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.

Worry not

February 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle

February 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Path to Spiritual Greatness

February 10, 2017

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Sermon on the Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

January 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Repent!

January 17, 2017

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SermonOnTheMountWhat a way to begin a speech!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Anthony, Abbot

January 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2017

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The Magi versus the Chief Priests and the Scribes

magiThe visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem reveals a deeply disturbing fact:  the chief priests and the scribes did not go to visit Jesus like the magi.  In fact, they conspired with King Herod who wanted to destroy the child.  The chief priests and the scribes were quite unlike the magi, and they are a remarkable study in contrast.

The magi were pagans, Gentiles, non-believers; from Persia, a foreign country to the east; scholars and experts on secular subjects such as medicine, philosophy, and astronomy; belonged to an upper priestly caste; practiced as fortune tellers and magicians; and were ridiculed by ordinary Jews as superstitious, misinformed, and misguided.

On the other hand, the chief priests and scribes were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People; from Israel, the Promised Land; scholars and experts on spiritual subjects such as Scripture, the Law, and the prophets; served as the priests and elders of the Temple; despised fortune telling and magic; and were widely respected by ordinary Jews as holy, devout, and well-informed.

The reaction and response of the magi to the birth of Jesus is shockingly different from the chief priests and the scribes.  When the star appeared in the night sky, the magi noticed the star, were excited about the star, made a clear decision to seek the newborn king of the Jews, followed the star, traveled hundreds of miles, spent weeks or months on the journey, used a portion of their life’s savings to make the trip, brought expensive gifts, consulted with others for additional guidance, and once they found Jesus, they were filled with joy, prostrated themselves before him, paid him homage, and offered him expensive gifts.

On the other hand, the chief priests and the scribes failed to notice the star.  When they learned about the birth of the newborn king of the Jews, they were not excited, they had no desire to go and see the child, they were unwilling to travel five or six miles or to set aside part of a day to make the trip to nearby Bethlehem, spent none of their resources on traveling or gifts, failed to take heed of their own Scriptures regarding the birth of the Messiah, were flat and unaffected, gave Jesus no honor or worship, and presented him with no gifts.

This is a supreme irony.  A positive response to Jesus should have been forthcoming from the religious leaders of Israel, not from pagans from a faraway country.  The outsiders responded and believed.  The insiders were complacent and resisted.

Not only is this contrast shocking, and the response of the chief priests and scribes disappointing, even appalling, it should serve as a warning to us.  Practicing Catholics and regular church-goers would classify themselves as “religious” or “devout.”  This is the same way that the chief priests and scribes described themselves.  Even though they had the advantage of a religious upbringing, knew Scripture, and worshiped regularly, they did not respond to Jesus.  We must avoid their pitfall.  It is important for us to watch for Jesus, pursue him with all our hearts, expend whatever time and energy is needed to go to him, examine the Scriptures for guidance, prostrate ourselves in praise and worship before him, and offer him our finest gifts.

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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

December 29, 2016

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St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was born on August 28, 1774, in New York, at the time of the American Revolution.  Her father was a physician and college professor, and her family was well-off financially.  Her family was Episcopalian, and she was baptized and raised in the Episcopal faith.

Elizabeth Ann’s youth and young adulthood was beset by troubles.  Her mother died when she was four.  Her baby sister also died.  Her father remarried, but her stepmother never accepted her and much of her childhood was unpleasant.  She was married at the age of 19 to William Seton, a wealthy merchant, and they had five children.  She had a tender heart for the poor and already at the age of 23 established the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Children, and she became popularly known as the “Protestant Sister of Charity.”  But in 1803 things took a severe turn for the worse.  Her husband’s business went bankrupt.  Then he contracted tuberculosis.  They quickly moved to Pisa, Italy, for a warmer climate where he might recover, but six weeks later he died, and at the age of 29 Elizabeth Ann was a grief-stricken widow and a single mother without adequate resources to care for her family.

Elizabeth Ann remained in Italy with her husband’s Italian family.  They were devout Catholics with a chapel in their home where they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament each day.  She joined them, and her prayer experience was so powerful that she decided to convert to the Catholic Church, which she did upon her return to New York on March 4, 1805.

Her Episcopalian relatives were angered by her conversion and refused to help her financially.  A woman of great faith, she went to daily Mass and prayed the Memorare every day.  She knew the benefits of a good education from her own childhood, so she decided to open a small boarding school which was a noble vocation and provided a meager income.

The rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore somehow found out about Elizabeth Ann’s talent for teaching and invited her to open a school for girls, and in 1808, at the age of 34 with five children, she moved her family to Maryland.  The new school enjoyed tremendous success.  Enrollment grew.  A new building had to be built.  She needed the help of others to run the school and she invited other women to join her.  Suddenly she had a group of women living together and founded a community of religious sisters, the American Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph, and they dedicated themselves to care for the poor and to provide religious education.  She was subsequently elected their superior and became known as Mother Seton.

With such great initial success, she was asked to open a second school, and then additional schools.  She extended her work to found orphanages in both Philadelphia and New York.  Her pioneering work was the beginning of Catholic schools, and she is considered the founder of the parochial school system in America.  She died on January 4, 1821, in Maryland.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, the first native-born American citizen to be canonized a saint.  She is a patron saint for widows and converts.

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Why was Jesus Born at Midnight?

December 22, 2016

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Midnight Mass is a special Christmas Mass.  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a beautiful Christmas hymn.  Midnight is the hour traditionally regarded as the time that Jesus was born.

Midnight receives no mention in the gospel account, but rather, “the night watch” (Lk 2:8).  It was the time after sunset and before sunrise, the late-night hours, a time of total darkness.

The darkness of the midnight hour is not only the lack of daylight, it also holds great symbolic significance.  Darkness represents sin and the absence of God.  “People preferred darkness … because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19).  “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light … so that his works might not be exposed” (Jn 3:20).  Evil thoughts are dark thinking (Mt 6:23; Lk 11:34).  Evil deeds are done under the cover of darkness.  When Judas departed from the Last Supper to betray Jesus, “it was night” (Jn 13:30).  Jesus explained that “whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going” (Jn 12:35).  Darkness is to walk in the wrong direction, and to stumble and fall.

Police have a saying:  “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  Late night is the time that most crimes are committed:  drunkenness, bar fights, shootings, domestic assaults, robberies, driving while intoxicated, speeding and reckless driving, and car crashes due to impaired judgment.

Immoral behavior is frequently committed under the cover of darkness.  Nighttime is the most common time for nightclubs, premarital sex, extramarital sex, one night stands, prostitution, and computer viewing of explicit images.

The world is filled with darkness.  There are wars and terrorism, displacement and refugees, famine and disease, poverty and natural disasters.  Nationally there is political polarization and racial strife, abortion and violence, corruption and greed.  Individually there is family conflict, rejection, gossip, illness, pain, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure, sadness, and depression.  The darkness often feels all-encompassing and overwhelming.

The infant Jesus was born during the night watch, at the time when the darkness is most intense.  The timing was no accident.  Jesus is the Light of World (Jn 8:12).  When Jesus was born, he was the true light coming into the world (Jn 1:9; see also Jn 3:19a).  He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5a).  Jesus explained, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in the darkness” (Jn 12:46).

Christmas is a time of tremendous hope.  The light has come.  Jesus is the great illuminator.  He is a beacon of light.  Despite whatever darkness there may be in the world, it will not prevail.  “The darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5b), not in the past, not now, not in the future, not ever.

Jesus was born at midnight to bring light into our troubled world.  His light is so powerful that it outshines all else.

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