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.

St. Philip, apostle

May 4, 2018

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St. PhilipSt. Philip is one of the original twelve apostles, and his name is included on four lists, three in the gospels (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; and Lk 6:14), and one in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:13). He is sometimes paired with other apostles: with St. Bartholomew (Mt 10:3) and St. Thomas (Acts 1:13) on the lists, with Andrew when he approached Jesus on behalf of some Greeks (Jn 12:22), and he shares a feast day with St. James the Less on May 3. The name Philip is derived from the Greek word philippos which means “lover of horses.”

Philip came from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44; 12:21), a fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, the same town as Andrew and Peter. He may have been a disciple of John the Baptist at first. Jesus personally invited Philip, “Follow me” (Jn 1:43), and he immediately became his follower. Then Philip went and found Nathanael, called him (Jn 1:48), and suggested that he go to see Jesus. Philip made a powerful profession of faith in Jesus when he declared: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn 1:45).

Jesus and Philip spoke briefly before the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish. To demonstrate the enormity of the miracle to come, Jesus asked Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn 6:5), and Philip replied, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little” (Jn 6:7).

On another occasion a number of Hellenes, Greek speaking Jews, had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. They approached Philip, possibly because he was the apostle who was most fluent in Greek, and made the request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). “Philp went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus” (Jn 12:22).

At the Last Supper Philip asked Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (Jn 14:8). Jesus explained, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

Philip is listed among the apostles who were in the Upper Room on Pentecost and received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:13; 2:1-4). Church historians believe that Philip made a missionary journey to Phrygia, an area in west-central Asia Minor or Turkey, and possibly to Greece. There are differing accounts of his martyrdom. One tradition holds that he was stoned to death in Phrygia, while another holds that he was killed in Hierapolis, a prominent city in southwestern Asia Minor, under the persecution of Domitian, either crucified, possibly upside down, or thrust through with a lance. His remains were eventually transferred to Rome where he was entombed in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles.

Philip the apostle is not to be confused with Philip the deacon (Acts 6:5) who preached in Samaria (Acts 8:4-8) and had a dramatic encounter with an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40).

St. Philip is the patron saint of Luxembourg and Uruguay. His symbols are a walking stick, a book or scroll, loaves of bread, a budded cross, a spear or lance, and a pile of stones.

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The Effects of the Gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation

April 27, 2018

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Confirmation imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit. The person who receives this sacrament has already received the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism, and the Holy Spirit abides with a person always. The Holy Spirit comes when a person prays or reads Scripture, or when a person asks the Holy Spirit for guidance, inspiration, or courage. Confirmation is not the new arrival of the Holy Spirit, but rather an intensification of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and impassions the heart. It gives increased knowledge and understanding of Jesus, his gospel, and the mysteries of the faith. It also moves a person to love Jesus more dearly and strengthens the desire to please and obey him.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation completes the Sacraments of Initiation and equips a person to live one’s faith as an adult. A Christian child has the support of parents and family, but when it is time to leave home and live independently, the Holy Spirit gives the interior strength to make good decisions and to live a holy and virtuous life.

Confirmation serves as the foundation of the Sacraments of Commitment, marriage and Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit often points a person toward a lifelong Christian vocation, to live the faith as a wife or husband, and as a mother or father, or as a priest. The Holy Spirit may also guide a person in other directions, such as the consecrated life as a religious sister or brother, or as a dedicated single person. The Holy Spirit also directs a person toward a profession that is of service to others and improves society.

The Holy Spirit emboldens a person’s words and deeds. The special graces of Confirmation enliven a person to speak more often, more openly, and with greater clarity and conviction, about their faith and beliefs; to be an evangelizer, ready and willing to spread the good news of Jesus and his gospel; and to be better prepared and more determined to testify to the truth.

The Holy Spirit stirs a person to give bolder public witness to their faith, to give outstanding example through love, joyfulness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and service. The Holy Spirit empowers a person to do mighty deeds, to perform good works that do much good, actions that are visible, make a strong statement, and are persuasive to others.

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation draws a person into a stronger bond with the Body of Christ, the Church. It encourages a person to receive the sacraments and pray with the community regularly, to make friends at church who are fellow pilgrims on journey of faith, to have partners on larger tasks and service projects, to pass on the gift of faith to others, particularly children and those searching for God, and to give collective or corporate witness.

The Holy Spirit prepares a person for battle. The Spirit gives a person the firm resolve and fierce determination to reject temptation, stand up against evil, refute errors, defend the faith, and withstand attacks. The Spirit also gives the strength and stamina to persevere in the battle, to remain true to Christ, unwavering in belief, and constant in goodness.

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St. Anselm, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

April 20, 2018

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St. Anselm

St. Anselm was born in 1033 in Aosta in Piedmont, Italy. His father strictly controlled the family home. When Anselm was fifteen he wanted to join the Benedictine monastery in Aosta, but his father refused to allow it, so when Anselm turned twenty-three he left home, traveled across the Alps, and went to Burgundy, France, where he went to study.

In 1059 he became a friend of Lanfranc, the prior of the Benedictine abbey in Bec, Normandy, and he became a Benedictine monk there in 1060. Anselm made rapid progress in the spiritual life, and he taught theology to his fellow students. Three years later Lanfranc was elected abbot of another abbey and Anselm replaced him as prior. Anselm developed a reputation as an excellent preacher, he did much to reform monastic life, and he was greatly loved by his fellow monks. He was consecrated abbot of the Bec Abbey in 1078, and he maintained close contact with his mentor Lanfranc who had become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lanfranc died in 1089, and in 1092 the English clergy, who had come to know Anselm because of his visits to England to care for Benedictine property there, elected Anselm as his successor. Anselm insisted on the spiritual independence of the diocese and would not tolerate government interference, and as a result King William II refused to confirm his election.

Anselm moved to Canterbury in 1093, and the conflict with King William II escalated. The king demanded a large payment for his nomination as bishop, which he refused to pay, and would not allow him to convene synods. King William demanded that Pope Urban I remove Anselm, and he threatened to confiscate church property if he did not do so. Anselm was exiled in 1097. He went to Cluny, Lyons, and then to Rome, where he tendered his resignation. Pope Urban I reaffirmed his confidence in Anselm, ordered King William to permit his return, and insisted that all confiscated monies and properties be given back. Before Anselm’s return to England, Urban asked Anselm to attend the Council of Bari (1098) where he effectively defended Filioque, the Church’s doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son.

Anselm returned to England in 1100. King Henry I had assumed the throne after William’s death, and another round of disputes began. Henry insisted on the lay investiture of bishops and abbots. Anselm refused. Henry threatened further confiscation of church revenue and property, and sent Anselm into exile in 1103. Again, he returned to Rome. The new Pope, Paschal II, fully backed Anselm and refused to accede to Henry’s demands. When Anselm did return, the archbishop and the king reached a concordat: the king would no longer seek to invest bishops and the church would pay tribute to the king in the temporal realm.

Anselm is remembered as a brilliant theologian and philosopher, and he is regarded as the Father of Scholasticism. He is responsible for the definition of theology, “fides quaerens intellectum,” “faith seeking understanding.” He is the author of a number of major works: Monologium, metaphysical proofs on the existence of God; Proslogion, “Allocution,” on the attributes of God; Cur Deus Homo, “Why God Became Man,” a reflection on the Incarnation; as well as De fide Trinitatis, De conceptu virginali, De veritate, and Liber apologeticus pro insipiente.

St. Anselm died on April 21, 1109, in Canterbury, England, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1734. His symbol is a ship sailing over open water which represents spiritual independence from government interference.

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Emmaus Prayer

April 13, 2018

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Road to EmmausLord, as we walk down the journey of life,
we ask that you would be our constant companion,
particularly on those days when we are disheartened
or when we have strayed off of your path.

When we are downcast,
we ask that you lift our spirits.
When we are confused,
we ask that you enlighten our minds.
When we are disappointed,
we ask that you give us hope.

You, Lord, have blessed us with your gospel.
Open our minds and hearts to receive your word,
and send your Holy Spirit to give us understanding.
May your teaching take root in our lives
and guide us in your ways.

While we have faith in you, Lord,
we also have our moments of doubt.
We ask that you would deepen our faith,
so that rededicated to you,
we would give bolder witness,
and freely and gladly give generous service.

You gently ask us to invite you into our hearts and homes.
With a spirit of welcome and humility,
we invite you to dwell with us always.
We offer our praise and thanks for the many ways that you feed us
and provide for our many needs.

Keep us closely connected to our brothers and sisters in faith.
Help us to see others with the eyes of love.
Fill us with your compassion.
May we work tirelessly to foster relationships in our community
built on the foundations of truth, mutual respect, cooperation, and trust.
Amen.

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The Easter Season

April 6, 2018

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Resurrection of JesusFifty Holy Days. The Easter Season is the Great Fifty Days from Easter to Pentecost. It is a week of weeks, seven sevens, 49 days, plus a fiftieth. The first forty days commemorate the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension (see Acts 1:3), and the last ten days commemorate the time from the Ascension to the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

Jewish Roots. Passover and Pentecost are two of the three great Jewish pilgrimage feasts, and the time between them is a Festival of Weeks, 49 days, with the fiftieth, the feast of Pentecost.

Easter Week. The first week after Easter is called the Octave of Easter. It is the eight-day period from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter. The Resurrection is the single greatest Christian feast, and our entire faith hinges on this mystery as St. Paul so eloquently explained: “If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1 Cor 15:14). But Jesus has been raised! This makes Easter our preeminent time of jubilant exultation, so tremendous that it cannot be adequately observed in a single day. The Octave is a time of intense rejoicing, followed by six more weeks of continuing festivity.

Signs of Easter. The Easter, Paschal, or Christ candle is moved to a prominent place in the church for the entire Easter season, usually somewhere in the sanctuary, as a sign of the risen Christ. The vestments are white, sometimes accented with gold trim, symbols of victory and joy. The Gloria or Glory to God and the gospel Alleluia which were suspended during Lent are restored. The Creed may be replaced with the renewal of baptismal promises. There may be a Sprinkling Rite to recall the sacrament of Baptism. A double Alleluia is added to the dismissal.

Easter Sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist are the featured sacraments of the Easter Season. Infant baptisms are encouraged within the Sunday Masses of the Easter Season. It is also the preferred time to celebrate First Holy Communion. Parishes that have movable or portable baptismal fonts may transfer the font to a more conspicuous location.

Easter Scripture Texts. The first reading for every Sunday and weekday Mass throughout the Easter season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, a forceful statement that Jesus, raised and ascended to heaven, continues to be present and is powerfully active within the community of believers. The second reading on Easter Sundays is taken from the New Testament, in Year A from the First Letter of Peter, in Year B from the First Letter of John, and in Year C from the Book of Revelation. All of the gospel texts for the Easter Season are taken from John except for the Third Sunday of Years A and B, and the Ascension.

Ways to Prolong the Easter Celebration. The Lenten fast is over, so rejoice with special meals or treats. The purple or violet of Lent is replaced by the white and gold of Easter, so wear brightly colored clothing to show your joyful spirit, and decorate with lilies and other flowers. The somber readings of Lent that dwell on penance and the Passion are over, so rejoice by reading the scriptural accounts of the Resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, as well as the founding of the early Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles. Those who were candidates for the Easter sacraments have been welcomed into the Church, so maintain contact with them and help them strengthen their bond with the parish community. As Jesus demonstrated in his post-resurrection appearances at Emmaus (Lk 24:30) and along the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:9,13), he is present in the breaking of the bread, so in order to experience the risen Christ we should attend Mass each Sunday, and if possible, some weekdays, too, to receive our risen Lord in the Eucharist.

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The Octave of Easter – Eight Days of Celebration

March 28, 2018

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The Octave of EasterThe Octave of Easter is one of two octaves during the liturgical year. The other octave is the Octave of Christmas. An octave is an eight-day period set aside to celebrate the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith, the Resurrection and the Incarnation. Each mystery is so profound and momentous that it cannot be celebrated in a single day, so the celebration is extended for a full week after the actual date. It is a time of heightened jubilation and exaltation, when the joy within the Christian community is at a fever pitch. The Octave of Easter extends from Easter Sunday until the Second Sunday of Easter.

The joy and triumph of Easter is expressed in a number of special ways during the weekday liturgies of the Octave of Easter. The Gloria is sung or said at each Mass. Only Preface I of Easter is allowed during the Octave, not Easter Prefaces II through V. A double Alleluia is used for the dismissal at the end of each Octave Mass. The Easter Sequence may be used for any or all of the weekday Masses within the Octave. The Creed is not said.

The gospels during the Octave of Easter feature the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection. The gospel on Monday is the account of Jesus’ appearance to a number of women who were returning from the tomb (Mt 28:8-15). Tuesday is his appearance to Mary Magdalene who was weeping beside the entrance to the tomb (Jn 20:11-18). Wednesday is his appearance to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Thursday is his appearance to the disciples huddled together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday night (Lk 24:35-48). Friday is his appearance to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-14). Saturday is an account of multiple appearances, first to Mary Magdalene, next to two men on the road to Emmaus, and then to the Eleven who were at table together (Mk 16:9-15). And finally, the Second Sunday of Easter is his appearance to the ten in the Upper Room on the first day of the week, and then seven days later, his subsequent appearance, not only to the ten, but also to Thomas (Jn 20:19-13).

The first readings during the weekdays of the Octave of Easter are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. These texts contain the initial preaching of the apostles with multiple references to the Resurrection. Monday is a portion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon in which he states that “God raised him [Jesus] up, releasing him from the throes of death” (Acts 2:24). Tuesday further explains how the crucified Jesus was “made both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Wednesday is the cure of the beggar at the Beautiful Gate by the power of the risen Jesus (Acts 3:1-10). Thursday is another sermon by Peter in which he states that “God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:15). Friday tells how Peter and John testified before the Sanhedrin that “God raised him [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 4:10). Saturday is an acknowledgment that the miraculous deeds done by Peter and John were accomplished through the power of the risen Jesus (Acts 4:16).

The Octave of Easter provides believers an extended opportunity to celebrate the greatest single mystery of the Christian faith.

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Thursday of the Lord’s Supper – Eucharist and Humble Service

March 23, 2018

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Last SupperThe Last Supper took place on the first Holy Thursday. It was that night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist, but curiously, the gospel for the Mass on Holy Thursday is not the Institution Narrative, it is the footwashing.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). It is foremost among the other sacraments because it is received most often, unites a person to Jesus who is truly present, affords a special opportunity for a close personal conversation with Jesus, is spiritual sustenance and a fountain of grace for a lifetime, places a person in communion with the other members of the Body of Christ, forgives venial sins, and provides the companionship of Jesus on the journey through human life and the final journey to heaven and eternal life.

Important as the Eucharist is, it is not the gospel on Holy Thursday, it is the second reading (1 Cor 11:23-26). It is one of the four accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist in the New Testament (Mt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26; Lk 22:14-20). Why is an Institution Narrative not used for the gospel on Holy Thursday? And why take a passage from the Gospel of John, the only evangelist whose gospel does not have the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

Holy Thursday Foot Washing

It is not because John believes that the Eucharist is unimportant. He is the only evangelist to write a Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-71), an extended reflection on the importance of the Eucharist. John alone calls Jesus the bread of life, says that the Eucharist bread from heaven, and explains that his flesh is true food and his blood true drink, that Jesus will dwell within whoever receives the Eucharist, and that it leads to eternal life.

The footwashing is the gospel on Holy Thursday, and John is the only evangelist to report it. It took place at the Last Supper before the institution of the Eucharist and for John, the footwashing and the Eucharist are closely related. The footwashing prefigures the crucifixion. Jesus humbly gave of himself when he washed his disciples’ feet, and he humbly gave of himself when he gave his life on the Cross; and this parallels the Eucharist in which Jesus gave his body and blood under the form of bread and wine, and then gave his body and blood on the Cross.

Eucharist is about True Presence. Jesus is present under the forms of bread and wine, and with the footwashing, John is conveying another perspective on True Presence. Jesus is present in the form of humble service. Jesus was present to his disciples when he took off his outer garments and knelt down at their feet, a touching demonstration of humility, and then washed and dried their feet, a tender expression of love in menial service. When a disciple offers humble service to anyone, particularly in lowly ordinary tasks, and does so out of love, Jesus is made present.

And the Eucharist is ordered to service. Once a person receives the Eucharist at Mass and leaves the church, the person has been energized to serve others in the name of Jesus. The communicant humbly and cheerfully gives humble service, particularly in the little things, giving freely, without seeking repayment or notice. Service drains energy, and once depleted, the communicant needs to go to Mass to receive Holy Communion again to be reenergized for the next round of service. The Eucharist leads to service, and service leads to the Eucharist.

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Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

March 16, 2018

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St. CyrilCyril was born in Jerusalem in 315 AD. Both of his parents were Christian, and they faithfully handed on the gift of faith to their son. Cyril had an exceptional aptitude for learning, and as a young man he emerged a brilliant scholar.

It was a time of great change in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Roman Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 two years before Cyril was born. Construction on new shrines over Calvary and the tomb to commemorate the crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Martyrium and the Anastasis, began in 326 when Cyril was a boy, and the churches were dedicated in 335 as Cyril turned twenty. He studied Sacred Scripture, and was ordained to the priesthood by St. Maximus, the Bishop of Jerusalem, in 345.

Father Cyril’s specialized ministry was to teach the faith to catechumens, those who were preparing for Baptism, and then, after they received the sacrament, to continue their instruction during Mystagogia, the time immediately after Baptism during the Easter season. He wrote eighteen “Catecheses,” catechetical lectures, which provided well-developed explanations of the sacraments, the liturgy, Scripture, doctrine, and tradition; and he wrote five additional lectures, the “Mystagogical Catecheses,” for the newly baptized.

Cyril was ordained a bishop in 350 by Acacius, the Arian bishop of Caesarea, and he succeeded St. Maximus as the bishop of Jerusalem. It was a time of fierce controversy in the Church. The Council of Nicaea had taken place in 325, and it declared that Jesus is homoousios or consubstantial, one in being with the Father, an orthodox teaching that Cyril firmly defended. The Arians taught that Jesus is less than the Father but greater than any human being, a heretical belief espoused by Acacius, and a bitter conflict between the two bishops ensued.

Angered by Cyril’s opposition to Arianism, Acacius claimed jurisdiction over the church in Jerusalem, accused Cyril of insubordination, and had a synod condemn him for selling church property to provide aid to the victims of a famine. Acacius had Cyril removed and sent into exile in 357. After two years in Tarsus, Cyril was allowed to return to Jerusalem in 359, only to be expelled again by the Roman Emperor Constantius at the instruction of Acacius, and when Constantius died, the new emperor, Julius, permitted him to return in 361. Emperor Valens succeeded Julius, reversed his ruling, and banished Cyril from Jerusalem in 367. His third exile lasted from 367 to 378. Cyril spent sixteen of his thirty-five years as bishop in exile.

Bishop Cyril’s troubles continued when the Council of Antioch commissioned St. Gregory of Nyssa to go to Jerusalem in 379 to investigate Cyril on charges that he had vacillated on the homoousios doctrine. St. Gregory found the church in Jerusalem to be embroiled in controversy, but also found Cyril to be staunch in his opposition to Arianism and completely orthodox in his teaching. Vindicated, both St. Gregory of Nyssa and Bishop Cyril attended the Council of Constantinople in 381 which amended and repromulgated the Nicene Creed.

St. Cyril died in 386 at the age of seventy, and because of his catechetical letters, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

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Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs

February 28, 2018

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Saints Perpetua and Felicity

March 7 is the memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, two courageous women who were martyred, along with three heroic men, Saturus, Saturninus, and Revocatus, as part of the persecution of Septimus Severus, the Roman emperor from 193 to 211 AD. Their deaths took place on March 7, 203, in Carthage, a city in North Africa located in the modern country of Tunisia. Perpetua and Felicity are held in such high esteem that they are two of only seven women on the second list of saints in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

Perpetua was born in approximately 180 AD. She came from a family of nobility, was a catechumen, and at the age of twenty-two, was married and recently had given birth to a baby boy. Felicity, also a catechumen, was Perpetua’s servant. She was also married and late in her pregnancy. Perpetua and Felicity were apprehended because of their Christian faith and held under guard in a private home. Perpetua’s elderly pagan father came to the place and tried to convince her to repudiate her Christian faith, but she flatly refused. The two catechumens were baptized, and shortly thereafter they were transferred to prison.

Perpetua prayed for a vision to see if she would suffer or be released, and she was shown a golden ladder of great length that reached up to heaven. There was a huge dragon at the bottom which tried to frighten anyone from making the ascent, and there were dangerous weapons on the side that would mangle those who climbed carelessly or without looking upward. The vision confirmed her upcoming martyrdom, but also her final glorious destination.

Felicity gave birth to a girl in prison. The guard tried to persuade her to avoid martyrdom and save her life so she could take care of her newborn child by renouncing her faith. The guard’s plea fell on deaf ears. Her child was adopted by a fellow Christian.

All five were brought before Hilarion, the procurator of the province, interrogated, convicted as Christians, and sentenced to a gruesome death, to be killed by wild animals before a large crowd of spectators during the games in the amphitheater. As they were led to the arena, they went joyfully with cheerful looks and a graceful bearing, as if they were going to heaven.

The three men were mauled by ravenous leopards, bears, and wild boars. Saturus perished almost instantly, while Saturninus and Revocatus, both bleeding profusely, still were breathing. Meanwhile, Perpetua and Felicity were attacked by a savage cow with sharp, curved horns. The heifer charged them, gored Perpetua, and crushed Felicity. Perpetua was in a state of spiritual ecstasy, and although wounded, she was oblivious to her pain. Seeing the others covered in blood, she exhorted them, “Stand firm in faith, love one another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.”

The sadistic and bloodthirsty crowd shrieked for more. The four were led to the middle of the amphitheater where they gave each other the kiss of peace. Gladiators advanced toward them, drew their blades, and thrust them through, to the crowd’s frenzied delight. Perpetua’s gladiator was inexperienced and his blow missed the mark, so she guided his knife to her throat herself. They “defied their persecutors and overcame the torment of death” (Collect). Saints Perpetua and Felicity are both buried in the basilica in Carthage.

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Four Glorious Realities to Encourage Disciples

February 23, 2018

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TransfigurationThere is a second altar in the Basilica of the Transfiguration called the Grotto of Christ or the Lower Chapel. It is located beneath the high altar in the location of the first Christian church built on Mount Tabor during the Byzantine Period. The chapel has a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with a magnificent blue mosaic designed by A. Villani. The mosaic depicts four scenes, two on each side, and unexpectedly, they do not portray anything related to the Transfiguration of Jesus, but rather, portray four glorious realities that pertain to the life of Jesus. The purpose of the first Transfiguration was to encourage Jesus as he made his journey to Jerusalem, and the objective of the four scenes is to encourage the people of today as they make their pilgrim journey through life.

The Nativity. The first scene depicts the newborn Jesus with a golden halo around his head lying in a manger of straw at the feet of three angels, all looking down at him. The center angel has hands extended as if to present the infant to a waiting world, and the angels standing on each side have their hands raised in the orans position to praise God for the glorious birth of his beloved Son. Jesus is holding a globe with a Cross on the top because he was born to save the world which he accomplished through his triumphant Cross. With his birth comes the promise of salvation which provides immeasurable encouragement to all who place their hope in him.

The Eucharist. The next scene has three more angels. The center angel, with eyes gazing upward to heaven, is holding a consecrated host, the Body of Christ, in his right hand, above a golden chalice which contains the Precious Blood in his left hand. Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18), and Jesus fulfills this promise every time that he comes to person in the Eucharist. Jesus explained that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). It also carries the pledge of a share in his Resurrection, as Jesus also declared “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The Crucifixion. On the opposite side of the chapel is the third scene with three angels standing above a lamb with a halo above its head, neck slit and bleeding, lying dead upon an open book. The book symbolizes the fact that Jesus is “the word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and that he has “the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus is also “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rv 5:12) and “pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5; see Jn 19:34). The glorious news of the crucifixion is that by the precious blood of Christ, the unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:19), we are cleansed of all sin (1 Jn 1:7; see Rv 1:5) and our redemption and salvation accomplished.

The Resurrection. The fourth mosaic shows three more angels. The center angel has his hands crossed over his chest, the symbol of obedience, representing Jesus who obediently said, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42), and who was “obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8). The angel is standing above an open sarcophagus, an uncovered coffin or casket, which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus that no longer contains his body. It is empty. Jesus is risen. The glorious good news is that “if we have grown into a union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5), and we are encouraged with the assurance that “if we have died with Christ … we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

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