On the first Sunday of our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we heard how the Old Testament matriarch, Rebekah, remained faithful to God’s plan. Last week, we explored the heroism of four women that lived hundreds of years later when the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt. This week, we learn about a woman of ill repute but great faith.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Rahab was a prostitute, a working girl, a lady of the night. But she also was sharp-witted, clueful, and quick to believe. Despite her chosen profession, she is a biblical celebrity, appearing not only in the Book of Joshua as a heroine of the Israelite people, but also in the genealogy of Jesus and two books of the New Testament, which praise her faith.
At great risk to herself, Rahab harbored two Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, the commander of the Israelite people, to scout out the land that had been promised to them by God. In exchange for her life and the lives of her family members once Jericho was invaded, Rahab provided the cover needed to protect these foreign infiltrators sent on a mission for God.
Rahab was a Canaanite, a feared people in that region. To call them “barbaric is to describe the North Pole as nippy.” Indeed, the people of Jericho “had no regard for human life or any respect for God” (Max Lucado, Ten Women of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 33). Yet, despite their brutal reputation, the citizens of Jericho trembled in affright, having seen the flickering lights of the multitude of Hebrew soldiers camped for three nights on Jordan’s eastern banks. The city was abuzz with fear and dread. To put it mildly, they were “freaking out” and “popping Xanax like Tic Tacs” (Lucado 36).
The natural reaction would have been to stick with the crowd and blend in with the rest. In the face of impending danger, Rahab could have huddled with her own people, hunkered down within the safety of the enormously thick and hitherto impenetrable walls of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. After all, it had always worked before.
But Rahab somehow knew that this time would be different. Like the other residents, she had heard “how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea” and won victory for the Israelites against their enemies. Unlike the others, however, Rahab was quick to believe that the God of the Hebrew people was, in fact, the one “God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:10-11).
Indeed, a hero for God is quick to believe. In what part of your life can you follow Rahab’s nimble and lithesome faith and be a little more ready to believe in God’s awesome power?
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
 For the complete story, listen to our weekend message above.
On the first Sunday of our “Vacation Bible School,” we heard how Rebekah was faithful to the plan of God. This week, we explore the heroism of four women that lived hundreds of years later when the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt.
Shiprah and Puah were two Hebrew midwives ordered by the Pharaoh to kill all baby boys being delivered by Hebrew women (Exodus 2:15). But they feared God more than Pharaoh and refused to carry out his immoral command. When questioned for not following orders, they made the excuse that the Hebrew women were strong and gave birth before the midwife arrived. Because of their fear of God, the Lord blessed them and built up families for them (Exodus 2:20).
Jochebed loved her children and would do anything for them. When Pharaoh ordered the killing of all male Hebrew babies, she wanted to protect her child and hid him. After three months, she put him in a basket among the reeds of the riverbank. Although obviously painful to be separated from her child, Jochebed acted heroically by trusting in God’s faithfulness and parting from her son for his own safety.
It was the Pharaoh’s own daughter, Bithiah, who discovered the basket, opened it, and saw the baby. Moved with pity, she defied her father’s orders and decided to care for the child, even though she knew it was a Hebrew boy. The boy’s sister, Miriam, saw Bithiah picking him up and offered a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. Bithiah agreed and Miriam brought his own mother to nurse him. Jochebed’s trust in God to preserve the life of her son was rewarded when she received him back in her arms. Bithiah also acted courageously and became an instrument in God’s plan that the child named Moses, which means “I drew him out of the water,” one day would liberate his own people from slavery.
We have a tendency to put our own safety and comfort first, even though it often is contrary to God’s plan. Some couples perhaps too easily resort to divorce rather than exert every effort to heal the relationship. A pregnant woman may decide to abort an unwanted child, seeing it as a burden rather than a blessing. An elderly person or terminally ill patient may be unduly influenced to commit suicide. We also may take life in other ways through gossip or hatred of certain types of people. Do we have the virtue to fear God and the courage to fulfill God’s will, even though it may cause hardship or ridicule from others?
These four women of the Bible were heroes because of their bravery and appreciation for life. Knowing that God is faithful, they remained faithful to him. Dare to be a hero in God’s eyes by protecting all life and witness how he will be faithful in your life.
--Father Pete Tieng, Parochial Vicar
 For the complete story, listen to our weekend message above.
This week in our new summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we meet one of the four matriarchs of the Old Testament. The wife of Isaac and daughter-in-law of Abraham, Rebekah was a strong woman in every respect. Though often depicted as quiet, humble, and willing to serve, Rebekah also had a sharp mind with strong opinions and was not afraid to voice and act on them. But the ambitious dreams she held for Jacob, her favorite son, eventually drove her to deception and manipulation.
Rebekah’s betrayal, however, ultimately accomplished God’s plan. Her moral complexity therefore makes Rebekah an intriguing character in the Bible. Was her deception in the end justified? Was her ambition precisely the driving force needed at that point in salvation history?
Ambition derives from the latin ambitio, which literally means “going around canvassing for votes.” An ambitious person therefore ultimately seeks power, honor, and recognition, either for herself or for another. Ambition is not wrong in itself and is a necessary attribute in life. God gave us an ego to accomplish and build things through creativity and an inner drive to succeed. The quality becomes problematic only when “proper ambition,” as Aristotle termed it in his Nicomachean Ethics, exceeds the “golden mean” and spills over into greed or “unhealthy ambition” focused, not on the greater good, but on selfish personal interest.
Here are three ways to discern whether you should curb your ambition.
1. Consider the End.
The moral quality of ambition in part rests on the objective pursued. If your goals align with God’s, then your determination to achieve that purpose will honor God. Otherwise, you should rethink your plan. Rebekah’s duplicity was the conduit to the development of the ancient Israelite nation. The end she pursued therefore was good.
2. Consider the Means.
The ends, however, do not justify the means. Rebekah used dishonesty to defraud her eldest son of his birthright. In Catholic moral tradition, lying is an “intrinsic evil” that can never be justified. Assuming Rebekah did in fact lie, could God have achieved his own ends without the falsehood?
3. Consider the Intent.
The difference between proper and blind ambition often emerges in the motive of the one acting. Though many seek power and prestige, Saint Paul tells us that our only ambition should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Was Rebekah’s conduct based on her desire to promote her favorite son or to fulfill God’s prophesy and the higher purpose that Jacob, and not his brother Esau, would be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel?
Rebekah was by no means perfect. Heroes rarely are. Even in their weaknesses, however, God never fails to bring about his plan through the imperfect people he chooses, like you and me.
 For her complete story, click here to listen to our weekend message on the Messages page.
Spiritual growth results from a series of difficult choices to step out boldly rather than retreat to familiar corners and to make bold moves rather than always taking the safe course. Genuine disciples of Christ do not let fear stop them from making the bold move that God is asking them to make. Instead, they embrace the uncertainty of change, the pain of suffering, the risk of sharing, and the inconvenience of real commitment, in order to make bold moves on behalf of the Lord.
For the seven weeks of the Easter season, we have been inviting you to reflect on a bold move that you could and probably should make in your life. Each week in our bulletin we have offered a few practical tips for getting ready for that move. As we come to the end of the series this week, we recap all the tips we’ve been suggesting. Here are the six clues to connecting with your next step in faith.
1. Stay Connected With People
Despite the fact that much of our happiness results from our connections with other people, the levels of chronic loneliness in our culture are staggeringly high and continue to rise. Get rooted in a spiritual community or a small group of believers who will help you think through your next step and hold you accountable to take it, because staying connected to others will help you stay on course.
The apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common. They gathered to comfort each other and wait for inspiration to make their next move. For two thousand years, Christians have found their power in assembling and praying together on Sundays.
But we also need to assemble in smaller groups to share our lives with people we have come to trust. One bold move you could make is to spend more time with the loving people of our cozy faith community. Explore the small groups section of our website or contact us to start one of your own. All you need is three or more trusted friends.
2. Stay Connected With Faith
When Jesus appeared to his disciples gathered in fear behind locked doors, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Worry and doubt in our troubling world often are exaggerated by a lack of understanding about faith.
To have the courage to make a truly bold move in our lives, spend the time and energy to grow in faith. Dust off the Bible and start reading it, as well as other spiritual books, because staying connected to your faith will help you find your way.
3. Stay Connected With God
Without reliable power, transportation, and utilities, developing nations struggle to achieve economic success. The same is true of our spiritual lives. Without a strong spiritual infrastructure, we will remain stuck in an impoverished relationship with God. Daily spiritual habits keep us connected to God by helping us to stay focused on what is eternal.
But the foundation of our faith should never be rooted in guilt, shame, or fear. Establishing a positive spiritual rhythm to the day, making prayer, quiet time, and Sunday Mass attendance something you like to do, and choosing one daily spiritual activity you actually enjoy will help you stay connected with God and make your bold move easier.
4. Stay Connected With Your Future
Most of us are ashamed by something we have done in the past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves. But “God is greater” than whatever our hearts condemn us of having done wrong (1 John 3:20).
You can learn to forgive yourself by openly admitting your faults, reflecting on the vastness of God’s mercy, giving yourself the same advice you would give to someone else in a similar situation, and realizing that refusing God’s mercy also is a serious sin. When we allow ourselves to be bound by the past, we will never be able to move into the future. After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
5. Stay Connected To The Big Picture
Despite our good intentions, we often become mired in our comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. Whether it’s the people we associate with or our views on certain topics, sometimes we are prevented from moving forward by not being able to see more broadly.
If we want to know God, we must move beyond negative perspectives, cultivate unexpected relationships, broaden our horizons with new endeavors, and begin to see and love the world more like God sees and loves it. After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could be making.
6. Stay Connected To The In-Between
Most of us are waiting for something. Waiting can be painful, but while we’re waiting for God to act, he’s actually helping us to grow in maturity and become more and more like Christ. Waiting is the womb in which spiritual greatness is formed, and those who wait will not be disappointed.
You can learn to delay gratification by gradually increasing your spiritual focus, remembering the wins in your life, and realizing that the waiting will not be forever. One day, we will see that, while we were waiting, God was loving us and preparing us for a bold move.
So, what is your bold move going to be?
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the spiritual power of waiting and delaying gratification.
Among his last words before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait. For many people, waiting is a lost art, which can keep them from moving forward in healthy ways because they grow impatient and opt for inferior choices and lifestyles, instead of waiting for the richness of God’s gifts. Here are three easy ways to strengthen your ability to delay gratification.
1. Build Up To It.
Connecting with God takes time, effort, and self-control. It usually doesn’t come naturally and often requires delayed gratification. Start small and build up slowly. If you don’t pray regularly, try a simple invocation at night before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up. My favorite is the Abandonment Prayer by Charles de Foucauld. Or listen to spiritual talks and the Sunday messages we post on our website as you drive to work or take a walk. Once you gradually begin to increase your focus on spiritual things, your desire for the cheap imitations of this world will naturally and organically fade away.
2. Realize It’s Not Forever.
I love my iPhone, but it’s definitely an antique. I sinfully covet the brand new iPhone X but have been holding back until my current model has reached the four-year mark. It’s difficult waiting, but at least I can see the end in sight. Jesus told his disciples that it was not for them “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established” (Acts 1:7), which can make waiting for God to act definitively in our lives even more challenging. Some of us may lose heart because nothing ever seems to change. But Jesus will come, seminary professor Brant Pitre argues, when the bride, his Church, is ready. Our task is to prepare our souls for him and to realize that the waiting one day will be over.
3. Remember the Wins.
Staff members at a Catholic church in Maryland get together every Tuesday morning to celebrate what they call “weekend wins.” Church is simple but not easy. So they prop up their spirits by naming what they have witnessed on Sundays as the positive outcomes of their hard work. To help you delay gratification and wait patiently for God, deliberately remember the wins in your life that God already has given to you. Studies have found that gratitude is correlated with the ability to wait longer for better rewards. Indeed, gratefulness changes the pain of waiting into the joyfulness of expectation.
When it comes to God, delayed gratification is never in vain. One day we will discover that, while we were waiting, God actually was lovingly preparing us for our next bold move.
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of broadening our perspective.
Most of us have developed comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. As enriching as these may be, we sometimes are prevented from moving forward by the failure to see more broadly. Here are three ways to step out of the predictable patterns that may be holding us back.
1. Cultivate Unexpected Relationships.
Cornelius was a Roman centurion who received a vision from an angel telling him to send men to meet Peter, one of the apostles living in a town called Joppa. Peter received a similar vision and agreed to accompany the men back to Cornelius’ home, where Peter exclaimed: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Once unthinkable to associate with people who were not Jewish, Peter now realizes that “in every nation whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
Most of us tend to associate with people who are similar to us. If you want to broaden your perspective, seek out new relationships with those outside of your comfort zone. People of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even belief systems can contribute to positive growth in our thinking and help us to discern the new horizons to which God is leading us.
2. Try To See As God Sees.
“Whoever is without love does not know God,” Saint John says in the second reading. Many times our perspectives are limited because we prematurely foreclose the option to love. Instead of loving as God loves, we unduly narrow the field of our love. “God sees not as man sees,” the Bible says, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While God does not condone or accept every human endeavor, the Creator nevertheless made beautiful things out of us. To widen your outlook, try to see the world as God sees it, especially the other human beings around you.
3. Go Out On A Limb For God.
At his farewell dinner, Jesus told his disciples that he no longer called them “slaves” but “friends” because he had chosen them, not the other way around. When we consider our lives from this perspective, entirely new vistas open up for us. If Christ has chosen us, then our lives do not belong to us. Jesus has chosen us to “bear fruit” by loving others through the rather uncomfortable enterprise of mission and ministry. To broaden your horizons, try something new. Join one of our small groups or outreach ministries. Explore our website for more information.
After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could make.
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of making peace with yourself. Most of us are ashamed by something in our past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves.
While we should never treat our sins blithely, forgiving ourselves once God has is essential to making spiritual progress. Here are four basic but bold steps that will help your bygones be bygones.
1. Openly Admit Your Faults.
Too often we try to sweep our mistakes under the rug because they just seem too painful to admit. Or we may even deny that what we have done is sinful. But false denial just paves the road to more guilt and shame. If you are plagued by something in your past, the first step is to admit it to yourself. Then go to confession and tell a priest. Once you have received absolution and done penance, seek out a family member, trusted friend, pastoral counselor, or even a professional to talk over the issue. Facing your sins is the first step to healing.
2. Offer Yourself Some Good Advice.
No one appreciates unsolicited advice. But perhaps you might accept some from yourself. If you have trouble receiving forgiveness for some indiscretion in your past, imagine that you are talking to someone you love, like a friend, child, or spouse, who has revealed some fault or mistake similar to your own. What would you say to that person? Would you suggest clinging to guilt, holding on to humiliation, or persisting in self-imposed punishment? Or would your advice be to forgive the error? A simple thought experiment like that can help you move past self-reproach and blame.
3. Reflect on God’s Mercy.
Unremitting guilt can easily declare war on our sense of happiness and freedom. Considering the wideness of God’s mercy is a powerful defense. Scripture offers many positive messages to combat negative feelings of worthlessness. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” declares Psalm 145. “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made,” sings the author of Psalm 139. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us,” recounts the psalmist (103:12). Make these and other uplifting verses from scripture your mantra to free you from the grip of self-doubt.
4. Don’t Thumb Your Nose at God.
Cheap grace presumes upon God’s mercy by using it as an excuse to live a life contrary to God’s will for us. But we can also squander divine mercy by refusing to accept it. God’s mercy is unconditional. Never take it for granted by refusing to forgive in yourself what he already has.
After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
Our Sunday message series that we’re calling, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step in obedience to God’s desire for our lives. This week’s message underscores the power of constructing a spiritual infrastructure that will support and sustain whatever bold move you end up making for God.
While a spiritual foundation is essential for Christian discipleship, there are many ways to ground your faith. Here are a just four basic but bold steps that will provide a strong foothold for your spiritual life.
1. Set Priorities
Children often stall at bedtime because they don’t want to miss anything. As our society becomes increasingly frantic, insisting that happiness ensues from taking part in every possible activity, setting priorities for ourselves and our children is the only proper adult response. While prioritizing may sound simple, it’s far from painless. It requires discipline to jettison extraneous pursuits. When it comes to strengthening your spiritual life, less actually is more. Sit down with your family and create a time budget. Set in stone the truly important things like prayer, quiet time, and Sunday Mass. Then fill in the blanks.
2. Establish a Spiritual Rhythm
For centuries, monks and nuns have regulated their lives according to the hours of the day and a careful measurement of time. The sounding of church bells at regular hours established a predictable pattern and pace of prayer, work, and communal activities. To develop a spiritual rhythm in your life, consider marking time. Set an alarm on your smartphone to remind you to stop and pray at certain times of the day. Give pride of place to morning and evening by waking with gratitude and examining your day before going to bed. Whatever you do, make it a habit.
3. Choose One Spiritual Activity
The desire to achieve spiritual perfection can thwart even the best laid plans. Know your limits. Trying to do too much actually can result in spiritual laziness, called acedia, or even paralysis. While dabbling in and switching up a well-established routine of pious practices can reinvigorate a tired spirituality, it’s usually best to adhere to just a few activities. Devotional prayers like the rosary, journaling, walking in nature, daily Mass, adoration, and spiritual reading all are good candidates. Start by choosing just one and sticking to it every day.
4. Make Sundays Matter
Liturgy is both “the source” of our spiritual growth and “the summit” towards which our daily religious habits are directed (Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 10, 14). Sundays therefore should be the high point of the week. A spiritual life without Sunday Mass will wither and die, just as Sunday Mass without a private spiritual life will always seem hollow and pointless. Cap off the week by making Sundays matter. Every time.
Start your spiritual infrastructure today and then get ready for your bold move.
Priests often encounter people in crisis. Through my seminary education, I have learned some ways to accompany people through the tragic moments in their lives. One common approach is to help them put their problems in a more appropriate frame of reference. When disaster strikes, perceptions often become distorted, and working to ground the person more firmly in reality by offering accurate information enables them to navigate the situation better and take more control of the circumstances.
In the gospel reading this weekend, the disciples are unnerved by the death of Jesus. They are in crisis, and when the Lord appears in their midst, they are even more “startled and terrified.” Jesus knew that their hearts were “troubled” because of questions, doubts, and fears. He normalizes the state of affairs by giving them accurate information. “Look at my hands and my feet,” he says, “that it is I myself.” He allows them to touch his glorified body and even consumes food in front of them, so that they would know that he was not a “ghost.”
Indeed, fear and worry often arise from a lack of knowledge. Misinformation and irrational assessments can easily produce mistakes, false impressions, and errors of judgment. In the first reading, for example, Peter blames the people for demanding that Jesus be executed and a murderer released to them instead. Yet, he does not fault them entirely because they and their religious leaders “acted out of ignorance.” Their fear of the Romans led them to act accordingly. Had they known who Jesus really was, they never would have hung him “on a tree” (Acts 5:30).
We began a new message series on Easter Sunday that we are calling, Bold Moves. In last week’s message, we offered some clues from the gospel reading about how God is preparing you for a bold move in your life by drawing you deeper into his community of love. This week, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In other words, he provided good information to comfort them and quell their fears.
We live in a confusing and troublesome world. While doubt and fear are a normal part of the human condition, they often are exaggerated by a lack of understanding about our faith. To have the courage to make a truly bold move in our lives, we first must spend the time and energy to grow in our faith.
Every morning, I spend just three minutes listening to a homily on the readings for the day (www.usccb.org) and reading a reflection from Notre Dame (www.faith.nd.edu). To the extent we are willing to learn about our faith, God will open our minds to the truth, overcome our ignorance, and open the doors to a great bold move for us.
On the prow of the massive ocean liner, third-class passenger Jack Dawson played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 movie Titanic experiences one of the best moments of his life. Hovering dangerously over the icy waters below, he shouts out in a fit of ecstasy with arms extended overhead, “I’m the king of the world!” At the 1998 Oscar ceremonies, Titanic won eleven awards. Upon accepting the Academy Award for Best Director, James Cameron raised the trophy over his head and also shouted, “I’m the king of the world!”
Saint John, one of the twelve apostles, makes a rather bold statement. He says that whoever “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” actually “conquers the world” (1 John 5:5). In other words, there is something about a disciple of Christ that enables him or her to become king of the world by conquering it.
The “kosmos” that John refers to is the world apart from God and in opposition to him. Those with faith in Jesus Christ, however, conquer the defiant rebellion of that world. With the knowledge that Christ has saved us and remains with us “even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), we can have the strength to endure the attacks of this world, with its regrets, disappointments, frustrations, and failures. For in Christ we have the indestructible hope of final victory.
Notice however that John intertwines this conquering hope with love of others. In other words, there is a link between the Christian triumph over the world and connection with other people of faith. Just as someone who loves his or her own father also naturally loves his or her siblings, so too love of God and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ are inseparable parts of the same experience.
Indeed, according to William Falk, Editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, “much of our happiness flows from our connections to other people, our sense of community and joint purpose.” In this regard, however, Falk contends that we are “in distinct decline.” Instead of communal kinship, “the ceaseless hunt for money, security, and consumer goods, dominate most people’s lives; time for family and friends, and the activities that build community and meaning, is often scarce. Loneliness is epidemic” (Mar. 30, 2018, 3). Referring to the now-familiar Danish concept of hygge, Falk argues that what our society really needs is this deep recognition: “Richness comes from human connection” (Id.).
Last week, we began a new Sunday message series that we’re calling, Bold Moves. During this Easter season, we want to encourage you to consider some bold moves in your spiritual life of faith. As we heard in the first reading, the apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common.
One bold move you can resolve to make is to spend more time with this faith community. Explore our website (www.strendanparish.org) for the many opportunities to serve, give, and join our small groups, and conquer the world through some bold connections.