Over the last two years, we've answered your questions about the Catholic faith during Mass. Now, as we come to the last installment of our three-week summer message series, you can also find the answers to all 15 questions we answered simply by clicking here.
I have been reading a book by an evangelical, megachurch pastor on the topic of church growth and reaching out to the unchurched. “Once every few years, I preach on Jesus’ view of divorce and remarriage,” he writes in one place. “I remind all the remarried people that they committed adultery when they remarried. People get upset.”
No doubt. The topic is upsetting. Both the gospels of Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying exactly that. On one occasion, the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2; Matthew 19:3). It was an open question at the time, much debated by the rabbis. Jesus avoided the trap with broad language, but once alone with his disciples, he said unambiguously, “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9; c.g. Mark 10:11).
Some scholars explain the harshness of Jesus’ teaching as disapproval aimed at the inequity of the rabbinic interpretation of the Mosaic Law on divorce. Men could hand a “bill of divorce” to their wives at any time for virtually any reason, but women unhappy in their marriages could not do likewise. But the fact remains that the ostensible words of Jesus on this topic are printed in black and white, even red letters in some versions of the Bible.
To make matters worse, there is no help from most Christian traditions. The pastor I mentioned earlier seems to offer no assistance other than to remind divorced and remarried people that they have sinned. In fact, no denomination does anything to accompany hurting people through this difficult journey in a systematic way, except the Roman Catholic Church.
I write about this because we received again this year many questions from you on divorce and remarriage as part of our current message series, Faith Answering Questions. Some of your submissions were heartbreaking. However, there is much hope in this area.
While formal and legalistic in many ways, the annulment process offered by the Church, at its core, is really a healing ministry. It gives reassurance and clarity to those who feel broken by divorce. Although Jesus by his words seems to have not permitted divorce, he did leave a broad exception for marriages that are “unlawful.” Through the authority given to it by God, the Church has interpreted this as grounds for granting annulments. Whereas a divorce is a dissolution of an otherwise lawful marriage, an annulment is a declaration that the marriage was not valid from the start because “the two [never became] one flesh” for a variety of possible reasons (Mark 10:8; Matthew 19:5).
If you’re divorced, talk to your local parish priest. He can help you start the annulment process and walk with you through the whole process. If you’re hurting because of divorce, we invite you to check out our divorce support group on the small groups page of our website. We love you and are here to help.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We begin a new three-week message series today called Faith Answering Questions. Back by popular demand from last summer, we’ll answer your questions about the Catholic faith during the Sunday message and in the bulletin articles each week.
Taking time to ask questions about our faith is important because we can’t really love God until we know him. In any relationship when one person doesn’t know the other, the people involved drift apart. We see it in many types of relationships, but the saddest of all is when we drift apart from God or really never knew him in the first place.
For some Catholics, religion was merely an academic subject in school. They may know theological facts or the names of the parts of the Mass or famous saints, but may not really know God’s heart and what he’s about. Some Catholics might not know God because the entire content of their Sunday school curriculum was no more specific than “God is love.”
For other Catholics, the faith was presented as a compilation of rules and laws to follow and knowing God in a personal and intimate way was not emphasized. Still other Catholics are unfamiliar with God because every time they went to Church it was so boring, they just assumed God was boring and not worth the time to get to know.
There can be many reasons we don’t know God, but this is not what God desires. The God of the Bible expresses a great desire for intimacy and that we come to know him well. We’ll never understand our Creator completely, but he wants us to know him in a personal and intimate way.
Certainly, we can come to a deeper knowledge of God through private prayer, Sunday Mass attendance, and participation in a faith community. But asking thoughtful questions about our faith also is an effective way to grow in our relationship with the divine.
In the very early days of the Church, there was no little conflict over theological matters. In fact, the first controversy erupted less than twenty years after Jesus’ death. It started to divide the Church when self-appointed preachers, “without any mandate” from the apostles, “upset” many believers with their false teachings (Acts 15:24). In response, the apostles convened and discerned true teaching to restore “peace of mind” among Christians. In the gospel reading, Jesus said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word,” and he promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything (John 15:23, 26).
When we are willing to ask the tough questions and listen to the answers provided by the Holy Spirit through the teaching of the Church, we’ll be able to keep God’s word more fully and come to love him more deeply. Listen to our message live this Sunday or online to hear the answers to your questions on faith.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
How can we continue? It’s a question that can be asked in desperation, for example, when couples wonder about the future of their relationship. It also can be asked, for example, when a leadership team strategizes about the future of their organization, as our staff soon will do on our retreat later this month. In either case, what is sought is a way forward into the future.
Over the last four weeks, we have put the question to you about the future of Christianity. Since September, we have listened to messages of healing in ourselves, our neighborhoods, and our families, and I hope that you have been reflecting on your own sense of spiritual wellness. But all of this development in faith will “bear fruit that will last” only to the extent we are able to answer the question: How can we continue?
In our current message series for Easter called, To Be Continued: Fearless Evangelization, we have been presenting several ways to communicate our own healing and faith development to the wider world. Of course, sharing your faith directly and boldly will always fulfill Christ’s command to “go and make disciples.” But the premise of this series has been that we also can spread the message of Christ in ways that are not rigid, artificial, or imposing. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. Evangelize By Example:
Saint Paul said that “a little yeast leavens the whole dough” for good or for ill. We have been commissioned by Christ to testify to his truth. Whatever yeast we provide—good or bad—will affect how others perceive Christ and Christianity.
2. Evangelize Through Forgiveness:
When Jesus appeared to the frightened apostles after his resurrection, he said that those “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” When we find a way to offer genuine forgiveness to those who least deserve it, they are drawn closer to the grace and mercy of God, which is the very definition of evangelization.
3. Evangelize Through Perseverance:
The apostles rejoiced that they had suffered dishonor for the sake of Christ when brought before the religious authorities. In some of his last words, Christ told Peter that he would soon “stretch out [his] hands” and suffer. These readings point to the value of persevering nobly through difficult times, inspiring others to draw close to the cross of Christ when they are in pain.
4. Evangelize By Investing In Others:
Jesus is the Good Shepherd gathering people together into one flock. The core image of the Church is a great multitude gathered in worship. God’s work is ours. Look for “providential relationships” in the people around you and invest in them to bring them more fully into God’s flock.
This Sunday, we reflect on how to evangelize through a particular type of love. Listen live or online to our message of encouragement.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Most people have experienced occasions in life when they have felt powerless and unable to change difficult circumstances. The feeling of helplessness is a common human experience. It can paralyze and make us believe that God does not care about us. We pray for the situation to change, and nothing seems to happen. When we feel vulnerable, weak and ineffective, the situation often is made worse because we also feel completely alone, abandoned by God.
But the Easter season is a time when we remember that we will rise again. The core principle of our faith is that Jesus Christ died for our sins but was raised from the dead by his heavenly Father and that we, too, one day will rise again from despair, frustration, and loss. We will rise again both to eternal life and to more abundant life now because of our faith. The fundamental belief Christians cherish is that our Father loves us unconditionally and is our most ardent and consistent supporter. That reality can sustain us through the often distressing feelings of helplessness.
To the extent we choose to accept that love and refuse to be mastered by despair and the negative thoughts that can envelop us in a cloud of darkness, we will be vested with a new sense of power and control in our lives. This is what it means to be empowered by our faith. This is what it means to be freed by our faith. The power and freedom comes from the deepest recognition and courageous choice to hold on to the undeniable truth that no circumstance or situation—no matter how bleak—is impossible for God. As Saint Paul wrote, God is able to accomplish infinitely more than we could ever have hoped for or imagined (Ephesians 3:20). His power fills our weakness. His glory heals our hopelessness.
In our current message series for the season of Easter called, To Be Continued: Fearless Evangelization, we want to equip and prepare you to bring this healing message of Christ to the world through the ordinary means of your life, including your own particular gifts and strengths. One of those means that often is overlooked is the effect we have on other people when we connect with them in some meaningful way.
Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as a person of influence, but your behavior can have a significant ripple effect in the sea of humanity when you invest in the people around you. It’s a simple matter of connection. When you reach out to others and gather them into your orbit through encouragement, recognition, service, spiritual friendship, or a simple invitation to share your life with them in some way, you are demonstrating the power and freedom of life in Jesus Christ.
Listen to our message this Sunday live or online at www.stbrendanparish.org to learn how you can be the access point for others to live more fully, freely, and powerfully in Christ.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
On the pilgrimage to Rome I led a few years ago, our group visited an ancient basilica dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Commonly known as Santo Stefano Rotondo, this unusual church in the round is decorated with 36 scenes of martyrdom, depicting dozens of macabre scenes typical of the grisly deaths many of the early Christians suffered at the hands of their cruel persecutors. The graphic murals portray martyrs being flayed, boiled, vivisected, roasted, crucified, and buried alive.
The first conflicts between Christians and government authorities began almost immediately after the death of Christ. At first, they were persecuted by Jews. Many of them believed that the Roman occupation of Palestine was the direct result of the people’s unfaithfulness, and Christianity was seen as an heretical sect of Judaism that needed to be stamped out in order to protect the nation. Christians ironically sought refuge under the wing of the Roman authorities.
Soon, however, it was the Roman emperors themselves who began ordering systematic persecutions of the followers of Christ, beginning with Nero and Domitian in the first century, Marcus Aurelius and Septimius Severus in the second century, and Decius and Diocletian in the third. Christians were charged with being “atheists” for worshiping an invisible god, objecting to military service, and dishonoring the Roman pantheon by refusing to attend civic events at which sacrifices were offered to the gods and incense was burned before a statue of the emperor.
Indeed, suffering, persecution, and martyrdom have been consistent themes throughout Christianity. In the second reading today, Christ is glorified for the suffering he endured. In the first reading from the Book of Acts, the apostles rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. In the gospel reading, Jesus pulled Peter aside and told him that, one day, he would be led somewhere he would “not want to go.” Forced to “stretch out [his] hands,” Peter also would have the honor of suffering crucifixion for the glory of God (John 21:1-19).
As with Peter, we too give witness to Christ by how nobly we endure persecution and suffering in his name. Far from damaging our faith, the blood of the martyrs and the brave model of perseverance demonstrated by Christians throughout the ages have been its seedbed. The many exemplary deaths of Christians have moved many who witnessed or heard of them to join their ranks and encouraged the rapid spread of the faith around the world. Just as the disciples could not be silenced, even in the face of persecution and danger, we also are encouraged to stand up courageously for the faith in our own times.
Learn how to evangelize and inspire others by continuing the grit our Christian forefathers once demonstrated. Listen live or online to this Sunday’s episode of our Easter message series, To Be Continued: Fearless Evangelization.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Way back in September, our parish began a year of reflection on the healing power of Christ and our need for spiritual wellness. Through our various message series and bulletin articles, we’ve tried to offer support and advice to help you assess and increase your spiritual health quotient. All through this year since early September, we’ve been working together on spiritual healing and improving our overall sense of well-being through faith.
We began the year with a message series called Holy Triage. There, we looked at our need for healing by considering a number of spiritual problem areas that can fester in our lives. Then, we looked at ways that we can bring God’s healing, light, and love to our own neighbors and neighborhoods in a series we called, Next Door: The Art of Neighboring.
During the Christmas season we talked about how to bring comfort and healing to our families during the holidays in a series called, Family Matters: Bring Home The Hygge. We kicked off the New Year on a positive note with a series called, Spiritual Life Hacks, where we examined simple spiritual tweaks that could improve our everyday lives.
In our series just before Lent called, Spin Doctoring, we thought about how to work through life’s setbacks in a healthy and constructive way by turning our negatives into positives. Our Lenten series, Bare Necessities, helped us to cut back, trim down, simplify, and de-stress our lives by learning to be satisfied with what God already provides us.
Now in this final series of the regular preaching season, that we’ve been calling, To Be Continued: Fearless Evangelization, we’ll be learning how to keep the ball rolling by doing what so many Christians dread to do—hand on the healing power of faith to others. Our desire is to show you how marshaling the strengths you already have can be an incredibly effective way of bringing the message of Christ to the world. The point of the series is to help you continue the healing that hopefully you have experienced in your life over the course of this year by passing it on to others.
In last week’s message, we told you that the most honest, straightforward, and effective way of communicating the message of Christ to other people is by living your own life truthfully, sincerely, authentically. When others see the happiness and freedom you enjoy when you become the true you God envisioned, his glory will be manifest and others will be drawn to do the same.
This week, we consider a rather unexpected way of evangelizing others. It’s a method that will reap incredible fruit, not only for those who hear the message but for you personally. Listen live at church on Sunday or online by scrolling to the top of this page to discover this unique and powerful tool for spreading the message of Christ.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Easter Sunday marks the beginning of our brand new message series that we’re calling, To Be Continued: Fearless Evangelization. In this Year of Healing and Spiritual Wellness at Saint Brendan, we’ve been reflecting on the healing power of Christ. Through our various message series and bulletin articles, we’ve tried to offer support and advice to help you assess and increase your spiritual health quotient and overall sense of well-being.
As Easter begins, we now want you to think about bringing to the wider world whatever healing and growth in wellness you have experienced this year. Like the Apostles after the resurrection of Christ, we want to help you “continue” those spiritual health-giving effects in the lives of your loved ones and other people around you. In this new series, we’ll be learning how to keep the ball rolling by doing what so many Christians dread to do—hand on the healing power of faith.
No need to pump your brakes here. Whether you’re a lover, a socialite, a tortured introvert, a forgiving and understanding individual, or all-around holy person, this series is for you. In fact, we’ll be learning how to marshall all of those strengths to bring the message of Christ to the world and use words only if absolutely necessary! You will learn how to fearlessly evangelize, but to do it from your own comfort zone.
Check out our homily guide on the next page for the first episode. If you missed our live message, you always can listen to it at www.stbrendanparish.org.
We’re also going to encourage you again to consider trying out a small group. There’s no safer place to test drive how it feels to share your faith and pass it on to other people. As Catholics, we too often believe that only a priest or religious sister or brother has anything of spiritual value to offer. But in truth, all of us can learn from each other.
Faith is not exclusively—or even mostly—about dogmas and doctrine. Spirituality is a lived experience, and we all live it differently. In fact, that’s the very definition of discipleship: faith put into action. Hearing stories of how other people are impacted by the message of Jesus can help you continue that message yourself. You’ll never be put on the spot or asked to speak in a small group. But over time, you’ll begin to trust your other small group members and feel comfortable sharing. We have almost twenty active, thriving groups meeting regularly. From bible studies, to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, to Marian devotions, there’s a group for every type of person.
Lives are being changed in our small groups. Be fearless and check it out. There’s never an obligation to continue in a group, only to continue the faith!
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Over the last five weeks of our Lenten message series that we have been calling, Bare Necessities: Getting Back To Basics, we’ve been exploring how God provides for us and his providence, whatever that turns out to be in our lives, is truly enough for us. The series has been about cutting back, slowing down, simplifying, and relaxing with the assurance that God ultimately takes care of us and gives us everything we need.
Each week, we discovered a new gift that God provides us free of charge:
Today on Palm Sunday, Christians around the world reflect on Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, followed all too soon by his public arrest, humiliation, and crucifixion. In the course of those events, the disciples were fed and promptly fell asleep! They were protected from the worst of the atrocities, while in his darkest hour Jesus clung to his Father, who three days later led him to the dawn of a new beginning for all humanity. The bare necessities were enough for Jesus and his followers.
As his disciples, we can strengthen others by offering them these same gifts on behalf of God:
Listen to our weekend message to fill in the blanks!
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In this week of our message series, the Bare Necessities: Getting Back To Basics, we shall look at how God makes all things new for His faithful Children.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (43:18-19).
Sometimes God wants to do something “new,” and yet we are still stuck in the “old.” It is hard at times to let go of what is familiar, and what we know. It seems easier to stay comfortable to just keep going with the flow, not to mess anything up.
For those who like change, “new” is mostly exciting. For those who don’t like change, “new” is mostly stressful. But here is what I love about God. He thinks and works outside our own box of
thinking. He doesn’t always work in the ways that we would have chosen for our “new.” God sees the big picture. He knows what He is doing. He works behind the scenes of our life that unfold our everyday in the places where we can’t always see or understand all the “why’s.”
People move, life happens, decisions are made, many change jobs, kids grow up, and there are times we might go through some really tough struggles. We may even start to feel cheated, like life is unfair. But it still breathes the truth: God is not finished with our lives yet. You are still here and He has great purpose in all that you walk through, even in every life change and season.
New is one of God’s promises to us, and we know that all of his promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (See 2 Corinthians 1:20). As believers, our hope ultimately rests in the promise that Christ will come back for us one day and make all things new.
God makes things new because:
Listen to our weekend message to fill in the blanks and believe that God will do something new when we get back to the basics of our lives.
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson