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
During our message series, Holy Triage, we’re looking at five areas that create a considerable amount of stress and anxiety for people. It’s our way of helping you take a personal inventory of your faith. We’re encouraging you to reflect on what defines you as a spiritual person and where you might need some healing or at least a boost in your level of spiritual wellness.
Last week, we considered the problem of setting and keeping healthy spiritual priorities, which requires both a clear vision about Christ and the courage to follow him. This week, we consider the problem of social competition. Most of us experience some level of anxiety and insecurity in this area, the most common cause of which is the failure to remember God’s unconditional love.
The history of the ancient Jewish people offers a good example of this dynamic. The Israelite nation was God’s chosen people. “I will be your God and you shall be my people,” the Lord told them (Jeremiah 7:23). Israel was chosen not as a result of favoritism, however, but for a special mission, namely, to be a model of holiness for the whole world. Indeed, God made the Jewish people to be “a light to the nations, that [his] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
But the people did not obey. “They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs” on God (Jeremiah 7:24). Throughout their troubled history, the children of Israel were repeatedly unfaithful to God because they tried to mix the worship of other gods with that of the one true God. (See, e.g., Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 15:31-33; Jeremiah 19:5). In doing so, they became like an adulterous spouse. (See, e.g., Jeremiah 9:2; Ezekiel 16:15-19; Hosea 2-3).
But what caused them to turn to other gods in the first place? Why did they straddle the fence when it came to the Lord? One reason was their own sense of social insecurity. The Jewish nation was surrounded by more prosperous empires and nations that both threatened their survival but at the same time projected an image and lifestyle the Israelites sought to emulate. (1 Samuel 8:19-20; Ezekiel 20:32). The bottom line is that they continually forgot that they were God’s special possession and loved dearly by him.
Our own deep-rooted social anxiety stems from the same source. Our worth does not come from our talents, accomplishments, or merits. Rather, our very dignity and worth as human beings have their source in God’s love for us. Forgetting the constant and unshakable love of God always results in stress and worry, especially when we compare ourselves to others.
To learn more about the problem of social competition and how to overcome it, listen to this week’s message at church or on the messages page of our website.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our new six-week message series, Holy Triage, we’re calling attention to areas in our lives that may need some healing or at least a booster shot of spiritual wellness. Though self-diagnosis is discouraged by doctors for most physical health conditions, we’re actually encouraging you to take your own spiritual pulse, probe soft spots in your spiritual life, and develop a wellness plan to get back on track with your faith.
During the course of this series, we’ll look at five different problem areas that tend to trouble people. This week’s hot spot is setting and keeping priorities. Deciding on what should be our highest priority is addressed here, while the companion piece on the next page offers some advice on maintaining priorities by avoiding distractions.
Most people do not struggle with identifying basic priorities. Ask any thoughtful and successful person to name the most important areas of life, and a familiar list likely will materialize with little trouble. The problem usually is not the relatively easy task of ranking what should take precedence over other considerations. The rub instead comes in actually setting priorities and causing them to become fixed, rooted, and permanent, with clear boundaries and a solid plan to let go of competing demands. Like parents “setting” a good example for their children, priorities require a firm commitment that is more than lip service.
The ancient Jewish people understood this well. According to the Law of Moses, love of God and obedience to his commandments were to be their primary focus. Identifying that priority was not difficult; setting it stone, however, was another matter. To help them remember God’s singular importance, the Hebrew Bible includes a prayer called the “Shema,” which from ancient times must be recited twice a day by every Jew.
“Hear O Israel,” it begins. “The Lord is Our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Israelites were commanded to take these words to heart, drill them into their children, speak of them always and everywhere, and even wear them on their wrists and foreheads and nail them to their doorposts (6:6-9). To this day, orthodox Jews wear small leather boxes called phylacteries and attach decorative cases known as mezuzahs to their front doors containing the sacred text, in order to remind themselves that they must love and obey God above all things.
Jesus also spoke of priorities, perhaps most famously in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Seek first the kingdom of [God] and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). When we set that as our first priority, Jesus promises that God will take care of everything else and that our “house” will be built solidly on rock, never to collapse (Matthew 7:24-25).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Church is not a building; it’s a movement of people toward a common goal. Our goal is to connect individuals to one another in Christian fellowship, deepen their lives of prayer, help them to heal from life’s wounds, foster their growth in faith, and guide them in serving in ministry and mission with the love of Christ. We use five words to describe these five purposes of our church:
These words are the central organizing principle of our entire church ministry. They appear on our website, drive our pastoral objectives, and determine our annual parish theme.
Two years ago, we focused on our connection to one another. Our parish theme was One Body. Last year, our efforts turned to learning how to pray in more diverse and perhaps more satisfying ways, and our parish theme for the year was Pray Together —Stay Together.
Today we begin a new adventure. As we reconvene after many of us having gone our separate ways over the summer months, we now are moved to deeper reflection on the healing power of Christ in our lives, the third purpose of our church. Our parish theme is called, Getting Better Together: A Year of Healing and Spiritual Wellness.
This year we’re going to encourage you to take your spiritual pulse and consider what area of your life might need a little healing. Like other wellness programs, we’ll be offering you some resources and help to improve your overall spiritual health.
In particular, our Sunday messages will focus on the theme, and we kick off the new year today with a six-week message series that we’re calling, Holy Triage, to help you assess your own spiritual health quotient.
Other great initiatives on tap include:
On February 9, we’ll be celebrating spiritual wellness in marriage with a world class Catholic speaker in an event we’re calling, Happily Ever After. At our annual Saint Brendan dinner in May, international author and inspirational speaker, Terry Hershey, will cap off the year by talking to us about resources to step back from a stressed driven pace of life and learn to celebrate rest, sanctuary, faith, and gratitude.
Today is the last day of our three-week message series that we’ve been calling, FAQ: Faith Answering Questions. During Mass, we have been answering many of your inquiries about faith. But even as we’ve been exploring specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ve also been learning something about faith itself from the gospel stories over this same period.
In the first week, Jesus explains that he is the Bread of Life. While members of the crowd balk and grumble against him and even quarrel among themselves, he ultimately manages to lead his closest followers to greater faith through that uncomfortable process. In last week’s reading, many of his supporters abandon him because they cannot accept his claim that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. But Peter exemplifies the trust needed to grow in faith when he blurts out that only Christ has the words of eternal life.
We therefore have learned so far that faith grows through a process of questioning and doubt that eventually yields to trust in the credibility of the person of Jesus Christ. However, a third step that we learn about in this week’s gospel also is necessary for faith to increase.
The passage this week comes from a portion of the Gospel of Mark called the “Bread Section” (6:33-8:26), in which bread (artos) is referred to no fewer than seventeen times. Twice in this section Jesus miraculously feeds a multitude with a few loaves of bread and fish, each time followed by a conflict with the Pharisees that demonstrates their lack of understanding and then a healing that represents a growing comprehension of Christ and his mission. In today’s passage, the conflict is over the failure of Jesus’ disciples to wash their hands before eating.
The Pharisees, who were members of a renewal movement that advocated strict observance of the Law of Moses and frequently interpreted its precepts in exaggerated ways, asked why the disciples omitted the customary ritual cleansing. Jesus does not respond to the Pharisees directly because he knows that “their hearts are far from” him. Rather, he accuses them of hypocrisy, of being stage actors who observe religious laws merely for show.
The lesson here is that empty religious formalism devoid of authentic love will not lead to greater understanding of the Lord, but only a commitment to him from the heart. By setting aside the legal system of ceremonial laws, Jesus shows that God’s intention was never for the traditions of ritual purity to serve as their own end, but rather as symbols pointing beyond themselves to true purity of heart.
For our faith to grow, therefore, it is not enough to ask questions or even to trust in the answers given. We also must commit our lives and our very selves to Christ from the purity of our hearts and out of love for him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson