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.

We saw His star

January 3, 2019


Christmas Star

When the magi looked into the night sky, they “saw his star” (Mt 2:2). It was the star of Jesus. It was crystal clear that night. There was an array of lights spanning the sky. The moon was glimmering. Stars were twinkling. Planets were shining. Meteors were glowing. Comets were sparkling. It was breathtaking, a sight to behold.

The star of Jesus was not like the other stars. It stood out. It glared with true beauty. It was brighter and more intense, attractive and captivating. Jesus is light, the light of the world, a beacon of goodness and truth, illumination for the mind and guidance for one’s path.

The magi were star gazers. They watched the sky night after night, and they knew the usual arrangement of stars and constellations, and would be quick to notice anything out of the ordinary. That night there was a star that was extraordinary, like nothing they had ever seen. The magi were highly selective. They chose one star over all of the others, and made a conscious decision to follow the brightest star, and not to follow any of the other lights.

We, like the magi, are confronted with a similar situation. Our world is filled with bright lights. There are movie stars and star athletes, glittering diamonds and shiny cars, neon lights and flood lights. The world is aglow. There is a vast array of lights, some brighter, others dimmer, but there are lights everywhere, all competing for our attention, all beckoning for us to follow them.

We, like the magi, need to make a choice. Can we sort out the lights? Can we avoid being distracted by the lesser lights? Are we able to see the one light that shines more brightly than all of the other lights? When we see the brightest light, can we lock onto its beam, and follow it always and everywhere, wherever it may lead?

The magi are wonderful examples. They chose one light above all of the other lights, and followed the one true light, and no other. Now is our time to choose as well as they did.

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Mary and Joseph, model parents for a model child

December 28, 2018


The Holy Family

The Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – is the model family, and they, more than any other family, offer the best spiritual example on how to be the kind of family that God wants.

Major Feasts. “Each year his parents went up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover” (Lk 2:41). Passover was one of the three major Jewish pilgrimage feasts, along with Pentecost and Booths. It was a big effort to go from Nazareth to Jerusalem, roughly eighty miles, on foot or by donkey. When it came to the main feast of their faith, all three celebrated it with great faith and devotion in the Temple each and every year. Likewise, when it comes to our major Christian feasts, Christmas and Pentecost, as well as the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, following the example of the Holy Family, every Christian family should commit themselves to celebrate these feasts together as a family in church each and every year.

Age Twelve. Luke is careful to mention that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem when he was twelve, the age a Jewish boy celebrates his bar mitzvah, when a young person, after being well-formed spiritually by his parents, would make his own adult faith commitment. Similarly, Christian parents are to form their children in the faith with prayer at home, Mass every week, conversations about Jesus and Bible stories, the reception of First Reconciliation and First Eucharist, faith formation classes, all directed toward the Sacrament of Confirmation when a young person, after being well-formed spiritually by one’s parents, would eagerly and gladly make his or her own adult faith commitment in Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church.

Caravan Travel. The Holy Family made the trip to Jerusalem in a caravan, a large group of relatives and friends that traveled together. Mary and Joseph surrounded their child with like-minded people, other faithful Jews who were firmly committed to God and their faith, people who would have had a positive influence on their son and help to protect him from evil threats. Likewise, Christian parents have an obligation to surround their children with good people who are positive spiritual influences, whether it be adults or peers, relatives or neighbors, teachers or classmates, coaches or teammates. It is crucial to monitor with whom we spend our time on the “caravan through life,” because who we associate with says everything about our values.

Rules and Obedience. “He [Jesus] was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). Mary and Joseph had house rules based upon the values of their Jewish faith, and they insisted on them with their young son Jesus, even after he made his adult faith commitment. He may have been older, but he was not free to do whatever he pleased. His parents insisted that he do the right thing, and Jesus complied. Similarly, Christian parents must have house rules for their children based upon Jesus and the gospel, and they apply not only to their children when they are small, but also when they are teenagers, or even older if they decide to stay at home.

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The glory of the Lord shone on Christmas night

December 18, 2018


Christmas night, Christmas star

When Jesus was born, the glory of the Lord shone around them (Lk 2:9). The glory was more impressive than the Northern Lights, a full moon on a clear night, or an exploding star. There was a grand and glorious light, resplendent in beauty, emanating from the heavens, flooding the sky, bursting to the outer limits, converging over Bethlehem, funneled into a luminescent beam, and shining over the place where the newborn Jesus was lying in the manger.

It was the holiest of nights. God is light, and God’s light is glorious. Radiant in the heavens, it was a spectacular sight to behold on earth. The glory of the Lord was majestic in beauty, captivating, breathtaking, overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and heartwarming.

When Jesus was born, God dawned from on high (see Lk 1:78). The glory of the Lord confirmed the presence of God, that Jesus, the light of the human race (Jn 1:4), had appeared on the earth, that he is the light shining in the darkness (Jn 1:5), that the true light had come into the world (Jn 1:9), that the Word had become flesh and was dwelling among us (Jn 1:14a), and with his presence on earth, the glory of God was shining for all to see.

The glory of the Lord is mentioned in the Old Testament, and it indicates the presence of God. God’s glory is conveyed in many ways: clouds, fire, smoke, lightening, thunder, earthquakes, trumpet blasts, miracles, a whispering sound, and light. When one or more of these are present together, it is a theophany, a mystical revelation of the presence of God.

The glory of the Lord was evident when God fed the Israelites in the desert with manna (Ex 16:7), when the Lord appeared to the Israelites in a cloud when Aaron spoke to them (Ex 16:10), when a cloud enshrouded Mount Sinai at the time that Moses received the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex 24:15,16,17); and when a cloud covered the meeting tent to signify God’s presence (Ex 40:34,35; Lv 9:23; Nm 9:15-22).

The prophet Isaiah foretold that the glory of the Lord would be made manifest when the long-awaited Messiah would appear. In his second Immanuel prophecy, he wrote that, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1). At the coming of the Messiah, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed” (Is 40:5), and it will be a time of salvation and liberation for God’s people. Isaiah further described the arrival of the Messiah: “Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, upon you the Lord will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen. Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning” (Is 60:1-3).

When Jesus was born, there was a magnificent array of lights in the night sky. It was the glory of the Lord, the greatest theophany ever. God was present that night. The child Jesus born of Mary in Bethlehem is the Son of God (Lk 1:35).

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Gaudete Sunday

December 14, 2018


Gaudete Sunday

A 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 the 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 looking back to remember the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas. The joy is heightened by the importance of his birth 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 Tim 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 to be absolved of sin and be in the state of grace for Christmas. Gaudete Sunday offers a brief respite to focus on the uplifting, upcoming 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 explicit 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 Solemn Blessing for Advent refer to joy: the second, “may he make you … joyful in hope,” and the third, “So that, rejoicing now with devotion at the Redeemer’s coming.”

Joyful Readings. The scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C, are filled with references to joy. The first reading exhorts, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult” (Zep 3:14), and continues, “The Lord … will rejoice over you with gladness … he will sing joyfully” (Zep 3:17b). The refrain for the Responsorial Psalm begins, “Cry out with joy and gladness” and the first stanza adds, “With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Is 12:3). The second reading repeats the Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). In the gospel, John the Baptist makes the joyful announcement: “One mightier than I is coming” (Lk 3:16).

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St. Barbara — Virgin, Martyr

November 30, 2018


St. Barbara

St. Barbara is one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, particularly in Europe. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and is invoked against lightning, fever, and sudden death.

According to the story, which may be a legend, Barbara was born in Nicomedia, Turkey, in the Third Century AD. Her father was Dioscorus of Heliopolis, a pagan. Barbara was so beautiful that he hid her in a tower to protect her. A Christian disguised as a doctor went to the tower, and after he told her about Jesus and the gospel, and after considerable time in solitude to reflect, she converted to Christianity. Meanwhile, one eligible bachelor after another approached Dioscorus to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Her father approached her to suggest marriage, but she flatly refused, explaining that she had reserved herself completely for Jesus, and her father, infuriated, left her confined in the tower.

Her father then departed for a while on business, and during his absence a new bathhouse was under construction near the tower, and two windows were to be installed. Barbara commanded the builders to add a third in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. When her father returned and discovered what she had done, he became enraged, and attempted to kill his own daughter, but she escaped. The account of her breakaway varies, either that she leapt out of the window and landed safely or that a hole miraculously appeared in the wall. She fled to a mountain and hid in a cave, but an evil shepherd betrayed her whereabouts to her father, and the shepherd subsequently turned to stone and his sheep turned into locusts.

Dioscorus, her father, dragged his daughter by the hair before a judge, who had her tortured, but her wounds healed instantly. Her father then took her up a mountain and beheaded his own daughter with a sword. Reports on the date and location vary, somewhere between 303 of 306 AD, and either in Rome, Antioch, Heliopolis, or Nicomedia. Shortly thereafter there was thunder in the sky, fire came down from heaven, and her father was struck dead by lightning, and he was reduced to a pile of ashes.

The symbols of St. Barbara are a tower, often with three windows, where she was held captive; a chalice, because she drank from the cup of suffering (see Mt 20:22,23; 26:39; Mk 10:38,39; 14:36; Lk 22:42); a sword, which was the instrument of her martyrdom; a crown, because she was crowned with martyrdom (see Acts 7:60); and a palm, the symbol of the martyrs (Rv 7:9).

St. Barbara is the patron saint of stonemasons, architects, and builders, because she was held captive in a stone tower; of those afraid of being struck by lightning or fearful of sudden death, because her father died suddenly due to a lightning strike; firefighters, because many fires are started by lightning; gunners, artillerymen, gunpowder makers, fireworks personnel, and miners, anyone associated with explosives, because of the fire that rained down from heaven; and mathematicians and those suffering with a fever.

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The Kingdoms of Jesus and Pilate

November 21, 2018


The Gospel for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year B, is a conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the Procurator or Governor of Judea (Jn 18:33-37). The juxtaposition of the two of them, both rulers, presents a striking contrast between two drastically different styles and approaches to kingship.

Christ the KingPilate was well-born in Italy. Jesus was humbly-born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Pilate began his career as a soldier. Jesus began his career as a carpenter.

Pilate lusted for power and climbed to his high position by stepping on other people to get ahead. Jesus had a position of power in heaven, relinquished it for a time, lowered himself, came in human likeness, and took the form of a slave (see Phil 2:6-7).

Pilate was named procurator by the Emperor Tiberius in Rome. Jesus was named King by his Father, God in heaven (see Acts 2:33; Phil 2:9-10).

Pilate was a militant civil leader. Jesus was a peace-loving spiritual leader.

Pilate maintained his power with intimidation, threat, and force. Jesus gained influence with mighty deeds, sound teaching, personal relationships, and gentle invitation.

Pilate wanted to stay in power. Jesus empowered others.

Pilate wanted the best for himself. Jesus wanted the best for all people.

Pilate commissioned ruthless Roman soldiers to carry out his orders. Jesus commissioned his apostles and ordinary people to carry the gospel.

Pilate had authority over a geographic territory that encompassed Judea, Samaria, and the Negev Desert. Jesus has authority over the entire earth, the universe, and heaven.

Pilate was governor from 26 to 36 AD. Jesus is king for all eternity.

Pilate was arrogant. Jesus was humble.

Pilate did as he pleased. Jesus obeyed his Father in heaven (Jn 6:38; 14:31).

Pilate lived in elegance in his palaces in Caesarea and Jerusalem. Jesus lived simply.

Pilate was cruel. Jesus was compassionate.

Pilate was dishonest and corrupt. Jesus is truth (Jn 14:6) and testified to the truth (Jn 18:37).

Pilate inflicted untold suffering on others. Jesus endured untold suffering on behalf of others.

Pilate surrounded himself with soldiers. Jesus surrounded himself with his disciples and common folk.

Pilate tried to win the favor of the crowds when he handed Jesus over to be scourged and crucified. Jesus desired to win the favor of his Father alone.

Pilate sat in judgment over Jesus, and he abused his authority; Jesus will come in glory to judge the world (Mt 25:31-32), the Father has given all authority to the Son (Jn 5:22,27), and his judgment is just (Jn 5:30).

Pilate’s kingdom belonged to this world. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36).

Pilate’s throne was on earth. Jesus’ throne is in heaven (see Jn 16:28; Heb 1:3b).

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The Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ

November 21, 2018


When Jesus was interrogated by Pilate, he testified, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36a). Jesus is a king, but not like the kings of earth. Earthly kings are powerful rulers, hold supreme authority, reign over the land and the people, issue edicts, impose their will, bask in luxury, have many servants, maintain an army with well-trained troops, and go to battle to protect themselves and their kingdom. Jesus is nothing like worldly kings.

Christ the KingJesus went on to say, “If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting” (Jn 18:36b). The attendants are body guards and soldiers, and they are fighters. They use brute force to deter threats and repel attacks. Jesus did not have soldiers to fight for him. Jesus made it clear to Pilate, “My kingdom is not here” (Jn 18:36c). If Jesus’ kingdom is not here, where is it and what is it like?

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom, not a worldly one. The Preface for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, found in the Roman Missal, pages 360-361, lists the distinctive features of the kingdom of Jesus. It is eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love, and peace.

Eternal. Worldly kings reign for a time, from when the king’s father dies until his own death, or from the moment of conquest until he is conquered. The reign may be as short as a few months or last as long as forty or fifty years, but this is nothing when compared with eternity. Jesus reigned as King from the Cross, and his kingship was confirmed when he was enthroned by his Father in heaven, and his kingdom is everlasting, timeless; it goes on and on and will never end.

Universal. Worldly kings reign over a geographic territory. It may be as small as a city state or as vast as an empire, but this is nothing when compared with the universe. Jesus is king, not over a region of the world, but over the entire world, and not only over the world, but over the entire universe, the sun and the moon, the planets and the stars, the totality of all in existence, as well as heaven and all that dwell therein.

Truth. Worldly kings are notorious for their disregard for the truth. They ignore and distort the truth, practice deception, and tell lies, all to accomplish their evil objectives, to get their way, eliminate opposition, and oppress others. Jesus said, “I am … the truth” (Jn 14:6), and he told Pilate, “I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). Jesus declared earlier, “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). A kingdom of truth is honest, fair, ethical, unbiased, impartial, correct, and reliable, and it liberates people from sin and evil, domination and oppression.

Life. Worldly kings are also notorious for their callous lack of regard for human life. Many were quick to go to war, fully aware that many of their own soldiers would be injured or die, and pleased to have their troops slaughter the enemy, and then to sweep across the countryside and massacre defenseless villagers, and for those who were allowed to survive, to force them into cruel slavery. Worldly kings also took the front seats in amphitheaters and watched with glee as prisoners were devoured by wild animals and gladiators maimed and killed each other. Today worldly kings allow abortion and euthanasia, develop weapons of mass destruction, practice terrorism, ignore the starving, and restrict freedoms. They are all sins against life. Jesus said, “I am … the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the source of all life: “all things were created through him” (Col 1:16). In his kingdom, every being is of supreme value – precious, respected, and to be protected from womb to tomb, from conception until natural death. And then, after physical death, Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer, out of his grace and mercy, grants eternal life in heaven.

Holiness. Worldly kings are like the people of the world, sinful: prideful, greedy, jealous, angry, lustful, gluttonous, and lazy. Jesus, and all those who belong to his kingdom, are holy and practice the virtues: humility, generosity, graciousness, purity, self-control, and industriousness. Worldliness is to be like everyone else, while holiness is to be set apart, different, “in the world but not of the world.” There is no place in the kingdom of Jesus for evil, wickedness, immorality, idolatry, or licentiousness.

Grace. Worldly kings are self-centered and self-serving. They dole out special favors to those who can help them, while those who are useless to them go without. In the kingdom of Jesus, God doles out divine favors to everyone. God graciously grants abundant spiritual blessings: the desire to live a good life, the guidance to walk in right paths, the resolve to do good works, and the energy to carry it out. God provides help in every situation, is present in every moment, and is a companion for every step of the journey.

Justice. Worldly kingdoms are riddled with corruption. Worldly kings take advantage of their positions and give special privileges to their friends and allies. They take more than their fair share. They lie to get their way. They slant things in their favor. Adversaries, outsiders, and common folk are oppressed, abused, neglected, and exploited. Jesus, on the other hand, is just, blameless, innocent of all wrongdoing, and righteous, law abiding. As judge, Jesus sees all, and his judgments are honest and true, yet his justice is tempered with mercy. His kingdom is riddled with compassion. All are treated equitably. The common good is upheld. The poor and powerless are protected and receive special care.

Love. Worldly kings are impulsive, mean, jealous, pompous, arrogant, rude, narcissistic, temperamental, resentful, and vengeful. The kingdom of Jesus is characterized by patience, kindness, courtesy, respect, modesty, humility, politeness, selflessness, levelheadedness, willpower, self-restraint, forgiveness, mercy, and truthfulness.

Peace. Worldly kings are stubborn and unyielding, controlling and manipulative, quarrelsome and argumentative. They cause rivalry and dissension. They threaten and intimidate, and use force and violence. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and his kingdom is forever peaceful. It is a kingdom of flexibility, empowerment, reverence and respect, mutuality and cooperation, harmonious relationships, amiable communication, openness and honesty, common concern, and equitable sharing, where the lion lies down with the lamb, where swords are beaten into plowshares, where war is unthinkable, and all live together, safe and secure, with goodwill toward everyone. Beyond this world, the heavenly kingdom is eternal rest and peace.

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Thanksgiving: Yesterday and today a harvest festival and a family celebration

November 16, 2018



Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in the United States by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Lincoln said it was to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving began as a harvest festival sometime between September and November in 1621. It was one year after the Mayflower had arrived. 102 pilgrims had landed on the coast of Massachusetts. After a brutal winter of cold, disease, and starvation, only 53 colonists survived to the next fall. The local Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans came to the aid of the colonists, taught them how to plant corn and fertilize their fields with fish, and with a bountiful harvest and good hunting, both had plenty of food in reserve to survive the upcoming winter. In gratitude for the harvest, 90 of the Wampanoag tribe and the 53 remaining colonists joined together for three days of celebration. They feasted on five deer, a variety of birds, corn, grapes, plums, mussels, lobsters, and herbs.

Thanksgiving is still about thanks for the harvest, and agriculture has come a long way since 1621. Tractors with cultivators and planters and huge combines make it possible to use large tracts of land. New seed hybrids are constantly being developed. The use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides has improved yields. Production, harvesting, transportation, processing, packaging, and distribution have become extremely efficient. The shelves in grocery stores are well stocked. Foods are affordable. Most Americans have full refrigerators and cupboards, and most do not go to bed at night on an empty stomach.

Now fewer Americans work on the farm, the food supply is reliable, and there is little worry about having enough food to get through the winter. As a result, while the focus of the holiday is still on thanksgiving for the harvest, it has been generalized as a time of thanksgiving for all of our blessings: the land, our country, our freedoms, our safety and security, the quality of education and health care, employment, income, savings, homes, possessions, cultural and recreational opportunities, and the countless other good things that we enjoy.

Filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude for all of this, we thank God and gather with our families to celebrate. Our families are such a gift. Our parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews rank as some of the greatest blessings that God has given to us. The love and care given and received, the sacrifices made, meals together, family conversations, vacations and holidays, ups and downs, fights and make-ups, suffering through illness and hardship, promises made and kept, traveling the journey of life hand in hand, and the common bond shared – family is a gift beyond all measure.

On Thanksgiving we ought to praise and thank God for the gift of our families. For those who have gone ahead of us, we can send a prayer of thanks to them in heaven. For the members of our immediate families, we can thank God for each one of them, mention them individually, and ask God to shower them with his special graces and divine protection. Thanksgiving, or a day near it, is a wonderful occasion to get together with our immediate family, and relatives, too, to eat and drink, rejoice and celebrate, and deepen and renew the bonds of love.

Finally, Thanksgiving is an ideal occasion to thank our family members, to express our thanks to them personally, to speak it out loud, to identify specific instances when they have said or done something that we appreciate or affected our life in a positive way. We should not leave important things unsaid. If we are grateful, we should say so. To thank a family member who is near and dear to our heart is a beautiful way to express our love for them.

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The dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

November 9, 2018


Basilica of St. John Lateran

This feast commemorates the first dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran which took place in Rome on November 9, 324. Pope Sylvester I (314-335) presided.

St. John Lateran’s original name was the Church of the Savior, and its official complete name is the Patriarchal Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and St. John the Baptist at the Lateran. The church is under the dual patronage of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

It is the oldest of the four principal pilgrimage churches in Rome. The other three are St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. The Emperor Constantine (280-337) legalized Christianity through his historic Edict of Milan in 313, and shortly thereafter, he gave Pope Melchiades (311-314) a beautiful ancient palace that stood on the Celian Hill that had belonged to the Laterani family, and it was converted into an enormous basilica.

This feast is not so much about the building itself, even though it is magnificent architecturally and artistically, but about what the building represents spiritually. St. John Lateran is the first major church in Rome, and because it served as the headquarters of the Church from 313 to 1309, it is known as “the Mother Church.” Pope Clement XII (1730-1740) stated this explicitly when he had this Latin verse etched into the front façade, “omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis mater et caput,” “the mother and head of all churches of the city [Rome] and the world.” It is the one from which all other churches find their origins.

For nearly one thousand years it served as the official residence of the Pope, as well as the place where new popes were elected and installed in office. Ecumenical councils were held at the Lateran Basilica in 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, and 1512. St. John Lateran remains the cathedral church of Rome, the place where the Pope acts as chief shepherd of the local archdiocese.

The church building has suffered many setbacks as the object of two barbarian attacks (408 and 455), an earthquake (896), two fires (1308 and 1361), and a bomb blast (1993). The building has been repaired, rebuilt, and restored numerous times over the centuries. Reconstructions took place under Popes Leo the Great (440-461), Hadrian I (772-795), Sergius III (904-911), and Clement VIII (1592-1605). The most comprehensive renovation took place in the Seventeenth Century under Pope Innocent X (1644-1655). A new floor was installed in 1938.

The basilica is adorned with beautiful art. The roof above the entrance has 13 statues with the Risen Christ in the center flanked by its patrons, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. There is a massive statue to Constantine in the vestibule. The nave has marble statues of the twelve apostles, while the walls have reliefs with scenes from the Old and New Testaments and paintings of the prophets. The dome of the apse has a mosaic of Christ with his angels above a glorious Cross. The left side has full size images of Sts. Paul, Peter, and the Blessed Mother Mary, and a smaller image of St. Francis of Assisi, while the right has full size images of Saints John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, and Andrew, and a smaller image of St. Anthony of Padua.

The Lateran Basilica represents the unity of the universal Church. The basis of our unity is Jesus and our common Baptism. It was Jesus’ fervent prayer that his disciples be one (Jn 17:21). There are many churches throughout the world, but all are one body in Christ, individually parts of one another (Rom 12:5), all united under the symbolic headship of St. John Lateran.

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All Souls’ Day — The value of prayer for the dead

October 26, 2018


November 2 is All Souls’ Day, the day in the liturgical year that we set aside to pray for the dead. November is the month when we especially remember those who have died.

PurgatoryBut why pray for the dead? There is no need to pray for those who have died and gone straight to heaven. This feast presumes that some who have died are imperfectly purified of their sinfulness, and while assured of the eventual benefits of eternal life, are barred from immediate access to heaven. Instead, they are held in an unknown place where they are cleansed of their sinfulness, and after an indeterminate time, are finally released to take their place at God’s throne.

For centuries Catholics have said that Purgatory is the intermediate place of temporary punishment and purification, and that the length of time spent there is based upon the number and seriousness of one’s sins. The Church defined this doctrine at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence (1439), and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The term “Purgatory” still exists in Church literature today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1030-1032) despite the fact that it is not mentioned in the Bible. Two New Testament verses allude to a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15 and 1 Pt 1:7), and they have served as the basis for the concept of Purgatory which evolved from the Fifth to Thirteenth Centuries. Despite its long tradition, many contemporary scholars believe that neither verse is substantive enough to firmly establish Purgatory as a biblical reality, while others argue that there is nothing in Scripture to contradict it. Today the Church is more inclined to speak about “The Final Purification” (Documents of Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 51).

A key biblical reason to pray for the dead is found in the Old Testament second book of Maccabees (2 Mac 12:38-46). This story recounts how Judas Maccabeus, a great Jewish general of the Second Century before Christ, had successfully led his army into a battle. A day after hostilities ceased, the troops who survived returned to the battlefield to gather up the bodies of their deceased comrades to give them a respectful burial. To their horror they found amulets, charm necklaces sacred to the idols of Jamnia, local pagan gods, tied around their necks and hidden under their armor. This was a grave sin against the First Commandment’s law against idols (Ex 20:2-6; Dt 5:7-9). Immediately “they turned to supplication and prayed that the sinful deed might be blotted out” (2 Mc 12:42). In fact, the stunned survivors who placed an extraordinarily high premium on faithful observance of the Mosaic Law were so aghast at this sin that they feared their fellow soldiers would be consigned to everlasting punishment. As firm believers in the resurrection, they were confident their prayers could help atone for the sins of the dead, release them from the punishment they deserved, and speed them on their journey to eternal light and peace. Consequently the survivors took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem so an expiatory sacrifice could be offered in the Temple.

Consistent with this ancient Jewish practice, the Catholic Church has taught for centuries that our prayers aid those who have died, and the best prayer to offer for their intention is the Eucharist, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life. The Church also recommends almsgiving, indulgences, and other works of penance for the deceased (Catechism, No. 1032).

November is the month of the year to especially pray for the dead, either for a family member or relative, someone else that you know, the deceased members of the parish, or those who have no one to pray for them. The Mass is the best option available, but any prayer or good deed offered for the spiritual welfare of the deceased is highly beneficial.

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