Church is not a building; it’s a movement of people toward a common goal. Our goal is to connect individuals to one another in Christian fellowship, deepen their lives of prayer, help them to heal from life’s wounds, foster their growth in faith, and guide them in serving in ministry and mission with the love of Christ. We use five words to describe these five purposes of our church:
These words are the central organizing principle of our entire church ministry. They appear on our website, drive our pastoral objectives, and determine our annual parish theme.
Two years ago, we focused on our connection to one another. Our parish theme was One Body. Last year, our efforts turned to learning how to pray in more diverse and perhaps more satisfying ways, and our parish theme for the year was Pray Together —Stay Together.
Today we begin a new adventure. As we reconvene after many of us having gone our separate ways over the summer months, we now are moved to deeper reflection on the healing power of Christ in our lives, the third purpose of our church. Our parish theme is called, Getting Better Together: A Year of Healing and Spiritual Wellness.
This year we’re going to encourage you to take your spiritual pulse and consider what area of your life might need a little healing. Like other wellness programs, we’ll be offering you some resources and help to improve your overall spiritual health.
In particular, our Sunday messages will focus on the theme, and we kick off the new year today with a six-week message series that we’re calling, Holy Triage, to help you assess your own spiritual health quotient.
Other great initiatives on tap include:
On February 9, we’ll be celebrating spiritual wellness in marriage with a world class Catholic speaker in an event we’re calling, Happily Ever After. At our annual Saint Brendan dinner in May, international author and inspirational speaker, Terry Hershey, will cap off the year by talking to us about resources to step back from a stressed driven pace of life and learn to celebrate rest, sanctuary, faith, and gratitude.
Today is the last day of our three-week message series that we’ve been calling, FAQ: Faith Answering Questions. During Mass, we have been answering many of your inquiries about faith. But even as we’ve been exploring specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ve also been learning something about faith itself from the gospel stories over this same period.
In the first week, Jesus explains that he is the Bread of Life. While members of the crowd balk and grumble against him and even quarrel among themselves, he ultimately manages to lead his closest followers to greater faith through that uncomfortable process. In last week’s reading, many of his supporters abandon him because they cannot accept his claim that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. But Peter exemplifies the trust needed to grow in faith when he blurts out that only Christ has the words of eternal life.
We therefore have learned so far that faith grows through a process of questioning and doubt that eventually yields to trust in the credibility of the person of Jesus Christ. However, a third step that we learn about in this week’s gospel also is necessary for faith to increase.
The passage this week comes from a portion of the Gospel of Mark called the “Bread Section” (6:33-8:26), in which bread (artos) is referred to no fewer than seventeen times. Twice in this section Jesus miraculously feeds a multitude with a few loaves of bread and fish, each time followed by a conflict with the Pharisees that demonstrates their lack of understanding and then a healing that represents a growing comprehension of Christ and his mission. In today’s passage, the conflict is over the failure of Jesus’ disciples to wash their hands before eating.
The Pharisees, who were members of a renewal movement that advocated strict observance of the Law of Moses and frequently interpreted its precepts in exaggerated ways, asked why the disciples omitted the customary ritual cleansing. Jesus does not respond to the Pharisees directly because he knows that “their hearts are far from” him. Rather, he accuses them of hypocrisy, of being stage actors who observe religious laws merely for show.
The lesson here is that empty religious formalism devoid of authentic love will not lead to greater understanding of the Lord, but only a commitment to him from the heart. By setting aside the legal system of ceremonial laws, Jesus shows that God’s intention was never for the traditions of ritual purity to serve as their own end, but rather as symbols pointing beyond themselves to true purity of heart.
For our faith to grow, therefore, it is not enough to ask questions or even to trust in the answers given. We also must commit our lives and our very selves to Christ from the purity of our hearts and out of love for him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Last week in the first installment of our new message series, Faith Answering Questions, we learned why there are no women priests, how Catholics view other religious traditions, and the reason my homilies are so long. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll continue to answer your challenging, controversial, and interesting questions about the Catholic faith.
Even as we explore specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ll also be learning something about the nature of faith itself. We considered last week the fact that faith often grows through a process of questioning and doubt. Even as the crowd around Jesus recoiled at his claim that he was the bread of life come down from heaven, he nevertheless was able to lead his closest disciples to a new level of understanding.
The readings this week suggest that faith, at some point in the process of questioning, eventually must come to trust in the answers faith provides. After listening to his claims, challenging him, murmuring against him, and quarreling among themselves about him, many of Jesus’ disciples in open rebellion “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66). Jesus then turned to his inner circle and asked if they also wished to leave. Though perhaps still not fully comprehending his teaching, Peter’s response demonstrates his complete trust in the person of Christ: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
In my first year of seminary, I was assigned to teach a class on Catholicism at a local parish. During one session, a woman said that she had been praying that the Church’s teaching on certain topics one day would change in order to align with modern viewpoints. I gently suggested that she also should pray that perhaps her viewpoint one day might evolve to align with the Church’s teaching.
As Peter’s response to the mutiny against Jesus demonstrates, the power to believe is rooted in an openness to trust in Christ and the Church he established. Given the recent reopening of old wounds in scandals that continue to rock the Church, it may be difficult to trust in what its leaders teach. Indeed, the “episcopal negligence and malfeasance in the face of clerical sexual abuse” is nothing short of “reprehensible” (Archbishop Cordileone’s Letter on National Revelations of Child Abuse, August 17, 2018).
At the same time as we rightly condemn the evil and despicable actions of some within the Church, we cannot let them derail the critical and life-changing work of preaching the gospel and bringing the truth of Christ to others. As Joshua said to the ancient Israelites in the first reading, “Decide today whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We begin a new three-week message series today called Faith Answering Questions. For some time, we’ve been asking you to submit your questions about the Catholic faith. So far, we have received many difficult, controversial, and interesting inquiries that we’ll be addressing during the homilies at Mass and in the bulletin articles each week.
Even as we explore specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ll also be learning something about the general nature of faith itself from the stories in the gospel readings over this same three-week period. In particular, we will discover that, in order to be healthy, faith must:
· Evolve by asking questions;
· Trust in the answers faith offers; and
· Commit to our faith even in the face of some lingering misgivings.
Today’s gospel passage demonstrates the first of these propositions, namely, how faith evolves through a process of doubt and questioning. In the story, Jesus is embroiled in a conflict that ultimately helps the faith of his followers grow.
The conflict began after Jesus had multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed thousands of people. News of the miracle spread, and crowds began to follow him, looking for more free food. Jesus wanted their faith to mature and so provoked a controversy by telling them that he would give them “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).
The people balked, claiming that Jesus could never outdo the bread called “manna” given to their ancestors in the desert after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. To help them take their first step in the development of their faith, Jesus compares himself to God’s wisdom in the Scriptures, which is like food and drink and greater than the manna rained down from heaven (6:35).
Even though they continue to grumble, Jesus doubles down and tells them that the true bread from heaven actually is his own flesh given “for the life of the world” (6:51). Still stuck in a “manna mindset,” however, the people then quarrel among themselves over this teaching. The discourse crescendos in the unthinkable revelation that they must actually eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to remain with him forever. With the Greek verb used in the passage, there is no mistaking the fact that Jesus intended his words to be taken literally.
Through a rather painful process of questioning, doubt, and even outright rebellion, Jesus led his closest disciples to a new level of understanding. In the same way, our faith should evolve and grow. For that to happen, we must be open to asking the deepest questions about what we believe and, even in our doubt, at least consider the tried and true answers provided by the ancient faith of the Church.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
At the age of fourteen, I decided to save the planet through music. With a now-classic Peavey T-40 bass guitar in my hands, I wanted to rock the world—or at the very least, the basement of my suburban Atlanta home—in the great tradition of Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and other Southern rock band sensations. I grew out my hair, donned skintight Levi’s, wore oversized Aviator sunglasses, and spent endless hours experimenting with various insignia to distinguish my garage band from all the others. In the end, however, the entire exercise only served to satiate my overactive adolescent ego.
Life has a way of dampening dreams, and the sometimes cruel reality of our daily existence teaches us to relinquish hope in favor of lesser goals that somehow seem more “realistic.” Yet over the last few months, we have been listening to the inspiring stories of many women in the Bible who took risks and made sacrifices to make sure that God’s plan for the world was not derailed. Though mostly ordinary, these women nevertheless were heroic. They believed in and committed themselves to God’s will and found themselves as a result recorded forever in the annals of salvation history.
As we come to the last episode of our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we must acknowledge that we’ve learned many lessons from these women. In particular, we’ve learned that a hero for God:
· Does the right thing in the right way;
· Protects innocent life;
· Rises up and overcomes obstacles;
· Gives thanks to God always;
· Stays loyal to others;
· Makes peace in moments of conflict;
· Shows generosity even in hard times;
· Never remains silent against evil;
· Is devoted to God always; and
· Models humble obedience for others.
If our message series has taught us anything, it is that heroism, even in our cynical world today, is not only possible but expected. Idealism is not reserved for the naiveté of youth, and time spent reflecting on the heroic acts God calls forth from us each day is not tantamount to the impractical navel-gazing of a teenager.
Take a few moments today to consider your role as a hero for God. How is God asking you to inject a dose of heroism into your day-to-day world of work, school, family life, and leisure activities? Which of the Wonder Women stories resonated with you the most, and where can you learn to grow in wisdom, patience, and valor from their example?
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the heroic figures we’ve been studying were real women with real fears and hardships of their own, but who followed God’s lead nonetheless. We can do the same. Whatever your gender, you can follow the example of the Wonder Women in the Bible. Because a hero lives within each one of us.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we have focused each week on the story of one woman in the scriptures and her heroic virtue. Today our focus is on the greatest of all women: Mary, the Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ and the wife of Joseph the carpenter.
The life of Mary is an inspiring example in many respects. Indeed, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort encourages us to practice and emulate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a path to holiness. We should emulate her many positive qualities and virtues, including her (i) blind obedience to God, (ii) angelic sweetness, (iii) constant mental prayer, (iv) mortification in all things, (v) surpassing purity, (vi) heroic patience, (vii) divine wisdom, (viii) ardent charity, and (ix) lively faith. Perhaps more than any other virtue, however, Mary demonstrated great humility in her life, and it is this heroic quality that inspires us to follow her most closely.
Although humility is the root and foundation of all the virtues, it is sometimes misunderstood and regarded as a sign of weakness. However, to be humble means having a good knowledge of self, understanding one’s own defects and human limitations, despising no one, seeing everyone as God’s creation, not being arrogant or thinking you are better than other people, controlling one’s anger and frustration, and living an authentic life according to God’s will.
Having been the first human to be saved from sin, Mary welcomed the gift of salvation by seeing in God her ultimate end and object of her happiness. As a result she put into action the virtue of profound humility, which all Christians called to holiness and eternal life should imitate.
In the readings today, the Israelites questioned Moses for bringing them into the desert to suffer, even though their deliverance from slavery was for their own good. Knowing that their rebellion was the result of extreme hunger, God in his magnanimity and simplicity provided meat for them, as well as manna from heaven. In the gospel, Jesus knew that the people also were carried away with material rather than spiritual hunger. Though we may be tempted in the same way, it is through the virtue of humility that we, like Mary, recognize our truest hunger for God and seek our total fulfillment in him.
Mary now continues to intercede humbly for us whenever we come to her in prayer seeking her maternal intercession. Apart from the Sacrifice of the Mass, the next most powerful and efficacious prayer is the Holy Rosary. When we come to Mary in humility she takes our pleas to her Son, Jesus, and her Son never says “no” to his mother because of her great humility.
Let us emulate our mother Mary in her commitment to God and her humility, because a hero is humble.
--Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Associate Pastor
Over the last ten weeks of our summer message series, we’ve been learning about biblical heroines who literally saved the day when the men around them were about to drop the ball. But this weekend another woman, Mary of Bethany, teaches us a different kind of lesson. While others plant their feet firmly on the ground preoccupied with the important matters of this world, a hero first and foremost remains devoted to God.
Mary lived with her sister, Martha, in a small village two miles away from Jerusalem. They had become close friends of Jesus, who frequently traveled through the area. On one occasion, he stayed for dinner, and the Bible records a humorous story of Martha’s ire being raised against her sister. Instead of helping Martha with the cooking, Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples, listening to him speak. When Martha burst through the kitchen doors demanding that Jesus make her sister get off her lazy duff and help, he told her that Mary had chosen “the better part” (Luke 10:42).
When their brother, Lazarus, later fell ill, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus to come and heal him. In those days, the Jews believed the soul was still present until the third day, departing the body once the facial features had become disfigured. Everyone knew, therefore, that Lazarus was truly dead when Jesus had tarried too long and arrived on the fourth day. Both Martha and Mary ran to him. While Martha articulately professed her faith in words, Mary the dreamer simply fell at his feet weeping. Her wordless posture was a poignant and profound sign of her immense faith and devotion to Christ.
Some time after Jesus had stood between life and death and uttered the name of his beloved friend to come forth from the tomb, he again arrived in Bethany for a dinner party, perhaps a dry run of the Last Supper that would take place less than a week later. Everyone gathered at the home of Martha and Mary. Even Lazarus, fresh from the grave, reclined at table. The whole town was abuzz with the news.
While Martha attended to hospitality and serving and the men enjoyed the meal, Mary, once again with her head in the clouds, stepped forward in a bold move. Of all the people gathered, it was Mary of Bethany who recognized the true significance of the event. In a few short days, “the teacher” would no longer be with them. Mary knew she had to do something, and in fact she did something extraordinary in her own way. To learn more about Mary’s fascinating story, tune in to this Sunday’s message on our website.
Mary of Bethany reminds us that God’s heroes are not always super heroes. They do not always perform great and mighty deeds but simply “do what they can” because of their deep devotion to the Lord.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
I am typically an optimistic and happy person, in large part because I refuse to watch the evening news. With its constant focus on scandals, political infighting, and violence all framed by a media-manipulated agenda, the news cycle du jour only serves to distract me from the good news of Jesus Christ, who came to break the cycle of sin and death in our world.
By no means would I suggest, however, that religion and worldly affairs are somehow immiscible like oil and water. “Civilization,” wrote Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, “is formed by men locked together in argument.” Moreover, the institution of public discourse that develops from sustained dialogue in the public square necessarily includes the reasonable claims of religion. In particular, Catholic values and principles have served to shape western society for over two millennia. At critical junctures in the history of the world, the Church’s moral teachings have not hesitated to speak truth to power.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, Queen Esther teaches us that a hero refuses to remain silent in the face of political abuse. “Mum” was the word for years, as Esther played the political game after being deported to a foreign country in the Babylonian Exile around the sixth century B.C. Taken into the harem of the most powerful monarch in the world, Esther concealed her Jewish identity but eventually rose to power when she pleased Xerxes, the King of Persia, more than any other woman.
Crisis soon threatened the Jewish people when an anti-Semitic madman bent on exterminating them stirred up a genocide among the pagan people living in what is now modern-day Iran. The time finally had come for the “big reveal.” Living under the thumb of a despotic king, Esther played a dangerous game in a desperate attempt to save her people. To learn more about her fascinating story, tune in to this Sunday’s message on our website.
One of the more demanding challenges from the Second Vatican Council was the call to reflect deeply on the events unfolding in the contemporary world. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) put it, “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (n. 4).
In our postmodern secular world today, the rapidly growing culture of religious apathy and hostility threatens to stamp out faith and the moral order almost entirely. The words used by Esther’s older cousin and foster father, Mordecai, to prompt her to action apply equally to us today: “[I]f you now remain silent, . . . you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14).
Like Esther, God has placed you in a position of great influence. Speak truth to power today, because a hero does not remain silent.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
A truly awful king had come to rule the northern kingdom of Israel almost 900 years before Christ. Indeed, King Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors” (1 Kings 16:30). And that was saying a lot, since the people of Israel recently had suffered a parade of reprobate kings.
But perhaps mostly through the influence of his idolatrous wife, Jezebel, Ahab took the extraordinarily monstrous step of constructing a temple dedicated to the pagan god, Baal. This false god was worshiped by Jezebel and the people of her birthplace in ancient Phoenicia, which was located in what is now the coastal region of Lebanon and Syria.
The prophet Elijah was fit to be tied. Outraged he confronted King Ahab and told him that a terrible famine would spread through the land because of his actions and that the heavens would remain shut until Elijah gave the word. Although Ahab and Jezebel searched relentlessly for the insolent prophet who had dared to challenge the royal family, he hid in the wilderness near a stream where ravens brought food to him.
When the brook eventually ran dry, God instructed Elijah to go and stay in a territory near the Mediterranean ruled by Jezebel’s father. A widow there would provide food for him. Elijah obeyed and, as he approached the town of Zarephath, he spotted a woman gathering sticks and called out to her to bring him a cup of water and a piece of bread. She reminded the apparently clueless stranger of the drought that had decimated the land. “I don’t have any bread,” she said. “I only have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (1 Kings 17:12). She had been gathering the kindling to make a fire to cook one final meal for herself and her young son before they both died of starvation. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said, reassuring her that her generosity would not go unrewarded. The widow complied and was blessed by God.
Elijah must have had some serious reservations about receiving help from a Phoenician woman. Although they lived in close proximity to Gentiles in that region, faithful Jews of the time would not have mixed with the goyim. Elijah must have been further astonished by God’s command to reside in an area that was governed by the father of his worst enemy and the very person seeking to have him killed. But time and again God used unexpected heroes to advance the story of salvation in the Bible.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, the widow of Zarephath teaches us that a hero has the courage to be generous because of her great faith. Listen to her amazing story in our weekend message or online at www.stbrendanparish.org, and then look for ways to be generous with others.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Without a doubt, Nabal was a fool. In fact, the name itself means just that in Hebrew. The Bible describes him as “surly and mean” (1 Samuel 25:3). Though extremely wealthy, he was harsh and ungenerous in his behavior. Even his own servant said that “he is so mean no one can talk to him” (25:17). But what made Nabal a fool was his dimwitted response to a reasonable request made by another powerful man in the region, the soon-to-be King David.
After slaying Goliath, David had become a local hero. Women all over the land were singing his praises, and “all Israel and Judah loved him” (18:16). Jealousy quickly took hold of King Saul, who had led the men in battle. He became furious and tried to assassinate David, first by hurling spears at him in a fit of rage and then by placing him in harm’s way in military battles.
The state of affairs eventually became intolerable. David was forced to flee and go into hiding. A fugitive in the wilds, he took refuge in a remote cave, while Saul and his men pursued him relentlessly. David’s brothers and other relatives soon joined him, as well as 400 other men down on their luck (22:2). David and his band of misfits repeatedly dodged the soldiers sent to kill them, and eventually found themselves in the Desert of Maon, west of the Dead Sea, where Nabal the Fool lived like a king.
With his men, David became a local Robin Hood, protecting farmers and shepherds from the frequent raids of brigands and Bedouins. Rather than extract payments in return for their protection, David and his men asked nicely for help. On one occasion, David requested whatever food Nabal could spare from his abundance, but the fool “flew at them screaming” (25:14) Even though they had protected his crops and sheep, Nabal refused the request, pretending not to have heard of David and comparing him with runaway slaves and drifters. David and his troops mounted a furious assault in response, bent on killing every man and boy in Nabal’s household to avenge the insult.
“But then, into the midst of the chaos, beauty appears. A daisy lifts her head in the desert. . . . A whiff of perfume floats through the men’s locker room. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, stands on the trail” (Max Lucado, Ten Women of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 60). In contrast to her boorish husband, Abigail had both brains and beauty (25:3). With food in her hand and an apology on her lips, she thwarted disaster.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, Abigail teaches us that a hero makes peace when tempers flare. Listen to her amazing story in our weekend message or online above, and then find ways to be a peacemaker in your own life.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor