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 Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2017


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



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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The ‘O’ Antiphons

December 16, 2016



What is an Antiphon?  An antiphon is a verse or phrase sung or recited aloud or read silently before and after a Psalm or Canticle during the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours.  The text is often a direct quote from Scripture, or a brief reflection on a Scripture text, or a verse pertaining to the feast day, the liturgical season, or the saint of the day.  An antiphon provides a spiritual context to be kept in mind for the duration of the Psalm or Canticle in much the same way that a mystery of the rosary is kept in mind during the recitation of the Hail Marys.

O Antiphons.  The O Antiphons, also known as the Greater Antiphons, are a set of seven separate antiphons, each beginning with an “O,” and followed by a title or special attribute of the Christ-child whose birth will be commemorated on Christmas.  The O Antiphons were written in Latin and drawn from texts from the prophet Isaiah regarding the long-awaited Messiah.  The author, date, and place of composition all remain unknown, but the antiphons were known to exist by the late Fifth Century and were in widespread use by the Eighth Century.

Late Advent Liturgical Use. The O Antiphons are used at Vespers for the seven-day period from December 17 to December 23.  They are used to introduce and conclude the Gospel Canticle, the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat, the lovely prayer first offered by the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:46-55) and offered each day at Evening Prayer.

The “O” Introduction.  Each antiphon begins with a short O phrase that reveals an aspect of the identity of the newborn Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end.  December 17 begins O Sapientia, O Wisdom; followed by O Adonai, O Lord; O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse; O Clavis David, O Key of David; O Oriens, O Rising Sun; O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations; and O Emmanuel, O God with Us.  After the opening statement, each antiphon concludes with a short prayer of petition.

December 17.  “[O] Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation” (see Isaiah 11:2; 28:29).

December 18.  “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain; come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free” (see Isaiah 11:4-5; 33:22).

December 19.  “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid” (see Isaiah 11:1,10).

December 20.  “O Key of David, O royal power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:  come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom” (see Isaiah 22:22; 9:6).

December 21.  “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” (see Isaiah 9:1).

December 22.  “O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you have fashioned from the dust” (see Isaiah 2:4; 9:5).

December 23.  “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God” (see Isaiah 7:14).


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Gaudete Sunday – The Third Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2016


stainedglassstbonifaceA Joyful  Sunday.  The Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday.  The word “gaudete” is derived from the Latin words “gaudium,” joy, and “gaudeo,” to rejoice or be glad.  Gaudete Sunday occurs eight to thirteen days before Christmas, and the nearness of this major feast is reason for great joy.

The Term “Gaudete.”  Gaudete is taken from the Entrance Antiphon:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near” (paraphrase, Phil 4:4-5).  Advent is a time of joyful expectation and eager preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Multiple Reasons for Joy.  There is joy in looking forward to the annual celebration of Christmas, but there is also joy in remembering the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas.  There is joy in knowing that he was born to save people from their sins (Mt 1:21b).  The joy also extends to anticipation of the Second Coming, either at the end of physical life or the end of the world, the time when believers will be given the crown of righteousness (2 Tm 4:8) and a place in the Father’s house (Jn 14:2) to dwell with God and his angels and saints for all eternity.

A Joyful Color.  Rose represents joy and may be used as the liturgical color for Gaudete Sunday.  Violet remains the official color for the Season of Advent, the Third Sunday included, because all of Advent has a penitential tone, a time of conversion, reparation, and forgiveness.  Gaudete Sunday offers a one-day respite to look ahead to the joyful celebration of the Nativity.

Joyful Adornments.  The priest may wear a rose chasuble and the deacon may wear a rose dalmatic.  Church decorations may include roses or other flowers, a rose-colored altar cloth, drapery on the pulpit or ambo, chalice veil, tabernacle curtain, or wall hangings.  The third candle of the Advent wreath is rose.

Joyful Prayers.  The prayers in The Roman Missal on the Third Sunday of Advent convey a joyful message.  The immediacy of Christmas is addressed in the Collect, “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,” followed by two references to joy:  “enable us … to attain the joys of so great a salvation” and “to celebrate them [with] … glad rejoicing.”  Preface II of Advent says “we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity” and that we are “exultant in his praise.”  The Communion Antiphon contains the joyful message, “Behold, our God will come, and he will save us” (cf. Is 35:4).  Two invocations in the Advent Solemn Blessing refer to joy:  the second, “may he make you … joyful in hope,” and the third, “Rejoicing now with devotion at the Redeemer’s coming.”

Joyful Readings.  The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, have multiple references to joy.  On the day that the promised Messiah comes, “the Arabah will rejoice” (Is 35:1); it will “rejoice with joyful song” (Is 35:2).  Those the Lord has ransomed are “crowned with everlasting joy” and “meet with joy and gladness” (Is 35:10).  The Responsorial Psalm is a joyful hymn of praise of God who is faithful, just, liberator, healer, protector, provider, eternal, and almighty (Ps 146:6-10).  The second reading makes the joyful declaration that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:8b).  In the gospel, Jesus was asked if he is the Messiah, the one who is to come, and he made the joyful observation that the sick were cured, the dead raised, and the poor had the good news proclaimed to them (Mt 11:5), all signs that indeed, the Messiah had come, which is reason to rejoice.



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Isaiah, the prophet the featured voice of Advent

December 2, 2016

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Isaiah, the Advent Prophet.  Isaiah’s words are used extensively in the liturgies leading up to Christmas.  He, more than any other prophet, anticipates the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise spoken to King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom.  heir after you, and I will make his kingdom firm.  It is he who shall build a house for my name.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”  (2 Sm 7:12b,13,14a).

Most Cited on Advent Sundays.  Over the twelve Sundays of Advent in the three year Sunday Lectionary cycle, the prophet Isaiah is proclaimed most often, seven times, all four Sundays in Year A (Is 2:1-5; 11:1-10; 35:1-6,10; 7:10-14) and the first three Sundays in Year B (Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 40:1-5,9-11; 61:1-2,10-11).  In Year C the first readings are taken from four different Old Testament prophets, each which is cited only once:  Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah.  Isaiah’s voice rings out over the others.  His is the prophetic voice of Advent.

Most Cited on Advent Weekdays.  Isaiah is also most quoted on Advent weekdays.  Of the seventeen daily Masses over the first three weeks, passages from Isaiah are proclaimed fourteen times, six times in the first week, five in the second, and three in the third.  In the eight-day Octave immediately prior to Christmas, December 17-24, Isaiah is quoted only once on December 20, while the other first readings are chosen from a variety of sources.

The Immanuel Prophecies.  The prophet Isaiah anticipates the coming of Immanuel, God with us, and the glorious day of the arrival of the ideal king, the one who would decisively change the course of history, rule with justice, and bring peace.  The first prophecy describes the birth of Emmanuel:  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).  The second prophecy describes his dominion:   “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:5-6a).  The third prophecy describes the justice of his rule:  “A shoot shall spout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:  a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.  He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.  Justice shall be the band around his waist” (Is 11:1-2,4a,5a).

Advent Themes.  Isaiah is the voice of the key spiritual themes of Advent:  preparation, conversion, renewal, hope, consolation, joy, justice, peace, harmony, fulfillment, deliverance, redemption, salvation, and the restoration of the rule of God.

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Thanksgiving: Time to Count Blessings and Thank God for Gifts

November 23, 2016



The holiday season moves into full swing at the end of November with our annual celebration of Thanksgiving.  It is marvelous when we are able to have an attitude of gratitude.  God is our provider, the giver of every good gift, so when it comes to giving thanks, our first expression of gratitude should be directed to almighty God.  Jesus stressed the importance of thanking God when he asked the Samaritan leper who had been healed, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18).

Following the lead of Jesus, his Master, St. Paul exhorts us to be grateful to God.  Paul instructed new Christians to “Be thankful” (Col 3:15).   He also said that believers should be “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  He also taught that we should “Give thanks to God the Father through him [Jesus]” (Col 3:17).

This point is emphasized at every Mass when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the congregation responds, “It is right and just.”

At Thanksgiving, even though it is a civic holiday, it is an extremely beneficial spiritual exercise to set aside a few moments to count one’s blessings. Make a list.  Consider life and health, family and friends, talents and abilities, opportunities and accomplishments, financial and material blessings.

While the world focuses on material blessings, please do not forget to count your spiritual blessings:  the Father and creation; Jesus and his gospel, the Eucharist, his saving death on the Cross, and our salvation and redemption; the Holy Spirit, inspiration and guidance, faith and grace, energy and power, courage and conviction, contrition and forgiveness.  Apart from God, we would have nothing.  God has blessed us with everything that we have.

As we become increasingly aware of our countless blessings, it should lead us to give God greater praise and thanks, and one of the best ways to express our gratitude is in prayer.  The Greek word eucharistos means “thankful,” and as Catholics we believe that the best way to thank God is at the Eucharist, our prayerful celebration of the Mass.

St. Paul also recommends hymns and psalms, sung at Mass, or anywhere, anytime.  It also is an excellent spiritual practice to thank God in our personal private prayer each and every day.

Please consider making prayer a central part of your celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday.  The ideal way would be to attend Mass.  Also, before sitting down to the Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment as a group to offer thanks with your meal prayers.

On Thanksgiving Day, take some time between rising and retiring to go off by yourself to a private place, be quiet, reflect, list your blessings, and offer God your personal prayer of thanks.

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Jesus – King in the line of David

November 18, 2016


Jesus Christ is King of kings, the greatest of all kings, and he is in the line of King David, the greatest king in the history of Israel.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, Gabriel explained that “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father” (Lk 1:32).  The announcement fulfilled the promise God made to David before he died through his messenger, the prophet Nathan:  “I will raise up your offspring after you … I will establish his royal throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me … your throne shall be firmly established forever” (2 Sm 7:12,14,16).  While Jesus was given the throne of David, their kingships could not be more different.

christthekingDavid was a shepherd boy; Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel;
Jesus’ kingship was conferred by his heavenly Father.

David became widely known because he killed Goliath with a stone;
Jesus became widely known because he healed the sick and raised the dead.

David armed himself with the sword of Goliath; Jesus armed himself with the Word of God.

David was a great soldier, mighty and valiant, and he slew many Philistines;
Jesus taught love of enemy and he practiced what he preached.

David was a warrior king, the commander who led his soldiers into battle;
Jesus leads his followers in the battle against Satan, temptation, and sin.

David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem;
Jesus established the New Covenant with the blood he shed on the Cross.

David has multiple wives, Ahinoam, Abigail, Eglah, Bathsheba, and concubines, too;
Jesus has a chaste love for everyone.

David had many sons; to Jesus all people are his children.

David sinned grievously when he committed adultery and murder;
Jesus was tempted like everyone, but never sinned.

David’s kingdom encompassed a large geographic region from Dan to Beersheba;
Jesus’s kingdom encompasses not only the earth, but the entire universe.

David’s throne was in Jerusalem; Jesus’ throne is in heaven.

David’s throne was surrounded by attendants;
Jesus’ throne is surrounded by the angels and saints.

David ruled for forty years; Jesus reigns for all eternity.

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St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

November 16, 2016



St. Cecilia, also known as Cecily, lived during the Third Century.  The exact dates of her birth and death remain unknown, but her story is legendary.

Cecilia was born in Rome when Christianity was illegal.  She was raised in a Christian family and was a devout girl.  In fact, she wore a hair shirt as an undergarment, fasted several days a week, and intended to consecrate herself totally to God by living as a virgin.

Meanwhile, her father arranged that Cecilia be married to a young pagan nobleman named Valerian.  Because the marriage went against her wishes, Cecilia did not join in the singing and dancing at the wedding feast but rather went off by herself to sing to God and pray for help.

Later that night when Valerian and Cecilia were alone, she explained that she had reserved herself to God, that she intended to remain a virgin, that an angel was watching over her, and that if he were to touch her, the angel would become angry and he would suffer.  Valerian was so moved by Cecilia’s faith that he decided to respect her wishes.  Not only that, Valerian went off, found Pope Urban, and was baptized.  Upon his return, Cecilia and Valerian sat side-by-side and an angel appeared and placed a crown of roses and lilies upon each of their heads.

Valerian’s brother Tiburtius, also a pagan, then appeared, and Cecilia shared the story of Jesus with him.  He was convinced by her testimony, converted, and was baptized.  For a brief time the two brothers cared for the poor and buried martyrs.  This became known to government officials and they were arrested and placed on trial before Almachius, the Roman prefect.  The brothers refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods and remained steadfast in their new Christian faith.  They infuriated the prefect when they mocked the pagan god Jupiter.  They were scourged and then condemned to death and beheaded on the outskirts of Rome.  Cecilia buried them.

Shortly thereafter, officials went to Cecilia’s home to force her to renounce her Christian faith and to sacrifice to pagan gods.  Not only did she refuse, she convinced the officials and a crowd of about four hundred spectators to convert, and Pope Urban came to baptize them.  At this Almachius placed Cecilia on trial.  Resolute, the prefect condemned her to a gruesome death, to be placed in a bathtub filled with scalding water and then be suffocated, but she survived unharmed.  Then she was sentenced to beheading, but the executioner failed to dispatch her immediately with his three blows to her head.  Cecilia languished for three days and expired.

The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome is dedicated to her.  She was named the patron saint of sacred music in 1584 at the time when the Accademia della Musica was founded in Rome.  She is also the patroness of musicians, composers, poets, singers, choirs, choir directors, pianists, organists, those who play musical instruments and those who make them.

St. Cecilia has a variety of symbols in religious art:  a palm branch which represents martyrdom; a crown of roses, the crown of martyrdom; a white flower which represents purity, chastity, or virginity; and a harp, harpsicord, piano, organ, flute, horn, violin, or another musical instrument, all which represent her patronage of musicians.

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St. Paul: Looking Back, Looking Forward

October 20, 2016


Dissolution Time.  The year was 67 AD.  St. Paul was in his mid-70s, an old man by First Century standards.  He was in Rome, a bad place for Christians.  The Roman Emperor Nero was waging a large scale persecution against Christians.  Paul was in prison.  Many other Christians had already been put to death, and Paul could see the handwriting on the wall.  When he wrote, “The time of my dissolution is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6), “dissolution” means death.  It was Paul’s way of saying that he knew that the time of his martyrdom was drawing ever nearer.

Paul as a Libation.  Today a libation is an alcoholic beverage, but that is not its original meaning.  Initially a libation was a blood sacrifice (e.g., Ex 24:5-8).  Over time there was a shift away from animal sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  Eventually wine was used as a substitute for blood, and the pouring of wine on the ground was an alternative for sprinkling the blood of an animal.  When Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out like a libation,” it was a metaphorical way to describe how he had poured out his life completely in service of Jesus and the gospel.

The Race to the Finish.  Paul compared his life to a long-distance running race (2 Tm 4:7).  He was born and raised in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Turkey.  He had moved to Jerusalem to become better-educated in the Jewish faith.  As a young man he was zealous and persecuted Christians, but then came his dramatic conversion after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  It had been roughly forty years since his baptism.  His “race” was one long-distance event after another, three missionary journeys in all, to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, widely over the Middle East and the northern Mediterranean.  He was an elite Christian endurance athlete, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who took the gospel of Jesus to the world.

Fighting the Good Fight.  As Paul looked back over his life, he enjoyed a sense of inner peace knowing he had given Jesus his best effort.  Yes, he had regrets about the terrible things that he had done in his early years, but with the grace of God he was able to turn his life around.  Great love, heroic service, and long-suffering for the sake of the gospel cover a multitude of sins.  For whatever Paul may have done wrong in the past, in his final years he was in superb spiritual shape.  Paul had grown close to Jesus and knew that they were on the best of terms.

Looking Ahead.  Paul concluded, “The crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tm 4:8).  It was his poetic way to say, “After I die, I am confident that God will reward me with a place in heaven.”  Despite the fact that he was in dreadful anticipation of his execution, spiritually he was totally at peace knowing that he had dug down and given his best.  All would be well in the end.

Now it is Our Turn.  Paul’s race is over, but ours continues.  Paul turned his life around.  No matter what sins we may have committed, we still have time to turn away from sin and rededicate our lives completely to Jesus and the gospel.  The goal is to be able to look back knowing that we have done our best and to look forward to our heavenly reward.

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