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
Father Roger Gustafson