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.

Jesus: the Divine Physician

September 15, 2017


The Doctor from Heaven. In addition to being known as Son of God, Messiah, Lord, Teacher, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus is also known at the Divine Physician. This title comes from Jesus’ statement: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Mt 9:12 and Mk 2:17; see also Lk 5:31).

Not Your Average Physician. While many doctors specialize in a certain aspect of medicine, Jesus is a generalist. Jesus is a primary care physician and a family doctor, the one who attends to us first with our ordinary ailments, but he is also on call at all times, the doctor at urgent care or the emergency room, the one who is there for us in times of crisis when the situation is serious. Jesus is also the neurologist who attends to our feelings, the pulmonologist who is the breath of life, and the cardiologist with a Sacred Heart who heals those with wounded or broken hearts. He is a holistic doctor that attends to a person’s total well-being, body and soul.

Triage: Address the Most Life Threatening Illness First. When it comes to healing, Jesus, the Divine Physician, is more concerned about a person’s spiritual well-being than physical well-being. Jesus came first and foremost for salus, the Latin word for health, and his top priority is a person’s eternal health, salvation. The most urgent cure, then, is the forgiveness of sins so the person can be recreated, born anew, and enjoy perpetual perfect health in the heavenly mansion in the new and eternal Jerusalem.

The Sin-Sick Soul. Jesus demonstrated the priority that he places on the wellness of the soul when a paralyzed man was lowered in front of him. The first thing that Jesus told the paralytic was, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5). Jesus knew the man would like to be able to walk from place to place, and Jesus was very concerned about his long term physical disability, but Jesus was far more concerned about his ability to walk into heaven. Jesus cured the paralytic’s spiritual infirmities with his healing words, and he extends his spiritual cure to each and every person with the blood that he shed on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28).

The Sick Body. Jesus also cured the paralytic’s paralysis which shows that Jesus has great compassion for the sick in their suffering. He focused a great deal of his time and energy on the sick from his first days in Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28,31,34) to his last day at his arrest in Gethsemane when he healed the severed ear of the high priest’s slave (Lk 22:51). Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever (Mk 30-31), many who were sick with various diseases (Mk 1:34; 6:56), a leper (Mk 1:42), a man with a withered hand (Mk 3:5), a woman with a hemorrhage (Mk 5:29), a deaf man (Mk 7:35), a blind man (Mk 8:25), and blind Bartimaeus (Mk 10:52).

Sacramental Grace. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is an encounter with Jesus, the Divine Physician. Jesus’ first concern is spiritual well-being, and the sacrament imparts the forgiveness of sins and the special grace restores spiritual health. It is important to note that when Jesus performed his miraculous healings, “He cured many who were sick” (Mk 1:34a) – not all. A physical healing does not occur every time because suffering is redemptive and each person will die eventually, but the sacrament often confers a marvelous miraculous grace, either physical improvement or a total cure.

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A five week set of parables

September 15, 2017


Jesus, Master Teacher by Parable

The parable is the literary form used by Jesus to teach in the gospels of Weeks Twenty-Four to Twenty-Eight of Ordinary Time in Year A. Jesus was unparalleled as a teacher. In modern terms, he was a “master teacher.” Jesus went from town to town teaching (Mt 11:1). When he taught, the people were simply astounded, spellbound at his words (Mt 7:28; 22:33). His teaching was like no one else; it was authoritative. He was commanding, convincing, reliable, truthful, insightful, helpful, far better than the scribes (Mt 7:29) and everyone else of his time. Jesus used a wide variety of teaching methods: speeches, wisdom sayings, scriptural interpretations, question and answer exchanges, friendly words of advice, rhetorical questions – and parables.

The Parable. A parable is a literary form. It is a story, usually short in length, used to teach a lesson or a moral truth. It uses people and situations from ordinary daily life that are common and easy to understand. Many of the features of the story, either the characters, the event, the items used, or other carefully selected details, are allegorical – they represent something else. The parable is an effective teaching tool because it grabs and holds attention. The listener is captivated by the characters and setting, and curious to know how it will turn out in the end.

Jesus’ Use of Parables. Parables were widely used by the better teachers of the First Century, teachers, wise men, rabbis, and scholars, but Jesus took them to a higher level. Jesus used his parables to challenge his listeners. He devised characters that seemed innocuous that his listeners would easily identify with, and then his parables would end abruptly with an unexpected twist. The story would reveal a fault or deficiency in a character that would challenge the listener’s preconceived notions. His parables employed symbolic imagery, had multiple levels of meaning, could be interpreted in a number of ways, and were open-ended. His parables do not have a single absolutely correct interpretation and the richness of their meaning is never totally exhausted. There is a call to conversion imbedded in each story.

Week 24A, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:21-35). As the master forgave a debtor who owed a huge debt, we should also forgive those who are indebted to us. If we are unmerciful with others, why should we expect God to be merciful with us? Jesus wants us to forgive others from the heart.

Week 25A, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16). The master gave a full day’s pay to everyone who worked in the vineyard, those who started at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. Jesus wants us to do his work, and he wants us to get to work as early as possible, but no matter when we finally accept his invitation, once we finally do his bidding our salvation is assured.

Week 26A, The Parable of the Two Sons (Mt 21:28-32). The elder son made a good promise and failed to follow through, while the younger son made a bad promise, reconsidered, and finally did the right thing. Jesus wants to implement the positive features of each son, to make the right promise and then to do the right thing.

Week 27A, The Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21:33-43). The vineyard is the People of God, and the tenants are the religious leaders who are supposed to serve and feed the people. Anyone in a position of authority that does so in a self-serving way is not following God’s way.

Week 28A, The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:1-14). The wedding feast is an image for heaven, and Jesus wants us to accept his invitation to attend without excuses, and when we arrive, he wants us dressed in the proper wedding garment, a white robe emblematic of a life of good deeds and a soul cleansed of sins.

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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

September 8, 2017


Feast Day. September 8, the nativity or birth of Mary, is nine months after December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Parents and Lineage. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the daughter of St. Anne and St. Joachim. Mary belonged to the tribe of Judah and David’s royal bloodline (see Mt 1:16).

Biblical Silence. The story of Mary’s birth is not recorded in the Bible anywhere, not in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew or Luke, nor anywhere else in the gospels or the New Testament. The legend is found in multiple non-canonical, non-scriptural, or apocryphal sources: the Gospel of James, also known as the Protoevangelium of James; the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew; and the writings of St. Jerome.

A Legendary, Miraculous Birth. According to the legend, Joachim and Anne reached old age without a child, a devastating disappointment and embarrassment to each of them. Anne was barren, much like a number of other great heroines in the Bible who had miracle births: Sarah (Gn 18:11), Manoah’s wife (Jgs 13:2), Hannah (1 Sm 1:5), and Elizabeth (Lk 1:7). Both Joachim and Anne were devout Jews who prayed daily. On one occasion Anne was at home deep in prayer lamenting the fact that she was without child. Coincidently, Joachim had gone to the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights, and like his wife, was distraught because they had no children. An angel appeared to Joachim to announce that Anne would conceive. Joachim hastened home to share the good news with Anne, only to find her waiting for him at the city gate, eager to inform him that an angel had appeared to her with the same message. Shortly thereafter Anne conceived in her old age, for nothing is impossible for God (see Lk 1:37), and nine months later gave birth to her daughter Mary, especially chosen by God to be the Mother of the Savior of the world.

Liturgical Reflections. The Mass prayers describe the magnificence of Mary’s birth: the Entrance Antiphon states that from Mary “arose the sun of justice, Christ our God;” the Collect further explains that Mary’s birth is “the dawning of salvation”; and the Prayer after Communion re-echoes that Mary’s birth is “the hope and the daybreak of salvation.” It is from Mary that Jesus took his flesh and human nature (Prayer over the Offerings). The second antiphon from Morning Prayer says poetically: “When the most holy Virgin was born, the whole world was made radiant; blessed is the branch and blessed is the stem which bore such holy fruit.” Mary’s birth was the arrival of the Mother of God.

Site. The birth of Mary is remembered at the Basilica of St. Anne in Jerusalem. It is located inside the Lion’s Gate or St. Stephen’s Gate, a short distance north of the Temple Mount, and next to the Pools of Bethesda (Jn 5:2). The place is traditionally regarded as the place where Sts. Joachim and Anne had their home. Mary’s birth is commemorated on the lower or basement level at her Birth Crypt. St. Anne’s Basilica was built in 1140 AD during the Crusader Period over the site of two earlier churches, a small oratory built in the Third Century, and then a much larger church dedicated to Mary, built in 438 AD, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614.


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St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 18, 2017


St. Bartholomew

A true Israelite without duplicity

When Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel, saw Bartholomew, Jesus said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). This was not an ordinary comment or simple observation. It was a keen insight and a tremendous compliment.

The “true Israelite” of the Old Testament is Jacob. After Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel gave him the name “Israel” (Gn 32:29), a name that God confirmed (Gn 35:10). Jacob is the first and original Israelite. He is the third patriarch. His grandparents were Abraham and Sarah, and his parents were Isaac and Rebekah. He had a twin brother, Esau, who was born first (Gn 25:21-26) and possessed the birthright. Jacob was devious or duplicitous because he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that he intended to give to his firstborn son Esau (Gn 27). Jacob may have been a true Israelite, but he sinned; he was a man with duplicity.

Bartholomew excelled his ancestor Jacob. Bartholomew was not an Israelite in name alone. It was a description of his spiritual condition, the state of his soul. He was a model Jew, a man who loved God with his whole heart and embraced his Jewish faith. He was righteous in that he meticulously observed the Mosaic Law. He was just and honest, truthful and trustworthy, a man of integrity with impeccable character. As a true Israelite, he was also a man of prayer, and his prayerfulness showed itself in his virtue. He was loving and kind, patient and understanding, humble and gentle, well-mannered and polite, compassionate and merciful, generous and faithful, modest and pure, industrious and reliable, and attentive to the needs of others, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. He was pleasing to God and a shining example to others of how to live the Jewish faith.

Bartholomew was unlike his spiritual ancestor Jacob. Jacob was duplicitous and Bartholomew was not. Duplicity means two or double. A duplicitous person is two-faced, someone who projects a good and honorable outward appearance yet has a hidden dark evil side; an individual who is sly, sneaky, and dishonest. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Jacob wore his brother’s clothes, covered his smooth skin with animal hides, brought his father a meal that he neither caught nor prepared, and lied when he impersonated his brother.

Bartholomew, on the other hand, was a man without duplicity. He was good inside and out. There was no conniving or scheming, no secret agendas or ulterior motives. He was honest, straightforward, trustworthy, and innocent. Everything was above board. When it came to Bartholomew, “what you see is what you get.”

Bartholomew is a model and an inspiration for how to be a disciple of Jesus. As Bartholomew was a true Israelite, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be a true Christian, and as Bartholomew was a man without duplicity, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be good inside and out.

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The Queenship of Mary

August 18, 2017


August 22 is the annual memorial of the Queenship of Mary. The date was chosen to coincide with August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption, which was celebrated eight days earlier. Mary’s Queenship is remembered on the “octave” of the Assumption.

What we believe about Mary is drawn from what we believe about her Son, Jesus. If Jesus is a king, then his mother is a queen; and if Jesus is the greatest of all kings, the King of kings, then his mother ranks first above all other queens. If Jesus ascended to heaven because he did God’s will and was all holy, then Mary was assumed to heaven because she was completely obedient to God (Lk 1:38), full of grace (Lk 1:28), and blessed (Lk 1:48). If Jesus was glorified by his Father and now reigns as king of heaven and earth, then Mary was glorified by the Trinity and reigns with her Son at his throne.

When the title “queen” is associated with Mary, it should not be considered in earthly terms of imperial rank, authority over others, immense wealth, elegant clothes, and the like. Mary is a spiritual queen, she ranks first in holiness, she is “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42).

A number of Scripture passages are associated with Mary’s Queenship. The verse most frequently cited comes from the Magnificat or Mary’s Canticle, a beautiful prayer in which Mary said, “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). Mary has always been regarded as the lowly one, and she has been given the throne that sinful rulers were unworthy to hold. Other texts traditionally associated with Mary’s queenship include, “A princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand” (Ps 45:10b); she “comes forth like the dawn, beautiful as the white moon, pure as the blazing sun” (Sg 6:10a); and, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rv 12:1).

The Queenship of Mary corresponds to the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Coronation, and serves as a rich source of inspiration for the faithful while at prayer. Mary’s Queenship is also a popular topic in Christian art, and Mary is typically shown receiving an resplendent gold crown from God the Father and her Son Jesus together with the Holy Spirit hovering aloft, while sometimes only her Son Jesus is shown bestowing the crown.

God has given us the mother of his Son as our queen and mother. Through the intercession of Mary, may we come to share in her glory in the kingdom of heaven.

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A pastor recalls a transfigured moment

August 3, 2017


The day was October 23, 1981. The place was the Monticello Golf Course. The occasion was the Region 5A cross country championship. Twelve boys’ teams had qualified, including this pastor’s team, Crosier Seminary. The stakes were high. The top two teams would advance. The other ten would be done. No Crosier cross country team had ever reached the state meet. The Crosier coach was a young fellow, age 29. It was his sixth season. The team was ranked in the state poll and on an impressive winning streak, but still had never made the elusive trip to state, never climbed among Minnesota’s elite.

It was a crisp, cold fall afternoon, 30 degrees, and snowflakes were in the air. Stocking caps, gloves, and tights were the order of the day. Sweats came off at the last second before the starting gun. Shivering and focused, it was off to the races, and race the Crosier boys did!

Two Crosier runners placed in the top ten. Three others were in the top twenty. It was solid, but was it enough? Results were tabulated. The wait seemed like an eternity. By now it was dark. The adrenaline kept the cold at bay. And finally, with bull horn blaring, the scores were announced, starting with the 12th place team and working up the list. One by one, nine teams were named, Crosier not among them. The next team announced would be out, the other two in.

“And finishing third,” the announcer shouted, “is St. John’s Prep.” The Crosier delegation erupted. There were high fives and hugs, glee and jubilation. Our best-ever second place region finish propelled us into our first-ever state meet appearance.

And then, the frosting on the cake, the announcer added, “The Region 5A coach of the year is Br. Mike Van Sloun.” Quite unexpectedly two of my athletes hoisted me up, parked me on their shoulders, and to cheers and applause, put me on parade. It was storybook, right out of the movies! The thrill of victory! An instant of glory! Biblically, it was a transfigured moment.

The glory lasted fifteen or twenty seconds, and it was gone in a flash. Then it was back to the ground and back to work. Round up the kids. Load the bus. Drive the bus home. Supervise the dining room. Clean up after dinner. The next day was the regular routine. After such a fantastic experience, it was easier to recommit to my duties, and my energy and motivation had been given a tremendous shot in the arm, and the effect lasted for weeks and months, actually years.

Later I came to realize that this is what the Transfiguration is about. Jesus had a glorious moment, but it came and went in flash, and then it was back down the mountain (Lk 9:37) to get back to the task at hand. His Father gave him a lift so he could recommit to the mission he had recently announced, his suffering and death (Lk 9:22), and with firm purpose, he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

We are blessed by God with glorious moments, a college graduation, the birth of a baby, or a retirement party, all which come and go quickly, and then it is back to the task at hand, a new job, the endless duties involved with caring for a child, or the aches and pains of aging. God sprinkles transfigured moments into our lives to renew our strength and resolve, so that if we are faithful to the end, as Jesus was, we will share in his eternal glory.


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Peter’s flub ups at the Transfiguration

August 3, 2017

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The Transfiguration may have been a great day for Jesus, but it was a bad day for Peter. Jesus sparkled, but Peter failed to shine.

Peter fell asleep on Jesus. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray (Lk 9:28), and Jesus asked Peter to pray with him on this very important occasion. As Jesus began to pray (Lk 9:29a), Peter and the others promptly dozed off (Lk 9:32a). It was perfectly understandable. They had traveled from one town and village to another (Lk 8:1), they had just finished an arduous mountain climb, and they were tired. It foreshadowed the Agony in the Garden when Jesus again would ask Peter to pray (Lk 22:40), and Peter would again fall asleep (Lk 22:45). Peter disappointed Jesus when it came to praying with him and for him.

Peter wanted to do all of the work himself. Peter had a close partnership with James and John, so close, in fact, that Peter had invited them to his house in Capernaum (Mk 1:29), and they may have lived together. All three were with Jesus for the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:4-10), the visit to Jairus’s house (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), and a conversation on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). They were mutual friends and fellow workers. Yet, as Jesus was transfigured, Peter brazenly suggested, “If you wish, I will make three tents” (Mt 17:4). What is with “I”? Peter disregarded and disrespected James and John with his desire to go it alone and leave them out. He was being a controller. He wanted to be in charge. It was a selfish and prideful move.

Peter offered to make three tents, not one. If tents would have been necessary, Peter had a poor grasp on how many would be needed. He may have thought that Moses and Elijah were going to stay with Jesus for a while, or that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are similar in rank and importance. Yet, “when the disciples raised their eyes, there was no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:8). Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus stands alone as the supreme law giver and the greatest of all prophets, and if tents were going to be built, only one would have been needed.

Peter wanted the high life on the mountain. The Transfiguration was awesome. Peter had scaled the heights and been swallowed up in the clouds. There were bright lights, celebrity guests, and a heavenly voice. It was sensational, exhilarating. His spirits were soaring. When Peter offered to set up the tents, it was as if he were saying, “I wish this moment could last forever. Let’s stay up here and bask in the glory. This is fun. This is the good life. Who needs to go back to work?” Peter wanted sit tight and take it easy.

Peter was duped into tempting Jesus. Peter had been fooled by the devil once already. When Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time, Peter rebuked Jesus and discouraged him from embracing his suffering and death (Mt 16:22). Jesus knew that Peter loved him and wanted the best the best for him, yet Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew that Satan had tricked Peter into tempting him. When Peter offered to build a tent for Jesus, “he did not know what he was saying” (Lk 9:33b). Unfortunately, like before, Peter was tricked into being Satan’s mouthpiece. If Satan through Peter could entice Jesus to allow him to build a tent, and then if Jesus would move into the tent and stay there, it would have delayed or prevented Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus ignored the offer, fended off the temptation, and went down the mountain the next day.



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Saint Martha

July 28, 2017


Saint Martha

July 29 is the memorial of St. Martha, a dear friend and devout disciple of Jesus. Martha’s story is told in three places: Lk 10:38-42, when Martha served while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him; Jn 11:1-44, the raising of Lazarus; and Jn 12:2, the anointing at Bethany.

Little is known about Martha’s family. The gospel gives no information about her parents, whether she was married, if she had children, or if she had more than two siblings. She did have a sister Mary and a brother Lazarus.

Martha lived in Bethany, a village on the east side of the Mount of Olives not far from Jerusalem. When Jesus visited there he stayed at Martha’s home. It may have been the regular place where he stayed, and it likely served as his home away from home.

Jesus had a special love for Martha (Jn 11:5), and she had a special devotion to him. When Jesus arrived at her village, “Martha welcomed him” (Lk 10:38). She was exceptionally cordial. She warmly and eagerly brought him into her house and was delighted to have him as her guest. She dropped whatever she had been doing and focused all of her attention on serving him. She went to the kitchen to prepare a meal, and her work was a labor of love.

Martha’s hospitality is heartwarming, a sincere and authentic act of kindness, and it serves as a stark contrast to the cold reception that Jesus received from so many others. When Jesus came into the world, “his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11b), but to those who do accept Jesus, as Mary did, Jesus gives the “power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). Martha clearly was a child of God, and her faith and inner goodness serves as a beautiful example. As Martha welcomed Jesus, so should we. Martha’s hospitality is an inspiration for us to welcome Jesus into our homes, minds, and hearts, and to devote ourselves completely to him.

Martha, the cook, dedicated herself to service (Lk 10:40), and in doing so she modeled herself on her Master who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28). Jesus also explained that on Judgment Day he would have special criteria for those who will be given a place on his right, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Mt 25:35). For those who serve as Martha did, the king says, “Inherit the kingdom” (Mt 25:34). For Martha and all disciples, service and sharing is the path to eternal life.

When Lazarus was ill, Martha sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill” (Jn 11:3). Martha interceded with Jesus on her brother’s behalf and by doing so, Martha shows us that it is commendable for us to pray to Jesus for the welfare of others.

John wrote his gospel to lead people to believe in Jesus (Jn 20:31), and throughout his gospel a number of individuals profess their faith. It begins with Andrew (Jn 1:41); continues with the woman at the well (Jn 4:19,29,42), Peter (Jn 6:69), and the blind man (Jn 9:17,38); and concludes with Thomas (Jn 20:28). But of all these, Martha’s statement stands out as the boldest, strongest, and most complete. She began by professing her faith in the resurrection (Jn 11:24), and then she declared to Jesus, “I … believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). Martha’s courage and the depth of her faith stand as an ideal and an encouragement for all believers.

St. Martha is the patron saint of cooks and dieticians, restaurants and hotels, waiters and waitresses, homemakers and housekeepers.

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf, Priest

July 21, 2017


St. Sharbel Makhlouf

St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898) was born in a small, remote mountain village in northern Lebanon in 1828, and he was baptized in the Maronite Rite, the rite of the Catholic Church based in Lebanon.  Young Sharbel had two uncles that were monks in the Maronite Rite and, inspired by them, he also became a monk.  Later, in 1859 at the age of 31, he was ordained a priest.

For the next fifteen years, from his ordination in 1859 until 1874, Father Sharbel lived in a monastery with other monks.  Then he moved to a hermitage near the monastery where he spent his last twenty-three years as a hermit.

Father Sharbel’s day revolved around daily Mass.  He took great care in his preparation for Mass, particularly with his extended reflection and meditation on Sacred Scripture.  He celebrated the Mass with deep reverence and respect.  Then, after Mass, he offered prayers of thanks and praise for the graces and blessings received.

In addition to his deep devotion to the Eucharist, Father Sharbel had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and when he is depicted in religious art, he is often shown with an image of Mary near him with the Blessed Mother holding the Christ child in her arms.

In isolation as a hermit, Father Sharbel had to fend off waves of temptations, particularly the attraction of a more comfortable lifestyle with better food, clothes, and furnishings, as well as the constant inclination to put one’s personal desires and preferences first.  With prayer and determination, he resisted worldly desires and adhered to a life of simplicity and material detachment.  Because of his personal holiness, others were drawn to him, which enabled him to give powerful witness to the value of the Eucharist, prayer, Scripture, Marian devotion, poverty, humility, perseverance, service, and submission to God’s will.  Visitors asked Father Sharbel to intercede on their behalf, and a number of remarkable miracles are attributed to him.

Father Sharbel died in 1898, and he was buried in a tomb at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon.  Because he is so deeply revered by Maronite Catholics, the monastery quickly became a pilgrimage destination.

Pope Paul VI both beatified and canonized Father Sharbel.  His beatification was on December 5, 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, and his canonization was in 1977.  The Maronite Community has named St. Sharbel the Hermit of Lebanon, and Christians everywhere pray through his intercession to make spiritual headway in singular devotion to God.



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The Sower: Perseverance in the face of disappointment

July 14, 2017


Parable of the Sower

Often when we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9), the point of emphasis is the disciple as rich soil.  The metaphor is that the sower is Jesus, the seed is the Word of God, and the soil is the person who receives the Word.  The desired outcome is for the listener to be rich and fertile soil, cultivated, soft and receptive, eager to welcome the seed, to let it take root, permeate one’s life, grow and flourish, and produce astonishing results.

Another angle for reflection is the disciple – not as soil – but as the sower.

Jesus is the first sower, and we are supposed to imitate the Sower.  As Jesus scattered seeds, as he preached the gospel to others, we as his disciples are also supposed to be sowers, to share the gospel with our children, students, and others.

There is a notion that Jesus, because he is the Son of God and all-powerful, was incredibly successful as a sower.  But he was not, at least in every instance.  Sometimes Jesus was able to achieve wonderful results, yields of a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8), but there were many occasions when his results were downright disheartening.

Jesus had tremendous challenges as a sower.  One group of potential listeners was totally resistant, hard and rocky, dismissed him, refused to listen, and completely ignored him.  It must have been very depressing to Jesus.  Another group at least paid attention to Jesus’ preaching.  While they had a bit of initial fervor and enthusiasm, they were not very motivated, and when it came time to implement the Word that Jesus had spoken, they had so little determination and commitment that they fell by the wayside.  Again, this must have been very discouraging.  There was yet another group that listened carefully to Jesus.  They liked Jesus, were intrigued by his gospel, and were ready to give it a try.  But when those in the third group encountered obstacles, either their own inclinations to wrongdoing, or the evil forces of the outside world, or the antagonism of others, they gave up and quit.  It must have been a very bitter pill for Jesus to swallow. It was only with the fourth group that Jesus had success.  Jesus was successful twenty-five percent of the time which is a surprisingly low average.

What did Jesus do in the face of such disappointment?  Did he get angry?  Did he become bitter?  Did he pout?  Did he quit?  No.  Jesus refused to give up.  He had amazing resiliency.  He persevered.  With an indomitable spirit, Jesus went on to other towns and to other people to proclaim the Good News (see Lk 4:43; 8:1).

Every Christian is a sower, parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists, neighbors and priests, and we scatter the seed of God’s holy Word to our children and grandchildren, students, friends, and parishioners.  If Jesus had many disappointments, we should anticipate similar results.  When we share our faith, there will be occasions when it seems no one is watching or listening, and other times when it seems like we are having a positive impact at the beginning, but with little lasting effect.  Hopefully some of our “scattering” will have tremendous results.  When we are unsuccessful, which may happen more often than not, like Jesus we must keep scattering and never lose heart because of discouraging results.  We must be resilient and persevere.  The seed is such a treasure that it must be sown.


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