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.

Summer Sunday Mass: Obligation or Option?

May 23, 2019

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Sunny day over Sava river

Sunny day over Sava river. Creative Commons license by Marko Cvejic

Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, so Sunday is reserved as the “Lord’s Day,” the day to remember the Resurrection and to offer our praise and worship. God gave us the Third Commandment as a solemn obligation, not a suggestion or an option:  “Keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2174 – 2178).

Regular Sunday worship dates back to the first generation of the Church.  Early Christians instinctively gathered to study the teachings of the apostles and to break the bread (Acts 2:42).  The Letter to the Hebrews gets straight to the point:  “We should not stay away from our assembly [i.e., the liturgical assembly, the Eucharist], as is the custom of some” (Heb 10:25).

It is shocking the number of people who say that they believe they are excused from Sunday Mass when they are on vacation or traveling.  This is not the case!  Church teaching is clear:  “On Sundays the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).

There are a few legitimate reasons to miss Sunday Mass: illness or disability, serving as the sole caregiver for someone in need of constant attention, a natural disaster like a flood or a blizzard, or the absence of a priest.  There is no exception for vacation or traveling (Catechism, Nos. 2180-2188).

All we have is a gift from God, so God is entitled to our weekly thanks. Time is a precious commodity, and how we spend it is a clear indication of our priorities.  There are one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in a week, and one hour spent in worship barely puts a dent in the praise that we owe our God.

We need to put first things first, and for Christians, God comes first!  If there ever was a time that God deserves extra thanks, it would be vacation time.  It is a huge blessing to be able to take time off, to have the resources to travel, to have the wherewithal to enjoy a cabin or a RV or a lake home, to be blessed with the beauty of the lakes and the forests, to be able to go fishing or boating, and to have the leisure time to spend with family and friends.

The common error is to make recreational activities the starting point in building one’s weekend vacation schedule, and to relegate God and Mass to an afterthought, something to fit in if there is time left over or to be skipped entirely.  The proper way is to decide on a Mass time and place first, and then figure out the rest of the weekend’s activities.  God never goes on vacation when it comes to providing for us; we should never go on vacation from offering God our thanks and praise.

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What is new about the new commandment?

May 16, 2019

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At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another” (Jn 13:34a). Jesus said that his commandment was “new.” What is new about it?

A New Commandment Giver. Previously in the Old Testament, the person who gave the commandments was Moses who spoke on behalf of God. This commandment was new because it was given by Jesus, the Son of God, who did not speak on his own, but said all that the Father commanded him to say and speak (Jn 12:49).

New CommandmentA New Single Commandment. Previously there were Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:6-21), as well as the Mosaic Law with its 613 precepts, the Law of Ezra, and the Oral Law. The new commandment simplified and consolidated hundreds of commandments into a single commandment. As St. Paul stated, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8), and, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).

A New Exemplar. Jesus taught, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (Jn 13:34b). Jesus demonstrated an entirely new kind of love, a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love, love without strings attached, a love with no expectation of repayment (see Lk 14:12). Jesus explained, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus emptied himself for the sake of all (Phil 2:7). Jesus laid down his life freely for others (see Jn 10:18).

A New Pathway to God. Previously it was thought that a person loved God by going directly to God, and that the relationship was strictly vertical, from an individual person below to God above. Jesus broached a new paradigm: a person loves God by loving one’s neighbor, a horizontal relationship: a person goes to God through one’s neighbor. Jesus equated love of God with love of neighbor. It is the second half of the Great Commandment (see Mt 22:39;.Mk 12:31; Lk10:27). As John observed, “How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you do see?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20,21).

A New Idealism. Previously the commandments gave a list of dos and don’ts, what a person should do and not do, a well-defined legal code, the minimum standards for the spiritual life. The commandment to love others is new because it states an ideal, not compliance with a set of rules and regulations, but the best a person can do.

A New Broader Focus. Previously a person was expected to love one’s family; fellow Jews; one’s next-door neighbors, one’s townsfolk; those of the same ethnic heritage; and the people who lived in one’s country, one’s fellow citizens, those of the same nationality. The new commandment dramatically expands the focus of those who should be loved. Jesus taught, “Love your enemy” (Mt 5:44). Disciples are to love foreigners, aliens, strangers, those of different faiths, different racial groups, different countries, as well as sinners. Disciples of Jesus are to love everyone.

A New Compassion. Previously a person who was offended by a sinner was required to forgive three times, and if the offender persisted in offensive and sinful behavior, forgiveness was no longer demanded. Jesus proposed a new standard, if your brother sins, forgive him, “seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22), as many times as necessary. Jesus displayed this new compassionate love from the cross when he said to the worst of sinners, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

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St. Matthias, Apostle and martyr

May 9, 2019

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St. Matthias is mentioned in chapter one of the Acts of the Apostles and nowhere else in Scripture. He was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, and with his selection the number of apostles was restored to twelve. According to Eusebius, St. Clement of Alexandria, and St. Jerome, St. Matthias was one of the seventy-two disciples appointed by Jesus to go out in pairs to every town and place that he intended to visit (see Lk 10:1), but there is nothing to verify this. At one time his feast was celebrated on February 24, but it was moved to May 14 to be near the time of the Ascension and Pentecost.

St. MatthiasAfter the Ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up and addressed the community on the importance of choosing someone to succeed Judas Iscariot, and he quoted a Psalm in reference to the betrayer, “May another take his office” (Ps 109:8b; Acts 1:20). Peter then explained the selection criteria. The person must be “one of the men who accompanied us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us” (Acts 1:21), “beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Two men were nominated as worthy from among those who had traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

Then, instead of taking a vote, it was decided that lots would be cast to make the choice. The usual method was to write each candidate’s name on a separate stone, place the stones in a container, shake the container, and the first stone to fall out would be the one chosen. By praying first and then leaving it to “chance,” the selection was made by God, the one who knows the hearts of all, and not by men, thereby eliminating the possibility of favoritism or error.

St. Matthias was given the rank of apostle and held in high regard by the Church. His name is included on the second list of apostles and martyrs in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

After his selection, St. Matthias was with the apostles on Pentecost, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, he was filled with zeal. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Matthias emphasized the importance of “mortifying the flesh to subdue sensual appetites – a lesson he learned from Christ and which he faithfully practiced himself” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

St. Matthias began his preaching ministry in Jerusalem and throughout Judea. Then he made a major missionary journey to Cappadocia which is located in far northeastern Asia Minor, as far as Georgia at the southern edge of Russia along the Caspian Sea. He proclaimed the gospel with fervor and sincerity, and as a result he suffered bitter persecution from nonbelievers. He was martyred sometime near 64 AD in Colchis which is located in the Caucasus Mountains north of Cappadocia. Accounts of his death differ; either he was crucified on a wooden cross or beheaded with a halberd, a military weapon that is the combination of a spear and a battle axe. His remains were eventually taken to Jerusalem to be venerated, and then transferred to Rome by Queen St. Helena.

St. Matthias is the patron saint of carpenters because of the wooden cross, and tailors, and he is invoked against alcoholism and smallpox. His symbols are a halberd or an axe.

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Mothers who are Saints

May 9, 2019

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Mothers’ Day is a beautiful occasion to give tribute to mothers, each person’s own mother, for all of the love she has shared, and all mothers, for all they contribute to the wellbeing of the family and society. It is a day set aside to give special praise and thanks to those mothers who are alive and to honor the memory of those who have passed away. Spiritually, it is an opportunity to highlight mothers who are saints, because their good and holy lives can serve as an inspiration to the mothers of today.

Saints Perpetua and Felicity (180-203) are two great mothers of the Early Church. They lived in Carthage, a city in North Africa. Both were catechumens, baptized, and then arrested for their Christian faith. Perpetua gave birth to a son while under house arrest, and Felicity, her servant, gave birth to a daughter in prison. Aware of their impending deaths, they entrusted their children to other Christians so they would be raised in the faith. They were martyred on March 7, 203, both heroic witnesses to their children.

Sts. Constantine and Helena

St. Helena (255-330). She was the mother of Constantine, a Roman general who eventually became the Roman emperor. She converted to Christianity in 318 at the age of 63, and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land c. 320. She discovered the True Cross, and with the authorization of her son, who by then was a catechumen, had the Temple to Venus over Calvary demolished, and shrines were built to honor Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Churches were also built on the Mount of Olives to honor the Ascension and in Bethlehem to honor the Nativity. As a mother, she had a strong spiritual influence on her son, both in the construction of churches and in his baptism which he accepted shortly before his death.

St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). She was the mother of eight children, four boys and four girls. She dutifully raised her children as Christians, but she suffered bitter disappointments because her oldest daughter married a bad husband and her youngest son died in 1340. She served in the court of King Magnus II and Queen Blanche, and she tried to exert a positive spiritual influence upon them. She founded religious institutes for women and men, called for an end to the Avignon Papacy, and moved to Rome to minister to the sick and poor. She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1371 and took three of her children with her, her sons Charles and Birger, and her daughter Catherine who was later named a saint. She had many visions and is famous for the way that she challenged sinners to reform their lives.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton (1774-1821). She was born in New York City, married at the age of 19, and was the mother of five children. Her husband William became sick with tuberculosis, the she moved the family to Pisa, Italy, for a warmer climate and to get help from his family, but he died six weeks later. Elizabeth was Episcopalian, and she stayed with William’s Catholic family in Italy and prayed with them every day in their family chapel. She decided to convert, and did so upon their return to New York. She attended daily Mass and prayed the Memorare, and she taught her children the importance of prayer. She was also a strong believer in the value of education, and she provided for the education of her own children. She opened a boarding school in New York, and later moved to Maryland with her family in 1808, established a school, and founded a community of religious sisters to teach and serve the poor, and later founded other schools and orphanages in Philadelphia and New York.

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The Easter Season

May 3, 2019

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EasterCandleLength.  The Easter Season is fifty days, not forty days, like Lent, or four weeks or slightly less, like Advent.  The Easter Season extends from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  It is sometimes known as the “Festival of Weeks,” seven weeks of seven days (49 days), plus one, the fiftieth day, Pentecost.

The Octave of Easter.  The first eight days of the Easter Season are known as the Octave of Easter.  Easter is the greatest Christian feast, so great, in fact, that it cannot be celebrated adequately on a single one day.  All eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter are considered solemnities, the Church’s highest ranking feast, and each day is celebrated with festivity and joy.

The Easter Novena.  The last nine days of the Easter Season extend from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday, a novem, Latin for “nine.”  Jesus instructed his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5).  The nine days from Ascension to Pentecost are a novena, a period of prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Easter Liturgical Color.  The liturgical color for the Easter Season is white.  Gold is not a liturgical color, but it may be used to accent the white.  Together, they are symbols of joy and glory, as well as the Resurrection.

The Easter Liturgical Word.  The special word for the Easter Season is Alleluia.  It is used for the dismissal from Mass, and it is added to the antiphons and responses for the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is only found in the Book of Revelation (19:1,3,4,6), and it is an exclamation of great joy that means “Praise God!” the sentiment of the Easter Season.

Easter Eating.  The self-denial of Lent is set aside during the Easter Season.  It is not a time of fasting, but rather a season of celebration, a time for “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6).  Jesus once said that “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19b), and because Jesus was with his disciples for forty days from his Resurrection to his Ascension (Acts 1;3), it was not a time of fasting then, and so it is not a time of fasting now.

The Major Easter Symbol.  The foremost symbol of Easter is the Christ Candle, also known as the Easter Candle or the Paschal Candle.  It represents the Risen Christ who is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12; see also 1:4-5,9  and 12:46).  The candle is given a prominent location during the Easter Season, usually in the sanctuary or somewhere in the front of the church, and after Pentecost it is moved back to its usual place.

The Easter Sacraments.  The Easter Sacraments are the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.  Because these sacraments are celebrated at the Easter Vigil when catechumens and candidates are welcomed into the Church, they are also featured throughout the Easter Season.  It is the preferred season to celebrate Baptisms within Sunday Mass, and the ideal time to celebrate First Holy Communion as well as Confirmation.

Easter Scripture Texts.  The gospels of the Easter Season focus on the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection, near his tomb, in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus, and along the Sea of Galilee. The featured New Testament book throughout the Easter Season for both the first reading on Sundays and every weekday is the Acts of the Apostles, a powerful statement that the risen Christ remains alive and well within the Christian Community.  The second readings on the Sundays of Easter are taken from the first letter of Peter in Year A, the first letter of John in Year B, and the Book of Revelation in Year C.

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Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 18, 2019

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Jesus Risen, The Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

April 12, 2019

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The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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St. Vincent Ferrer

April 5, 2019

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St. Vincent Ferrer was born on January 23, 1350, in Valencia, Spain. His parents were William Ferrer, an Englishman, and Constantia Miguel, a Spaniard, both of noble families. He entered the Dominican Order at the age of seventeen and was sent to Barcelona where he studied philosophy and theology. He advanced quickly and at the age of twenty-one was sent to Lerida where he served briefly as a philosophy instructor (1371-1373).

St. Vincent FerrerSt. Vincent Ferrer was ordained to the priesthood in 1374 by Cardinal Pedro de Luna. He then moved to Barcelona where he continued his teaching, to Toledo for advanced theological studies, and back to Valencia in 1379 to serve as the prior of the Dominican friary.

In the same year he also took a position on the staff of Cardinal de Luna, and they enjoyed a warm friendship. Cardinal de Luna was a papal elector and voted for Pope Urban VI who assumed the papacy in 1378, but Urban proved to be terribly unstable, the French cardinals and Cardinal de Luna contested the validity of his election, and later in 1378 elected Robert of Geneva as antipope, Pope Clement VII, thus beginning the Great Western Schism (1378-1417). In 1394 Cardinal de Luna succeeded Clement VII and took the name Benedict XIII. St. Vincent upheld the legitimacy of the antipopes in Avignon and gave them his ardent support.

Meanwhile, St. Vincent taught at the cathedral in Valencia from 1385-1390, and then served as the confessor of Queen Yolanda of Aragon. When Cardinal de Luna was elected antipope in 1394, St. Vincent was given a position on his staff, became the pope’s confessor, and was named the Master of the Sacred Palace, the pope’s personal theological consultant. Benedict XIII offered to promote him as a cardinal, but he refused. In 1398 he suffered a serious illness, and while recovering, had a vision of Jesus accompanied by saints Francis and Dominic, and received a call to go forth and preach penance. Benedict released St. Vincent from his positions so he could go forth as a missionary preacher.

St. Vincent traveled widely throughout Western Europe, from Spain to Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and France, and back to Spain. He spent long hours in prayer before a crucifix in preparation. He challenged people to turn away from sin and do penance to be ready for the Last Judgment. His oratory was so vehement that he became known as the Angel of Judgment. He drew enormous crowds, so large that he often preached outdoors. His zealous ministry met with considerable success making numerous converts, most notably Bernadine of Siena and Margaret of Savoy, as well as thousands of Jews and Moors.

St. Vincent eventually came to see Pope Benedict’s papacy as a barrier to Church unity, approached his longtime friend, and pleaded with him to resign, but he refused. St. Vincent then approached King Ferdinand to withdraw his support of Avignon and Benedict, which he did in 1416, and Benedict’s papacy collapsed. The Council of Constance convened in 1417, Martin V became pope on November 21, 1417, and the Western Schism came to an end.

St. Vincent was exhausted from a lifetime of travel and diplomacy, moved to France, and spent his final three years in Normandy, and died in Vannes, Brittany, on April 5, 1419. He was canonized in 1455, and is the patron saint of construction workers and plumbers because he did so much to build the Church.

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Laetare Sunday: The Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2019

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Rose in Stained GlassA Joyful Term. Laetare is a Latin term for joy, rejoicing, or gladness. The Entrance Antiphon sets the mood. It begins, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all you who were mourning; exalt” (see Is 66:10).

A Joyful Break. Lent is a somber, penitential season. It is unpleasant to spend forty days concentrating on our sinfulness. As we examine our consciences, it is sad and humbling to count the number of sins that we have committed. The process can be demoralizing. Laetare Sunday is supposed to be a bright and happy occasion, a one-day breather, not dwelling so much upon our sinfulness but upon the joyful promise of God’s mercy.

Joyful Progress. Laetare Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, roughly the midpoint of the season. Three and a half weeks are completed and only three weeks remain. This means that our Lenten disciplines, the fasting, abstinence, self-denial, and other rigors are over half completed, and that the end of our self-mortification is in sight.

A Joyful Outlook. It is uplifting to know that Easter Sunday is only three weeks from today.

A Joyful Exception. “During Lent, it is not permitted to decorate the altar with flowers” (Roman Missal, 70), but Laetare Sunday is an exception to this rule. On that day “the altar may be decorated with flowers” (Roman Missal, 106); the liturgical color is violet, but the color rose may be used; and the music typically is more subdued, but the use of instruments and more upbeat melodies is appropriate.

Joyful Orations. The Collect begins with the joyful news that the human race is reconciled to God, and it mentions the “solemn celebrations to come,” the joyous celebration of the Triduum, the Institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, salvation and redemption on Good Friday, and the Resurrection on Easter, all reasons for joy. The Prayer over the Offerings states, “We place before you with joy these offerings which bring about an eternal remedy,” everlasting life in heaven with God. The Communion Antiphon repeats the joyful theme, “You must rejoice, my son, for your brother was dead and has come to life” (Lk 15:32). The Prayer after Communion makes the joyful observation that God enlightens everyone who comes into this world.

Joyful Scripture Readings. The first reading from Joshua recounts a joyful moment in the history of Israel when the forty year sojourn in the desert was over and they were about to cross over into the Promised Land (Jos 5:9a,10-12). The Responsorial Psalm says, “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy” (Ps 34:6a), and gives multiple reasons for joy: God listens to our prayers, delivers us from our fears, and saves us from distress. In the second reading St. Paul makes mention of two joyful realities, how through Christ we have been made into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and our trespasses are no longer counted against us (2 Cor 5:19).

A Joyful Gospel. The Parable of the Forgiving Father is a joyful description of the mercy of God. It should bring us great joy to know that as the father welcomed the sinful son, so God welcomes us when we go to him, and the way that the father embraced the son is the way that God embraces us, even after we have failed (Lk 15:20). It is reason for celebration and rejoicing when the dead sinner comes to life again (Lk 15:24,32).

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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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