Today marks the beginning of a new message series for the season of Lent that we are calling, Bare Necessities: Getting Back to Basics. The premise of the series is that God will do everything for us when we have faith enough to return to the bare necessities in life.
The prevailing approach in our affluent society is to chase after the material pleasures, too often discovering only later that they do not really satisfy. By the end of the series, we hope to have inspired you to trim whatever excesses in life you experience by recognizing that God will do everything for you when you trust enough in him to provide. Indeed, the readings at the Sunday Masses during the Lenten season open our eyes to the most basic truth of our faith that faith in the generous providence of God to provide for us is the central and only path to happiness and fulfillment.
During the six weeks of Lent, for example, we hear stories in the Old Testament of how God rescued his people trapped in slavery, leading them out of that misery through the Red Sea, across the desert, and into a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Because God provides.
The readings from Saint Paul also highlight God’s care for the Israelite people and exhort us to regard everything in this world as mere “rubbish” compared to the gift that we have from our faith in Jesus Christ who emptied himself to save us. Because God provides.
The psalms in Lent reassure us that the angels in heaven will guard us, God will deliver us, and the Lord will answer those who call upon him (Psalm 91). We are invited to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” (Psalm 34), reminded that “the Lord has done great things for us,” and promised that God will “restore our fortunes.” Indeed, we may “go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown,” but we will “come back rejoicing” (Psalm 126). Because God provides.
The gospel readings tell of God’s great patience with us as the gardener carefully cultivates a fig tree, his forgiveness as a father forgives his prodigal son, his compassion with our sins as Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery, his unconditional approval of us as brothers and sisters of Jesus whom he called his “beloved Son,” and his unfailing care for us just as the Spirit strengthened Jesus himself in the desert. Because God provides.
Last Wednesday, ashes were imposed on your forehead with the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” When we turn back to God by trusting in him, getting back to basics, and stripping ourselves of life’s excesses, we are not going on a starvation diet and unreasonably denying ourselves of pleasure. Rather, we are discovering the simpler path to peace by enjoying the bare necessities in life.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Over the last three weeks in our message series called, Spin Doctoring: Turning Negatives Into Positives, we’ve been exploring how to work through suffering in healthy and constructive ways.
In the first week of this bulletin series, we looked at the problem of physical evil—disease, accidents, natural disasters and other forms of trauma not caused by human beings. In the second week, we reflected on the problem of pure evil and how the forces of darkness can overwhelm us. Last week, Father Celestine offered some practical tips to overcome suffering.
Today, we turn to the problem of moral evil, which is almost exclusively the product of human sin. Moral evil arises through human wrongdoing and in no way is caused or intended by God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, human beings are “intelligent and free creatures,” and “can therefore go astray” (n. 311). Moral evil arises in our world as a result of free will, but God permits it because of his respect for “the freedom of his creatures” (Id.).
On occasion, moral evil is self-inflicted, caused by our own poor choices and decisions that arise from our common human weakness. At other times, moral evil enters our lives through the malevolence of others. Either way, here are a few coping strategies that can help you deal with moral evil:
1. Assign Blame Accurately. When confronting conflict, we too often attribute fault to the incorrect source. We either mistakenly blame ourselves for the misconduct of others or falsely excuse ourselves from any culpability. When trouble arises, the first step is to assess the source of the conflict accurately. Look to yourself first, then determine where others went wrong. As Jesus says in the gospel, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).
2. Confront the Offender. If someone has hurt you, work up the moral strength to confront him or her. Letting your feelings fester will only degenerate into deep-seated resentment. While revenge is antithetical to Christian discipleship, facing the situation head-on in a constructive way can help you feel more empowered and in control, something victims of moral evil rarely experience.
3. Learn from the Situation. Disturbance in your own sense of internal peace by the transgressions of others often comes about through the failure to set and enforce clear boundaries. We are often too afraid to ask for what we need and so let the status quo take root until we reach a breaking point, at which stage managing the situation productively often is no longer an option.
4. Look for Meaning in the Conflict. As we said in the first article on natural evil, look for opportunities to step into a heroic role and turn to Christ, who experienced suffering himself, to find solidarity in his consolation. It is in our trust in God that we will find meaning and growth, even in suffering.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Many people have lost sight of the promises of God because of the tragedy and sorrow they see in the world all around them. They say, if God is love, why does He allow or permit such sufferings, pains and evils to plague His children? In answer, we could draw one of three conclusions. Either God doesn’t care or God doesn’t exist or perhaps we have a misconception of His plans and purposes and we have been attributing blame to the wrong source for all of the suffering.
Saint Paul in describes Satan as the “god of this world,” and it was his influence that contributed to man’s fall (2 Corinthians 4:4). Suffering happens to everyone. It is a part of life. We all experience it in various capacities. Whether our suffering is due to loss, loneliness, depression, persecution or scorn, it is inescapable. Although we may not be able to avoid suffering and pain, we can react to it, and how we react makes all the difference.
John Cardinal O’Connor of New York once told a suffering woman that “Christ could have saved the world by His miracles, but He chose to save the world by His suffering.” This great truth is the basis of our understanding of redemptive suffering. As we see in Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was whipped so we could be healed.”
The relationship between our present life and the life to come is the condition for the meaningfulness of our sufferings in this life. The gospel shows us that suffering is an opportunity given to us to participate in our future blessedness by offering our present sufferings in union with Christ’s suffering to God in self-giving sacrifice. Our suffering then takes on a whole different dimension, transformed from the occasion of a fist-shaking interrogation of God or cause for doubting His goodness or existence into the great opportunity to show Him trust and self-donation without the least futility, knowing that it will be repaid a hundredfold.
In his encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII wrote that “Jesus Christ, when He redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportions are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man or woman can hope for eternal reward unless he follows in the blood-stained footprints of His Savior. ‘If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him’” (n. 21, quoting 2 Timothy 2:12).
Here are a few tips I shall propose to deal with suffering and pain. Embrace change. Smile even if you don’t feel it. Soften someone else’s suffering. Don’t try to understand the depth of your suffering. Also, understand that there is a reason for your suffering. Accept the suffering and don’t let it consume you. Read your Bible, especially the book of Job. Finally, pray that God sends you the grace to help you overcome suffering. You cannot overcome any form of suffering without God.
--Father Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
In our current Sunday message series called Spin Doctoring, we are exploring evil in its many forms. We hope to provide some biblical advice about how to work through suffering in a healthy way by turning the negatives in our lives into positives.
The most basic distinction when it comes to evil is between “moral evil,” which is suffering caused by poor human behavior, and “physical evil” such as disease and natural disasters, which we discussed in last week’s article. The Church calls these forms of suffering “evil” because God never intended it.
But there is one who did intend evil, and he is “pure evil.” In today’s secular and material world, there is widespread disbelief in the existence of the Devil. Having been a member of the archdiocese’s exorcism and deliverance team for several years, I can tell you that such incredulity is misplaced. Satan is alive and well, and his work continues to prosper. As Saint John writes, “we know that we belong to God, [but] the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Jesus himself performed many exorcisms and called Satan “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:8-11).
Last week’s Sunday message explored the problem of evil generally, and the interaction between Peter and Jesus in the gospel story suggested that trusting and obeying God helps us to heal from the suffering and despair that frequently arises from disobedience. However, it was Satan who first rebelled. An angel created good, he alienated himself from God, refused to obey, and encourages us now to follow his example.
Indeed, the word “Devil” in Greek means “one who splits up or breaks or throws away.” As the Chief Vatican Exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, wrote, “Satan started the rebellion against God and . . . [i]t is his aim to make the whole creation rebel against the Creator” (Vade retro, Satana! St. Paul’s Press 2014, 7-8). He accomplishes this mission through extraordinary means like the rare instances of human possession, but more frequently through the ordinary means of tempting humankind to sin.
However, we are not helpless against the pure evil of Satan. Overcoming the power of evil is not as difficult as it may seem. As Father Amorth writes, “the Bible never says that we have to be afraid of the Devil, because it assures us that we can resist the Devil if we have strong faith” (Id., 55). Mercifully, our faith offers all the tools we need to resist and prevail over evil through the victory of Jesus Christ won for us on the cross. With regular confession and attendance at Mass, along with frequent private prayer, we can stay in the grace of God and be shielded from evil.
Indeed, the “beatitudes” in this week’s gospel passage turn the evil of this world on its head, transforming its negatives into positives by the behavior of Christian disciples. All we must do is follow.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our new four-week message series that begins today called, Spin Doctoring, we’ll be learning how to turn life’s negatives into positives. Mere existence as a human being has a way of inflicting wounds on us through various forms of suffering. How we choose to react to that suffering and how well we heal from the wounds determines how disfiguring the resulting scars will be.
When evil befalls us, betrayal occurs, or loss happens, the most common and obvious question is “why me?” At those times, many question the goodness or even the existence of God. Indeed, the problem of evil, or what theology calls “theodicy,” is perhaps the most pressing and unavoidable issues challenging our faith. If God is all-good, all-loving, and all-just, why does he allow evil to exist in the world? This message series seeks not only to address the problem of evil but also hopes to offer some biblical advice on how to respond to it.
There are many forms of “evil” or suffering. The most basic distinction is between “moral evil” and “natural evil.” The former is the product of human sin. God is simply not the cause. On the other hand, natural or physical evil often is harder to understand because disease, illness, and natural disasters cause pain and suffering but seem not to involve human activity. There is no “non-divine” explanation for these events, so why would God “cause” them?
While asking God for explanations is an important step in struggling with loss arising from physical evil, other coping strategies ultimately can help you move forward. Here are a few possibilities:
1. Trust in the Goodness of God. “With infinite power . . . wisdom and goodness, God freely willed to create a world in a state of journeying towards its ultimate perfection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) n. 310). Despite the imperfect state of the world where sickness and tragedies seem to happen without good reason, “God in his almighty provience can bring a good fro the consequences of an evil” (CCC n. 312). To the extent we can cling to this truth, loss will take on some meaning.
2. Look for Heroic Opportunities. As confusing as natural evil may be, tragedy nevertheless offers an opportunity for others to step into heroic roles. A debilitating disease for instance, presents the occasion for a spouse to care lovingly and courageously for his or her beloved. The pain still exists and does not subside, but the basic goodness of humankindness is given the opportunity to flourish in these circumstances.
3. Find Solidarity in Christ. Even in the absence of sufficient explanation, we can take solace in the fact that our God enters into our pain through the central act of Christ’s death on the cross. Even before the Crucifixion, the Bible recounts how Jesus wept bitterly at the death of Lazarus and even was outraged at the reality of death itself. In the deepest moments of our loss, we can turn to God who experienced it all himself and find solidarity in his consolation.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We come to the final week of our Sunday message series about spiritual life hacks, simple tweaks to improve everyday life and deepen our connection with God in the New Year. So far, we’ve offered four spiritual life hacks for your consideration: Grow in generosity, spend more time in silence, love what makes you different, and know your faith. This week, we suggest one final strategy to grow in your relationship with God: Know and accept your purpose.
In 2002, Christian pastor Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 60 million copies and remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 90 weeks. Dividing the book into five major parts, Pastor Warren says that in the bible God has set forth five different purposes for human existence on Earth.
We have adopted a variation of these five purposes in our own five-year pastoral plan for Saint Brendan and have been working through them each year. We call these five purposes:
According to Pastor Warren, these five purposes are every Christian’s purposes, but they must be lived out in particular ways according to the unique gifts and life circumstances given to each person. Moreover our entire existence should be a journey to greater self-knowledge and ever-clearer answers to four basic questions that will help us to discover God’s individual plan for our lives.
Listen to our Sunday message this week, in church or online, to learn more about your particular mission in God’s plan of love for the world.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As we continue our five-week message series, this week we explore another “spiritual life hack” that will help you grow closer to God in the New Year: Getting to know and cherish your faith more fully.
Christians often think of faith as the source of their gratitude. As is right and just, we are grateful for the many blessings in our lives because faith tells us that they are gifts from God. But faith also is an object of gratitude, something for which we also should be grateful.
Saint Peter made the first confession of faith in Jesus Christ, when he declared him to be “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). In reply, Jesus said that this understanding of his identity did not come from “flesh and blood” but was revealed to him by God (Matthew 16:17).
Indeed, faith is a gift from God, one that we cannot forge or develop on our own. Although in faith “the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace,” it is nevertheless “a supernatural virtue” infused into the human soul by God alone (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 153-54). To be sure, “[b]elieving is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit[,] . . . who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy to accept and believe the truth” (Id.).
To the extent faith is a gift and itself is an object of faith, then it also should be the primary object of our gratitude. King David and the ancient Israelites understood this. Many of the psalms extolled the beauty, intelligence, and wisdom of God’s law, which was the focal point of their faith. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul,” Psalm 19 joyfully declares. “The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye. . . . The statutes of the Lord are true, all of them just, more desirable than gold, than a hoard of purest gold, sweeter also than honey or drippings from the comb” (8-11). Psalm 119 similarly proclaims that God’s law is a “delight” because it “stands forever” and “is firm as the heavens” (72, 89-93).
Whether blessed to have been given a religious education in Catholic schools, through a parish catechetical program, or instruction at home, many Catholics too easily forget the gift they have received in having been taught the faith. We can show our gratitude by honoring God with our attendance at Sunday Mass, obeying the call to daily prayer, and seeking to discover the beauty of Catholic teaching.
Listen to our Sunday message this week, in church or online, to learn more about what there is to know, love, and cherish about our Catholic faith.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Last weekend, we launched our Sunday message series for the New Year that we’re calling, Spiritual Life Hacks: Simple Tweaks to Improve Everyday Life. The premise of the series is that certain strategies called “life hacks” that are used to reduce the frustration and difficulty of daily living in general also can apply to our spiritual lives. In the next article, for example, you’ll learn about a simple trick one of our staff members uses to connect with God during her commute to work. These “spiritual life hacks,” therefore, are simply down-to-earth techniques that help to improve the quality of our faith lives.
For instance, the spiritual life hack last week encouraged us to change our attitude about God by focusing more on his value in our lives, so that we can become more generous people. When we value God, we naturally desire to offer the best we have for him. The spiritual life hack this week encourages us to change our attitude about ourselves, so that we can know our true value and come to a deeper understanding of our importance in the eyes of God.
Guilt and shame can be crippling to well-meaning church people. Excesses in our religious culture have taught many of us that the daily struggle for holiness and virtue is ours alone. When we fail to measure up, we blame ourselves and wonder whether we have lived good lives. I have visited many dying patients who are fearful of their impending encounter with the Lord because of mistakes made in their past and a general feeling of having been spiritually ineffective and perhaps even neglectful.
The problem with this approach is that our excessive self-chastisement often does little more than crowd out God’s grace. What seems like humility in our constant self-abasement because of our spiritual failures actually demonstrates our own hubris. To the extent we are constantly heaping self-blame on our heads, what space have we left for God to act? As Saint Paul writes, the Holy Spirit “richly poured out on us” justifies us by God’s grace, something we cannot do for ourselves (Titus 3:6-7).
“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice,” God says in the Bible. Therefore, we are not called to dwell on failures but to trust in God to walk us into victory. “I have grasped you by the hand,” God says to us. “I formed you, and set you as . . . a light for the nations” (Isaiah 6-7).
If God has those kind of plans in store for us, don’t you think his grace will be sufficient? Our failures should not be an occasion for a spiritual pity party, but the opportunity to surrender ourselves more fully into the sweet embrace of our merciful God, because we are important to him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As soon as the ball drops in Times Square, myriad self-help magazines, TV specials, podcasts, blogs, and books all promise that they’re going to help us have our best year yet. With that comes New Year’s Resolutions, most of which don’t last, because we tend to make goals out of challenging and unpleasant objectives. In an effort to make those resolutions stick more easily, we’re embarking on a new five-week message series that we’re calling, Spiritual Life Hacks: Simple Tweaks To Improve Everyday Life.
The dictionary defines “life hacks” (a fairly new and informal term) as “usually simple and clever tips or techniques for accomplishing familiar tasks more easily and efficiently.” A quick Google search for “life hacks” populates millions of ideas to make everything about life a little easier, from tossing ice cubes in the dryer to remove wrinkles in clothes to using a piece of bread to pick up tiny glass shards.
Spiritual life hacks, then, are little tips and tricks to enrich our spiritual lives more easily. When something is easier to do, especially as we first begin it, we’re more likely to stick with it. Tackling New Year’s Resolutions, then, is a great place to start. The problem is that most of us tackle spiritual agendas that are really difficult to achieve. We’re really committed for a week or so, but then something comes up, we get busy, and suddenly a month has gone by without success. There’s a tendency at that point to give in a spirit of self-defeatism.
But, if we were to reframe our New Year’s Resolutions to focus on getting better at things we’re already good at, we might find more success. Often, psychologists suggest that we emphasize our strengths before addressing our weaknesses, since it can be morally degrading to focus only on those things that challenge us. So, if you’re taking your spiritual pulse, start with what you’re good at already.
If you go to Mass regularly, for example, start by focusing on being more attentive and present at Mass. Listen to or read the readings for that day before going to Mass, or take notes in your Mass Journal so you can look back on how you were feeling, what the homily was about, and what the readings made you think of. Spend ten minutes after Mass getting a cup of coffee and talking to someone, either an old friend or a new one. Once you’ve enriched that Mass-time experience by building on something you already do, it’ll be much easier to do the harder stuff.
That’s just one example of life, hacked. Read our companion bulletin article series and tune in to our Sunday message, either live or on the internet, for more simple techniques to grow closer to God in 2019.
--Claire Kosewic, Pastor For The Week
As the holiday season comes to an end, many people feel a sense of loss. It’s often a let down as our relatives and friends return home to their busy lives, many times to other parts of the country and even the world.
The premise of the five-week message series for Advent and Christmas has been that God calls us home to our families during the holidays to remember who we are, restore our hope, and experience healing and wholeness, just as God gathered the ancient Israelites from the four winds and led them home as one family ruled by one Lord, one Messiah. If you’ve been following the series, you have already anticipated going home to rest and recharge within the safe harbor of your family. Hopefully, you’ve also decided to forgive old wounds and let go of small hurts, lead your family into service of others who are less fortunate, and bring home the hygge by being fully present to your loved ones, blessing them with your care and attention.
But now it’s time to go home, to start school or work again. The business of ordinary life will begin to displace the magic of the Christmas season. Having put on the “bond of perfection” that is love, as Saint Paul writes in the second reading, the time is drawing near when we will have to let go and let our loved ones return home, and that’s probably a bit of a let down.
The story of Hannah in the first reading today is just such a story. Having prayed earnestly to the Lord for a child, promising that she would dedicate him to religious service, God answered her prayers. Now she would have to hand over her only son at a very young age to the care of strangers in the temple. To have the strength to do that, she must have sensed that Samuel had great things to accomplish for the Lord. She must have known that God had plans to make him a light for the people and God’s servant to bring about his purposes.
Mary must have felt something similar. Losing the child Jesus in the temple, as we heard in the gospel reading today, was a foreshadowing of his ultimate mission for God. In the story, Jesus returns with his parents to Nazareth, and the next time we read of Jesus in Jerusalem will be at his triumphal entry (Luke 19:28-39), which leads to his death, at which point Mary loses Jesus, her only son, to the greatest purpose ever known: the salvation of the world.
This Christmas I hope you brought home the hygge. Now it’s time to send that coziness, warmth, and love with your relatives and loved ones, as they leave your hearth and home on their God-given missions to a waiting world.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson