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
In a recent sermon, Tim Lucas, pastor of one of the fastest growing upstart churches in the nation, bellowed out to the congregation of his Liquid Church, “Nones are done with the church!” Referring to the group of people who check off the box “None of the above” on religious affiliation surveys, Lucas insisted that their decision to opt-out of organized religion had nothing to do with a lack of spiritual hunger or desire for God in general, but frustration with the structure and specifics of the Christian religion.
Forty percent of millennials fall into the so-called “none” category, compared to only 17 percent of the baby boomer generation, and a recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed how this generation gap is thrown into sharp relief at Christmas when multiple generations in the same family celebrate the holidays together.
According to the article, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that about half of baby boomers attend religious services at least once a month, while 40 percent of millennials seldom or never attend. Slightly more than half (52%) of boomers consider Christmas a religious holiday, compared with only 32 percent of millennials. As a result, parents often feel rejected when their invitations to attend church on Christmas are turned down by their adult children, who in turn feel put upon and coerced when such expectations from parents seem to be expressed too pointedly.
Indeed, the article reported that many adult children dread a confrontation with their parents over the holidays about going to church services. One University of Oregon campus minister, Brandi Miller, often finds herself counseling students on this very issue. “There’s a perception that at the holidays everyone has to be happy, joyful, and thankful,” she said, “which makes things like doubt and politics feel very dissident.” Indeed, I regularly hear from parents at Saint Brendan who feel alienated by their adult children when it comes to practice of the Catholic religion.
In an age of skepticism about the Christian faith and widespread anger against the Church for its shortcomings and betrayals of trust, sifting through the actual facts of Christianity could bring a glimmer of hope. That’s why we’re beginning a brand, new message series today that we are calling, Common Sense. Over the next six weeks, we’ll explore some of the reasons why Christianity just makes sense. As we’ll point out, the substantive results of Jesus’ ministry and the legacy his teachings have left in the world speak volumes as reasons to trust and believe.
Join us in church live or online each Sunday for this series, as we reveal the reasons why Christianity actually is completely sensible.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
 Clare Anberry, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2019, A11.
It’s been a season of miracles. Over the last six weeks, we’ve been learning the truth about them in our message series called, Expect Miracles. God created the universe and formed it with love to sustain life. He set the laws of physics in motion to ensure order and stability. Yet, every once in a while he violates those laws, setting them aside in order to work a bona fide miracle for the purpose of getting our attention, deepening our faith, or showing us the way back to him.
But the real hope of miracles is not so much the discrete acts God works from time to time; rather it is in the fact that the Creator chooses to relate personally and individually to us by intervening directly in our lives. To be certain, only a small percentage of people will ever experience an extraordinary miracle like an inexplicable healing from a fatal disease or some other strange occurrence that seems to defy both logic and scientific understanding.
But nearly everyone can experience the ordinary, everyday miracle of God’s loving presence when he speaks to us internally and guides us on our spiritual journey. The only prerequisite is remaining open to his involvement by:
In the final installment of our message series today, we look at the last and most important miracle of all. It’s a miracle that the human race almost completely destroyed. Through sin, disobedience, and outright rebellion, the perfect beauty of God’s image imprinted on the human soul from the beginning became marred beyond recognition. Some say that we actually obliterated the glory of God reflected in our own person, such that nothing of it remains. In this view, we have been become “totally depraved.”
The Catholic belief, on the other hand, is different. The divine aspect woven seamlessly into our very being was certainly disfigured, damaged, and diminished, but not destroyed. A tiny vestige of the divine remains within us, a small measure of goodness that God chooses to redeem. As such, “grace builds upon nature,” as the medieval scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas claimed, and the original perfection of the human person infused by the breath of God in creation is ultimately salvageable. In other words, despite our fall we remain a true miracle and the greatest one of all.
Join us this weekend as we learn to harness with faith the one quintessential human quality that no machine could ever replace and no sin could ever fully extinguish.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Epiphany, or the three king’s day, traditionally the 12th day of Christmas, celebrates the day that the Magi came to visit the Baby Jesus. Epiphany celebrates the new light that has come for all people. We gather to experience this light, this hope, this new miracle and peace together as we start the New year, pausing to rest and reflect and experience something new after waiting for miracles from God.
In his baptism, Jesus’ Sonship to God was manifested to the world; in the visit of the wise men, he was manifested as king to the gentiles; and at the wedding feast in Cana, his power to perform miracles which is a divine prerogative was shown.
In this series we have expected miracles, worked and prepared for miracles and waited for miracles. Now, we are to experience the miracles of the Epiphany.
Don’t you just love all the wonderful miracles God is doing in your life every day? Some may think: “What miracles? What are you talking about?” Many people who hear the word “miracle” tend to think of some “extra-ordinary” activity of God, which defies the laws of nature. They think of something special, not necessarily the hum-drum, ho-hum, boredom stuff that we go through each day. Such a limited understanding causes many to ask: What miracles did God do in my life today?
The Epiphany as the manifestation of Christ to the Non-Jewish people is the:
The feast of the Epiphany is an important reminder that the journey of faith continues. We continue to follow the light of Christ as we progress more deeply in our relationship with God. This period of time between Christmas and Epiphany is an important time to cherish that journey. Now that the excitement and anticipation of Christmas has settled, we can take this quiet time to praise God, to revere his Son, and to ask the Spirit to help us follow God’s will in a better way in the coming year.
Let God manifest himself in our hearts; let us be still so that we may discover what God wishes to reveal to us this season. Let us follow the example of the Magi and do whatever we must to find Jesus and do him homage, as we continue to experience his miracles in a new beginning.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
Miracles are the subject of our current message series that we’ve been calling, Expect Miracles. We’ve been learning how to expect, prepare for, wait on, and believe in miracles. Miraculous events sometimes occur through the temporary suspension of the laws of nature. They are rare but extraordinary supernatural feats that display God’s power to overturn the natural order.
The most common miracles, however, are the many divine interventions in which God acts through ordinary causes. For example, God could heal a serious disease, prevent a tragic accident, or coordinate a series of events to bring about a positive result by manipulating but not violating natural causes. To a less discerning eye, these ordinary miracles appear to be the result of mere coincidence. They are often chalked up to spontaneous remissions, good fortune, or just plain serendipity.
God also intervenes in the ordinary course of daily life by enlightening, guiding, or strengthening us through our internal feelings or by the words and actions of other people. God orchestrates countless miracles that are noticeable only within the quiet recesses of the human heart. He may lead us to a new career, restore lost faith, or even find a fresh direction in life. God could give certain people the courage to reach out to others for companionship, stand up to bullies, or otherwise face their fears. He could encourage an addict to enter a recovery program or an alcoholic to quit a drinking habit. He could calm an anxious person, improve the self-esteem and confidence of someone who feels inferior, help a victim to overcome shame and guilt, inspire a believer to be a better Christian, move one family member to forgive another, enlighten a sinner to choose the right path, motivate a judgmental person to accept others, or help the emotionally wounded find happiness again.
In the last three weeks of our message series, we’ll take a look at these ordinary everyday miracles that occur within the confines of the human soul. Today, we’ll discover how God can enlighten us through dreams cultivated both during sleep and through our imaginations in the full light of day. Nurtured within the protection of the family, dreams are placed by God in our hearts for guidance and inspiration in life.
Next week on the Feast of the Epiphany, we’ll explore the journey of spiritual discovery that the light of Christ takes us on in the New Year. It’s another type of internal miracle to help us progress more deeply in our relationship with God.
In the final week of the series, we’ll consider how the gift of human innovation and creativity is a miracle in itself that not only reflects the beauty of the Creator but also moves the world forward.
Join us in church or online for the final uplifting weeks of our series, as we delve into the secret miracles hidden deep within.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The gospel accounts attribute more than thirty miracles to Jesus, everything from walking on water, raising the dead, and curing the sick, to exorcizing demons, feeding a multitude of people with just scraps, and calming a violent storm. In all four gospels, he is portrayed as a miracle worker. Skeptics argue, however, that these narratives are mere folklore added by the disciples after Jesus’ death to buttress their claims about his divinity.
But as we learned in our earlier message series, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation, the gospel stories are not tales written in a mythological genre, like other literature that tended to deal with the distant past, were set in primeval times, and featured fantastical creatures. By contrast, the gospels were written in a sober fashion with detailed historical information and not merely imaginary events.
Also, the reports of Jesus’ miracles are based on actual eyewitness testimony and not common fables. In fact, the very earliest material about Jesus describe him as a miracle-working healer and exorcist, so the stories are not merely the efforts of the disciples to legendize Jesus after the fact.
Non-Christian sources also detail Jesus’ wonderworks. Jewish rabbis, as well as the anti-Christian Greek philosopher Celsus, agree that Jesus was a miracle worker. They may have tried to suggest that the amazing feats were the result of some kind of sorcery, but they still contain a clear acknowledgement that they happened.
In addition, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Jesus was a wise man who “worked starting deeds.” There is some disagreement whether this was a later addition to Josephus’ work snuck in by Christian apologists who were copying the original manuscript. But the Jewish historian Geza Vermes of Oxford later analyzed the writing style of Josephus and concluded that this particular miracle claim in Josephus’ writing was authentic.
In light of all this evidence, the Christian claim that Jesus worked miracles and many amazing feats during his earthly ministry is quite strong. All we need to do is believe. In fact, believing is the key ingredient to expecting a miracle this Christmas season.
So far in our Sunday message series called, Expect Miracles, we’ve said that people who hope for miracles are more likely to receive and recognize them when they happen. We also have learned how to prepare for a miracle by acknowledging our contribution to the problem and resolving to remove the obstacles we have created for God intervening in our lives. We also came to understand that miracles are often events that require a great deal of patience and waiting.
This week, we discover another key ingredient to expecting miracles. It’s perhaps the most important element of all. We have to believe. Like Joseph who believed the dream God sent him and like Mary who believed the angel, we too must believe in order to receive.
Join us this Sunday or online for the next installment in our hopeful series on miracle.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We have been talking about miracles in our new message series for Christmas called, Expect Miracles. In the first week, we said that people who expect miracles are more likely to recognize and experience them when they happen. We also discussed the following week that miracles are collaborative efforts. We have to prepare for miracles by acknowledging our part in causing the problem for which we need a miracle and then removing the behaviors, thoughts, and bad habits that prevent God from working miracles for us.
We also prepare for miracles by praying for them. It is the most obvious step of all, but we often overlook it or get it wrong. If you want a miracle, you have to ask for one, and you have to ask for it in the right way.
First of all, we have to approach prayer with joy. Saint Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). This doesn’t mean we should rejoice in our particular circumstances. Rather, we should rejoice in who God is in our lives, despite the circumstances we face.
Second, prayer remedies worry and fear about a problem. If there is a storm going on in your life, your anxiety about it will make you feel out of control. We usually assume the worst will happen and dwell on those anxious feelings, letting them consume us completely. You can pin that anxiety down in prayer.
Third, offer to God an anticipatory prayer of thanksgiving. Waiting until after the miracle happens to thank God is too late. We should believe and trust that the Lord will handle our situation and carry us through the storm. Start by thanking God before the miracle arrives. Approach the miracle with an attitude of gratitude and bring your request with a spirit of thanksgiving. One time, Jesus was getting ready for a big miracle. He was going to resuscitate his friend Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. Before working the miracle, Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me” (John 11:41). Thanking God in advance clearly demonstrates that you are expecting a miracle.
Finally, we should make our request for a miracle as specific as possible. Don’t just pray for peace in general. Pray for peace with that family member who hurt you. Don’t just pray that God improves your finances. Pray that you will be debt-free by this time next year. Don’t just pray for emotional strength during an illness or that the doctors make wise decisions, pray specifically that the person will be completely healed. Trust in God’s power by being specific in your requests.
But, above all, “[p]ray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “[w]ait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14).
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson