In a recent sermon, Tim Lucas, pastor of one of the fastest growing upstart churches in the nation, bellowed out to the congregation of his Liquid Church, “Nones are done with the church!” Referring to the group of people who check off the box “None of the above” on religious affiliation surveys, Lucas insisted that their decision to opt-out of organized religion had nothing to do with a lack of spiritual hunger or desire for God in general, but frustration with the structure and specifics of the Christian religion.
Forty percent of millennials fall into the so-called “none” category, compared to only 17 percent of the baby boomer generation, and a recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed how this generation gap is thrown into sharp relief at Christmas when multiple generations in the same family celebrate the holidays together.
According to the article, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that about half of baby boomers attend religious services at least once a month, while 40 percent of millennials seldom or never attend. Slightly more than half (52%) of boomers consider Christmas a religious holiday, compared with only 32 percent of millennials. As a result, parents often feel rejected when their invitations to attend church on Christmas are turned down by their adult children, who in turn feel put upon and coerced when such expectations from parents seem to be expressed too pointedly.
Indeed, the article reported that many adult children dread a confrontation with their parents over the holidays about going to church services. One University of Oregon campus minister, Brandi Miller, often finds herself counseling students on this very issue. “There’s a perception that at the holidays everyone has to be happy, joyful, and thankful,” she said, “which makes things like doubt and politics feel very dissident.” Indeed, I regularly hear from parents at Saint Brendan who feel alienated by their adult children when it comes to practice of the Catholic religion.
In an age of skepticism about the Christian faith and widespread anger against the Church for its shortcomings and betrayals of trust, sifting through the actual facts of Christianity could bring a glimmer of hope. That’s why we’re beginning a brand, new message series today that we are calling, Common Sense. Over the next six weeks, we’ll explore some of the reasons why Christianity just makes sense. As we’ll point out, the substantive results of Jesus’ ministry and the legacy his teachings have left in the world speak volumes as reasons to trust and believe.
Join us in church live or online each Sunday for this series, as we reveal the reasons why Christianity actually is completely sensible.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
 Clare Anberry, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2019, A11.
It’s been a season of miracles. Over the last six weeks, we’ve been learning the truth about them in our message series called, Expect Miracles. God created the universe and formed it with love to sustain life. He set the laws of physics in motion to ensure order and stability. Yet, every once in a while he violates those laws, setting them aside in order to work a bona fide miracle for the purpose of getting our attention, deepening our faith, or showing us the way back to him.
But the real hope of miracles is not so much the discrete acts God works from time to time; rather it is in the fact that the Creator chooses to relate personally and individually to us by intervening directly in our lives. To be certain, only a small percentage of people will ever experience an extraordinary miracle like an inexplicable healing from a fatal disease or some other strange occurrence that seems to defy both logic and scientific understanding.
But nearly everyone can experience the ordinary, everyday miracle of God’s loving presence when he speaks to us internally and guides us on our spiritual journey. The only prerequisite is remaining open to his involvement by:
In the final installment of our message series today, we look at the last and most important miracle of all. It’s a miracle that the human race almost completely destroyed. Through sin, disobedience, and outright rebellion, the perfect beauty of God’s image imprinted on the human soul from the beginning became marred beyond recognition. Some say that we actually obliterated the glory of God reflected in our own person, such that nothing of it remains. In this view, we have been become “totally depraved.”
The Catholic belief, on the other hand, is different. The divine aspect woven seamlessly into our very being was certainly disfigured, damaged, and diminished, but not destroyed. A tiny vestige of the divine remains within us, a small measure of goodness that God chooses to redeem. As such, “grace builds upon nature,” as the medieval scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas claimed, and the original perfection of the human person infused by the breath of God in creation is ultimately salvageable. In other words, despite our fall we remain a true miracle and the greatest one of all.
Join us this weekend as we learn to harness with faith the one quintessential human quality that no machine could ever replace and no sin could ever fully extinguish.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Epiphany, or the three king’s day, traditionally the 12th day of Christmas, celebrates the day that the Magi came to visit the Baby Jesus. Epiphany celebrates the new light that has come for all people. We gather to experience this light, this hope, this new miracle and peace together as we start the New year, pausing to rest and reflect and experience something new after waiting for miracles from God.
In his baptism, Jesus’ Sonship to God was manifested to the world; in the visit of the wise men, he was manifested as king to the gentiles; and at the wedding feast in Cana, his power to perform miracles which is a divine prerogative was shown.
In this series we have expected miracles, worked and prepared for miracles and waited for miracles. Now, we are to experience the miracles of the Epiphany.
Don’t you just love all the wonderful miracles God is doing in your life every day? Some may think: “What miracles? What are you talking about?” Many people who hear the word “miracle” tend to think of some “extra-ordinary” activity of God, which defies the laws of nature. They think of something special, not necessarily the hum-drum, ho-hum, boredom stuff that we go through each day. Such a limited understanding causes many to ask: What miracles did God do in my life today?
The Epiphany as the manifestation of Christ to the Non-Jewish people is the:
The feast of the Epiphany is an important reminder that the journey of faith continues. We continue to follow the light of Christ as we progress more deeply in our relationship with God. This period of time between Christmas and Epiphany is an important time to cherish that journey. Now that the excitement and anticipation of Christmas has settled, we can take this quiet time to praise God, to revere his Son, and to ask the Spirit to help us follow God’s will in a better way in the coming year.
Let God manifest himself in our hearts; let us be still so that we may discover what God wishes to reveal to us this season. Let us follow the example of the Magi and do whatever we must to find Jesus and do him homage, as we continue to experience his miracles in a new beginning.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
Miracles are the subject of our current message series that we’ve been calling, Expect Miracles. We’ve been learning how to expect, prepare for, wait on, and believe in miracles. Miraculous events sometimes occur through the temporary suspension of the laws of nature. They are rare but extraordinary supernatural feats that display God’s power to overturn the natural order.
The most common miracles, however, are the many divine interventions in which God acts through ordinary causes. For example, God could heal a serious disease, prevent a tragic accident, or coordinate a series of events to bring about a positive result by manipulating but not violating natural causes. To a less discerning eye, these ordinary miracles appear to be the result of mere coincidence. They are often chalked up to spontaneous remissions, good fortune, or just plain serendipity.
God also intervenes in the ordinary course of daily life by enlightening, guiding, or strengthening us through our internal feelings or by the words and actions of other people. God orchestrates countless miracles that are noticeable only within the quiet recesses of the human heart. He may lead us to a new career, restore lost faith, or even find a fresh direction in life. God could give certain people the courage to reach out to others for companionship, stand up to bullies, or otherwise face their fears. He could encourage an addict to enter a recovery program or an alcoholic to quit a drinking habit. He could calm an anxious person, improve the self-esteem and confidence of someone who feels inferior, help a victim to overcome shame and guilt, inspire a believer to be a better Christian, move one family member to forgive another, enlighten a sinner to choose the right path, motivate a judgmental person to accept others, or help the emotionally wounded find happiness again.
In the last three weeks of our message series, we’ll take a look at these ordinary everyday miracles that occur within the confines of the human soul. Today, we’ll discover how God can enlighten us through dreams cultivated both during sleep and through our imaginations in the full light of day. Nurtured within the protection of the family, dreams are placed by God in our hearts for guidance and inspiration in life.
Next week on the Feast of the Epiphany, we’ll explore the journey of spiritual discovery that the light of Christ takes us on in the New Year. It’s another type of internal miracle to help us progress more deeply in our relationship with God.
In the final week of the series, we’ll consider how the gift of human innovation and creativity is a miracle in itself that not only reflects the beauty of the Creator but also moves the world forward.
Join us in church or online for the final uplifting weeks of our series, as we delve into the secret miracles hidden deep within.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The gospel accounts attribute more than thirty miracles to Jesus, everything from walking on water, raising the dead, and curing the sick, to exorcizing demons, feeding a multitude of people with just scraps, and calming a violent storm. In all four gospels, he is portrayed as a miracle worker. Skeptics argue, however, that these narratives are mere folklore added by the disciples after Jesus’ death to buttress their claims about his divinity.
But as we learned in our earlier message series, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation, the gospel stories are not tales written in a mythological genre, like other literature that tended to deal with the distant past, were set in primeval times, and featured fantastical creatures. By contrast, the gospels were written in a sober fashion with detailed historical information and not merely imaginary events.
Also, the reports of Jesus’ miracles are based on actual eyewitness testimony and not common fables. In fact, the very earliest material about Jesus describe him as a miracle-working healer and exorcist, so the stories are not merely the efforts of the disciples to legendize Jesus after the fact.
Non-Christian sources also detail Jesus’ wonderworks. Jewish rabbis, as well as the anti-Christian Greek philosopher Celsus, agree that Jesus was a miracle worker. They may have tried to suggest that the amazing feats were the result of some kind of sorcery, but they still contain a clear acknowledgement that they happened.
In addition, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Jesus was a wise man who “worked starting deeds.” There is some disagreement whether this was a later addition to Josephus’ work snuck in by Christian apologists who were copying the original manuscript. But the Jewish historian Geza Vermes of Oxford later analyzed the writing style of Josephus and concluded that this particular miracle claim in Josephus’ writing was authentic.
In light of all this evidence, the Christian claim that Jesus worked miracles and many amazing feats during his earthly ministry is quite strong. All we need to do is believe. In fact, believing is the key ingredient to expecting a miracle this Christmas season.
So far in our Sunday message series called, Expect Miracles, we’ve said that people who hope for miracles are more likely to receive and recognize them when they happen. We also have learned how to prepare for a miracle by acknowledging our contribution to the problem and resolving to remove the obstacles we have created for God intervening in our lives. We also came to understand that miracles are often events that require a great deal of patience and waiting.
This week, we discover another key ingredient to expecting miracles. It’s perhaps the most important element of all. We have to believe. Like Joseph who believed the dream God sent him and like Mary who believed the angel, we too must believe in order to receive.
Join us this Sunday or online for the next installment in our hopeful series on miracle.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We have been talking about miracles in our new message series for Christmas called, Expect Miracles. In the first week, we said that people who expect miracles are more likely to recognize and experience them when they happen. We also discussed the following week that miracles are collaborative efforts. We have to prepare for miracles by acknowledging our part in causing the problem for which we need a miracle and then removing the behaviors, thoughts, and bad habits that prevent God from working miracles for us.
We also prepare for miracles by praying for them. It is the most obvious step of all, but we often overlook it or get it wrong. If you want a miracle, you have to ask for one, and you have to ask for it in the right way.
First of all, we have to approach prayer with joy. Saint Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). This doesn’t mean we should rejoice in our particular circumstances. Rather, we should rejoice in who God is in our lives, despite the circumstances we face.
Second, prayer remedies worry and fear about a problem. If there is a storm going on in your life, your anxiety about it will make you feel out of control. We usually assume the worst will happen and dwell on those anxious feelings, letting them consume us completely. You can pin that anxiety down in prayer.
Third, offer to God an anticipatory prayer of thanksgiving. Waiting until after the miracle happens to thank God is too late. We should believe and trust that the Lord will handle our situation and carry us through the storm. Start by thanking God before the miracle arrives. Approach the miracle with an attitude of gratitude and bring your request with a spirit of thanksgiving. One time, Jesus was getting ready for a big miracle. He was going to resuscitate his friend Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. Before working the miracle, Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me” (John 11:41). Thanking God in advance clearly demonstrates that you are expecting a miracle.
Finally, we should make our request for a miracle as specific as possible. Don’t just pray for peace in general. Pray for peace with that family member who hurt you. Don’t just pray that God improves your finances. Pray that you will be debt-free by this time next year. Don’t just pray for emotional strength during an illness or that the doctors make wise decisions, pray specifically that the person will be completely healed. Trust in God’s power by being specific in your requests.
But, above all, “[p]ray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “[w]ait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14).
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Church is a place where miracles happen. People in our small groups connect in genuine spiritual relationships that add value to their lives. Our carefully-planned Sunday services and excellent music programs lead people into deeper and more meaningful prayer. Our cozy community provides a safe harbor to heal from life’s wounds. We work hard to craft quality messages designed to spark curiosity in spiritual growth and to inspire Christian disciples to serve others and evangelize the world through love.
These are our five most important goals: To help you connect, pray, heal, grow, and love. We see miracles happening all the time when people are able to find their way closer to Christ because of our efforts. Nearly every week, we hear from people whose lives have been enriched by the programs and people of St. Brendan Church. Here are just a few examples of emails we have received:
With your faith commitments, we will continue to grow our dynamic children’s ministries, expand the number and quality of our small groups, develop more outreach ministries, and increase our ability to reach many people every week.
Invest in our mission to help others find their way to Christ. Thank you for completing your Stewardship Commitment Card today. I truly believe that:
“Miracles Can Happen Through Your Generosity!”
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
“Everyone had high hopes for Benjamin after he finished third in his class at a predominantly black high school and scored the highest SAT ranking of any student in twenty years from a Detroit public school.” He went to Yale with the dream of becoming a physician.
But after his first semester, he was failing chemistry. He prayed and “intended to study for the exam all night, but sleep overcome him. All seemed lost—until he had a dream: he was alone in an auditorium when a nebulous figure began writing chemistry problems on the blackboard. ‘I recognized the first problem as one of the ones I had dreamed about. And the next, and the next, and the next—and I aced the exam and got a good mark in chemistry. And I promised the Lord he would never have to do that for me again.’ . . .
“By the age of thirty-three, [Ben] became the youngest director of pediatric neurosurgery in the country, performing pioneering operations at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A 2014 poll ranked Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr. as among the ten most admired people in America,” and he even made a run for President, all because a dream helped him pass a chemistry course fifty years earlier.
“What do you think? Was this a coincidence? A tall tale exaggerated to promote a political career? Or a miraculous intervention by God? (Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles, Zondervan 2018, 15-16).
Today, we begin a new message series for Advent and Christmas that we’re calling, Expect Miracles. All through the Christmas story, the people who expect miracles and are on the look out for God experience miracles and experience the joy of the incarnation. The people who are not looking for God’s activity miss out on it. In this series we’ll encourage you to expect all kinds of miracles from God, both this Christmas season and beyond.
One of those miracles is you. You impact the world in a miraculous way, perhaps in ways that you do not even recognize. But look around with the eyes of faith. You are making a difference. On the Second Sunday of Advent, we’ll be celebrating one of those miracles that comes about through your generosity. We have been writing and speaking to you about the spirituality of stewardship for three years and now is the time for our first-ever Stewardship Sunday on December 8.
We will hand out Stewardship Commitment Cards the week before so that you can pray about what more you can do to honor God with your financial blessings. As your Pastor, I thank you for your faith commitment and your financial investment in the mission and vision of our parish.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Every year during Advent, we anticipate the return of Jesus at the end of time. On the Solemnity of Christ the King that we celebrate today, his ultimate sovereignty over the entire universe is recognized by Christians around the world. Centuries before he came to earth the first time 2,000 years ago, however, the Jewish people had been expecting a savior as well. The long-awaited Messiah would be a great king who would liberate them from foreign occupation and restore Israel to its former greatness.
For many Jews, Jesus turned out to be a failed Messiah. Having suffered a cruel and ignominious death by Roman crucifixion, then the most dreaded form of capital punishment, he ultimately did not fulfill their expectations of messianic glory through military strength. Though he was the first, there have been many claimed Messiahs since Jesus. In the end, all of them were disappointments.
About sixty-two years after a failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 A.D. that led to the utter destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a man named Simon Bar Kokhba (“Son of the Star”) tried again to bring down the Roman occupation. He was a legendary figure purportedly with superhuman strength, who liberated the Jews for two and a half years, until the Roman army returned with a massive onslaught so violent that the blood was said to flow forty miles to the sea.
Three hundred years later, a man calling himself Moses appeared on the Greek island of Crete, promising the Jews there that he was the Messiah who would lead them back to their homeland. Gathering a large following on the sandy shores, he instructed his disciples to follow him into the sea, reassuring them that God would part the waters as he had done thousands of years earlier. Needless to say, most drowned. Another failed Messiah.
A self-proclaimed Jewish savior also rose up in eighth century Syria. He promised to expel Omar II, the Muslim caliph ruling there and return the people to Israel. Like the others, however, “Serene,” as he was known, soon was captured and forced to recant his messianic status.
In twelfth century Iran, a man named David Alroi also claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah. He formed a makeshift militia by uniting local Jewish armies and revolted against Muslim rulers because of the taxes they had imposed on the Jews living there. After a flourish of success in capturing his hometown, the rebellion eventually was crushed.
Indeed, Messiah claimants have arisen in every age and corner of the world, including as recently as 1994. Islam and Christianity also have seen their fair share. That all have failed should lead us back to the beginning, to the original Messiah, a carpenter from Nazareth, whose ostensible lack of success touched off this future stream of copycats. But was he really a failure?
Join us this Sunday to learn why Jesus Christ is the only authentic Messiah and true King of the Universe.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that either Jesus “was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” But as we have been discovering in our Sunday message series, there is no indication he was a lunatic. The claims made by Jesus and his disciples in the gospel accounts about his divinity therefore are trustworthy, and these biographies containing factual eyewitness testimony demonstrate every indicia of reliability as authentic historical documents. Secular sources from that time period corroborate the facts of Christ’s life and death, as well as the world-wide movement that started after he died. Moreover, Jesus exhibited a number of God-like qualities during his earthly ministry.
The accounts of his resurrection also are credible because (i) he could not have faked his death on the cross, (ii) he was buried in a known tomb and the tomb later was discovered empty, a fact that was never in real dispute, and (iii) he appeared to many different types of people in various locations over a period of several weeks after his death, ruling out conspiracy, hallucination, or a case of mistaken identity as likely explanations.
Another critical piece of evidence emerges from the course of the apostles’ lives after the resurrection. Peter and Paul both were martyred in Rome about 66 A.D., during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. It is believed Andrew was crucified in Greece. Legend has it that Thomas went to India and was martyred there. Philip is said to have converted the wife of a Roman official and was put to death by her husband in retaliation.
A number of reports indicate that the tax collector and Gospel writer, Matthew, ministered in Persia and later was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. Simon was killed after refusing to sacrifice to a Persian sun god. Matthias, who replaced Judas, was immolated in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that James was stoned and then clubbed to death, and various accounts describe the martyrdom of Bartholomew. John died of natural causes, but only after being exiled to the island of Patmos during a Roman persecution.
Indeed, the Roman Martyrology contains the names of thousands of saints who offered the ultimate sacrifice of their lives as a witness to the truth of Christ. Had his crucifixion been the final word, Jesus would have fallen into the ranks of the world’s many failed leaders. But the fact that all of the apostles and many of the disciples who came after them were willing to suffer hardship, torture, and death serves as compelling testimony of Christ’s divinity.
Join us this Sunday as we continue the quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson