the morning star (Rv 22:16).

The light of the star pierced the darkness of the night sky. It was beaming bright. A radiant star is a beautiful symbol for Jesus who is the true light that was coming into the world (Jn 1:9; 12:46). He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12), the light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5).

When the Christmas star appeared, it was one of countless stars that dotted the night sky, but it shined more brightly than the rest. The magi could tell the difference between the star of Jesus and the other stars, and they chose to follow his star rather than any of the lesser ones.

We are confronted with the same dilemma. There are many bright lights competing for our attention. There are movie stars, dancing stars, and star athletes. There are pulsating lights on the front of theater marquees, search lights above car dealerships, flood lights on storefronts, and glittering lights in front of casinos and night clubs. Of all these lights, the Christmas star and its light shine more brightly than the rest. The lesser stars are competing for our attention, but we must not be misled. If we follow the example of the magi, we will choose the Christmas star over all other stars, and we will follow Jesus who is our Light.

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