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
This week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, we are introduced to the touching story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi had lost everything. Several hundred years after the Hebrew people had entered the Promised Land, a famine struck the area. Naomi and her husband had been forced to emigrate as refugees from Bethlehem to the high plains of Moab in what is now modern-day Jordan.
Going from bad to worse, her husband died after arriving there, leaving her a widow in a strange land. Fortunately, her two grown sons cared for her, but they also soon died, stripping her even of the promise of grandchildren. It was as if God had cursed her. “My lot” is “bitter,” she cried out. “I went away with an abundance, but the Lord has brought me back destitute” (Ruth 1:13, 21-22).
Despite the many voids in Naomi’s life, God filled in the blanks. First, he gave her Ruth to accompany her. Naomi faced the difficult choice of remaining in a strange land or making the arduous, ten-day trek back to Bethlehem. It would be a dangerous journey that few women would dare to take without a man. The mountainous terrain was treacherous. There was the very real possibility of bandits lying in wait along the way. And then there was the matter of crossing the Jordan River, which would be raging and overflowing its banks at that time of year.
Though Naomi had tried to convince both her foreign daughters-in-law to remain in their own land and remarry, Ruth would not be dissuaded. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” she insisted (Ruth 1:16).
Indeed, Ruth remained her constant companion along the way and supported Naomi by scrounging for food after they returned to Bethlehem. Since it was the harvest, there was no time or manpower to plant and reap their own crops. The best they could do was join the ranks of the poor permitted by the Law of Moses to follow behind the harvesters and pick up what was left behind (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
God also soon gave Naomi a grandchild, who became the grandfather of King David. As Naomi took the child into her arms, the townswomen cried out, “Blessed is the Lord, who has not failed to provide you today with an heir! May he become famous in Israel! He will be your comfort and the support of your old age, for his mother is the daughter-in-law who loves you” (Ruth 4:14-15).
When all seems lost, believe that the Lord will fill in the blanks. Mourning, grief, and pain can devastate us. But we need not live like shells of our former existence. Though we may not be able to glimpse what the future holds, we can believe that God will restore us to wholeness and new life, if we allow it.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
At the head of a long line of celebrity judges dispensing mock justice on daytime television stands an equally popular and historic female magistrate whose wisdom and valor saved the ancient people of Israel.
The walls of Jericho had fallen two hundred years earlier in a spectacular victory for the Hebrews. After forty years of wandering in the desert following their release from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites led by Joshua had conquered the unconquerable city. Like a buzzsaw, they quickly mowed down most of the remaining native settlements in the land of Canaan.
But somehow the indigenous peoples of that region survived and grew powerful again. They soon infected the Israelites with their wicked and idolatrous practices, and the results were disastrous. The tribes of Israel were scattered in the hill country of Canaan and divided into separate enclaves. Worse yet, they had fallen into apostasy. From this impious mess, God raised up an unusual heroine to rescue his people.
From the time of Joshua’s death to the reign of Saul, Israel’s first king, the tribes were led by a series of twelve charismatic individuals called “judges.” They did not rule in tight succession but were raised up by God when things got really bad. A woman named Deborah was the fourth and only female judge of this era.
These judges were military deliverers who saved the nation from foreign powers, in order to stop the people from imitating their idolatry. Indeed, Deborah is best known for obeying God’s command to liberate the Israelites from a coalition of Canaanite rulers who had been oppressing them for twenty years.
In addition to leading military conquests, however, judges also settled difficult legal issues when disputes arose among the people of Israel. Rather than hearing cases from an elevated mahogany dais, Deborah held court under a palm tree. Located several miles northwest of Jericho, the site came to be known as the “Palm of Deborah.” Towering up to sixty-five feet in height, the majestic date palm was native to the region. In fact, the Promised Land was called the land of “milk and honey,” in part because of the sweetness of the date syrup produced by these trees.
But the palm tree also was a symbol of peace and justice. Deborah led her people in a quest for justice by sitting under a palm tree because, unlike the unbridled savagery of the locals, God expected his chosen people to act with justice. His law was a moral code that demanded generosity to the alien, partiality to the poor, and fairness to everyone. His were to be an ethical people, who would “learn to do good” and “seek justice.” (Isaiah 1:17).
Deborah was a heroine for God because she lived and administered justice by a divine moral code. By whose standard are you living?
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
On the first Sunday of our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we heard how the Old Testament matriarch, Rebekah, remained faithful to God’s plan. Last week, we explored the heroism of four women that lived hundreds of years later when the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt. This week, we learn about a woman of ill repute but great faith.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Rahab was a prostitute, a working girl, a lady of the night. But she also was sharp-witted, clueful, and quick to believe. Despite her chosen profession, she is a biblical celebrity, appearing not only in the Book of Joshua as a heroine of the Israelite people, but also in the genealogy of Jesus and two books of the New Testament, which praise her faith.
At great risk to herself, Rahab harbored two Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, the commander of the Israelite people, to scout out the land that had been promised to them by God. In exchange for her life and the lives of her family members once Jericho was invaded, Rahab provided the cover needed to protect these foreign infiltrators sent on a mission for God.
Rahab was a Canaanite, a feared people in that region. To call them “barbaric is to describe the North Pole as nippy.” Indeed, the people of Jericho “had no regard for human life or any respect for God” (Max Lucado, Ten Women of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 33). Yet, despite their brutal reputation, the citizens of Jericho trembled in affright, having seen the flickering lights of the multitude of Hebrew soldiers camped for three nights on Jordan’s eastern banks. The city was abuzz with fear and dread. To put it mildly, they were “freaking out” and “popping Xanax like Tic Tacs” (Lucado 36).
The natural reaction would have been to stick with the crowd and blend in with the rest. In the face of impending danger, Rahab could have huddled with her own people, hunkered down within the safety of the enormously thick and hitherto impenetrable walls of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. After all, it had always worked before.
But Rahab somehow knew that this time would be different. Like the other residents, she had heard “how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea” and won victory for the Israelites against their enemies. Unlike the others, however, Rahab was quick to believe that the God of the Hebrew people was, in fact, the one “God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:10-11).
Indeed, a hero for God is quick to believe. In what part of your life can you follow Rahab’s nimble and lithesome faith and be a little more ready to believe in God’s awesome power?
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
 For the complete story, listen to our weekend message above.
On the first Sunday of our “Vacation Bible School,” we heard how Rebekah was faithful to the plan of God. This week, we explore the heroism of four women that lived hundreds of years later when the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt.
Shiprah and Puah were two Hebrew midwives ordered by the Pharaoh to kill all baby boys being delivered by Hebrew women (Exodus 2:15). But they feared God more than Pharaoh and refused to carry out his immoral command. When questioned for not following orders, they made the excuse that the Hebrew women were strong and gave birth before the midwife arrived. Because of their fear of God, the Lord blessed them and built up families for them (Exodus 2:20).
Jochebed loved her children and would do anything for them. When Pharaoh ordered the killing of all male Hebrew babies, she wanted to protect her child and hid him. After three months, she put him in a basket among the reeds of the riverbank. Although obviously painful to be separated from her child, Jochebed acted heroically by trusting in God’s faithfulness and parting from her son for his own safety.
It was the Pharaoh’s own daughter, Bithiah, who discovered the basket, opened it, and saw the baby. Moved with pity, she defied her father’s orders and decided to care for the child, even though she knew it was a Hebrew boy. The boy’s sister, Miriam, saw Bithiah picking him up and offered a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. Bithiah agreed and Miriam brought his own mother to nurse him. Jochebed’s trust in God to preserve the life of her son was rewarded when she received him back in her arms. Bithiah also acted courageously and became an instrument in God’s plan that the child named Moses, which means “I drew him out of the water,” one day would liberate his own people from slavery.
We have a tendency to put our own safety and comfort first, even though it often is contrary to God’s plan. Some couples perhaps too easily resort to divorce rather than exert every effort to heal the relationship. A pregnant woman may decide to abort an unwanted child, seeing it as a burden rather than a blessing. An elderly person or terminally ill patient may be unduly influenced to commit suicide. We also may take life in other ways through gossip or hatred of certain types of people. Do we have the virtue to fear God and the courage to fulfill God’s will, even though it may cause hardship or ridicule from others?
These four women of the Bible were heroes because of their bravery and appreciation for life. Knowing that God is faithful, they remained faithful to him. Dare to be a hero in God’s eyes by protecting all life and witness how he will be faithful in your life.
--Father Pete Tieng, Parochial Vicar
 For the complete story, listen to our weekend message above.
This week in our new summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we meet one of the four matriarchs of the Old Testament. The wife of Isaac and daughter-in-law of Abraham, Rebekah was a strong woman in every respect. Though often depicted as quiet, humble, and willing to serve, Rebekah also had a sharp mind with strong opinions and was not afraid to voice and act on them. But the ambitious dreams she held for Jacob, her favorite son, eventually drove her to deception and manipulation.
Rebekah’s betrayal, however, ultimately accomplished God’s plan. Her moral complexity therefore makes Rebekah an intriguing character in the Bible. Was her deception in the end justified? Was her ambition precisely the driving force needed at that point in salvation history?
Ambition derives from the latin ambitio, which literally means “going around canvassing for votes.” An ambitious person therefore ultimately seeks power, honor, and recognition, either for herself or for another. Ambition is not wrong in itself and is a necessary attribute in life. God gave us an ego to accomplish and build things through creativity and an inner drive to succeed. The quality becomes problematic only when “proper ambition,” as Aristotle termed it in his Nicomachean Ethics, exceeds the “golden mean” and spills over into greed or “unhealthy ambition” focused, not on the greater good, but on selfish personal interest.
Here are three ways to discern whether you should curb your ambition.
1. Consider the End.
The moral quality of ambition in part rests on the objective pursued. If your goals align with God’s, then your determination to achieve that purpose will honor God. Otherwise, you should rethink your plan. Rebekah’s duplicity was the conduit to the development of the ancient Israelite nation. The end she pursued therefore was good.
2. Consider the Means.
The ends, however, do not justify the means. Rebekah used dishonesty to defraud her eldest son of his birthright. In Catholic moral tradition, lying is an “intrinsic evil” that can never be justified. Assuming Rebekah did in fact lie, could God have achieved his own ends without the falsehood?
3. Consider the Intent.
The difference between proper and blind ambition often emerges in the motive of the one acting. Though many seek power and prestige, Saint Paul tells us that our only ambition should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Was Rebekah’s conduct based on her desire to promote her favorite son or to fulfill God’s prophesy and the higher purpose that Jacob, and not his brother Esau, would be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel?
Rebekah was by no means perfect. Heroes rarely are. Even in their weaknesses, however, God never fails to bring about his plan through the imperfect people he chooses, like you and me.
 For her complete story, click here to listen to our weekend message on the Messages page.
Spiritual growth results from a series of difficult choices to step out boldly rather than retreat to familiar corners and to make bold moves rather than always taking the safe course. Genuine disciples of Christ do not let fear stop them from making the bold move that God is asking them to make. Instead, they embrace the uncertainty of change, the pain of suffering, the risk of sharing, and the inconvenience of real commitment, in order to make bold moves on behalf of the Lord.
For the seven weeks of the Easter season, we have been inviting you to reflect on a bold move that you could and probably should make in your life. Each week in our bulletin we have offered a few practical tips for getting ready for that move. As we come to the end of the series this week, we recap all the tips we’ve been suggesting. Here are the six clues to connecting with your next step in faith.
1. Stay Connected With People
Despite the fact that much of our happiness results from our connections with other people, the levels of chronic loneliness in our culture are staggeringly high and continue to rise. Get rooted in a spiritual community or a small group of believers who will help you think through your next step and hold you accountable to take it, because staying connected to others will help you stay on course.
The apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common. They gathered to comfort each other and wait for inspiration to make their next move. For two thousand years, Christians have found their power in assembling and praying together on Sundays.
But we also need to assemble in smaller groups to share our lives with people we have come to trust. One bold move you could make is to spend more time with the loving people of our cozy faith community. Explore the small groups section of our website or contact us to start one of your own. All you need is three or more trusted friends.
2. Stay Connected With Faith
When Jesus appeared to his disciples gathered in fear behind locked doors, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Worry and doubt in our troubling world often are exaggerated by a lack of understanding about faith.
To have the courage to make a truly bold move in our lives, spend the time and energy to grow in faith. Dust off the Bible and start reading it, as well as other spiritual books, because staying connected to your faith will help you find your way.
3. Stay Connected With God
Without reliable power, transportation, and utilities, developing nations struggle to achieve economic success. The same is true of our spiritual lives. Without a strong spiritual infrastructure, we will remain stuck in an impoverished relationship with God. Daily spiritual habits keep us connected to God by helping us to stay focused on what is eternal.
But the foundation of our faith should never be rooted in guilt, shame, or fear. Establishing a positive spiritual rhythm to the day, making prayer, quiet time, and Sunday Mass attendance something you like to do, and choosing one daily spiritual activity you actually enjoy will help you stay connected with God and make your bold move easier.
4. Stay Connected With Your Future
Most of us are ashamed by something we have done in the past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves. But “God is greater” than whatever our hearts condemn us of having done wrong (1 John 3:20).
You can learn to forgive yourself by openly admitting your faults, reflecting on the vastness of God’s mercy, giving yourself the same advice you would give to someone else in a similar situation, and realizing that refusing God’s mercy also is a serious sin. When we allow ourselves to be bound by the past, we will never be able to move into the future. After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
5. Stay Connected To The Big Picture
Despite our good intentions, we often become mired in our comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. Whether it’s the people we associate with or our views on certain topics, sometimes we are prevented from moving forward by not being able to see more broadly.
If we want to know God, we must move beyond negative perspectives, cultivate unexpected relationships, broaden our horizons with new endeavors, and begin to see and love the world more like God sees and loves it. After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could be making.
6. Stay Connected To The In-Between
Most of us are waiting for something. Waiting can be painful, but while we’re waiting for God to act, he’s actually helping us to grow in maturity and become more and more like Christ. Waiting is the womb in which spiritual greatness is formed, and those who wait will not be disappointed.
You can learn to delay gratification by gradually increasing your spiritual focus, remembering the wins in your life, and realizing that the waiting will not be forever. One day, we will see that, while we were waiting, God was loving us and preparing us for a bold move.
So, what is your bold move going to be?
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the spiritual power of waiting and delaying gratification.
Among his last words before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait. For many people, waiting is a lost art, which can keep them from moving forward in healthy ways because they grow impatient and opt for inferior choices and lifestyles, instead of waiting for the richness of God’s gifts. Here are three easy ways to strengthen your ability to delay gratification.
1. Build Up To It.
Connecting with God takes time, effort, and self-control. It usually doesn’t come naturally and often requires delayed gratification. Start small and build up slowly. If you don’t pray regularly, try a simple invocation at night before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up. My favorite is the Abandonment Prayer by Charles de Foucauld. Or listen to spiritual talks and the Sunday messages we post on our website as you drive to work or take a walk. Once you gradually begin to increase your focus on spiritual things, your desire for the cheap imitations of this world will naturally and organically fade away.
2. Realize It’s Not Forever.
I love my iPhone, but it’s definitely an antique. I sinfully covet the brand new iPhone X but have been holding back until my current model has reached the four-year mark. It’s difficult waiting, but at least I can see the end in sight. Jesus told his disciples that it was not for them “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established” (Acts 1:7), which can make waiting for God to act definitively in our lives even more challenging. Some of us may lose heart because nothing ever seems to change. But Jesus will come, seminary professor Brant Pitre argues, when the bride, his Church, is ready. Our task is to prepare our souls for him and to realize that the waiting one day will be over.
3. Remember the Wins.
Staff members at a Catholic church in Maryland get together every Tuesday morning to celebrate what they call “weekend wins.” Church is simple but not easy. So they prop up their spirits by naming what they have witnessed on Sundays as the positive outcomes of their hard work. To help you delay gratification and wait patiently for God, deliberately remember the wins in your life that God already has given to you. Studies have found that gratitude is correlated with the ability to wait longer for better rewards. Indeed, gratefulness changes the pain of waiting into the joyfulness of expectation.
When it comes to God, delayed gratification is never in vain. One day we will discover that, while we were waiting, God actually was lovingly preparing us for our next bold move.
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of broadening our perspective.
Most of us have developed comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. As enriching as these may be, we sometimes are prevented from moving forward by the failure to see more broadly. Here are three ways to step out of the predictable patterns that may be holding us back.
1. Cultivate Unexpected Relationships.
Cornelius was a Roman centurion who received a vision from an angel telling him to send men to meet Peter, one of the apostles living in a town called Joppa. Peter received a similar vision and agreed to accompany the men back to Cornelius’ home, where Peter exclaimed: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Once unthinkable to associate with people who were not Jewish, Peter now realizes that “in every nation whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
Most of us tend to associate with people who are similar to us. If you want to broaden your perspective, seek out new relationships with those outside of your comfort zone. People of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even belief systems can contribute to positive growth in our thinking and help us to discern the new horizons to which God is leading us.
2. Try To See As God Sees.
“Whoever is without love does not know God,” Saint John says in the second reading. Many times our perspectives are limited because we prematurely foreclose the option to love. Instead of loving as God loves, we unduly narrow the field of our love. “God sees not as man sees,” the Bible says, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While God does not condone or accept every human endeavor, the Creator nevertheless made beautiful things out of us. To widen your outlook, try to see the world as God sees it, especially the other human beings around you.
3. Go Out On A Limb For God.
At his farewell dinner, Jesus told his disciples that he no longer called them “slaves” but “friends” because he had chosen them, not the other way around. When we consider our lives from this perspective, entirely new vistas open up for us. If Christ has chosen us, then our lives do not belong to us. Jesus has chosen us to “bear fruit” by loving others through the rather uncomfortable enterprise of mission and ministry. To broaden your horizons, try something new. Join one of our small groups or outreach ministries. Explore our website for more information.
After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could make.