Today marks the beginning of a new message series that we’re calling, Family Matters: Bring Home The Hygge.
As you may remember from last year’s holiday messages, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a sense of comfort, coziness, and togetherness that just makes you feel good about life. According to Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of The Little Book of Hygge, “you know hygge when you feel it. It is when you are cuddled up on a sofa with a loved one, or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. It is those crisp blue mornings when the light through your window is just right. It is about gratitude and savoring the simple pleasures in life. In short, it is the pursuit of everyday happiness” (Harper Collins Publ’rs 2017, Back Cover).
Last year’s message series was about the spiritual comfort God brings us during the holiday season through the gift of his Son. The premise of the series we begin today is that we also can bring the comfort and healing of hygge when we spend time with our families this holiday season. Indeed, the holidays are a time for hope and strength nurtured within the safety and comfort of our families.
Our hope is to take you on an old-fashioned family road trip. When you go home for the holidays—whether that means actually traveling somewhere or simply welcoming loved ones to your home—we want you to bring the comfort, coziness, and well-being of hygge with you. Think of the series as a kind of travelogue.
In the first week, we’ll help you prepare emotionally and spiritually for the family gatherings that will take place at Christmastime. In the second week, the message will explore the need for forgiveness and reconciliation in some of our family relationships. We’ll also encourage you to work together as a family during the holidays to do something for the poor, because service to others brings healing to ourselves.
We’ll also take time to remember to be fully present to our loved ones during the holiday season, blessing them with our care and attention and God’s love and peace. In the fifth and final week, we’ll take a look at how we can send the coziness, warmth, and love of hygge home with our loved ones, as they go back to their busy lives having been renewed and restored by the healing power of the love of family.
As we bring home the hygge this holiday season, we’ll also remember families in Haiti who live in makeshift shacks and long for safe homes. With our partner, Cross Catholic Outreach, we will seek to raise $6,000 to put one family in a sturdy, four-room home.
So, come along for the ride this Advent and Christmas seasons, as we Bring Home The Hygge.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Jesus Christ rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Because of his victory, “all power in heaven and on earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). That core Christian belief is celebrated each year on the last Sunday before the season of Advent begins in a special celebration called the Feast of Christ the King. Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, it reminds all kings, rulers, and lords that only Christ is the true King of kings and helps all Christians remember that Christ must reign always in their hearts.
On the day of his crucifixion, Jesus was brought before Pilate, the local Roman governor, who asked him whether he was a king (John 18:33). Earlier, various people had claimed that Jesus was the promised one who would overthrow the imperial rule of the Roman Empire. That would have been unacceptable to Pilate. Anyone claiming to be a king would be seen as a rival to the emperor, and the claim would be met with swift and cruel punishment in order to eradicate the threat and deter future uprisings.
Jesus’ response is curious. Without denying his sovereignty, he responds that his “kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). It does not originate from the world and therefore is “not here” (Id.). Jesus is not saying that his kingdom is absent from the world. Rather, he explains his kingship in terms of his heavenly identity and mission to come into the world in order to “testify to the truth” about God’s love (18:37). As Saint Augustine put it, Jesus’ kingdom “is not from here” but “is here right up to the end of the world” (Tractates on John 115.2). Accordingly, his followers must live as he did and build up his kingdom by faithfully witnessing to the truth of the Christian faith.
But God’s kingdom is not theoretical. As we’re learning in our Sunday message series called, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring, God’s kingdom is formed person-by-person, family-by-family, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. In order to build up this kingdom, we have to take leadership over our neighborhoods. Too often neighborhood organizations focus exclusively on reducing crime and eliminating threats. While important goals, true leadership moves people beyond fear and isolationism into trust and collaboration.
Each year, our parish brings the local neighborhood together in a celebration of Christ’s birth. In a giant block party, we extend Christian good will to our neighbors by inviting them to our Christmas carnival and boutique. Read more about it in our companion piece this week.
Think about what could happen if you invited a few neighbors over for coffee and asked the simple question: “What can we do together to lift up our neighborhood for God?” Take leadership in your neighborhood and claim it for Christ the King.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The award-winning televsion show, Desperate Housewives, originally aired in 2004, and ran for eight consecutive seasons. Set on “Wisteria Lane” in the fictional town of Fairview, which actually was part of the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles, the show follows the lives of four women as seen through the perspective of a deceased neighbor who now narrates the storyline.
Behind the deceiving façade of a picture-perfect, affluent suburban neighborhood is the portrait of four neighbors who struggle with divorce, infidelity, demanding families and rambunctious children, paralyzing perfectionism and other dysfunctional behavior. With each new season comes a new mystery, usually with the arrival of an enigmatic new neighbor. The television series highlights the truth behind families and neighbors, which is that there is no perfect neighborhood. Despite external indications to the contrary, all people struggle with failure, imperfection, betrayal, disappointment, conflict, and loss.
As the holiday season draws near and Advent approaches, the readings we hear in church become increasingly ominous. In this weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus describes cosmic upheavals of epic proportions. The light from the sun and the moon will die out, stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly powers will be shaken. It is a prediction of the end of the world as we know it. But at the end of days, Jesus promises, God will gather his faithful people from the “four winds,” and from the “ends of the earth” (Mark 13:27).
The prophet Isaiah offers a vision of this new reality. In those days, he says:
[T]he wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair (Isaiah 11:6-8).
Isaiah refers to it as God’s “holy mountain,” upon which there shall be no “harm or ruin” (Isaiah 11:9). In other words, it will actually be the perfect neighborhood.
Working towards a perfect neighborhood in our world today does not require Stepford wives, children, and families. It does not entail perfect veneers or forced expressions of happiness. Rather, it demands a willingness to be gathered, to step out of the isolation of the inner sanctums we have made for ourselves, and to build community instead.
Because neighbors often disappoint each other, building the perfect neighborhood often requires tolerance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Conflict with neighbors is often painful and can inflict lasting wounds. Read our companion piece this week to discover how one parishioner put her neighborhood conflict behind her. If you want to live in a healthy neighborhood, forgive and connect.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The premise of our new Sunday message series called, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring, is that God wants us to be a source of his goodness and grace in our neighborhoods. Church leaders like to hound us about working to build up God’s kingdom, but frequently do not provide any concrete suggestions on how to do so. In actuality, God’s kingdom expands and develops person-by-person, family-by-family, and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. To the extent we wish to change the world, we first have to change our world, which is lived out in local neighborhoods.
Last week, we challenged ourselves to learn the names of our neighbors and pray for them and their needs. This week, we consider specific ways that we can be generous with our neighbors. From lending a cup of sugar to the neighbor next door who’s in a pinch, to welcoming a new family to the neighborhood, or helping someone with work around the house, God wants us to become more and more generous in spirit with those nearest to us.
Neighborliness was an important value in the South where I grew up. A salutation when passing someone on the street was common. But when I first came to California almost twenty-five years ago, I was shocked each time my friendly greeting was rebuffed with silence and weird stares. Recently, Father Celestine shared with me about how Nigerians greet each other, even people they don’t know, with a kind wave and a pleasant “how-do-you-do.” Children are expected to approach their elders with a respectful address, which in turn is met with an outstretched hand.
But many times in our own part of the world, it’s nearly impossible to get a simple nod out of a passerby. What if we worked to transform our neighborhoods with the simplest of all actions and forced ourselves to say hello to people on the street as we pass by? Trust me, it will be disconcerting and perhaps even upsetting when your overtures are snubbed, but you will have done your part.
This week, don’t just wave to the neighbor you know. Brighten up your stomping grounds by hailing strangers with a cheerful smile and gracious words of acknowledgment. It could be a simple hello or, as we say in the South, “how ya’ll doin’?” Maybe they’ll actually stop and speak to you. What a world that would be.
When I first came to Saint Brendan, almost no one smiled when coming forward to receive communion. I just kept smiling and today almost everyone returns the gesture. Don’t give up on neighborliness. You can change your world with a consistent spirit of generosity and affability. It’s perhaps a bit simplistic, but that is my vision for “Father Roger’s Neighborhood.”
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As children gear up for Halloween and families make arrangements for the cherished traditions of the winter months ahead, we begin this holiday season in mourning over another senseless act of violence. After spewing a tirade of anti-Semitic venom over internet websites, Robert Bowers burst into a Pittsburgh- area synagogue last Saturday and opened fire, killing eleven innocent people and injuring six others in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
Pundits speak of the death penalty and the need for gun control, but what is also painfully clear from these heartbreaking events is that we do not know our neighbor as we should. Although the gunman lived in an apartment complex in the local area, one of his neighbors said that she could not remember ever seeing him speak to anyone in the two years she had lived there.
Especially heartbreaking is the statement made by one local resident attending the interfaith service and candlelight vigil held for the victims, who said that the Squirrel Hill community where the massacre took place was the inspiration for the beloved children’s television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Fred Rogers . . . went to our church,” she said, “and to think that in a place where you would love your neighbor, this would happen is just . . . horrible.”
Today we begin a new message series that we’re calling, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring. In this timely and relevant four-week series, we’ll be looking at specific ways that we can bring God’s love into our own neighborhoods. The easiest way to start doing that is simply learning the names of some of your neighbors.
Indeed, a certain level of connection is established when we know someone’s name. It brings the relationship to a whole different place. Likewise, it’s hard to advance in a relationship or even have a conversation with someone, if we don’t know his or her name. Besides, we honor people and show them respect when we know their names. We are drawn to people who make the effort and care enough to know our names and use them.
Indeed, the first strategy of any hostage negotiator is to build rapport with a hostage taker by using his or her name. Although according to news reports Mr. Bowers found a community of like-minded extremists, white nationalists, and Nazi supporters on an alt-right social media website where he posted a stream of anti-Jewish slurs and hate speech, I can only wonder whether anyone in his real space neighborhood actually knew his name and used it to greet him.
Your assignment this week, therefore, is to get to know some of your neighbors’ names. We must learn from the sin of Cain in the Bible when, after killing his own brother Abel, he asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We conclude our message series this week that we’ve been calling, Holy Triage. In this series, we have been scanning through the aspects of our spiritual lives that needs healing. Today we are asking God to open the eyes of our minds and make us see again thereby overcoming our spiritual blindness.
Physical blindness is a tragedy because it keeps us from seeing what is around us, but an even greater tragedy is spiritual blindness. This type of blindness keeps us from seeing and understanding the Truth in the Bible. Spiritual blindness is a symbol of a weakened and impaired spiritual vision. In this kind of blindness, we don’t see the splendor of God, nor do we see as God wants us to see. To be spiritually blind is not to see Christ, and not to see Christ is not to see God (Colossians 1:15-16). Physical blindness in the gospels has a great significance, representing the human need for God’s light, the light of faith. We need to ask God to help us overcome this kind of blindness.
In today’s Gospel, the blind Bartimaeus represents our collective human situation that is constantly yearning for healing and liberation from all sorts of limitations. The blindness might not necessarily be the physical loss of vision, but spiritual ignorance that limits our relationship with others and with God.
Hence, todays Gospel teaches us that to be free from these limitations, we must humbly accept them. Secondly, by constantly reminding ourselves that, “Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 95:8), we must humbly ask for help from Jesus Christ. So like the blind man in our gospel, we must cry out to the Lord in faith for healing: “Lord that I might see.” However, it is important to know that Bartimaeus did not believe because he was cured. Rather, he was cured because he had faith in Christ who said, “Your faith has cured you.” Faith is very important in our daily walk and encounter with Jesus Christ. To see is to have a living faith in Christ.
When Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, the crowd around him tries to silence him. Yet Bartimaeus persists in calling out more loudly and with greater urgency. He will not be deterred from getting the attention of Jesus. We noticed how quickly the crowd reaction changes when Jesus calls for Bartimaeus. Those who sought to quiet him now encourage him. And once his sight was restored, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Both his physical and spiritual sight were restored.
Jesus Christ wants to heal our spiritual blindness so that we can see through our lives and grow in holiness and compassion for others. What will you say when He asks you what He inquired of Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” You might answer and say: “Lord enlighten me that I may see everything through your eyes; help me follow you and keep me close to you. Should I stray, bring me back to you. Help me serve you by giving of myself for others so that one day you will welcome me into your kingdom.”
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
As we continue to examine spiritual maladies in our Sunday message series called, Holy Triage, we turn this week to the problem of control. The fourth-century saint, doctor, and bishop of the Church, Augustine of Hippo, wrote a famous autobiography that outlines his sinful youth and eventual conversion to Christianity. In what are known simply as, The Confessions, he admits that for too long he attempted to find joy in worldly pleasures and addresses God openly and honestly: “You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you.”
Many of us could write the same story. Preoccupied with temporal affairs, distracted by earthly pleasures, caught up with worldly concerns, God often takes a back seat. We convince ourselves that it’s the result of simple negligence symptomatic of our busy, rushed, and chaotic lives. We don’t mean to ignore the one who breathed life into us, saved us from our sins, and longs to give our lives meaning and purpose; it’s just an honest mistake.
But the truth more often is that our inattention results from the desire to control our destiny rather than surrender to God’s will. At the lowest point in Jesus’ life when he knew that he soon would be arrested, beaten, and killed, he cried out to his Father from the depths of despair. In the Garden of Gethsemane, “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:35-36).
The Lord’s response to the uncertainty that awaited in his darkest hour was to surrender control to God, a far cry from the demands of James and John in this weekend’s gospel reading. The two disciples “came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’” (Mark 10:35). Turns out that what they wanted was absolute power represented in the ancient near eastern world as being seated in places of honor on the king’s right and left-hand side. When Jesus asks whether they can drink from his “cup,” a metaphor of surrendering to a destiny controlled by God, they too easily agree in order to finagle the outcome they desire.
Indeed, surrender is a word that has many negative connotations. Songs and sayings that tell us to “never surrender” resonate deeply with us. However, when it comes to the Christian faith, surrender is absolutely necessary. We surrender to God who is, in all ways, more powerful and stronger. We surrender our ways for his ways. To learn more about the problem of control and how we can overcome it, tune in to this week’s message at church or on our website.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Our current Sunday message series, Holy Triage, encourages us to examine how healthy we really are in various areas of our lives, like setting priorities, keeping commitments, and relating to others. Our scrutiny this week is on the practice of faith. As in most measures of salubrity, our level of spiritual health can be evaluated by probing both for errors and omissions.
Obviously, neglecting God and faith will never lead to spiritual growth. For this reason, we’re always working to become a church that people who don’t like church like, so you’ll feel comfortable inviting your unchurched friends to Mass. But in addition to omissions, unhealthy religion also can spring from errors like distorted beliefs and one-sided practices. In contrast, a healthy faith life depends on finding the right balance in many areas, three of which are discussed below.
1.Clerics and Laity.
Jesus Christ established his Church and appointed leaders to act in persona Christi Capitas—in the person of Christ the Head. Never truly absent from his flock, he makes his own action present through priests who carry out the three offices of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. But clericalism eventually transformed the clergy into a privileged elite and promoted their interests and importance over that of the laity. Though Vatican II clarified the absolute equality of laity and clergy, many Catholics still have not fully grasped the dignity of their baptism and essential role in the mission of the Church. At Saint Brendan, however, our program of spiritual growth outside of Sunday Mass relies almost exclusively on a core of small groups led by lay facilitators, because we believe the best way for Catholics to grow in faith is to learn from each other.
2.Devotions and Liturgy.
The Church has been enriched over the years by popular devotions and pious practices, such as novenas, veneration of relics, processions in honor of Mary and the other saints, as well as the use of sacred objects like holy water, scapulars, and candles to permeate everyday life with prayer to God. When distorted, however, popular piety can weaken attention to the liturgy and core truths of our faith. An excessive focus on statues, images, and miraculous medals, for example, may reduce these sacramentals to mere good luck charms, rather than disposing us to receive the sacraments and hear the preached Word of God.
3.Piety and Practice.
Ever come across a crabby Catholic praying the rosary? Too often, church people focus on personal prayer to the exclusion of the needs of their neighbor. Likewise, champions of charity often neglect worship in favor of helping the poor. Both instances result from a dangerous imbalance between piety and practice. As I’ve said before, church is a movement of people in the same direction. Our mission established by our founder two thousand years ago is to make disciples of Christ, which requires both prayer and real outreach.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
During our message series, Holy Triage, we’ve been looking at several areas that create a considerable amount of stress and anxiety for people and offering some Bible-based advice about what to do. We’re encouraging you to reflect on those areas in which you might need some healing or at least a shot in the arm when it comes to spiritual wellness.
So far, we’ve considered the problems of setting good priorities, avoiding social competition, and committing to what matters most in life. To learn more about these topics, listen to related messages on our website. This week, we look at the problem of unhealthy relationships.
At the beginning of time, our Creator said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and so made a “suitable partner” for him (Genesis 2:18). Indeed, God made us for communion with one another. Whether the relationship is one of marriage, family, friendship, colleagues, or teammates, we were created to be “intersubjective” beings that need each other in order to live fully.
Despite this, wherever people gather, there will be trouble. In the workplace, at school, in social clubs and groups, and especially in families and other close relationships, people will hurt and take advantage of each other, seek their own interests, trample boundaries, and tear down the ones they love most.
This is nowhere more evident than in the relationship of marriage, which in this week’s gospel Jesus says should never be dissolved. However, one key to managing unhealthy relationships can be found in the rather unexpected place of divorce. As a Catholic priest, I help divorced people seek the annulment of their marriages through the Church. Though difficult, annulments often bring a sense of healing because, unlike divorce, the process discourages accusation and assignment of blame, but rather asks each spouse to consider how he or she contributed to the problems inherent at the very beginning of the marital relationship.
Last weekend, I attended the annual conference of an international Catholic ministry called Retrouvaille that helps couples heal and renew their hurting marriages before divorce happens. That process begins with an intense weekend experience that also involves deep introspection into the brokenness that each spouse has brought into the marriage. Couples are not allowed to shift the blame to each other, but instead look to themselves, the masks they wear, and the personal issues they struggle with that have weakened the marriage.
You might call this “the problem of me,” and it applies not only to marriage, but to every relationship. Turning unhealthy relationships into truly satisfying ones is simple but definitely not easy, because it requires, first and foremost, to point the finger at yourself.
To learn more about the spiritual problem of unhealthy relationships and how to overcome it, listen to this week’s message at church or on our website.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our current message series, Holy Triage, we are looking at the areas of our lives that need spiritual healing. In the first week, we talked about setting healthy priorities. Last week we talked about the problem of social competition to help us avoid unnecessary anxiety and insecurity.
This weekend, we explore the power, transformation, and spiritual healing that can happen by making and keeping commitments. Everyone is committed to something. When you go to the bank to borrow money, you sign a contract. You are committed. When you take a job, you are committing to do your best. You are committed. When you were baptized and you became a member of our wonderful Saint Brendan Parish, you are committed to worship here and support the works of evangelization by the giving of your time and resources.
Indeed, commitment is the currency of communal existence. To understand better the power of commitment, we need to recognize two dimensions of commitment. The first dimension is promise-keeping. Any commitment is a promise of relationship. The second dimension extends the promise over time, which means, I will not just honor my commitment today. I will continue to follow through on my commitment. I will do what I say I will do. This is the kind of commitment God desires.
In the book of Numbers 30:2, the Bible says, “if a man commits unto the Lord or swears an oath, he has to bind himself and not break his words.” Also in 1 Kings 8:61, it says, “And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God.” In Luke 9:62 Jesus says, “No one who puts his hands on the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
But one of the serious problems facing religious-minded people today is that, while lip service is given to God, many are not truly committed to him. This lack of commitment is seen in a variety of ways, including a lack of interest in spiritual growth and knowledge of the Bible; sporadic attendance at worship services; and failure to give back a significant portion of our time, talent, and treasure to God. The commitments we make shapes our identity and heals our souls. We find joy and fulfillment whenever we follow through on our commitments.
Today our first reading and the gospel have a lot in common. Both of them show that God has no favorites but chooses and uses those who are committed and pleasing to him. It also proves to us that the spirit of God is the one that empowers us to do good and be committed to God, especially in acts of charity, so that we will not be caught up in the wailings and cries of the rich who exploit the poor. Indeed, commitment heals the soul and gives us joy.
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
Father Roger Gustafson