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.

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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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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A fresh approach to self denial and good works

March 3, 2017

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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.

Consider 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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Worry not

February 24, 2017

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In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry, not once, not twice, but three times (Mt 6:25,31,34).  Repetition is the key to learning and it places greater emphasis.  Jesus wants to drive a major point home.

We worry about many, many things.  Jesus mentioned some of our main worries:  our life in general, what we are to eat, what we are to drink, our body, and clothing.  The list could be expanded to include worries over family and friends, child safety, germs, a medical condition, our reputation, the burden of the workload, unfinished jobs, the house, the car, the weather, road conditions, traffic, getting to work on time, troubles at work, the economy, job security, taxes, health insurance, and the threat of terrorism.

A worrier is nervous and stressed out, anxious and troubled about this, fretting and stewing about that.  Worries can grow increasingly larger and become overwhelming.  A troubled thought can escalate into a preoccupation and then into an obsession.

Worry is not helpful.  Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:27).  Worry does not add to the length of life, and in many instances may actually subtract from it.  Worry can lead to high blood pressure, circulatory problems, digestive disorders, skin conditions, and a weakened immune system.

Jesus knows that everyone worries, some to a greater degree, others to a lesser degree, but all worry.  Worry is pointless and unproductive.  It burns energy with nothing to show.  Worry poses a serious threat to a wholesome and holy life, because for the worrier, concerns for worldly things can become all-consuming while the spiritual realm receives little or no attention.

Jesus offers a three-part plan to balance our lives properly:  have faith, seek first the kingdom of God, and live in the present moment.

Have faith.  It is an act of faith to trust in God.  If God is so great as to give us the gift of our life, we can trust that God will also give us what we need to sustain our life.  God does not give and then pull back and stop giving.  God is reliable and dependable.  God gives and continues to give, and we can count on God to provide for us.

Seek first the kingdom of God.  First is the key word.  Jesus wants God to be our first thought.  If we are to be preoccupied with anything, it should be with God.  Our desire should be a close relationship with God, to learn God’s will, and then to dedicate ourselves to carrying out God’s will.  Our predominant thought should be to live a life that is pleasing to God.  When we are righteous and live according to God’s ways, peace and serenity follow, and worries vanish.

Live in the present.  Jesus wants us to focus on the here and now.  Worries are distractions.  They diminish our ability to be fully engaged in the moment at hand.  Whether it is a person, a conversation, a task, or an activity, what is happening right now deserves our full and immediate attention, and when we are alert and concentrate, when we live in the present, we are doing our best, the quality of life improves dramatically, and peace and tranquility follow.

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The Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle

February 17, 2017

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The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter on February 22 is unique because it mentions a chair.  The usual meaning for a chair is a piece of furniture with four legs and a back for a person to sit.  This feast is not about a second-class relic, a chair that St. Peter sat upon, or any other chair.

Another meaning for “chair” is the head of a group, such as at a school, the chair of the English Department.  Peter was the chair of the apostles, the head of the Twelve, and as they accompanied Jesus, he was the first on the list and usually spoke on their behalf.

Jesus appointed Peter as “chair.”  Jesus changed his name, which was Simon, to a new name, Peter (Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14), which means “rock.”  Jesus installed Peter as chair when he declared, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18).  Jesus wanted Peter to be a firm foundation, a solid, unshakable footing.  As chair, Jesus desired that Peter would be strong but not heavy-handed or dictatorial.  He commissioned Peter as a servant leader, a shepherd, a chair who would feed his lambs and tend his sheep (see Jn 21:15-17).  Jesus conferred upon Peter the authority that he would need to serve as chair when he said, “I will give you the keys,” and added, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

The chair of an organization provides the vision, sets the direction, guides the process, and unifies the group, and Peter did all these, not only for the Early Church but for every generation to follow.  The vision is to acknowledge the true identity of Jesus, something Peter did when he made his confession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

In the process of following Jesus, particularly when life is turbulent, it is essential to place one’s total trust in him and keep one’s eyes fixed on him at all times, something Peter failed to do when he walked on the water, became frightened, looked away, and began to sink (Mt 14:30).  In desperation, Peter wisely cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus saved Peter that day from drowning.   On Good Friday, Jesus saved Peter from his sins.  Peter personally experienced Jesus as his Savior and Redeemer.  As chair, Peter would teach that Jesus is our salvation, and that all who accept Jesus and follow his teaching will receive the gift of eternal salvation.  His teaching is given in the first portion of the Acts of the Apostles as well as the First and Second Letters of Peter, and his instruction in Christian discipleship helped believers to hold fast to their faith, charted the path for the Church, unified it, and brought about much peace.

The chair, then, is a symbol of Peter’s office as the principal leader of the Church and teacher of the faith, and the full authority that had been given to him to serve in this capacity.

The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter was instituted in Rome during the Fourth Century, not only to honor the first leader of the Church of Rome, but also to displace a pagan celebration known as the Parentalia.  It was customary for Romans to set aside a number of days in mid to late February to remember deceased family members, especially their parents.  An empty chair would be set out to commemorate the person who had once occupied it.  Then on February 22, another pagan festival followed, the Charistia, which honored the surviving relatives.  The Chair of St. Peter offered a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities.

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The Path to Spiritual Greatness

February 10, 2017

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Sermon on the Mount

Jesus is our Master Teacher, and his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) contains one kernel of truth after another.  He began with his spiritual ideals, his eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), and then explained how his disciples are salt and light (Mt 5:13-16).  The third topic of his sermon was “the law and the prophets,” the commandments, and Jesus declared, “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19b).

The Commandments.  The commandments are laws, statutes, decrees, or ordinances given by God to guide people in their relationship with God and neighbor.  The most famous commandments are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17 and Dt 5:6-21).  The entire Mosaic Law is not only the Ten Commandments, but all 613 precepts contained in the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus consolidated or simplified this long and detailed list into the Great Commandment, love God and neighbor (Mt 22:34-40).  Jesus commands us to obey his entire gospel which is summed up by his New Commandment, “love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

Obeys and Teaches.  Jesus has a two-part directive when it comes to the commandments:  obey and teach, which is equivalent to good deeds and good words.  Jesus does not follow the usual order, “words and deeds,” but rather, “deeds and words” because actions speak louder than words.  Moreover, good example is easier to see and understand, and without obedient good deeds, any words of teaching ring empty.

Others.  Others are children, the impressionable, and new converts, as well as non-believers.  It includes everyone.  Jesus is concerned about our influence on others.  Our faith is supposed to be lived in a public manner.  Those who give bad example and lead others in the wrong direction are considered the least, while those who give good example, lead others in the right direction, and teach the commandments are the greatest.

Jesus and Moses.  Jesus was in step with Moses who had given a similar instruction to the Israelites.  When it came to teaching, Moses directed the adults to “keep repeating them (i.e., the commandments) to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 5:7), and when it came to obedience, Moses ordered them to “bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (Dt 5:8).  With the commandments constantly in heart and mind, they would surely obey.

Teachers of the Faith.  It is the duty of all Christians to obey and teach the commandments, but for many Christians, to teach the commandments and impart the faith is a major aspect of their vocation:  parents with their children, catechists with their formation students, the RCIA team with the candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, teachers or professors with their pupils, coaches with their athletes, mentors with their understudies, and priests with their parishioners.  The path to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to guide others in the right direction, to both give good example and teach the commandments.

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Glorify the Lord with me, let us praise God’s name

February 1, 2017

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To God goes the glory!  Really?  Maybe it should go that way, but there are plenty of times that it does not.  When we have done a good deed, quite often God is not the first person to come to mind.  If we are honest, we have to admit that we regularly think of ourselves first.  Our mindset is, “After all of the hard work that I have done, after all of the good that I have accomplished, I deserve some credit around here.”  It translates, “To me goes the glory!”

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Your light must shine” and “People should see your good deeds” (paraphrase, Mt 5:15,16), so we take his words to heart and put his teaching into practice.  We do good deeds exactly as Jesus wants.  It might be cooking a delicious dinner, doing an excellent job at work, getting a high grade on a test, completing a big chore at home, or offering a thoughtful gift.  It could also be a donation to the food shelf, volunteering at school or church, or helping someone who is sick.

After doing our good deed, we wonder, “Will anyone notice?”  We eagerly wait in expectation.  Our ears perk up, longing for a word of thanks or a compliment on a job well done.  We feel like we deserve some appreciation, maybe a card, a gift, or flowers.  When our good deed has been exceptional, we feel we deserve some recognition:  a favor, a privilege, an award, a pay increase, a promotion, or a bonus.  Our mental framework is:  “After all of the time and energy that I have put into this, after all I have done for you or this group, it is about time someone pays attention to me.  I deserve thanks, appreciation, and recognition.”  It translates, “To me goes the glory!”

It is very easy to be self-centered when we have done something well.  My high school basketball coach had a saying, “No matter what success you may have had, your hat size should never change.”  He would go on to explain, “If you were the high scorer for the game, named the most valuable player for the season, or selected All State, you should never get a fat head.”  It is a temptation to get caught up in our good deeds and accomplishments.  We congratulate ourselves and think others ought to congratulate us.  “To me goes the glory!”  We may not be blatant about it, but it is prideful, egotistical, arrogant, and conceited.

Jesus frames this in a way that is contrary to our human nature.  He taught, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).  When I moved from my playing days to my coaching days, we used the words of Jesus to keep our hat sizes the same.  Many players had stellar performances.  Even more put in stellar efforts.  Their lights shone before their teammates, classmates, and the crowds.  After their good deeds, I would ask, “Who gave you your life and your health?”  “Who gave you your talents and abilities?”  “Who gave you this opportunity?”  To those with faith, it is eminently clear that it is all a gift from God.  We often turned to a quote from the prophet Isaiah, “O Lord … it is you who have accomplished all that we have done” (Is 26:12).  Once the realization sets in that the ability to do good deeds is a gift from God, Christian athletes, whether they receive accolades or not, redirect attention from themselves to God, and with humble appreciation are able to say, “To God goes the glory!”  The ideal is that our good deeds would glorify God, and that others, upon seeing our good deeds, would be led to glorify – not us – but almighty God.

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St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

January 26, 2017

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Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 1274) may be the brightest theological and philosophical light in the history of the Catholic Church.  His teaching and voluminous writings have profoundly influenced, deepened, and informed Catholic thought for over seven hundred years.

Thomas was born sometime near 1225.  He had noble beginnings, born in the castle of Roccasecca in Italy, the son of Count Landulf of Aquino.   When he was only five he was sent to the Benedictine Monastery School at Monte Cassino, and when he was fourteen he was sent to the University of Naples where he was exposed to a variety of philosophies including Aristotle and the Islamic philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.

In 1244 Thomas joined the Dominicans, a decision his family opposed so strongly that his brothers kidnapped him from the friary and carried him to the family castle at Roccasecca where he was held captive for more than a year.  In 1245 Thomas was given release, returned to the Dominicans, and shortly thereafter moved to Paris where he studied from 1245 to 1248.  Thomas spent the next four years at the new Dominican studium in Cologne where he was an understudy of the intellectual giant, St. Albert the Great.  Thomas was ordained a priest while at the studium.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1252 as professor, lecturer, and author.  By 1256 he was renowned as a Master of Sacred Theology and taught fellow Dominicans from 1259 to 1268 at Naples, Orvieto, Viterbo, and Rome.  It was during this period that he began his writings, his Cantena Aurea, a commentary on the gospels, Summa contra Gentiles, an aid for missionaries to the Muslims, as well as his most comprehensive work, the Summa Theologiae, a thorough and comprehensive explanation of Catholic theology.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1269 where he resumed his teaching and continued his writing.  He also became embroiled in a controversy over the rights of secular clergy and the friars to serve on the faculty, and bitter disputes with Siger of Brabant, John Peckman, and Bishop Tempier of Paris, all whom he opposed because of flaws in their logic.  With the University of Paris in upheaval, in 1272 Thomas was sent to serve as the director of the new Dominican house of studies in Naples.  It was there that he completed the third section of his Summa, and then, in December, 1273, he abruptly stopped all of his writing, calling it “so much straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

Thomas was asked to attend the Council of Lyon in 1274 where Pope Gregory X intended to discuss the reunification of the churches of the East (Greek) and the West (Latin), but as he set out he fell ill, was taken to the Cistercian abbey near Terracina, Italy, and died on March 7, 1274.

In addition to his Summa, other notable works include Quaestiones disputatae, Quaestiones quodlibetales, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, and commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and numerous biblical texts.  Thomas also wrote several well-known hymns:  Adoro to devote, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum ergo, and Pange lingua.

Thomas Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, named a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567, and designated the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.  He is also the patron saint of theologians, philosophers, students, and booksellers.  Since the Sixteenth Century he has also been known as the “Angelic doctor.”  His memorial was moved from his death anniversary to January 28, the date his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.

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Repent!

January 17, 2017

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SermonOnTheMountWhat a way to begin a speech!

Jesus is not your average public speaker.  Most acclaimed orators at a major convention begin their presentation with a series of polite opening remarks.  It is customary to honor visiting dignitaries, welcome the crowd, and offer glowing compliments about the organization or the host city, all to win the attention and approval of the audience.

Jesus could have begun, “Most reverend rabbis” or “Good people of Capernaum.”  He might have said something like, “How wonderful that we have gathered together here on this gorgeous day along the scenic shores of the Sea of Galilee.”  Jesus would have no idle chatter.  He cut straight to the chase.  The first word of his preaching was, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), a brave and bold command.  What a first impression!  It might not have won the crowd’s approval, but they perked up and took notice.

Jesus was never one for being politically correct.  He was no reed swaying in the wind.  He was a prophet, the Prophet, and he embodied the truth.  A prophet can see laxity, corruption, unfaithfulness, and evildoing, and refuses to look the other way.  There is no wiggle room when it comes to the truth, goodness, and holiness.  The bar must never be lowered.  The people and their leaders had strayed.  Their plight was dismal.  Their situation was urgent.  A prophet does not mince words.  Jesus did not want the people to like him.  He wanted to save them.  Out of deep love and sincere concern for their spiritual welfare, his first word was audacious and unapologetic:  “Repent.”

Repent is not a polite, soft invitation.  It is judgmental, challenging, and confrontational.  It says, “You are in a bad place” and “You are headed in the wrong direction.”  It is a reprimand, a scolding.  It is the sort of comment that would raise the ire of his listeners.  They would have likely retorted, “Get lost!”  “Mind your own business!”  Jesus was not about to leave, and their wellbeing was his first order of business.

Jesus knew that his listeners, all sinners, would be offended.  That is why he would later say, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Mt 11:6).  His listeners would need to get past their initial anger, denial, defensiveness, and stubbornness.  An honest self-appraisal would reveal that Jesus was right, that sin was present, and that change was desperately needed, but change does not come easily.  Sinners regularly prefer self-destructive sinful behavior to healthy, wholesome behavior.  Jesus’ call to repent is a call to change.

Spiritual directors and counselors have a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”  If we keep doing the same old things the same old ways, we will get the same old results.  Each person is a sinner, both those in Jesus’ original audience and each of us today.  If we are sinners, something has to change.  We must repent or our sins will persist.  Without change, there can be no increase in righteousness or growth in holiness.

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St. Anthony, Abbot

January 12, 2017

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StAnthonyDesert

A Variety of Names.  St. Anthony (251-356) is known by a number of different titles:  St. Anthony, the Abbot; St. Anthony, the Father of Monks; St. Anthony, the Patriarch of Monks; St. Anthony, the Hermit; St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Anthony of the Desert, and St. Anthony the Great.  He is commemorated each year on January 17.  He is not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) who lived over 800 years later and is remembered on June 13.

The Early Years.  St. Anthony was born in Koman near Memphis in Upper Egypt around 251 AD.   His parents died when he was a late teenager, and he was left to care for his younger sister and the family home.  When he was twenty he reflected on how the apostles left everything, sold their possessions, and followed Jesus (Lk 5:11; 18:28; Acts 2:45; 4:34-35), and then, at church shortly thereafter he heard the gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21).  It seemed to Anthony that God was speaking directly to him.  He had inherited approximately 200 acres of fertile farmland which he proceeded to sell, along with most of the family possessions, and distributed it to the poor, and he retained a small amount to care for his sister and himself.   Not long afterward, he was in church again and heard the passage, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34).  At this he sold the rest, took his sister to a convent to be raised by a community of sisters, and decided to live a simple, solitary life.

Life as a Hermit.  In 272, Anthony moved a short distance from his home into the desert to live an austere life of self-denial alone in a tomb in a cemetery.  He was guided by the Bible verse, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10b), so he did manual labor to support himself, and spent the remainder of his time in prayer and Scripture reading.  He memorized many passages.  He struggled mightily with temptation and had violent bouts with the devil.  He lived a strict ascetical lifestyle.  He did works of penance, particularly severe fasts, eating only bread and water once a day.  He wore sackcloth as his outer cloak, and a hair shirt for his undergarment which constantly irritated his skin.  In 285 he moved further into the desert to live in an abandoned fort in even greater solitude.

A Magnet and Guide.  Others were so attracted to Anthony that they joined him in the desert.  In 305 he organized a monastery at Fayum with a rule that the monks should live in solitude except for communal worship. Sometime after 312, he organized a second monastery at Pispir.  He instructed the monks to take up hobbies such as weaving baskets and mats to prevent idleness and ward off temptation.  The monks regarded Anthony as an abbot, and history regards him as the founder of monasticism.

Desert Departures.  Anthony left the desert twice, but only briefly.  He always desired to be a martyr so he went to Alexandria in 311 during the height of the Emperor Maximin’s persecution against Christians.  The oppression started to subside around the time of his arrival, he was never harmed, and returned to the desert.  Later he returned to Alexandria in 355 to help St. Athanasius fight the Arian heresy, after which he once again returned to solitude.  He died in the desert in 356 at the age of 105.

Patronage and Symbol.  St. Anthony is the patron saint of grave diggers and weavers, and his symbol is a T-shaped or Tau Cross.  He is invoked for release from worldly attachments.

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