When I was a kid, I used to make funny faces. I would cross my eyes or lift one of my eyebrows like Steve Austin on the Six Million Dollar Man. My mother would use the standard parent line, “If you keep making that face, it’ll get stuck that way!”
She was right. It’s easy to get stuck and caught in ruts. We can get stuck in our faith, like when we get annoyed at Mass because some people overdo the Sign of Peace, or grow impatient if someone speaks after Mass, or obsess about how many verses are in a hymn, or fixate on how long Father Roger is preaching instead of the quality of the message.
It’s also easy to get stuck in other ways, like in our jobs, finances, relationships, and even our attitudes and opinions. Getting stuck can keep us from living more fulfilling, open, and joyous lives. Indeed, we sometimes can feel like we’re in one big traffic jam, and the green light allowing us to move ahead never seems to come.
But the Bible is filled with stories of characters who once felt stuck yet later were suddenly liberated in God’s timing and according to his plan. Here are a few examples:
If you’re feeling frustrated because you’re stuck, listen to this week’s message live in church on Sunday or online by visiting our website to learn what you can do to turn the divine light green in your life.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Reacting with misplaced anger, lack of compassion, judgment, intractability, unwarranted frustration and impatience, or other negative emotions are some of the most embarrassing encounters we can have. Yet, it happens all the time because we sometimes don’t take the time to discern the best way to interact with other people.
Fortunately, the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, which we’re studying in our current Sunday message series called Foolproof, offers some useful practical wisdom on how to avoid such foolish dealings. The author of the book, King Solomon, writes that there are at least five types of people: The wise, the wicked, the simple, the fool, and the scoffer. In order to interact intelligently and achieve the best possible outcome in human relations, Solomon says each person must be dealt with according to his or her individual character. Conversely, a more self-involved human being fails to consider the circumstances, personality, and outlook of the other party, whereas a wise person weighs all these factors before speaking.
Jesus himself dealt with people differently based on their approach, behavior, and personal needs. Here are a few examples:
These are only a few examples of Jesus’ wise dealings with others based on their individual attitudes and circumstances. Listen to this week’s message on avoiding foolish dealings live on Sunday or online by visiting our website.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The author of Psalm 73 complains bitterly to God about the wicked getting away with murder. Why God, he openly laments, do evil people seem to prosper but the good die young? “I was envious of the arrogant,” the psalmist admits, because “their bodies are healthy and sleek,” “they are free of the burdens of life,” and they are “always carefree, increasing their wealth.”
It is a common human complaint. Those of us who try to do the right thing, follow the rules, and grow daily in our ability and desire to love God and neighbor may at times believe that our efforts ultimately are futile and useless and that our attempts are foolish. “Is it vain that I have kept my heart pure,” the author continues, “washed my hands in innocence?” To wonder whether you are the only one who seeks the path of righteousness in a world otherwise gone mad is a very lonely state.
If you fall into this category, many spiritual and religious leaders would applaud you for your righteous indignation over the seeming prosperity of wrongdoers. Indeed, the Bible tells us to steer clear of evil. As we continue our walk through the Old Testament book of Proverbs in our current message series called Foolproof, we hear King Solomon instruct his son, for example, to avoid at all costs “the path of the wicked, and . . . the way of evil men” (4:14). Rather, he says, “the path of the righteousness is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (4:18).
Of course, we should give a wide berth to those who “cannot sleep unless they have done wrong” and are “robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble” (Proberbs 4:16). Sin obviously should not be embraced or condoned. But to the extent you constantly feel isolated and alone in your moral goodness, are perpetually worried about the absence of virtue in most of the people you encounter, and become depressed over the lack of righteousness in others, you might actually be judging too much.
A propensity to condemn others for what seem like their faults and failings often demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching on morality, as well as the rather convenient refusal to turn a roving critical eye inward. It is all too easy for smug, self-satisfied Christians to cluck their tongues and shake their heads over what in fact may not be the ethical transgressions of others, while too easily excusing their own shortcomings. As Jesus once said, “why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Indeed, his instruction remains sound today: “Stop judging that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Tune in to our Sunday morning message this week live in church or online to learn more about the true path to righteousness.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
I was eating dinner last night with someone who said she was leaving her church because it had become too “political.” Indeed, religious institutions including the Catholic Church often are accused of veering inappropriately into political and economic matters that are considered too far outside the scope of their spiritual expertise. Abortion, immigration, climate change, and other hot button social issues frequently are considered off limits, and religious leaders who delve too deeply into these areas are accused of bad taste for not staying “in their lane.”
Pope Francis, for instance, was sorely criticized by free market economists for his comments on capitalism in Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common Home). A few years ago, I received some negative feedback from a few parishioners when we studied global hunger as a parish Lenten project. We asked you to consider writing a letter to your government representative about the problem and some people did not think that was appropriate.
Personal finances is one such highly-charged area. To preach on any aspect of money is often compared to hitting below the belt, as if the Sunday morning atmosphere somehow would been sullied by mixing the sacred with the “profane.”
Yet, money is a major topic in the Bible, and according to an article in Preaching Today magazine, Jesus spoke about money frequently. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions, and one out of ten verses (288 in all) in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money. In fact, money and possessions are the second most referenced topic in the Bible.
“I get my financial guidance from the Bible,” writes Peter Grandich, author of Confessions of a Wall Street Whiz Kid. Grandich, who says his years as a highly successful Wall Street stockbroker left him spiritually depleted and clinically depressed, claims that Scripture is an excellent financial adviser, whether or not you’re religious (Forbes, “Is the Bible the Ultimate Financial Guide?” May 24, 2012).
The book of Proverbs in the Bible, for example, offers a great deal of wisdom and practical instruction for living, including financial management. In our summer message series called, Foolproof, we’re taking some time to examine a number of these key proverbs that will give you important insight and help you succeed in life. And over a hundred of these wise sayings deal with some aspect of money.
Join us this week on Sunday morning or listen online to our message about the wealth of wisdom contained in the biblical proverbs when it comes to handling money and finances. In the message for this week, we will look at some of the core principles necessary to win with money. They include working hard in order to earn honest wealth, giving generously to God and to the poor, saving little by little rather than counting on windfalls, avoiding debt, and keeping track of your money.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We begin a brand new series this week that we are calling Foolproof. In this series, we’ll take a walk through the book of Proverbs in the Bible. You may ask, what is a Proverb? It is simply a wise saying. The book of Proverbs is the central wisdom book of the Old Testament. Like the book of the Psalms, it is a “collection of collections.” The individual proverbs were composed by several authors, but predominantly by King Solomon but also by two other men mentioned as Agur and Lemuel over a period of time and finally collected into a single book. The Proverbs are too often neglected by Christians today, but they are also too often misunderstood. We shall try to throw some light on the book as it applies to our daily lives so as to help us navigate through life.
The purpose of the book is to show the reader how to live life wisely or skillfully and be “fool proof.” As a matter of fact, the entire structure of the book is arranged to carry out this purpose. In the introduction (1:1-7), the title, purpose and motto of the book are clearly spelled out. Beginning in (1:8), there are ten consecutive exhortations or homilies that can well be called the theology of the two ways: the way of wisdom and the way of folly.
The book of Proverbs helps us to make wise decisions in all we do in life. We encourage you to read the book of Proverbs through the period of this series; it is not only a source of wisdom but also a source of encouragement.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine and theology of the Trinity is a mystery which defies all forms of mathematical and logical calculations. The term “Trinity” itself is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. However, Christ instructed us: “Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Hence, the Church teaches us that: “[T]he divine persons are relative to one another . . . . [T]he real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another . . . . [B]ecause of the unity, the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Spirit.
We are invited to contemplate the unity of the Trinity in our lives. We must learn to remain united in faith and in our day- to-day life using the wisdom that comes from God. Just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit, though different in personality and essence yet are united in an unbreakable bond of love, we too should imitate them in our families and our parish community. Let the wisdom of God lead us to an authentic understanding of the Trinity and make us “Foolproof.”
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
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
Father Roger Gustafson