Saint Brendan celebrated its annual memorial Mass last Sunday. Dozens of pictures were projected onto the church video monitors, as we remembered our loved ones who had recently passed away. I was deeply moved by the presentation, because it was a vivid reminder that the individual stories of our lives, each of which is precious in God’s eyes, do not end with death but live on forever.
The reality of eternal life is central to our faith. Because the immortal Son of God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” and “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,” and then rose triumphantly from the grave (Philippians 2:7-8), he paved the way for the resurrection of us all. The “children of God” will rise from the dead, Jesus says in the gospel story this weekend, because “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
Years ago while living in Atlanta, I took some classes at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. I remember one of my professors asking the class whether they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was astonished by the question, since the room was filled with seminary students studying to become ministers in various Protestant traditions.
For what seemed like an eternity, you could have heard a pin drop. Stunned into silence, no one responded. The question itself seemed to imply and invite a skeptical response, which fearful students dared not challenge. Despite the fact that I was enrolled part-time in an academic program and was not preparing for professional ministry, I was the first to answer. I could feel my temper flaring. I struggled to control myself in front of the class, but to no avail. It was obvious that my emotions were running high, as I told the professor off and emphatically affirmed the truth of the resurrection. The classroom erupted in applause, and rightly so.
Indeed, the empty tomb is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God. As the apostle Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Theologian Gerald O’Collins put it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.” As Lee Strobel wrote in his best selling book, The Case for Christ, the resurrection is “the basis of Christian hope” and “the miracle of all miracles” (Zondervan 2016, 224).
Join us at church on Sunday, as we continue our quest into the truth of Jesus Christ, history’s most compelling figure. This week in our message series, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation, we take a hard look at the evidence for his resurrection and ultimate victory over death.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In this second week of our message series CSI: Christ Scene Investigation, we are looking at credible evidence for the proof of Jesus of History and Christ of Faith. The term Jesus of history refers to the divine Son of God as He walked the earth in the person of Jesus. And the term Christ of faith refers to Jesus’s eternal identity as the Son of God, especially as that reality has been experienced by believers since his death and resurrection. The distinction between the “Christ of Faith” and the “Jesus of History” is often traced to Martin Kahler (1835-1912).
The question about the historical Jesus has always been on the lips of secular historians. They ask, did a man called Jesus walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the ‘Historical Jesus’ actually existed primarily reflects disagreements among atheists. Virtually all scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed. The reconstruction of the historical Jesus are based on the Pauline epistles and on the gospels and several non-biblical sources that bear witness to the historical Jesus. Scholars agree on these two things: That Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate. Josephus, an ancient historian, wrote that Jesus was a wise man, a doer of wonderful works and a teacher who was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
During His life time, his disciples began to think of Jesus as the “Messiah,” Christ the anointed one. After his death and resurrection, his followers regularly referred to him as the Messiah (Act 2:36). At some point, his adherents also began to refer to him as the “Son of God.” Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans (6:4), shows knowledge that “The Christ” was a title and not a name. He more referred to Jesus as “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus” or even just “Christ.”
In Philippians 2:6-11, Paul states that Christ Jesus preexisted creation and came to earth; He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” This sounds as if Jesus was a heavenly being who only appeared in human form. But in Romans 1:1-6, Paul writes that God declared Jesus to be “Son of God” by raising him from the dead. So, according to Saint Paul, Jesus is a man of history to have died on the cross and Christ of faith to have risen from the dead.
That is why in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19, Saint Paul states that, “If Christ has not risen from the dead, our preaching is useless and so is our faith . . . .” Our case for Christ is simple. He is our Jesus of History and Christ of Faith.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
It was the last month of my final year of seminary. The scene was the imposing office of my formation director, who sat across from me. Next to her was the vocations director for the Archdiocese. They both glared at me, waiting for a response. After almost five years of classes, prayer, field education, annual evaluations, and much ink spilled reflecting on my own personal and spiritual development, this was the final test. My future as a priest came down to one question.
As he closed the cover of my thick file at the end of our meeting, the vocations director had turned a pointed look in my direction and asked rather casually, “By the way, Roger, who is Jesus Christ?” I swallowed hard, stalling for time while searching my memory banks for the textbook answer. Realizing there was none, I stammered out a line I had remembered from a childhood friend. “He’s my Lord and Savior,” I finally exclaimed.
Though I struggled for an answer, it is the most fundamental question. In fact, Jesus once asked his disciples the same thing: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Only Simon Peter got it right. Indeed, few of us could respond well because, to know who Jesus really is, we first have to have a relationship with him.
According to one study, there are about 100 million Catholics in the U.S. Of these, thirty million attend church occasionally, ten million attend on most Sundays, but only five million are active in their parishes. More surprising is that only about twenty percent of these could be called “intentional disciples.” As a result, roughly one percent of self-identified American Catholics have a real and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
Today, we begin a new six-week message series leading up to Advent called, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation. It’s based on the New York Times Best Seller, The Case for Christ. In the book, award-winning legal editor and seasoned reporter, Lee Strobel, chases down the most important story of his life to answer one question: “Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God?”
Over the next six weeks, we’ll pore over the details and study the proofs together. Join us on a riveting quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure, as we retrace his steps in history, search for clues among archaeological ruins, and examine critical testimony in the ancient manuscripts of his time. At the end of the series, our hope is that the trail of evidence will lead you even closer to the Man of Sorrows, the Prince of Peace, the Lord and Savior of the world.
Was he a fool, an imposter, or truly the Son of God? What judgment will you render in “The Case for Christ?”
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In her book, Simply Your Life, Elaine St. James wrote that each sunrise, which most people take for granted, is, by far, “the greatest show on Earth.” Since learning this, even though definitely not a “morning person,” I have been getting up to watch that beautiful golden orb peek over the horizon above the outline in the distance. On the day I write this, the sunrise was particularly spectacular. The same, I suppose, is true of every sunset. And both of these “shows” are completely free of charge, produced and directed by our loving Creator, so that we will always know of his love and concern for us.
This Sunday is the final installment of our current message series that we’ve been calling, God’s Not Dead. Over the last six weeks, we have been reflecting on recent scientific developments that make belief in God a rational and logical endeavor. So far in the series, we have explored:
While the specific information we have provided in this series is important, and I urge you to watch our messages online for the details, what is of utmost importance is that the mysteries and indescribable beauty of our vast and silent universe speak volumes about the love of its Creator for us. From the sunrises and sunsets to the incredible elegance of our own DNA, it is—and always will be—the greatest show on Earth.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Christians and other spiritual people frequently are criticized for having what is called “blind faith.” According to atheists, skeptics, and other critics of religion, the acceptance of truths that are supposedly revealed by a divine higher power, without the support of empirical validation or scientific corroboration, is irrational. Propositions that cannot be investigated or observed using our five senses, they say, are unworthy of belief.
The phrase “leap of faith” is attributed to the 19th century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. It is the act of believing in something outside the boundaries of reason. Kierkegaard rejected the rationalist philosophical idea that God can be proven to exist and that faith can rely on sound logic. For Kierkegaard, there is no reason in faith, and that is what makes it a leap. His classic example is God’s command to Abraham in the Bible to kill his own first-born son. He could only perform such an act contrary to reason through a leap of faith.
But while faith at some point may require such a leap without the aid of reason, it “is not a leap in the dark,” says Oxford Mathematician John Lennox. Rather, faith is “a commitment based on evidence.” As such, he says, “it is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule.” C.S. Lewis similarly suggested that faith is holding on to what your reason has led you to conclude, despite shifting moods, attitudes, and circumstances.
“Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed are contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) n. 154). As Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica, “[b]elieving is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace” (II-II, 2, 9).
Real faith is not blind because it requires knowledge of God that comes through both divine revelation and the evidence exhibited in the world he created, assent to that knowledge, which is a product of reason and thinking, and trust, which also is not blind, but based on evidence that the person making the promise is trustworthy.
Ultimately, we do not believe because revealed truths “appear as true and intelligible in the light of reason” (CCC n. 156). We believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them” (Dei Filius 3). But so “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit” (Id.).
Join us online or at church this Sunday as we continue our message series, God’s Not Dead, to learn more about how real faith is not blind and how science and religion together support a fuller understanding of the world and faith in its Creator.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
When we eat donuts after Mass, the sugars (carbohydrates) from those donuts are broken down for use in our bodies. They give us energy to do all the Sunday chores like go to the grocery store, do the laundry, read the newspaper, play sports, or whatever we need to do after Father Roger says, “Go in peace; the Mass has ended.”
The cells in our bodies cannot use little pieces of donuts to carry out their functions, though wouldn’t it be cool if they did! Instead, once we eat those donuts, our digestive system starts to break them down into smaller and smaller pieces, until what was a chocolate old-fashioned donut becomes tiny molecules of sugar that can enter our cells and be transformed into energy.
This breaking-down process is highly regulated. Our bodies need to make sure that the food we eat is actually being turned into energy. Many hormones control this activity through a process called the “Cori Cycle,” named after the two Catholic scientists who figured it all out.
The first of these scientists, Gerty Radnitz, was born in Prague in 1896. She was a determined, confident woman, who worked her way through a school system bent on excluding women from the fields of science and math. When she applied for university, she learned that her education had grossly underprepared her and that she lacked the necessary prerequisites for entry. Undeterred, however, she managed to study the equivalent of eight years of Latin, five years of science, and five years of mathematics in one year. She earned admittance to medical school and graduated in 1920.
The second scientists, Carl Cori, also was born in Prague in 1896, but had a slightly different path to the sciences. His family encouraged his interest in math and science from a young age, his father having run a national marine biological station and his grandfather having been a professor of theoretical physics. His education prioritized all the things that Gerty’s did not, and though he was slightly deterred from his career path due to World War I conscription, he too entered medical school and graduated in 1920.
Gerty and Carl graduated in 1920, and married the same year. Her family was Jewish, but she converted to Roman Catholicism in order to marry her husband in the Church. The Cori’s emigrated to the United States in 1922, due to deteriorating conditions in Europe, where they began a research lab together in Buffalo, New York. While each did publish individually, they worked largely as team, doing some of their most groundbreaking science side-by-side.
Remember the donuts? The Cori’s wanted to know how exactly our bodies turn sugar into usable energy for our cells, a process called carbohydrate metabolism. In a series of fifty papers, they proposed a model that worked it all out. The Cori’s were recognized for this incredible work in 1947, when they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with their research colleague Bernardo Houssay. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, Gerty became the first American woman to receive this prestigious recognition.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
We continue with our message series God’s Not Dead. In this series, we are looking at some evidential proofs for the existence of God. This series is purely educational and informative, because I strongly believe that all of us Catholics have no iota of doubt about the existence of God. So this is not even a topic of discussion for us Christians because we are a people of faith and wisdom. As Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say in their hearts, there is no God.” We are not fools, so we believe there is God. But when we encounter people who don’t believe in God, with our knowledge and faith in God, we can talk to them about God.
Not too long ago, atheists were haunted by regret. Even as they denied God’s existence, they recognized that a world with God would be better than one without God. For example, Pascal Blaise (1623-1662) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, who proposed an argument for the existence of God known as “Pascal’s Wager.” This argument posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not exist. Pascal argues that, “A rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasure, luxury, etc.), whereas he or she stands to receive infinite gains as represented by (eternity in heaven and avoid infinite losses eternity in hell).”
St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a Dominican friar, a philosopher, theologian and a Catholic Priest, outlined five ways to prove the existence of God. He claims that these “ways” prove that a God must exist for the universe and nature to have come into being. The five ways are:
God is a supernatural Being who alone exists of himself, and we believe in his existence.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
In this fourth week of our current message series, God’s Not Dead, we want to look at the reality of Hell. Atheists argue that a loving God cannot create Hell. Because there is no Hell, there is no God. But more and more “religious people” also are rejecting the biblical doctrine of Hell. They contend that a God of love and mercy could not create such a place as Hell and confine man, who is created in his own image, to such a horrible place for eternity.
If there is an eternal Hell, you are entitled to know about it to be warned thereby. If the notion of a Hell of torment is a doctrine of men, you are certainly entitled to know that too. It would be morally wrong to teach the idea of a burning Hell just to scare people into doing certain things.
The fact of sin’s existence proves that there is a Hell. From the Bible, we learn sin is a “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). But if there were no penalty imposed for breaking the law, the law would be worthless. Take, for example, the laws that govern speed on our highways. We know that if we disobey these laws, we will be charged. So, if there were no laws to regulate speed, men could drive at any speed they desired and not be guilty of any crime. But in order to make the laws effective, there are penalties for their violations and people are charged with enforcing them.
In the same way, the law of God would be meaningless if there were no penalty for its transgression. The fact of a penalty for the violation of God’s law is an incentive for people to obey him rather than transgress his laws. Sin, the violation of God’s law, is an unquestionable reality; therefore Hell, the penalty for sin also must be a reality.
The Bible ascribes many characteristics to God. He is described as love but is also described as a God of justice. Neither of these characteristics should be exaggerated as to exclude the other. Some have supposed that, since God is a God of great love, he could not possibly bring suffering to anyone for any reason. But since he is also a God of justice and holiness, he must punish sin.
The book of Hebrews makes this very same argument about the necessary punishment for sin. “Therefore, we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through the angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
God must punish those who break his law. Since his law is the highest and holiest of all laws. Hell exists because God is a God of Love and is a God of Justice.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
In our current message series, God’s Not Dead, we’re looking at the scientific and philosophical evidence for the existence of God. We want to grow in our faith by understanding the reasoned basis for what we believe.
One of the most common arguments for atheism is the imperfect universe. How could an omniscient, omnipotent, perfect God create a universe with so many inherent design defects? Any earthly manufacturer who had sent a product to market with the same kind of built-in flaws would surely have been sued many times over for products liability and ultimately forced into bankruptcy. Consequently, the universe could not have been created by an intelligent mind. Or so the argument goes.
As a result, many skeptics and non-believers turn to naturalistic explanations for the origin of life on Earth and the development of humankind, Darwin’s theory of evolution being the most common. Indeed, evolution is an attractive alternative to the theory of intelligent design because apparent imperfections in the natural order can be easily be explained by a process that does not involve God and does not have humans in mind. In this view, design defects are not attributable to an intelligent mind that should have known better.
But this misunderstands who God is and how he works, which is something that religious people in the course of the centuries frequently have misunderstood. In the gospel reading this week, for instance, the Pharisees condemn Jesus for eating with so-called “sinners” because they are seeking a perfect order. In response, Jesus sets them straight with three parables about seeking the lost. With God, there are no rejects and the imperfect are never really lost.
Today there are many of us who are still seeking a perfect Church. All are not welcome in their eyes. But our vision is to welcome the unchurched and to create an irresistible environment for those people who don’t like or feel uncomfortable in church and may not know all the words to every prayer. We don’t have a dress code. We don’t enforce silence. We just try to love and accept everyone who comes through those doors, which is what Saint Paul means in the second reading when he says Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He loved the unchurched and so should we.
With a tremendous flash of light and energy, a perfect universe came into being billions of years ago. It was created in perfect harmony. Whatever “defects” our limited minds can accurately identify in the created order are the result of human folly and disobedience. Yet, God is not a God of the perfect, and it is God’s magnificent intelligent design that brings the imperfect to perfection through the love of his Son, Jesus Christ.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Everything we do is built on our mission “to help each other find our way in Christ,” our vision “to spark curiosity in spiritual growth,” and our overarching church goals to:
Over the summer months, we’ve answered questions about the Catholic faith in our message series called FAQ. We also considered the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs in a series called Fool Proof, and we tried to correct some common misinterpretations of the Bible in our most recent series, Bible Oddities.
Today, we begin another adventure with a brand new theme for the year that we’re calling, Grow 2 Go! Focusing on the fourth of our five church goals, we’ll spend the year reflecting on how to GROW spiritually, so that next year we’ll be even more ready 2 GO and love others.
We kick off our regular preaching season this weekend with an intriguing new message series that we’re calling, God’s Not Dead. Based on Rice Broocks’ book and the subsequent 2014 movie by the same name, we’ll take a close look at the overwhelming evidence for the existence of God from science itself. During the series, we plan to debunk the myth that science and religion are mortal enemies and demonstrate that our faith actually is deeply rooted in reason, as well as the rational observation of our universe.
Our next series, The Case for Christ, beginning in mid-October likewise will examine the historical evidence for belief in Christ. Following the same pattern, our Advent series, Expect Miracles, will look at how and why God sometimes chooses to intervene and break through history in a dramatic and unusual way. Our series in the new year will help us to grow by learning what Christ believed and following how he lived. Our final series for the year during the Easter season will help us identify our unique, God-given purpose in life and answer the question, What On Earth Am I Here For?
Even those who are already convinced of God’s existence, the divine nature of Christ, the reality of supernatural miracles, and the benefits of following the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus will find this year to be valuable in equipping them to live out their purpose and speak more openly and confidently about their own spiritual development.
Join us each Sunday in church or online for a powerful experience in spiritual growth.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson