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.

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 26, 2016

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Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

August 29 is the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  It was known formerly as The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Annual Memorial.  This memorial in honor of the Baptist began in the Fourth Century AD at the dedication of the Church of St. John at Sebaste in Samaria, Israel, where, according to tradition, John’s skull had been buried by his disciples.  This commemoration gradually spread to the universal church, first to the East in the Fifth Century and to Rome by the Seventh Century.

The Historical Event.  The account of the Baptist’s passion is given in two of the four gospels, the original version in Mk 6:17-29, and an edited and shortened account in Mt 14:3-12.  Biblical historians believe that the beheading of John took place at Machaerus, a fort in the desert on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.  It had been built by King Herod the Great as a desert hideaway, and his son, King Herod Antipas, went there occasionally.

Foreshadowing.  John the Baptist is the forerunner or precursor.  John went ahead of Jesus with his miraculous birth and his unique role as prophet, preacher, and baptizer.  These set the stage for Jesus’ own miraculous birth, as well as his baptism and his ministry as prophet and teacher.  John the Baptist’s suffering and death prefigures Jesus’ suffering and death, and the details in the account of the passion of John anticipate the Passion of Jesus.  Specific similarities include:  John spoke the truth, Jesus is truth; it was the festive occasion of a birthday, it was the festive occasion of Passover; Herodias bitterly opposed John, the religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus; John was arrested and bound, Jesus was arrested and bound; Herod declared John innocent, Pilate declared Jesus innocent; John was held in a prison cell in Machaerus, Jesus was held in a prison cell below Caiaphas’ palace; Herod tried to please his wife, Pilate attempted to please the crowds; Herod condemned John, Pilate condemned Jesus; Roman soldiers put John to death by beheading, Roman soldiers put Jesus to death by crucifixion; John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb.

Larger Gospel Context.  Mark carefully placed the account of the Baptist’s death between two sections on the missionary work of the first apostles.  In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, and in Mark 6:30-33 the apostles return to Jesus to report what they have done.  Mark wants to show that it requires tremendous courage to speak the truth and proclaim the gospel, and that it will lead to bitter suffering.

Gospel Preview.  The Cross is not mentioned explicitly in the Baptist’s passion account, but it is Mark’s underlying mindset.  The death of John is a preview of the death of Jesus, and for John his beheading was his cross.  Everyone who is a disciple must carry their cross.

Spiritual Applications.  The Baptist had a number of outstanding spiritual qualities.   He was a fierce advocate for truth and justice, fought hard for what is right, demonstrated his faith in a very public manner, walked in straight paths and urged others to do likewise, directed attention away from himself to Jesus, had a humble estimation of himself, and endured the suffering that came his way.  These admirable traits serve as inspiration and guidance for our spiritual lives.

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Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 19, 2016

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StBartSaint Bartholomew is one of the original twelve apostles.  In Aramaic, his name is bar talmai, “son of Tolmai,” or the Graeco-Roman equivalent, “son of Ptolemy.”  The only time that he is mentioned in the New Testament is on the four lists of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).  Because he is paired with Philip in the three Synoptic Gospels, and because Philip is paired with Nathanael in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:43-51; 21:2), biblical scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael may be one and the same person.

Apart from Bartholomew’s name on these four lists, there is no other information about him in the New Testament.  There is wide agreement among early church historians that Bartholomew went on multiple missionary expeditions preaching the gospel with great fervor and conviction, but there is little agreement about where he went.

In the Fourth Century AD Eusebius reported, based upon Second Century information obtained from St. Pantaenus, a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, that Bartholomew had gone to India, possibly in partnership with Thomas the apostle.  Pantaenus had visited India between 150 and 200 AD, and when he visited the Malabar Coast he came upon Christian communities that claimed that Bartholomew was their founder and that he had brought them copies of Matthew’s gospel.  Rufinus, another early church historian, reported that Bartholomew went to Ethiopia in North Africa and Arabia which is south of Israel.  Others reported that Bartholomew went to Mesopotamia and Persia, both east of Israel in modern-day Iraq, and Phrygia and Lycaonia, both in south-central Asia Minor or Turkey, possibly in partnership with Philip the apostle.

While there is little agreement about where Bartholomew went on his first missionary journeys, there is wide consensus about where he finished his missionary work.  Bartholomew made his final missionary trip in 44 AD to Greater Armenia, the area in modern-day southern Russia south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

There are two divergent accounts of Bartholomew’s ministry and martyrdom.  According to the predominant tradition, Bartholomew, through his persuasive preaching, made a large number of converts to Christianity in Armenia.  This angered pagan barbarians who protested vociferously to King Astyages.  The king agreed and ordered that Bartholomew be put to death.  According to ancient Persian custom, Bartholomew was first flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded.  This took place at Derbend, Albanopolis, in Upper Armenia, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.  Bartholomew’s remains were placed in a sack and tossed overboard into the sea.

According to another tradition, Bartholomew converted King Astyages to Christianity.  This legend claims that the king’s brother was so infuriated that he ordered Bartholomew be put to death by flaying and decapitation.

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Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016

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Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

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Somebody’s knockin’ at your door

August 4, 2016

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JesusKnocking

Somebody is knocking at your door, and that somebody is Jesus!  Jesus is not your typical visitor.  The usual guest comes at a prearranged time, but not Jesus.  Jesus gets to do whatever he wants, which means that he can come on any day at any time, either today, tomorrow, or a day in the distant future.

If we have dinner guests scheduled, there often is a mad rush to get everything ready by their arrival time.  It would look terrible if there were piles of dirty clothes on the floor, a sink full of dirty dishes, old newspapers on the living room floor, empty pop cans on the tables, and dust on the countertops.  And it would be terrible if there was nothing to offer them:  no beverages, hors d’oeuvres, meal, or dessert.  So we spring into action on a cleaning frenzy as a white tornado roars through the house, and we go on a shopping spree to be sure that the refrigerator and cupboard are fully supplied.  Then, after our guests leave, the mess gradually reappears.

Jesus wants to come over as our guest, and Jesus wants to have dinner with us, but he refuses to be pinned down when it comes to a day and time.  He is a free spirit.  He comes and goes as he pleases.  He is unpredictable.  There are some things that we know for sure, others left uncertain, as Jesus promises, “You can be absolutely sure that I will be coming over to your place, but I just don’t know when yet.”

This leaves us in a quandary.  If Jesus could come knocking anytime, it means I have to be ready all the time, which means that the house has to be clean all day, every day, and it rarely is.  There is a pile of junk here, a mess there, and while I like the house clean, I’ve gotten used to some clutter, it doesn’t bother me all that much, and I don’t want to put that much effort into cleaning.

These are all spiritual figures of speech.  The house represents each person.  The door represents the entrance to a person’s mind and heart.  The dirt and junk represents sin.  A sparkling clean house represents being in the state of grace.

Jesus is a kind and compassionate house guest.  It may seem impolite that he is unwilling to announce his arrival time, but it actually is a blessing.  His delay gives us more time to go on a cleaning frenzy, to sweep out sinful behaviors, vacuum up bad habits, and dust off rough edges.  It is time for the strongest and most concentrated cleanser, the Blood of Christ, which washes away our sins, and for the “white tornado,” the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which confers absolution and restores the sinner to the state of grace.

The delay also gives the homeowner ample time to stock the refrigerator and the cupboard, not with groceries, but with good deeds:  love shared, sacrifices made, food and drink provided, clothes distributed, strangers welcomed, the troubled visited, assistance delivered, donations and alms given, and prayers offered.

Jesus wants us to come to a “new normal” with our homes.  He would like them to be clean and well-stocked all the time, and he would like us to be so irritated with dirt when it appears that we remove it right away.  Somebody’s knockin’ at your door!  That somebody is Jesus!  He wants to come into a clean house!

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St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

July 29, 2016

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St. Alphonsus Liguori was born Alfonso Maria de’Liguori in Marianella, a town near Naples, Italy, in 1696.  He was a brilliant student who, by the age of seventeen, had already earned two doctor’s degrees, one in civil law, the other in canon law, both at the University of Naples.  He practiced law with much success for eight years until he lost a major case because of a serious blunder of his own, and he interpreted this as a sign from God to leave the legal profession and study for the priesthood.

Alphonsus threw himself into his theological studies and was ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1726 at the age of 30.  He spent the next three years canvassing the countryside preaching and hearing confessions, and he quickly gained a reputation for excellence in both.

Three years later he became the chaplain for a college that trained missionaries for China.  There Alphonsus became friends with a senior colleague, Father Thomas Falcoia, who had spent a long while trying to found a religious order of nuns, but he had only been able to establish a single convent.  Falcoia was made bishop of Castellamare.  One of his nuns, Sister Celeste, claimed to have had a vision that confirmed Falcoia’s earlier vision regarding a new rule of life for their congregation.  Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to offer a retreat for the nuns and to investigate Sr. Celeste’s vision.  Alphonsus found the vision to be authentic, and with a new rule and religious habits, a new religious order was founded, the Redemptorines.

With the religious order of women established, Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to found a religious order of priests that would specialize in preaching and missionary work directed toward the poor in the rural areas around Naples.  The new institute was established in 1732 and called the Congregation for the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as the Redemptorists.  The Congregation was officially approved by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749.  Alphonsus did his best to guide the new community, but his efforts were hindered by the dissension among the members.

Meanwhile, Alphonsus continued to go from village to village preaching the gospel with a message that was understandable to all, especially common folk, children, and the elderly.  He also was in high demand as a confessor because of his gentle style and wise advice.

At this point Alphonsus increasingly turned to spiritual writing, and he composed thirty-six separate works, some scholarly, others devotional.  His first work was published in 1745 and his most famous work, Moral Theology, was published in 1748, which presented a reasonable middle ground between the morally stringent approach of Jansenism and laxity, an excessively lenient approach.  His contributions led him to being named a Doctor of the Church.

After leading the Redemptorists since 1732, Alphonsus was named the bishop of Saint Agata dei Goti in 1762.  His major initiatives were to reform the clergy and to serve the poor.  He was afflicted with rheumatic fever, and because of ill health, he resigned in 1775 after having serving for thirteen years.  He retired to Nocera dei Pagini in Campagna where he died in 1787.

Alphonsus was beatified in 1816, canonized a saint in 1839, pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1871, and named the patron saint of confessors and moral theologians in 1950.

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The Cross: Our hope for forgiveness and salvation

July 22, 2016

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crucifixion

On the day that we die, we want to go to heaven to be with God, the angels and saints, and our loved ones who have gone before us, to live for all eternity in peace and joy, but there is one enormous obstacle to our admittance to heaven:  our sins.

No one is worthy to go to heaven on their own merit.  It is impossible to do enough good works or earn enough graces to pay the price of admission.  The price is too high.  It is beyond us.

St. Paul explains that there is a “bond against us, with its legal claims” (Col 2:14).  The bond is like an indictment handed down by a grand jury or a criminal complaint filed by the county attorney that accuses a person of specific crimes that have been committed.  Spiritually, “the bond against us” is filed by God, and it is a list of all of our sins, our transgressions against “The Law,” either the Mosaic Law and the commandments or the Law of Love and Jesus’ gospel teachings.  The law has legal claims.  We are expected to obey, to live a good and holy life, and if we fail to comply, our violations have dire consequences; we could be barred from heaven and doomed to eternal punishment.

In Roman times “the bond” was nailed to the cross.  When a criminal was sentenced to death by crucifixion, not only were the criminal’s hands and feet nailed to the wood, but a list of the criminal’s crimes were written in large letters in ink on a piece of papyrus and nailed to the cross, posted in plain sight for everyone to read (see Jn 19:19).  Not only was the person’s naked body exposed, so were their crimes.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must humbly admit that “the bond against us” is long.  We have committed many sins over our lifetime.  God has a written criminal complaint against us.  It is humbling, embarrassing.  We are terrified at the prospect.  On Judgment Day God has every right to condemn us and post the list, but God has no desire whatsoever to condemn us.

God so loves the world that he sent his only begotten son Jesus that we might have eternal life (Jn 3:16).  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil 2:8), and by the price he paid, Jesus has gained our redemption and salvation.  It was on the Cross with the blood he shed and the life he laid down that our sins have been wiped away.

Jesus obliterated our bond that was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14).  The ink on ancient papyrus did not sink into the fabric like modern ink binds to the paper.  The ink laid on the surface, and because papyrus was so expensive it was often reused after the ink had been wiped clean.  Jesus obliterated our sins on his triumphant Cross.  He wiped our list of sins clean, never to be seen again, entirely forgotten, completely absolved.  In the Cross is our salvation!

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 14, 2016

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  It commemorates July 16, 1251, the day when the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock in England a number of years after he had made a visit to Mount Carmel.  It is the patronal feast of the Carmelite religious order.

Mount Carmel is a beautiful and picturesque mountain located in northern Israel just south of the modern city of Haifa.  It towers magnificently over the Mediterranean Sea below with an elevation of 470 feet at the coastline and 1742 feet further inland.  The Stella Maris Mount Carmel location provides a panoramic view of the sea to the east and the city to the north.

Mount Carmel is associated with the ministry of the prophet Elijah who lived in solitude in a cave along the mountainside.  It is the place where Elijah successfully confronted the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19-40).

During the Twelfth Century AD, a number of Christian hermits moved into the same caves, inspired by the prophet Elijah to live a life of poverty and simplicity, silence, solitude, and prayer.   Mount Carmel has been traditionally associated with the glory of Mary while Mount Tabor has been traditionally associated with the glory of Jesus.  The monks who lived on Mount Carmel had a special devotion to Mary, built a small chapel in her honor, and prayed regularly through her intercession.

St. Simon Stock was a baron from England who visited Mount Carmel sometime in the early Thirteenth Century, and upon encountering the Carmelite hermits who lived there, he convinced some of them to accompany him back to England where they would establish a community and monastery.  Upon their return, St. Simon Stock reported that the Blessed Mother appeared to him on July 16, 1251, at Aylesford, England, and that during the apparition she presented him with a scapular which subsequently became a featured aspect of the Carmelite religious habit.  The scapular is a long rectangular piece of brown fabric worn over the shoulders to below the knees over the front and back above the full-length brown robe.

The scapular represents the yoke of Jesus (Mt 11:29-30), and it serves as a constant reminder to comply with the gospel and obey the will of God.  It also is an outward sign of devotion to Mary, and a reminder to imitate her virtues, exceptional holiness, and prayerfulness.

The Blessed Mother made several promises regarding the scapular.  St. Simon Stock was burdened with many worries, as were many of the other monks, and Mary promised that whoever wore the scapular would be given the gift of perseverance.  Furthermore, she promised that whoever was wearing a scapular at the time of death would be released from Purgatory the first Saturday after their death.

The promises at first were understood to be reserved to the members of the Carmelite religious order, but later the promises were extended to members of the laity.  An adapted form of the scapular was developed for lay use, two small rectangular panels joined by two brown strings or cords and worn over the shoulders and usually under the clothing.  The scapular is a sacramental, a sacred object that is blessed and treated with reverence and respect.

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The Dual Citizenship of Catholic Americans

July 1, 2016

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July 4 is the celebration of Independence Day, the birthday of our country, the United States of America, and our citizenship in this great nation.  This national holiday is an occasion to reflect on the nature of dual citizenship, how a Christian is a citizen of a universal spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and an earthly kingdom, our country, the United States.

A Christian is a citizen of the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints, and the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, a Christian American has dual citizenship and dual allegiance, God and country.  The order is significant.  Both deserve love and loyalty, but they do not have equal standing.  God comes first.  God ranks above all else.  God is the principle focus of a Christian’s love and affection.  God is to be served first.  The Word of God, whether it is the law of love, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, other precepts in Scripture, or the teachings of the Church, are the principle statutes and decrees that govern a Christian’s life.

While spiritual citizenship ranks first and has precedence, earthly citizenship is vitally important.  Jesus highlighted this when he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21).  A Christian has a duty and a moral obligation to “give to Caesar,” to be an active, responsible, contributing member of the earthly kingdom, in our case, the USA.

On Independence Day American citizens celebrate “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” the “sweet land of liberty,” a country with amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains.  Our ancestors fought for our independence so we could have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Church recognizes the rightful place of countries, governments, government leaders, and civils laws.  They are necessary for a well-ordered society.  Governments come in many forms.  Ours is a constitutional democracy.  All governments must serve the common good:  “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more easily” (Gaudium et spes, 26.1).  It consists of three elements:  respect for the individual person, the social well-being and development of the group, and peace, a prerequisite for the common good to flourish (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1907-1909).

The Church teaches that Christians have duties as citizens “to contribute along with civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.  The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.  Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community” (CCC, No. 2239).

“Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (CCC, No. 2240).  All Americans, Christians included, would be well to ask, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy inauguration speech), and as good citizens, it is our civic duty to serve our fellow Americans and to work for the betterment of our city, state, and country, “One nation under God.”

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St. Cyril of Alexandria (370-444), Bishop and Doctor

June 24, 2016

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St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 370 AD.  His family was of the noble class.  His uncle was Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria.  Cyril received a classical and theological education under his uncle, who eventually ordained him to the priesthood.  A number of years later, in 412 AD, he succeeded his uncle as the patriarch or bishop of Alexandria.

Cyril was a fierce advocate for orthodox teaching and he aggressively went on the offensive against those who taught otherwise.  He strenuously opposed three major heresies that had numerous adherents in the Fifth Century:  Novatianism, which argued that certain sins such as murder, adultery, and apostasy, could not be forgiven by the sacraments; Nestorianism, which held that Jesus has two separate persons, one human, the other divine, and that Mary was the mother only of the human person; and Pelagianism, which held that salvation is achieved only through human effort and not by grace.  With decisiveness and stern authority, he closed the churches of heretical sects and expelled the Jews from Alexandria.

While Cyril’s actions provoked intense anger and bitter opposition, he was supported by Pope Zosimus (417-418) and a large number of bishops.

Meanwhile, Nestorius became the patriarch of Constantinople in 428, and he held that Jesus was the greatest of human beings but not divine, and that Mary was not the mother of God.  Cyril vehemently opposed Nestorius and his teaching, and he brought the matter to the attention of the new pope, Celestine I (422-432), who convoked a synod in Rome that condemned Nestorianism.  A decree was issued that condemned the teachings of Nestorius and removed him as patriarch, but Nestorius rejected the synod’s decision.

With the church beset by controversy, the Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, called for a council to resolve the conflict for the sake of peace in the empire.  The Council of Ephesus was convened in 431, Cyril presided, and two hundred bishops attended.  In a tactical move, the sessions began before forty-three oriental bishops that supported Nestorius arrived.  Under the leadership of Cyril, the council upheld the two natures of Jesus, proclaimed Mary as the Mother of God, and condemned Nestorianism.

When Archbishop John of Antioch and the other bishops that supported Nestorius arrived, they were outraged, convened a counter council, denounced Cyril as a heretic, and deposed him.  Aggravated by the dispute, Emperor Theodosius arrested and imprisoned both Cyril and Nestorius.  Pope Celestine issued a proclamation in support of Cyril and the Council of Ephesus, and when papal legates arrived, Cyril was exonerated and released, while the charges against Nestorius were confirmed and awhile later was exiled.

After the Council of Ephesus, Cyril dedicated himself to writing a number of treatises to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.  He also wrote Scripture commentaries on the Pentateuch and the gospels of Luke and John, and he supported the Egyptian monasticism.  Cyril died in 444 in Alexandria, and he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882.

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A six week series from the letter to the Galatians

June 17, 2016

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StPaulStainedGlassThe second readings for the Sundays of Week Nine through Week Fourteen of Ordinary Time, Year C, are taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The Location of Galatia.  Galatia is a large area in central Asia Minor or Turkey.  It is surrounded by Bithynia to the northwest, Pontus to the northeast, Cappadocia to the east, Cilicia to the southeast, Pamphylia to the south, and the Province of Asia to the west.  It was a Roman province in the First Century AD.  Some of its principal cities were Ancyra, Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.

Galatians.  Galatians is a collective term for the diverse peoples of the cities and regions of the Province of Galatia.  It was a predominantly Gentile area with a variety of pagan cults to the Greek gods, and there was a small minority of Jews and a synagogue in some of the cities.

Paul’s Time in Galatia.  Paul visited Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys.  Paul visited Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:25), sometime between 42 and 45 AD.  He went to Galatia again, this time with Silas, as part of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6), during portions of 46 and 47 AD.  Paul returned to Galatia a final time with Timothy on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23) in 52 AD.

Paul’s Missionary Activity in Galatia.  Paul initially would go to the local synagogue where he preached the gospel with great fervor, attracted large crowds, and made a number of converts.  This quickly led to bitter opposition from local Jewish leaders who were jealous of his dynamism and popularity, and were enraged that he was taking their members.  Paul, no longer welcome in the synagogue, would then extend his outreach to Gentiles where he also made new believers, but he was opposed by family members who did not convert.  Paul would found a new Christian church in the locality and then travel to another city.  At a later date Paul would circle back to the cities where he had established a community to revitalize and encourage the members.

The Situation in Galatia.  Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians while in Ephesus in spring of 53 AD (see Paul:  A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 180-182).  The letter was in response to the Judaizers, Christian converts from Judaism, who would sweep into an area after Paul had departed, and vehemently criticize and undermine him and his preaching.  While Paul preached salvation through Jesus and his redemptive death on the Cross, the Judaizers insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must follow the Mosaic Law and that salvation comes not through Jesus and his grace but through legal observance.  Moreover, they claimed that Paul was not an authentic apostle because he had not been taught by Jesus as were the twelve apostles who accompanied him for three years, that there were discrepancies between the preaching of Paul and the other apostles, and that Paul had wrongly relaxed the requirements of the Law for Gentiles to make the Christian faith easier and more attractive.

The Letter to the Galatians.  The letter has three parts.  Paul begins with a defense of himself as a true apostle who preaches the gospel with full authority.  Next, he uses multiple arguments to explain the difference between faith in Jesus and the works of the Law, and how justification comes through faith.  He concludes with an appeal to new converts to recommit themselves to an active Christian life in accord with the ways of the Spirit.

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