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.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 22, 2015


ChristKingThe Grand Finale.  The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is celebrated on the Thirty-Fourth and last Sunday of Ordinary Time.  It is the grand, glorious, and triumphant conclusion to the Church liturgical year.  The spiritual meaning of the feast is woven into the text of the special orations or Mass prayers provided in the Roman Missal.  The Prayer over the Offerings adds to what is expressed in the Collect, Preface, and Prayer after Communion.

A Kingly Sacrifice.  The Prayer over the Offerings begins, “As we offer you, O Lord, the sacrifice by which the human race is reconciled to you.”  The sacrifice was offered on the altar of the Cross.  Jesus himself is the one, true, unblemished, and perfect sacrifice.  Pilate had an inscription placed on the Cross:  “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).  Pilate’s inscription was partially correct.  Not only is Jesus king of the Jews, he is also king of the world, king of all creation, and king of the universe.

The King’s Sacrifice Achieved Universal Reconciliation.  The sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross reconciled the human race to the Father.  “We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10).  “God … reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor 5:18).  The reconciliation took place on the Cross where Jesus was lifted up (see Jn 3:14b) and reigned as king.  From the Cross, Jesus issued two imperial proclamations.  With regard to those who had falsely accused him, condemned him, and tortured him, his first edict was, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34); and to the repentant thief, his second decree was, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).  The forgiveness that Jesus extended from the Cross has universal implications; it is extended to everyone, everywhere.  He is the reconciler, the bridge between sinners on earth and his Father in heaven.  Jesus took away sin by his sacrifice (Heb 9:26).  It is through Jesus that we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of his Cross (Eph 1:7).  Jesus has reconciled all things, making peace by the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20).  Because of sin, humanity was estranged from God, “far off,” but because of the blood that Jesus offered, humanity is reconciled to the Father, now “near” (Eph 2:13).

King of All Nations.  The prayer continues, “We humbly pray that your Son himself may bestow on all nations the gifts of unity and peace.”  The prayer assumes that Jesus has power over all nations.  On judgment day, “All of the nations will be assembled before him [Jesus]” (Mt 25:32), the king.  Before Jesus ascended to heaven he stated, “All power in heaven and earth has been granted to me” (Mt 28:18).  Paul added, “All things [are] beneath his feet, and he is head over all things” (Eph 1:22).  Jesus has “authority over all nations” (Rev 2:26b).  Jesus always has been and continues to be the king of all people in every nation on earth.

The Kingly Gifts of Unity and Peace.  As universal King, Jesus is the one who has the power and authority to grant the gifts of unity and peace, gifts that are supremely important to him, gifts that he wants to impart. In his prayer on Holy Thursday, Jesus prayed for unity, “Father, that they may be one” (Jn 17:21,22,23).  Jesus also told them that same night, “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27); and after his Resurrection, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).  We are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28b); he is our peace (Eph 2:14).  In the kingdom of God, all are united in Jesus and live together in harmony and mutual respect.

Continue reading...

St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor

November 10, 2015


LeoTheGreatPope Leo I is also known as Pope Leo the Great.  The date of his birth is unknown, and the place uncertain, possibly in Rome.  The first historical information available about his life is that he was a highly regarded deacon who served under two Popes, Celestine I and Sixtus III.

In 440 AD he was sent to Gaul, a region of southern France, as a papal ambassador to mediate a dispute between two feuding generals, Aetius and Albinus, so that they might cooperate in the defense of the region from barbarian attacks.  While on this mission Pope Sixtus III died and Leo was elected his successor.  He returned to Rome and was consecrated on September 29, 440.

During his twenty-one years as Pope, he distinguished himself in at least three major ways:  he acted decisively to strengthen the supremacy and authority of the papacy, he upheld and clarified orthodox theology while he strenuously opposed a number of heresies, and he defended Rome from the barbarian tribes that were invading from the north.

Leo explained that the Pope is the heir of St. Peter, the first of the apostles, and that the authority that Jesus conferred upon Peter as the rock upon which the Church is built (Mt 16:18) is extended to and embodied in the Pope.  Thus, the Pope does not only have authority over the Church of Rome, but also over the universal Church and all its bishops.

The Church was beset by heresy during the Fifth Century, and Pope Leo, through his sermons and letters, as well as the Council of Chalcedon, acted firmly to refute unorthodox teaching.

Priscillianism was strong in Spain, a heresy that claimed that the physical human body is evil; Pope Leo taught that it is good.  Manichaeism was a blend of dualism, material things are bad while spiritual things are good, and Gnosticism, that salvation is achieved through knowledge itself.  Even though it was condemned by Pope Innocent I in 416, it was necessary for Pope Leo to restate the Church’s teaching that all created things are good and that salvation is achieved through Christ.  Pelagianism held that salvation can be gained through human effort alone, and that the saving grace of God is not necessary.  Pope Leo taught that humans simply cannot save themselves, no matter how many good works they may perform, and that the grace of God through Jesus’ redemptive death on the Cross is necessary for eternal life.

Two other heresies had a strong foothold, Arianism, that Jesus is less than God but greater than any human being; and Nestorianism, that Jesus is two separate persons, one divine, the other human, and that they are not interconnected.  Arianism had been refuted by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and Nestorianism by the Council of Ephesus in 431, yet both had many adherents.  A renegade council was called by Emperor Theodosius II in 499 in Ephesus to support Eutyches, a heretic that claimed that Jesus had one divine nature that absorbed his human nature.  Pope Leo countered with the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in which his Tome, a letter that clearly explained the two natures of Christ which had been disallowed by Theodosius II two years earlier, not only was read but was adopted with strong support.

Meanwhile, the barbarians were on the offensive and the safety of Rome was in peril.  The Huns were approaching.  In a dramatic moment in 452, Pope Leo had a face-to-face meeting with their leader, Attila, and convinced him to pull back.  In 455, Pope Leo was not as successful.  This time the Vandals ransacked Rome for fourteen days.  In a piece of artful diplomacy, he was able to convince their leader, Genseric, to confine their activity to plundering, and not to murder the inhabitants or to burn the city.

Pope Leo I died on November 10, 461, and he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1754.

Continue reading...

Saints and angels

October 29, 2015


Mary and Joseph in Nazareth - Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

Mary and Joseph in Nazareth – Stained glass window at St. John the Baptist, Vermillion, MN

A Special Feast Day.  November 1 is the Solemnity of All Saints, not “All Angels” nor “All Saints and Angels.”  In fact, the Archangels have a separate feast day on September 29 and the Guardian Angels on October 2.  If the saints and angels are both together in heaven gathered around God’s throne forever singing God’s praises, are they the same or different?

Angels.  An angel is a spiritual being without a body that has existed across the ages, dwells in heaven, has been and continues to be totally loyal to God, serves God in a variety of capacities, and may be dispatched as a messenger or representative of God to earth or to a specific person to carry out a special function.  There are many references to angels in Sacred Scripture.

Saints.  A saint was a human being that had a physical body, lived in a specific time and place, has died and gone to heaven, and lived an exceptionally good and virtuous life.  The saints were guided by Sacred Scripture on the path of holiness.

Special Classes of Angels.  The classes of angels are the Angels and Archangels, the Thrones and Dominations (Dominions), the Principalities and the Powers, and the Virtues, as well as the Cherubim and Seraphim, and the Guardian Angels.

Special Classes of Saints.  The classes of saints are the apostles, the foundation of the Church, its first shepherds and teachers, who watch over it and protect it still; the martyrs, those who have died for the faith and given heroic witness; pastors, great preachers and teachers; virgins and religious, those who have consecrated their life to Christ for the sake of the Kingdom; and holy men and women.

The Purpose of Angels.  The angels serve as God’s messengers and they bring God’s call to individuals; God’s instructions, commands or announcements; and they speak God’s Word.  The angels also convey God’s divine presence and companionship; lead the People of God on the journey; bring comfort and consolation in times of sadness; act as guardians and protectors; provide divine assistance throughout life, particularly in times of trial or hardship; give strength in the battle against sin and temptation; sing God’s praises in choir around God’s throne in heaven; and will assist the Son of God on Judgment Day.

The Purpose of Saints.  The saints are examples of holiness, and their virtuous lives teach us how to live in a virtuous manner.  The saints, particularly the martyrs, were heroic, and they show us how to live with courage and conviction.  The saints are proof that it is possible to live a good and holy life; if they can do it, we can do it.  The saints offer hope; if they have gone to heaven, they show us that heaven is reachable and that we can follow them there.  The saints are intercessors; they are in heaven, near God, and enjoy God’s favor, and they are in an excellent position to present our prayers to God on our behalf.

Famous Angels.  The best known angels are the Archangels:  Michael, the mighty warrior that led the heavenly host against Lucifer and the bad angels and expelled them from heaven; Gabriel, God’s messenger to Mary and Zechariah; and Raphael, the companion and protector of Tobiah on his journey.

Famous Saints.  The best known saints are Mary, the Mother of God, and her husband Joseph; John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the arrival of the Messiah; Peter, the first of the Apostles, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; Benedict, the father of western monasticism, and Francis of Assisi, the saint regarded by many as the one who best patterned himself on the life of Jesus.

Continue reading...

The priestly vocation, a calling from God

October 25, 2015


IhavechosenyouThe Letter to the Hebrews says that, when it comes to the priesthood, “no one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4).  The priesthood is a special calling.

When someone says, “I have decided to be a priest,” it is cause for caution.  Too often those who desire to be priests “want to stand and pray in the synagogues … so that others might see them” (Mt 6:5); or, “love places of honor” (Mt 23:6), or “the salutation ‘Rabbi’ [Father]” (Mt 23:7).  There can be an excessive concern with “phylacteries and tassels” (Mt 23:5), the perfect Roman collar, the right cassock and surplice, the most appropriate chasuble, and the proper liturgical rubric.  The self-chosen desire for priesthood can be an attempt to improve one’s state in life.

The call to the priesthood comes from God.  It emanates from the outside, from God to the person, and not the other way.  Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and Paul.  He called each one individually, and he called them by name.  It was not their choice.  It was Jesus’ choice. Jesus was the “Hound of Heaven,” relentless, in pursuit of them until they submitted their will and obeyed.  Each apostle was unworthy, but Jesus called them anyway.  Jesus calls mere mortals, sinners, the undeserving, and he asks them to be his personal agents and to serve and lead in his name (see Lk 5:8,10; Jn 18:15-18,25-27; 21:15-17; 1 Tim 1:15b; Acts 9:15).

The call to ordained ministry can also come through the community.  God can call directly, but God often calls through intermediaries.  When Peter and the first apostles needed assistants, they asked the community to help them identify individuals who had good reputations and appeared to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom (see Acts 6:3).  The community is very capable of surveying its own membership to identify individuals with the character traits appropriate to ordained ministry.  Anyone in the community, a parent, teacher, catechist, or fellow parishioner, can invite someone saying, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?  You seem to have the heart of Jesus.  You have many virtuous qualities that would be a good fit with the priesthood.”

If someone applies to the seminary and reports that God is calling, it may be true, but it is the duty of the community to confirm the call, for seminary officials and the laity where a seminarian is training, to verify that he has the spiritual qualities needed for priesthood.

When it comes to spiritual prerequisites for priests, humility stands at the forefront.  Hebrews says that a priest is “beset by weaknesses” (Heb 5:2).  Priests, like everyone else, are vulnerable, subject to temptation, and fall to sin.  Any priest who aspires to holiness is keenly aware that he has offended God and has hurt his neighbor by his misdeeds, and as Hebrews says, he “must make sin offerings for himself” (Heb 5:3).  The priest is no better than anyone else.  He, too, is in desperate need of God’s mercy.  As he stands before the congregation leading them in prayer, he is praying not only for them, but he is also praying repentantly for himself.

The other spiritual quality that the Letter to the Hebrews stresses for priests is compassion.  A priest should be able to deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring because he himself is beset by weakness (Heb 5:2).  How can a priest be hard on anyone else after all of the poor choices he has made?  After all of his missteps, he should be merciful, lenient, and give others the benefit of the doubt.  If a priest wants God to go easy with him, the priest should go easy with others.

Continue reading...

St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456), Priest

October 23, 2015


capostranoSt. John of Capistrano is well known in the United States as San Juan Capistrano, his Spanish name, which is also the name for one of the most popular California missions, the seventh mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1776.  Father Serra, a Franciscan himself, named a number of the California missions after Franciscan saints for whom he had a special devotion.

St. John was born in Capistrano in the Abruzzi region of Italy in 1386.  He was brilliant, studied law in Perugia, and became the governor of the city in 1412 at the young age of 26.  He was also married.  A war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta, he was captured and imprisoned.  His confinement was a time of intense prayer.  St. John reported that he had a vision in which St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him and invited him to join his religious order.  Upon his release, he petitioned for a dispensation from his marriage so he could enter religious life.

St. John entered the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM), the Franciscans, in 1416, and he was blessed to study under St. Bernardine of Siena.  He was ordained to the priesthood in 1420.

St. John was one of the greatest preachers Europe has ever known.  He traveled extensively and drew crowds that numbered in thousands to listen to his sermons.  His double purpose was to exhort Christians to live holier lives and to fight against heretical teaching.

There was inner strife among the Franciscans between the Observant, the Spiritual, or the stricter friars and the Conventual, the Relaxed, or the more lenient friars when it came to poverty.  St. John made attempts at reform and reconciliation that were resisted and had disappointing results.  He was a contrite penitent and strict with himself, an ascetic:  he went about barefoot, wore a hairshirt, and deprived himself of food and sleep.

St. John had a reputation for a fiery style and tremendous toughness, and was commissioned to undertake a variety of papal diplomatic missions.  In 1426 he was appointed by Pope Martin V as the Inquisitor in the proceedings against the heretical Fraticelli; in 1439 he was sent to Milan and Burgundy to refute antipope Felix V; in 1446 he was sent as a special envoy to the King of France; and in 1451 he was appointed by Pope Nicholas V to go to Vienna, Austria, to fight against John Hus and the Hussite heresy, and as Inquisitor, he took stern, harsh measures against them.  In 1452 he was appointed Commissioner General for Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, and he preached widely throughout the region with much success.

In 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople, and subsequently he was asked by Pope Pius II to preach a crusade against the Turks.  While his preaching roused little support in Austria and Bavaria, he had outstanding results in Hungary which was under the threat of imminent attack.  St. John personally led the left wing of the Christian army in the Battle of Belgrade of 1456, while Janos Hunyady led the right wing.  The Hungarian army inflicted severe losses upon the Turks, fended off the Muslim advance, and saved not only Belgrade but Christian Europe.  After the battle thousands of bodies were left unburied and disease was rampant.  St. John walked among the corpses, contracted the plague, and died at Villach, Austria, on October 23, 1456.  He was canonized in 1690 and is the patron saint of military chaplains and lawyers.

Continue reading...

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, (d. 107 AD)

October 16, 2015


St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rome c. 107 AD.

St. Ignatius was from Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria.  Little is known about the first part of his life.  He was born around the year 35 AD, probably to pagan parents, and he later converted to Christianity.  He may have been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

St. Peter the apostle presided over the newly formed church of Antioch as its first bishop before he moved to Rome.  St. Evodius served as the second bishop, and upon his death in 69 AD, St. Ignatius became the third bishop, and he served for thirty-eight years.

The first portion of his episcopacy was relatively peaceful, but circumstances changed dramatically when the Roman Emperor Trajan came to power in 105.  Trajan believed that he had achieved his military successes because of the pagan gods, and because he honored them, he expected others to do likewise.  According to a popular legend that is historically unreliable, Trajan made an imperial visit to Antioch, ordered the arrest of St. Ignatius, and personally interrogated him (see Butler’s Lives of the Saints).  Because St. Ignatius refused to renounce his faith or to worship pagan gods, he was condemned to death, and Trajan ordered that he be taken to Rome to be thrown to the animals to die.

St. Ignatius was taken to Rome by ship with a military escort of ten soldiers who treated him with cruelty.  The ship hugged the coastlines of Asia Minor or Turkey and Greece, and the ship made a number of stops along the way.  At each seaport St. Ignatius was warmly greeted by the Christians of the area.

St. Ignatius had extended stays at two seaports, and during these delays he was able to write seven letters.  His first four letters were written in Smyrna, and he addressed them to the Christian communities in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. His last three letters were written in Troas, two which were directed to the Christian communities in Philadelphia and Smyrna, the other to St. Polycarp.

St. Ignatius wrote on a variety of topics and proved to be one of the greatest teachers of the early Church.  He declared that “Jesus Christ is our only teacher.”  He emphasized the two natures of Jesus, his humanity and divinity, and that he had a real human birth and suffered a real human death, and he repudiated Docetism, a heresy that denied Jesus’ human nature and claimed that he was only divine.  He stressed the value of the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality,” and reflected upon the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, and salvation.

St. Ignatius also wrote about the character of the Church.  He explained that it is both a mystical and hierarchical reality:  mystical in that Jesus is truly present in the community of believers, hierarchical in that it is well-ordered and unified under the authority of the bishop.  He was the first person to describe the church as “Catholic,” a term he used to refer to all Christians.  In his letter to the church of Rome, he acknowledged its place as first among the other churches, and aware of his impending martyrdom, he pleaded with them not to interfere so he would be allowed the grace to die for Christ and witness his faith with his life.

St. Ignatius arrived in Rome on December 20, 107, the last day of the public games, and he was taken directly to the amphitheater where he was devoured by two fierce lions before a large crowd.  He is an Apostolic Father, and his name is included in the second martyrology of Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Continue reading...

Jesus, the great high priest

October 7, 2015

1 Comment


Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

A Continuous Reading.  The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence.  While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own.  The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.

The Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it.  For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content.  It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage.  The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear.  Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Theological Thread.  A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread.  The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.

Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11.  The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood:  “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).  Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice.  It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).

Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16.  Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient.  He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12).  He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest.  Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.

Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6.  Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5).  His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time.  It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin.  Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.

Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28.  This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood.  His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24).  He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf.  He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).

Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18.  These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood.  Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.

Continue reading...

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), religious

October 2, 2015


StFrancis2St. Francis was born in Assisi, Umbria, Italy, in 1182 to Christian parents, his father, Pietro, and his mother, Pica.  His baptismal name was Giovanni.  After Pietro, a wealthy textile merchant, returned from a business trip to France, he added the name Francesco.  Francesco was a fun-loving young lad, quite popular, and a troubadour.  He and his many friends merrily romped about the countryside singing and enjoying each other’s company.

In 1202 there was a skirmish between Assisi and Perugia, a nearby city.  Francis was captured and held in prison for a year.  He fell ill late during his confinement, and his illness persisted for another year following his release.  The forced solitude provided periods of lengthy contemplation which served as the beginning of a spiritual transformation.

Recovered, Francis toyed with the idea of being a soldier.  He obtained new clothes and military equipment, and wearing them, rode off on his horse.  He happened upon a poor man in shabby clothes.  Francis dismounted and changed clothes with the poor man.  He had a particularly keen awareness and a deep compassion for the disadvantaged.

Shortly thereafter Francis had a dream in which he heard a voice say, “Francis, is it better to serve the Lord or the servant?  Why are you trying to turn your Lord into a servant?”  This was a decisive moment, his life forever changed.  He reordered his priorities, committed himself to God, spent more time in prayer, and practiced material detachment.

Francis’ father was not enamored with his son’s new lifestyle and had him locked into a room in his warehouse.  Then while he was away on business, his mother released Francis, and he moved to San Damiano where he lived with the priest.

Then one day in 1206 he was kneeling in prayer before a crucifix in the small, dilapidated church in San Damiano.  Again he heard a voice which said three times, “Go and repair my house, which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.”  Francis understood this to mean the church building itself, and he set out to repair it.  He took a bolt of cloth from his father’s storehouse, mounted a horse, and rode to a nearby village and sold both the cloth and the horse intending to use the proceeds to help pay for the improvements, all without his father’s approval.  Francis presented the money to the priest, but aware of how Francis had obtained it, he refused to accept it.

Francis decided to turn to begging for the church, and dressing himself in the tattered clothes of the poor, he worked the streets of Assisi.  Coming from an upper class family, this attracted huge attention and the townsfolk mocked him mercilessly.  When this came to the attention of his father, he was furious.  Pietro took hold of him and dragged him before the Bishop Guido of Assisi in his courtyard before a crowd of people.  He wanted the bishop to command Francis to return the money.  In a dramatic moment, Francis renounced the family business and declined his future inheritance.  Then, not only did he return the money, he stripped himself, and naked, he handed his clothes to his father so he would owe nothing to his father, and he pledged to live a life of simplicity in joyful service of the Lord.

He was given a brown tunic, a rope belt, and a pair of sandals, which would eventually become the religious habit of his new community.  He took solace in the beatitude, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours” (Lk 6:20).  He lived for a time as a repentant hermit.

Francis turned to Jesus for future direction, and after a Mass asked the priest to open the Book of the Gospels three times.  First text was, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21); the second, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money” (Lk 9:3); and the third, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

It dawned on him that “repair my church” did not refer so much to a building, as it did to people of God whose faith had deteriorated, and that the rebuilding task was to reinvigorate their faith.  Francis became an itinerant preacher, and he traveled the countryside zealously proclaiming Jesus and his gospel, and he called the people to repentance.  He had a special love for the sick and lepers, and he prayed with them and for them, and he cured a number of them.  He also begged alms for the poor and sought donations to rebuild several churches.

Francis was so fervent that he attracted several who asked to be his companions.  The group quickly grew to twelve.  Francis wrote preliminary rule of life and went to Rome in 1210 to seek papal approval for his new community.  Pope Innocent III initially was reluctant, citing that there were plenty of religious orders already, but after a dream of his own in which Francis was propping up the Lateran Basilica, he granted verbal consent.  Francis called his companions friars, and the new community was called the “Order of Friars Minor,” (O.F.M.), “minor” because they were supposed to be truly humble.

Upon his return to Assisi, he, along with Clare of Assisi, founded a group of religious women, the Order of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, who eventually became known as the Poor Clares.  He also founded a group for lay people who wished to join his movement first called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which eventually became known as the Third Order of St. Francis.  His own group swelled to three thousand, and because some of the members wanted him to relax his strict approach to poverty, he rewrote his rule of life in 1220 with a renewed emphasis on radical detachment, and the order received formal papal approval in 1221.

Francis’ health took a turn for the worse in 1223.  He went nearly blind, and he suffered from a number of other afflictions.  On September 14, 1224, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Francis went to Mount Alverno to pray privately.  Francis implored, “O Lord, I beg of you two graces before I die, to experience in myself the fullness of the pains of your cruel Passion, and to feel for you the same love that made you sacrifice yourself for us.”  Francis was given the stigmata, the five wounds of Jesus’ Passion, and he received them humbly and concealed them by wearing socks on his feet and pulling the sleeves of his habit over his hands.  It gave him great consolation to share in Jesus’ suffering before his own death.  During this time he wrote his famous Canticle to the Sun.

Francis died on October 3, 1226, and two years later, Pope Gregory IX canonized him a saint.  He wanted to be buried in a paupers’ field, but his remains eventually were buried in a crypt on the lower level of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

In art, St. Francis is almost always clothed in a brown robe, the Franciscan religious habit; the crown of his head is tonsured or shaved; and sometimes his hands reveal the wounds of the stigmata.  Some of the most frequently depicted scenes include Francis at the foot of the Cross with Jesus reaching down toward him, Francis carrying a cross behind Jesus, or kneeling before a crucifix, or distributing food to the poor, or preaching a sermon to the birds.  He is also often shown with a deer or a wolf.

St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, animal welfare societies, the environment, merchants, needle workers, tapestry makers, the city of Assisi, co-patron of the country of Italy along with St. Catherine of Siena, Catholic Action, and numerous Franciscan communities.  His feast day is October 4 and it is recommended as an ideal day to offer the blessing of animals.

Continue reading...

Saints Cosmas and Damian, martyrs

September 26, 2015


CosmasDamienMore Legend than History.  There is very little accurate historical information about Sts. Cosmas and Damian, but their legend has been popular and revered over the centuries.  As the story goes, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, born in Arabia sometime in the early to mid-Third Century.

Medical Doctors.  Cosmas and Damian were both devout Christians.  They moved to Syria where they studied medicine.  They settled in Aegeae, Cilicia, in Syria, where they developed outstanding reputations as highly skilled and effective physicians.  They considered their work an extension of the healing ministry of Jesus, the Divine Physician, and an act of Christian charity for their patients.  They were devoted to their patients and treated them with exceptional kindness and compassion.  Not only did they use their medical knowledge and techniques for their benefit, they also prayed for them.  Many were cured of their afflictions due to both their treatments and their prayers.  They also were a source of spiritual comfort and peace.  Some of their healings were so remarkable that they were considered miracles.  They gave of themselves generously and selflessly, charged no fees for their services, and consequently in the Eastern Church they became known as the anargyroi, Greek for the “moneyless ones.”

Arrest and Martyrdom.  Both Cosmas and Damian were open and vocal about their belief in Jesus, and as a result they were arrested during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution against Christians. They were forcibly taken before Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, who had them tortured first.  They survived attempts to drown, burn, and stone them, and they were finally beheaded.  They were put to death along with their three brothers:  Anthimus, Euprepius, and Leonitis.  The date of their martyrdom is disputed, variously reported to have been in 287, 300, or 303 AD.  Their remains were entombed in nearby Cyrrhus, Syria.

Expanding Devotion.  Cosmas and Damian were held in such high regard that a basilica was built in their honor over their tombs in Cyrrhus.  As the story of their heroic faith continued to spread, other major churches were built in their name.  A major church was erected in Constantinople during the Fifth Century.  A pagan temple in the Roman Forum was converted to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian during the Sixth Century and, at the direction of Pope Felix IV (526-530), their relics were transferred from Syria to the basilica in Rome.  Devotion to Cosmas and Damian continued to extend widely, particularly to Greece and Russia, and throughout Eastern Europe.  Their names are mentioned in the first martyrology in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Intercessory Roles.  St. Luke is the best known patron saint of physicians, and he is joined by Sts. Comas and Damian, as well as St. Pantaleon.  Sts. Cosmas and Damian are also the patron saints of surgeons, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, barbers, and the blind.

Continue reading...

Reasons that I’m a big fan of Saint Junipero Serra

September 18, 2015

1 Comment

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Initial Acquaintance.  My first encounter with then-Blessed Junipero Serra was when I was a Crosier religious brother on a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1980’s.  I have a special devotion to the Cross, and I had an aunt, now deceased, Sister Mary Eve Goering, O.S.F., who was a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls, so the Franciscans have a dear place in my heart.  There, above the entrance to the La Casa Retreat House in Mesa was a statue of Father Serra holding a Latin Cross and dressed in a Franciscan habit.  I liked him right away!

Similar Journeys.  As I learned more about St. Junipero Serra’s life story, I discovered that we have some things in common.  Father Serra had strong Catholic parents; so do I.  He often attended daily Mass, was an altar server, and attended a Catholic school; and so did I.  I started discerning a vocation to religious life at twelve or thirteen; he started at fifteen.  Father Serra entered the Franciscans at seventeen; I entered the Crosiers at twenty.  He was a college professor for eight years; I was a high school teacher for sixteen years.

The Major Similarity.  Father Serra was restless, and so was I.  He was a brilliant college philosophy and theology professor; I was a successful high school science teacher and athletic coach.  Yet, we were both agitated, unsettled.  God was shaking us.  God was pleased with what we were doing, but God wanted us to shift to a different ministry.  When Father Serra was thirty-six, he asked his Franciscan superiors if he could become a missionary to Mexico, and when I was thirty-seven, I asked my Crosier superiors if I could shift from brotherhood to priesthood.

Missionary Par Excellence.  This past July, 2015, I was blessed with an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to southern California to visit the Franciscan missions, nine which were founded by Father Serra.  Over the course of four days, we went from San Diego to San Francisco visiting several missions each day.  We drove along the rocky coast, over rugged mountains, across deep ravines, through forests, and across several desert regions.  I was delighted to be riding in a van.  The engine strained.  Heat fluctuations were extreme, AC in the desert, heat at elevation.  Father Serra walked it all, and he covered thousands of miles by foot.   The difficulty of the route reminded me of my two pilgrimages to Greece.  St. Paul set the standard for walking miles and miles to proclaim the gospel.  St. Paul preached with courage and conviction to those who held other beliefs, and his message was so compelling that he made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.  Father Serra is an eighteenth-century version of St. Paul.  He was on fire for Christ, and nothing, not his short stature, injured leg, bouts with illness, the taxing journeys, or the sometimes disappointing results, could hold him down.  Father Serra was driven, a man on a mission to bring Jesus to as many people and places as possible.  Like St. Paul, Father Serra made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.

The Saints.  The artwork in the mission churches reveals that Father Serra had a great devotion to the saints, and so do I.  Father Serra held the Blessed Virgin Mary in high esteem, and she is often depicted as the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and our Lady of Sorrows.  St. Joseph is often shown holding the child Jesus in his arms.  In addition, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of Father Serra’s religious order, is on display in almost every mission church, oftentimes holding a crucifix or with the stigmata in his hands.  Two other Franciscan saints also receive major attention, St. Anthony of Padua, my middle name and second patron saint, and St. Bonaventure.

Continue reading...