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. 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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The Sacrament of Marriage

October 5, 2018



A Sacrament. Marriage or matrimony is one of the seven sacraments. It belongs to a special group or classification of sacraments known as the Sacraments of Commitment, the two major ways for adults to live out their baptismal faith commitment: marriage and Holy Orders.

Famous Marriages of the Bible. Marriage is a sacred institution established by God, something clearly evident from the very beginning of creation and its natural order (Gen 1:26-27) with the first marriage, Adam and Eve. Genesis continues with three other famous married couples, the patriarchs and their wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel. Other prominent marriages of the Old Testament include Moses and Zipporah; Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of Samuel; David and Bathsheba; and Tobiah and Sarah. In the New Testament, the first married couple is Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple that set the stage for the greatest married couple of all: Mary and Joseph.

Biblical Basis for the Sacrament. Jesus endorsed marriage at the beginning of his ministry when he attended the Cana wedding feast and performed his first miracle there (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus also taught, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:6-9).

Christian Symbols of Marriage. The wedding ring is the foremost symbol of marriage. Other symbols include two interlocking rings; a marriage cross, a Latin Cross with two interlocking rings attached at the center; two clasped hands; two joined hands covered with a priest’s stole; a heart, the symbol of the love shared between a husband and wife; two doves, a symbol of the joy of marriage; two ropes tied in a knot; and three flowers, one taller in the middle, which represents God, the center of every marriage, and two shorter flowers of the same height on either side, one each for the husband and wife, bound by God as equal partners.

A Touching Image. One of the most beautiful metaphors for marriage is found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom Literature. The author writes, “Two are better than one. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Eccl 4:9,11,12). There are three partners to every marriage, two that are apparent and visible, the husband and wife, and a third partner, invisible, but the most important, God. Instead of “tying the knot,” a common mundane way to describe a marriage, every couple is asked to weave a three-ply rope with God in the middle. The more tightly a husband and wife are bound to God, the more tightly they are bound to each other; and the more tightly they are bound to each other, the more tightly they are bound to God.

The Centrality of Love. Love is the bond shared by a husband and wife. God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Therefore the bond that a couple shares, the bond that unites them, is God. John asks, “How can a person love God, who is unseen, if a person does not love their neighbor who is seen?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20). As Christians we believe that one of the main pathways to God is through our neighbor, and that when we love our neighbor, we love God. Jesus is insistent about love of neighbor (see Mt 22:39; Lk 10:29-37; and Jn 13:34-35). For a married couple, the neighbor that stands above every other neighbor is one’s spouse, and the primary pathway to God for someone who is married is through one’s spouse. The more a person loves their spouse, the more the person loves God, and an important word of caution, the less a person loves their spouse, the less the person loves God.

Instruction on Love. St. Paul offers excellent teaching on how to practice the virtue of love in his famous Ode to Love, 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind,” one of the most popular scripture texts for weddings. He provides additional advice in Col 3:12-17.

A Solemn Covenant. A Christian marriage is covenant patterned on the covenant between God and humanity and the union between Christ and the Church. God’s covenant is unbreakable, indissoluble, and enduring. Despite human failings, God offers forgiveness, renews the covenant, and is ever-faithful. Christian couples are asked to be shining examples of God’s covenantal love through the permanence, sincerity, and depth of their love.

A Spiritual Bond. A sacramental marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A contract is written on paper, a covenant is written on one’s heart; a contract has fine print with many stipulations and conditions, a covenant is unconditional; a contract is closed with a signature, a covenant is sealed with one’s spoken word; a contract is for a specific amount of time, a covenant is everlasting; a contract may have penalties if specific terms are not met, a covenant has forgiveness; a contract may have an escape clause, a covenant is binding forever; a contract is designed to protect my rights, a covenant seeks what is best for the other person; and a contract is a civil or legal document, a covenant is based upon faith and sealed by God.

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St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

September 21, 2018


St. MatthewSt. Matthew was an apostle and an evangelist

Matthew was also known as Levi, the son of Alphaeus (Mk 2:14; Lk 5:27). He was born in Capernaum, a fishing village on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, and he worked at a nearby border crossing as a customs agent where it was his job to collect a toll or duty on all of the people, animals, and goods. These “toll collectors” or “tax collectors” were very unpopular with average Jewish citizens because they were viewed as greedy and corrupt as they regularly overcharged and pocketed the difference for themselves, and as traitors because they consorted with the Romans who were despised as pagans and an unwelcome foreign presence in their homeland.

On one occasion when Jesus was walking along the north shore of the lake, he came to the toll booth where Matthew was stationed. Jesus paused, looked at him, and said, “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). It was shocking that Jesus would call someone so scorned by so many to be one of his apostles, and equally shocking that Matthew would accept the invitation, leave his family and friends, job, income, and security, all to follow Jesus without a moment’s delay. Then Jesus shared a dinner with him in his home (Mt 9:10). Matthew is mentioned only four other times in the New Testament, always on a list of the apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).

After the Ascension, Matthew receives no further attention in the New Testament. According to tradition, after Pentecost Matthew began his missionary work in Judea, but accounts of his other destinations vary. Some say “the East,” including Syria and Persia; others Europe, maybe Macedonia, possibly as far as Ireland. His final destination most likely was Ethiopia where tradition says he was martyred, first crucified on a T-shape cross and then beheaded with an axe.

Matthew also was an evangelist or the author of a gospel. His gospel was composed around 85 AD and intended for a Jewish Christian audience. One of his major literary purposes was to present Jesus as the fulfilled of the Hebrew Scriptures. His book has twenty-eight chapters which makes it the longest of the four gospels, and for centuries it has been considered the best textbook or catechism for teaching about Jesus and the Christian faith. Prior to the liturgical renewal there was a one-year Lectionary cycle and Matthew’s texts were most used at Mass. As part of the renewal a three-year Lectionary cycle was developed, and today the gospel selections are more equally distributed between all four evangelists.

Matthew is represented by a number of symbols in Christian art. As a money collector, he is represented by a coin purse, a treasure chest, one or three money bags, or a scale which was used to weigh gold; as a gospel writer, he is represented by a quill pen, a scroll, or a book; as an author guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there may be a dove or rays of light; and as a martyr, he is sometimes represented by a spear or a sword, but more often by a battle axe, the weapon used to behead him Ethiopia. The symbol for Matthew’s gospel is a human being with wings, “the divine man,” because his gospel includes Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:117) and gives special attention to Jesus’ human nature. The image is also drawn from Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures (Ez 1:9-10).

Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors, customs officers, security guards, accountants, bookkeepers, bankers, financial officers, money managers, stock brokers, and money changers.

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St. Cornelius, Pope, and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

September 14, 2018


Saints Cornelius (d. 253) and Cyprian (200-258) are two great Third Century saints, one a Pope, the other a bishop, one in Rome, the other in North Africa, both martyrs, both mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Cyprian and CorneliusThey are celebrated together because Bishop Cyprian was an ally of Pope Cornelius. Cornelius was chosen as Pope in 251 AD over the objection of Novatian, who claimed the papacy for himself and was the first antipope. Cornelius and Novatian took opposite positions in the lapsi controversy. The lapsi were those who had “lapsed” from the faith during the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius (249-251 AD). The lapsi renounced their Christianity to save themselves from martyrdom. When the persecution subsided, the lapsi sought to be readmitted. Novatian, a rigorist, declared that the sin of apostasy was so grave that those who had disowned Christ and the Church could not be forgiven, reconciled with the Church, or readmitted. Cornelius, on the other hand, took a more compassionate stance and held that the Church had the power to reconcile and readmit the lapsi after a period of penance. Cyprian traveled to Rome to be part of a synod of bishops that upheld Cornelius’ authority as Pope and excommunicated Novatian and his followers. The first reflection in the Office of Readings is a letter of support and encouragement that Cyprian sent to Cornelius shortly before his death.

Little is known about the beginning of Cornelius’ life. It seems that he was born into an aristocratic family in Rome, and he was ordained a priest. His predecessor, Pope Fabian (papacy, 236-250 AD), died as a result of brutal treatment in prison on January 20, 250. The persecution of Decius was so intense that it was impossible to conduct an election over the next fourteen months. In March, 251, Decius left Rome on a military expedition and died during the campaign, and in his absence an election was held and Cornelius was chosen. The new Roman emperor Gallus resumed the persecution against the Church; Cornelius was arrested in June, 252, and confined to prison in Civitavecchia, where he died in June, 253, as a result of his physical hardships. His remains were interred in the cemetery of St. Callistus.

CyprianSt. Cyprian was born of pagan parents in Carthage, North Africa, in 200 AD. He had a brilliant mind, and was a lawyer and gifted orator. He converted to Christianity in 245 at the age of 45. He was ordained a priest in 248, one year later was selected as the bishop of Carthage, and quickly became the leader of the bishops of North Africa. He battled multiple heresies which he believed were more dangerous to the Church than the persecutions. He declared that baptisms administered by heretics were invalid. He wrote De unitate ecclesiae, The Unity of the Church, to promote Church unity, to oppose Novatian and his position that the lapsi could not be readmitted to the Church, and to correct erroneous teachings espoused by various bishops. He coined the famous phrase, “One cannot have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” He was arrested under the persecution of the emperor Valerian, condemned to death by the Roman governor Galerius Maximus, and beheaded on September 14, 258. He was the first African bishop to suffer martyrdom and is the patron saint of North Africa and Algeria.

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The mind: A talent to be invested

September 14, 2018


Time to Crack the Books. September is here. The summer is behind us. It is back-to-school time. Whether it is preschool or elementary, middle school or high school, college or trade school, or adult education, fall is the time for so many to immerse themselves in their studies.

SolomanLearning, A Noble Christian Activity. A mind is an awesome gift from God and a talent to be invested (see Mt 25:14-23). God wants us to develop our talents and then to put them to the best possible use in order to produce a rich yield for the Master. It is the vocation, privilege, and obligation of students to apply themselves to their studies.

A Model Learner. The best example of a learner in the Hebrew Scriptures is Solomon. When Solomon inherited the kingship from his father David at the age of twenty, he was young, unlearned, inexperienced, and not knowing how to act. At this opportune moment, God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” (1 Kgs 3:5b). Solomon replied, “Give your servant an understanding heart” (1 Kgs 3:9). God does not pour understanding or wisdom into a person’s head. It is the outcome of long and diligent study combined with the insights provided by the Holy Spirit. Solomon could have asked for a long life, wealth, or victory over his enemies, but he asked for understanding that he would know what it right (1 Kgs 3:11). It is presumed that tutors came to the palace to provide the young king with private instruction. Solomon had a brilliant mind, but his God-given talent had to be developed. He thoroughly immersed himself in his studies, and the outcome was wisdom unparalleled by any other person in Old Testament times (see 1 Kgs 3:12).

A Greater Learner. Solomon prefigures Jesus, a connection made by a detail regarding their births, the only two biblical figures wrapped in swaddling clothes (Wis 7:4; Lk 2:7,12). Solomon may have been wise, but Jesus is the personification of wisdom itself. Solomon may have been the greatest of the Old Testament, but Jesus said, referring to himself, “There is something greater than Solomon here” (Mt 12:42; Lk 11:31).

The Model Learner. Before Jesus became the greatest of all teachers, he was the greatest of all learners, as St. Luke clearly states, “Jesus advanced in wisdom” (Lk 2:52). Jesus was home-schooled by his parents, Mary and Joseph, both who were wise, well-read, and well-taught, and Jesus devoured every word of their instruction. Mary and Joseph took their son to the synagogue in Nazareth (see Lk 4:16b) where Jesus was taught by the local rabbis. Jesus gave them his full attention and absorbed their reflections, applications, and insights into Scripture. His hunger for learning was so great that it took him to Jerusalem, the pinnacle of learning for the Jewish people. At his own initiative at the age of twelve, he took it upon himself to go to the Temple, sit in the midst of the teachers, a group of scribes, biblical scholars, listen to them, and ask them questions (Lk 2:46). Jesus was in the habit of unrolling Scripture scrolls (Lk 4:17), and he often read Scripture, sometimes in the synagogue, other times by himself alone in the desert (inferred, Mt 4:4,6,10 and Lk 4:4,8,10,11). Jesus had a brilliant mind, learned from his parents, sought out the wisest teachers he could find, listened attentively, was a critical thinker, asked penetrating questions, was an active reader, and studied on his own. Jesus immersed himself in the learning process and developed the gift of his mind to the fullest possible extent. Students of all ages would be wise to look to Jesus for inspiration and for guidance in the educational process.

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