“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (John 2:14-16).
As our community comes together in the face of scary news reports, statistics, and uncertain days ahead, it is fascinating, honoring, and humbling to look back on Catholics in crises — the missionaries, religious, and lay individuals, who, throughout history, have united to provide aid, hope, and healing. As Catholics, we are called to serve at the margins; these people are the ultimate example.
In 1804, a Spanish mission set out to bring the smallpox vaccine to the New World, where it was ravaging communities. The Church played a critical role in establishing vaccine standards and safety, as well as immunization records for vulnerable communities. It must be noted that the introduction of smallpox and the subsequent vaccination program were largely unjust and painful experiences for many of the indigenous populations of South America; however, this vaccination mission was instrumental in curbing the spread of smallpox, and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
In 1854, a brave group of Sisters of Mercy left Kinsale, Ireland bound for San Francisco. In the rough-and-tumble of the early Gold Rush, the sisters initially faced massive religious persecution. Just one year after arriving, however, the eight sisters mobilized a massive nursing campaign to guide the city through a devastating cholera epidemic, winning over city officials and citizens alike. Their compassion and willingness to take in those most in need, including the elderly, orphaned children, and homeless women, surprised everyone.
In 1906, the same Sisters of Mercy opened a tent hospital in Golden Gate Park to serve those injured, homeless, or displaced because of the devastating fires and earthquakes. Dominican sisters from Mission San Jose gave up their house in order to shelter dozens of children made homeless through the devastation. They slept in stables for months in order to provide those struggling to rebuild their lives with a comfortable living space.
Catholics step up to meet social crises too — poverty, violence, and human rights violations. St. Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her life to helping the poor and disenfranchised — from giving the poor and suffering deaths of dignity to establishing resource centers for people suffering from leprosy, she truly served from the heart of Christ.
Fr. Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries (one of the largest support networks in existence for men and women who were previously incarcerated or gang-involved), says it best, when he asks: “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. Kinship — not serving the other, but being one with the other.”
Stay safe; check in on your friends and family; spend a little extra time in prayer; and perhaps contemplate how you might better serve those on the margins, both currently and in the coming weeks.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Whenever I meet a family whose loved one has died, I ask them to tell me about the person’s finest quality. The response often is heartwarming. Almost without fail, they tell me that “he was a family man” or “she loved her family more than anything else.” Indeed, family forges a sense of identity and belonging for most people. It is the one place where we can consistently experience love, intimacy, acceptance, warmth, and security.
But your spiritual family is an even greater blessing. Earthly families are wonderful gifts, but they are temporary and sadly often strained by divorce, strife, estrangement, and geographical distance. Jesus came, however, to gather a family of faith that would last forever. “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father,” he once said, “is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).
God’s second purpose for your life is belonging to his family. Because “God is love,” his nature is relational (1 John 4:8). In his very being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—God exists in a loving relationship to himself, and therefore has no need of a human family. He has never been lonely. But he desires a family because he loves us and wants us to be part of it. That’s why you were formed for God’s family.
As a result, “you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but . . . members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Following Christ necessarily involves belonging to a faith community because none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.
As Rick Warren points out in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, a church family teaches us how to share and counteracts our tendency to exist in self-centered isolation. A church family helps us to mature as Christian disciples and prevents us from “backsliding” into negative and self-destructive behaviors. In addition, church is the place God designed for you to discover, develop, and use your gifts for his glory (135-37).
Awash in a postmodern sea of “nones,” spiritual but not religious people, and believers who refuse to belong and shun the responsibility of church membership, our contemporary culture faces alarming rates of spiritual disengagement and nearly an entire generation ecclesiastically run adrift.
The Christian life is more than a moral code or some amorphous spiritual longing. It is more than believing in Christ, or even attending church regularly. It includes a real and definite commitment to other Christians in a stable community of faith. To reject such attachments or express disdain for church also rejects Christ himself who formed the Church and took her for his bride (Ephesians 5:27).
Join us this weekend as we learn more about the benefits of membership in God’s family. The touching story of a lost woman restored to belonging because of her newfound faith in Christ may very well lead us deeper into the heart of both believing and belonging.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Churches around the country are dying at astonishing rates for the same reason: They cater to religious insiders and forget about the unchurched. Obviously, when we focus our sole attention on the few already in the pews, we inevitably ignore the great numbers of people on the religious margins. The result is dwindling attendance.
This is the philosophy of the Rebuilt movement that is sparking a global culture of parish renewal in the Catholic Church. At the core of this movement is an effort to make the Sunday worship experience more attractive to those who are not currently attending church and to revive non-engaged parishioners by getting them excited again about their faith and their parish.
The Eucharist rooted in traditional liturgical practices will always remain the source and summit of our Catholic faith. But expectations of worship have changed over the years. Many of the ancient symbols and cherished devotions that nurtured the faith of our ancestors no longer resonate with the spiritual temperament of current generations. As a result, more and more of those raised in the faith are now joining the ranks of the “spiritual but not religious” who have distanced themselves from church and absented themselves from the Sunday assembly.
To reverse these trends and attract the unchurched, the Rebuilt movement focuses on three key strategies: (1) carefully-planned, curated messages that are relevant to the lives of normal people and that inspire them to take the next step in Christian discipleship; (2) a well-trained team of lay ministers who create an irresistible worship environment by warmly welcoming visitors and making them feel at home; and (3) exceptionally high-quality music that is professional performed and easily accessible to people unfamiliar with church hymnody.
Many of the updates that we have been making to our worship experience at Saint Brendan, including our message series format, Audio Visual Lighting upgrades, enhancements to our Sunday socials after Mass, and the creation of a Greeter ministry have all been designed with these strategies in mind.
In our current Sunday message series, What on Earth am I Here For?, we are using Pastor Rick Warren’s best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, to help us determine our unique purpose in life. As we have discovered, God has given us five special purposes that bring joy and meaning to our lives. The first of these is to worship him fully.
Sadly, too many people never fulfill this purpose because they experience worship as dry, formalistic, and overly ritualized. God made us to worship him because it brings him joy. But it should also be genuine and heartfelt for us. This means that, without sacrificing the beauty of our distinctly Catholic form of liturgical expression, we must find ways to adapt in order to make church matter to the next generation and help others fulfill their primary purpose of worshiping God.
Changing our patterns of behavior or way of doing things is often painful. But we can manage our negative emotional responses in a constructive way, if we embrace these changes together.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Today we are launching our new message series, which will carry us through the season of Lent and all the way to Easter. We are going to take a critical look at our lives and try to answer this important question, “What on earth am I here for?” Of course, the penny or simple catechism of the Catholic Church has an answer to this question. It says, “God made us to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and be happy with him forever in the next.”
But in this series we will try to explore beyond the basics of the penny catechism in trying to answer the important question on the “Why” from the book The Purpose-Driven Life. There are a few different approaches to find an answer to this question of the “why.”
These approaches include introspection, that is, looking within oneself to find an answer. A second approach involves speculation, or looking to others to find an answer. The third option, self assertion, suggests that there are no answers and our purpose simply is self-determined.
In this first Sunday of Lent we want look at one of the stumbling blocks we have or experiences in our lives that keep us away from answering the question of why I am here. Giving in to temptation has kept a lot us from trying to answer the question of actually fulfilling our God-given purpose in life. Saint James writes: “Happy is the man or woman who doesn’t give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get as his reward the crown of life that God has promised those who love him” (James 1:12).
On the part of spiritual maturity, even temptation becomes a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block when you realize that it is just as easy to do the right thing as it is to do the wrong thing. Temptation simply provides the choice. While temptation is Satan’s primary weapon to destroy you, God wants to use it to develop you. We can overcome temptation using a few steps:
1. Refuse to be intimidated. Don’t be intimidated or demoralized by tempting thoughts. You are not beyond temptation but you can overcome temptation.
2. Recognize your pattern of temptation and be prepared. There are certain situations that make you more vulnerable to temptation than others. When you identify these, you can make efforts to avoid them.
3. Request God’s help. Heaven has a 24/7 emergency hotline. God wants you to ask him for assistance in overcoming temptation. He says, “Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me.”
Jesus overcame the most excruciating temptation from the devil today in our gospel, and, if we call on him in our time of need, he will come to help us win the battle.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
I am a sophomore in college at Loyola Marymount University, which is a Jesuit school in Los Angeles. For the last year and a half, I’ve been very involved with campus ministry and have learned a lot about Ignatian spirituality in the process. As a freshman, I attended the “First Year Retreat,” an annual retreat for first-year and transfer students to the university. The retreat centers on one main question: What do you want the next four years of your life to look like? Rooted in the Ignatian concept of discernment of spirits, the retreat seeks to help set new students up for a successful transition to college life.
As a sophomore, I was a leader for the First Year Retreat. Prior to the weekend, the other leaders and I spent hours in “the Cave” (home to campus ministry and a never-ending supply of otter pops), talking about discernment in our own lives and preparing to guide our retreatants.
When you’re lost in the woods of “What on Earth am I here for?,” discernment of spirits is like a map and compass. It’s a great way out of those woods, but only if you know how to use it. St. Ignatius believed that all of our plans and motives in life could be boiled down to two “spirits”: those that console and those that bring desolation.
Both spirits of consolation and desolation can pull us toward God; both spirits of consolation and desolation can push us away from Him. Discernment asks us to turn introspectively and think about the different spirits in our lives. What are they? Where are they coming from? How are they moving us? Are they bringing us closer to God or pushing us further from Him?
As we begin Lent, we have the perfect opportunity to perform this kind of introspection, which is something we never do alone but with God to guide us. Like Jesus in the desert, we are called to turn inward in preparation for Easter. As we focus on the areas for improvement in our lives, we can also turn to those big, existential questions, like the “Why am I here?” question. While we might not find all of the answers, thinking about the spirits that drive us might be a good place to start.
And, simple pro/con lists can help us out as well. When we sit to think about our lives and ask why we do the things we do, writing down the costs and benefits of all the different parts of our lives can help us identify the spirits that guide us (both rightly and wrongly). Once we’ve determined what guides us, it’s only one, much smaller step towards purpose and meaning.
If that sounds straightforward, I can assure you that it's definitely not. There’s a reason that a lot of cathartic crying takes place on the First Year Retreat. Confronting your purpose is a scary thing to do and takes time, self-compassion, and love from everyone around you. (Consider joining a small group for that community!) But God wants us to try.
And, as Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, writes, “There is no difference between what you most deeply want and what God wants for you.”
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Of all the teachings pronounced by Jesus in his lifetime none is more difficult than the commandment to “love your enemies” It is easy to love our neighbor; to love our spouse; to love children; to love the poor and the disadvantaged. But to love the one who has hurt us or intends to hurt is another thing completely. When Jesus pronounced this teaching, you can be sure that the people listening to him were probably shocked beyond belief. Love my enemies? How can that be? After all, imbedded in the laws of Judaism and in most ancient cultures was the expectation to fight one’s enemies. Not only that, but there was a general understanding that one could rightly seek revenge of some sort against those who hurt you in some way. This was a matter of justice.
The earliest record we have of actual laws regarding Justice in terms of revenge was found on some stone tablets discovered in ancient Mesopotamia known as the code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who lived about 1750 years before Christ. He codified various laws which are considered to be one of the earliest examples of judicial rights of the innocent and punishment upon the guilty. Much of the code dealt with laws regarding lex talionis—literally—laws of retaliation.
In our message series, Common Sense, we’ve been exploring the reasons why following the teachings of Jesus makes sense, even on this very difficult teaching about the love of enemies. Let’s face it; we live in a world where retaliation or revenge is widely accepted. Revenge is played out on every school playground; revenge is practiced in many courtrooms; revenge is used in arguments between spouses and revenge is sought in many conflicts around the world. You hurt me. I hurt you. This is the cycle of revenge. This is the reality of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
What Jesus is concerned with, which makes common sense, is the need to break the cycle of revenge. Revenge accomplishes nothing except to foster greater hatred and injustice. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying, “an eye for an eye will leave the world filled with blind people.” Jesus teaches that the only way to end the cycle of violence and revenge is to pull the plug on it by forgiving the offender. The fact is, while we may not like to think about the need to forgive those who hurt us, we actually forgive many things each day. We forgive and forget things almost automatically. If someone bumps into you in a crowd, that person will usually say, “oh, I’m sorry,” and you would normally respond, “Don’t worry about it,” and that’s the end. So it takes common sense to believe what Christ teaches. If we don’t forgive, our anger will pile up and destroy us emotionally and spiritually.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
The first question most people ask when offered a new job is about the salary; the second is about the fringe benefits. Before committing to a prospective employer, most candidates want to understand the full package of benefits.
In our message series, Common Sense, we’ve been exploring the reasons why following the teachings of Jesus Christ make sense. His success in shaping the course of human history, his universal embrace of all types of people, his surprising way of saving humanity by sacrificing himself, and the throng of leaders he has raised up to lead the world are four solid reasons we’ve covered so far.
But what about the advantages for those who already believe? Is there anything in it for us? What are the benefits of believing in what Jesus taught? Turns out they are myriad, but here are a few to consider:
1. Peace of Mind. Worry and anxiety are commonplace today. Most often the source is fear about the future because of uncertainty about the present. Shifting sands of truth can shake the foundations of our existence, and it’s hard to know who or what to trust. But Jesus said: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Following Jesus’ teachings creates genuine peace of mind. We no longer fear tomorrow because, come what may, we have the certainty of truth.
2. Meaning and Purpose. Life has little meaning when devoid of purpose. Each of us was created for five purposes inherent in the teachings of Christ: (1) We “worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). (2) We form true fellowship in meaningful spiritual communities and become the family of God (Matthew 12:48-50). (3) We move mountains when we grow in faith (Matthew 17:20). (4) We are the greatest when we serve the least (Matthew 23:11). (5) We are sent on mission to feed God’s sheep out of love for Jesus (John 21:15-18). When we live out our purpose through his teachings, our lives take on their fullest meaning.
3. The Ability to Bravely Face Death. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He wept for the tragedy, heartbreak, and outrage of death. He later bravely faced “[t]he last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26), when death itself was “swallowed up in [his] victory” on the cross. When we follow his teachings, we, too, can bravely face death and confidently ask: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Join us this Sunday to discover one more important but surprising benefit of believing in what Jesus taught and living as he instructed.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Leadership is a flexible concept. In essence, it is the art of motivating people to move together effectively to achieve a common goal. The characteristics and personal qualities of a leader and the different types of leadership styles used also may depend on the circumstances, but no movement can get off the ground without good leadership.
The Jesus movement arguably has been the most successful in the history of the world. So, here are four of just some of the leadership qualities that Jesus exhibited during his ministry:
1. Emotional Intelligence. Jesus had charisma and people instantly gravitated to him. Peter and his brother Andrew immediately “dropped their nets and followed him,” as did James and John (Mark 1:18-20). Jesus amassed fame very quickly, and the “[n]ews about him spread everywhere” (Luke 4:37). In fact, there are over thirty passages in the four Gospels that mention crowds gathering around him. He was a people person who obviously cared about others.
2. Courage. Jesus never sugarcoated the truth, even though it sometimes meant losing lukewarm disciples (John 6:60-69). He held his followers accountable, correcting James and John for their overt ambition (Mark 16:42-45), chiding Peter for trying to tempt him away from the Cross (Matthew 16:23), pointing out the disciples’ lack of faith (Matthew 8:26) and understanding (John 14:19). He also challenged the authorities of his day (Matthew 23) and ultimately gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
3. Empowerment Of Others. Jesus told his disciples: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Yet, he delegated and shared that authority with them. He sent the disciples to various regions as his ambassadors (Luke 10:1-23; Matthew 10:1-32), gave the apostles power to forgive sins (John 20:23), and eventually sent them as his witnesses to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
4. Servant Leadership. Jesus cared for others, protected his disciples, set an example for them to follow, and ultimately died for them—all traits of a leader who prioritizes service. He did not come “to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He is the “Good Shepherd,” who knows and “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15). Speaking of his disciples, he condemned anyone leading his “little ones” astray (Matthew 18:6), but promised to reward those who would give them even just a “cup of cold water” (Matthew 10:42). He also gave his apostles a model of humble service when he knelt down to wash their feet (John 13:1-17).
Over the centuries, Jesus has inspired armies of disciples. Join us this weekend for the fourth week of our message series, Common Sense, to learn how Christ continues to raise up leaders like you even today and why that is a very good reason to believe in what he taught.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our current message series called Common Sense, we’re examining why it makes sense to believe the teachings of Jesus. The impact he had on the collective human conscience and the inherent inclusivity of his message are two important reasons to believe. But, ironically, the truth of what he taught is most powerfully communicated through the suffering and death he endured on the cross.
When I was twenty-four years old, I made a retreat at a Trappist monastery on the edge of metropolitan Atlanta. Years earlier, I had visited with my sixth grade class. Now, as a new Catholic, this serene place of peace held far more spiritual meaning. As I was wandering the grounds late one afternoon, I came across an enormous crucifix on the shore of a tranquil lake. I stared at the lifeless corpse hanging on the cross and began to weep. The great love with which Christ must have had for us in order to endure the horrors of crucifixion overwhelmed my emotions.
As Tom Holland writes in his new book, Dominion, “no death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. . . . Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross—a ‘crux’—was repellent” (Basic Books 2019, 2-3). So disturbing was the idea that the Son of God could be tortured like a common slave that his method of death was not even portrayed in visual form until centuries later.
By the middle ages, however, the cross would come to humble even the mightiest monarch. “Men and women, when they looked upon an image of their Lord fixed to the cross, upon the nails smashed through the tendons and bone of his feet, upon the arms stretched as tightly as to appear torn from their sockets, upon the slump of his thorn-crowned head onto his chest, did not feel contempt, but rather compassion, and pity, and fear” (Holland 9). His teachings of universal love, turning the other cheek, and praying for one’s enemies became laden with moral weight in the convincing light of his ghastly crucifixion.
The reality of the cross, if given half a chance, will speak even in the most cynical of hearts today. Join us this Sunday for the third installment of our message series for more on this common-sense reason to believe in the teachings of Christ. As the lyrics of a popular contemporary Christian song by Matt Maher powerfully convey:
The price of love is paid in full, his blood poured out, how beautiful.
Take all the breath in my lungs, you’ll hear the rocks crying glory to God.
Take everything that I’ve got, and you'll see two empty hands lifted up.
You may silence me but the cross forever speaks.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Saint Paul’s exhortation in the second reading “to be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” should prick the conscience of every Christian. As I write this article on the birthday of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the Monday of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I am painfully reminded of the many divisions still lingering among us.
Racial hostility mounts long after the civil rights movement declared success. Religious differences even now separate believers. Political views on gun control, class warfare, criminal justice, and a host of other controversial issues fuel endless rancorous debates. Gender inequality persists, and enormous gulfs between mainstream and marginalized groups continue to widen.
Intergenerational friction is just the latest sore spot to emerge in the identity politics of our day. The clash between generations runs deep. According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, much of the conflict can be traced to economic policies that have stifled the upward mobility of younger generations, making it harder for them to get a job, save money, or find affordable housing (Jan. 18-19, 2019, A13).
A similar tension runs along the generational fault line in many churches as well. Young leaders filled with gospel energy agitate for changes that often rankle older parishioners who prefer stability. New programs and innovative technologies also can unnerve senior members and make them feel left out of the very churches they worked so hard to build.
A few years ago on retreat, our own staff discovered that two key demographics coexist in our parish, and they are sometimes at odds. “Brendan, Jr.” and “Brendan Sr.,” as we lovingly call them, have different needs and interests. We came to realize that, although change is vital for a ministry’s long term health and growth, we must never forget the past or the rich spiritual legacy of men and women who have invested their lives in this parish over the years and have been serving God long before we were born.
In his book, Liquid Church, Tim Lucas argues that intergenerational ministry is one of the most critical opportunities for the sustained growth in ministry today. “Every generation—builders, boomers, gen X, millennials, gen Z—young and old, coming together and merging streams,” he says, will “create a powerful river that flows with new life and gospel vitality” (Zondervan 2019, 167). At St. Brendan, we are blessed with both thriving Under 5’s and Over 50’s groups. Over the next few months, I hope to explore ways for the multiple generations in our parish to work hand in hand.
This week’s episode of our new message series called, Common Sense, considers how the teachings of Christ have served to unify people across cultures, nationalities, races, and other seemingly unbridgeable divides. Join us Sunday for a dose of renewed hope in a divisive world.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson