After the last Mass on Sunday, September 24, church staff members drove down the coast for a two-day retreat in a home perched high above the Pacific Ocean and offered free of charge. Once everyone had unpacked and was settled in, the retreat began with a team-building exercise on the beach to see who could construct the best church sand castle. Afterwards, a fabulous dinner was prepared by Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri, and the evening concluded with the first session of the retreat.
The focus was how to apply the lessons of Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Church, to the Saint Brendan Catholic community. Warren’s book begins with the premise that every church is called to follow Christ’s directives in the Great Commandment (to love God and neighbor) and in the Great Commission (to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ commanded). Out of these two instructions come the five specific purposes of every church to (i) pray together (love God), (ii) serve others in ministry (love neighbor), (iii) evangelize the unchurched (make disciples), (iv) connect believers in fellowship (through baptism), and (v) grow in faith together (teach Christ’s commandments).
Staff members gave presentations on each section of the book, followed by a brainstorming session. For example, Mario led the discussion on the section of the book devoted to music. As he said, “a lot of creative ideas came out of the retreat that probably wouldn’t have been considered if we hadn’t had the time and space to look at and discuss things in a different way as a team.”
The next morning, Father Roger’s inner drill sergeant came out and everyone was required to meet on the beach at dawn for another team-building activity. This time, the two teams competed in a fun relay race. After a breakfast cooked by Father Roger, everyone got down to business for an all-day session of brainstorming and discussion. Exhausted but still on fire with the Holy Spirit, the group piled into cars Monday evening for dinner at a local restaurant and then back to the retreat house for S’mores, where the group continued to discuss ideas among themselves.
Some of the ideas discussed included:
The retreat concluded on Tuesday morning with a Mass concelebrated by Father Roger and Father Pete. “The Gospel reading for the day was so appropriate,” said Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund, “in terms of the purpose of the retreat, which was to build up our church staff family, our Saint Brendan family, and God’s family outside Saint Brendan.”
Today marks the beginning of a series of bulletin articles over the next nine months that will examine the concept, meaning, and fruit of prayer in the rich history of our Church. Each week’s article will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks entitled, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006).
In this article, you will learn the fruits of deepening your prayer life. The concept of “prayerfulness,” Wicks says, first is defined as the state of “being in the present with our eyes wide open to the presence and reflection of God in all things” (6). More than just reciting words, prayerfulness is a way of being. When we are truly prayerful, we form a direct connection to the divine. However, although prayerfulness is a pathway to God that is always open to us, we do not always avail ourselves of it. Because “it is easy to miss what God is calling us to be and do amid the fog of our own intentions and desires,” prayerfulness requires that we “be ‘awake’ to experiencing God” (7).
Nevertheless, once we develop an inclination towards prayer, it is “the portal to a full, rewarding life” (6). Like a tether to God, it grounds us, giving us both an inner peace and a different perspective on our lives. A prayerful attitude balances our sense of God, self, and others. From this vantage point, we can “see as clearly as possible what God is gifting us with each day” (8). Also, when we stay connected to God, our eyes open to his presence and our ears become attuned to what he is teaching us, and we do not allow his voice to become drowned out by society or our own habitual voices.
Indeed, prayer offers many benefits. For one thing, our experience of life is enhanced. We no longer wander around in a haze of stagnant, obsessive patterns of thinking, believing and behaving, but instead are able to more easily detach from our desires, demands, and perceived needs. Prayerfulness also encourages humility and helps us to see our foibles. As Wicks puts it, “when you take knowledge and add humility you get wisdom, and when you take that wisdom and add it to compassion you get love. And God is love” (11).
The first step in strengthening prayerfulness is to establish a friendship with the Lord. After that, you must begin to act on a “desire to be intentionally prayerful.” (17) To do that, it is helpful to pick some aspect of prayer you are already doing, like attending Mass, taking brief moments during the day to reflect on life and its meaning, welcoming people with hospitality, reading the bible or another spiritual source, or spending time in solitude, and then asking what you could do to deepen that particular aspect of prayer in your life (12-13, 18).
Once we have deepened our own sense of prayerfulness, Wicks says, we also are expected to use this new gift by sharing it freely with others. Indeed, expressing our gratitude for our sense of God’s more immediate presence in our lives by generously sharing our faith and life of prayer with others is itself a beautiful prayer.
To celebrate our Blessed Mother, the Saint Brendan Catholic Community will sponsor a live concert in the church at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 7th. “We’re calling it Mother’s Day for Mary,” said Father Pete, “because through the power of gospel and popular music we will honor Mary as our Mother, who accompanies us through the joys, sorrows, and glories of life.”
Earlier that day, Archbishop Cordileone will consecrate the archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “The image of Mary with her heart aflame with love, but pierced by a sword of sorrow, is one of the most popular representations of her Immaculate Heart,” remarked Father Charles Puthota, the Archdiocesan Director of Pastoral Ministry. “There is an alliance between devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which overflows with love for all humanity, and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which burns with love for her Son and for all of us. Mary’s role in our lives is this: through her tender love, to help us be and do what Jesus wants us to be and to do.”
The day will begin with a Rosary Rally at 9 a.m. at Saint Mary’s Cathedral (1111 Gough Street in San Francisco), followed by Mass with Archbishop Cordileone at 10 a.m., and a procession through the city streets with the Blessed Sacrament and Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Once the procession has returned to the Cathedral at 11:30 a.m., the Archbishop will consecrate the Archdiocese to Mary.
“The people of Saint Brendan will then continue the celebration into the evening with Mass, a light dinner, and a beautiful concert,” said Mario Balestrieri, Director of Music Ministry. Narada Michael Walden, whom Billboard Magazine recently ranked as one of the top ten music producers of all time, will lead the show. “I met Narada when I baptized his oldest daughter,” said Father Roger. “Since then, he has become a good friend. He has a deep love for Mary, and I am pleased to introduce him to the Saint Brendan community.”
Mr. Walden will be joined by an all-star lineup of musicians that includes Caroline Sky from The Voice, anchorman Dan Ashley from ABC7, two-time Grammy Award winner Jeanie Tracy, Joli Valenti singing “Get Together” written by his father, Dino Valenti of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, and many more talented artists. The Saint Brendan Children’s Choir also will make its debut for the year by appearing with Ms. Tracy to sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and presenting the Saint Brendan theme song for the Year of Prayer, “We Gather in His Presence,” written by Mr. Balestrieri.
Mass will begin at 5 p.m., followed by a simple dinner at 6 p.m. The curtain will be raised at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for both the dinner and concert, $10 for the concert only. Parishioners and guests can sign up by visiting the website at www.stbrendanparish.org, or by calling the rectory office at (415) 681-4225. “This is for people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Father Roger, “so that we can get together to honor our Mother who leads us always to her Son, Jesus.”
Along with archdiocesan officials, Saint Brendan Pastor, Father Roger Gustafson, and Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund, attended the 55th Annual International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Atlanta, Georgia last week. The conference brings together hundreds of pastors, diocesan directors of stewardship and development, and parish leaders from around the world to experience the Catholic vision of Christian stewardship as a way of life. Participants enjoy workshops and talks presented by knowledgeable speakers, inspiring liturgies, awards presentations, networking luncheons, and specialized exhibits.
Conference organizers this year celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter entitled, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. In a powerful keynote address, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky contrasted a theology of abundance, which celebrates the success of others and results in “an expanded heart that changes our priorities,” with an attitude of scarcity, which lacks confidence in God and sees everything as a “zero sum game.”
According to the speaker, Catholics should aspire to what author David Brooks refers to as “eulogy virtues,” those habits of excellence for which we will be remembered after our death. Like the attitude of the widow of Zarephath who freely gave her last morsel of food to the prophet Elijah during a severe famine (1 Kings 17:7-16), a theology of abundance recognizes that God alone is the source of every blessing and that our generosity ultimately will be rewarded. “That really struck a chord with me,” said Rosenlund, “because I realized that was the reason we all were there: to learn new ways to inspire others to share the gifts God has given them.” Other speakers presented on topics ranging from the spirituality of stewardship to parish strategic planning, efforts to create a culture of welcome and hospitality, the need for effective communication strategies, and the advantages of using parish surveys and other assessments.
In addition to the formal presentations, vendors from all over the country exhibited products they had developed to assist in promoting the stewardship way of life. Parishes that have been awarded prizes at the conference for their stewardship efforts staffed booths to share their wisdom. “What I found most valuable,” said Father Roger, “is the synergy that occurs when so many people get together in one place with the same goal. We returned energized and overflowing with new ideas to try in our parish. ‘One size fits all’ does not apply when it comes to churches, so it is important to get creative input as to how the elements of stewardship can be tailored to the culture of the parish.”
In delivering the closing plenary address, Bishop Robert Morneau stated that “stewardship is thousands of years old.” Renewal of the understanding among Catholics that their primary identity is one of grateful and generous stewards merely seeks to bring an intentionality to the practice. “In the process of implementing our parish pastoral plan over the next five years,” Father Roger said, “we will seek to grow into a true stewardship parish, where all may experience the joy and freedom of a genuine theology of abundance.”
“When I was a child, my mother used to force me to drink carrot juice everyday after school, takes gobs of vitamin pills each morning, and eat my broccoli at dinner,” said Father Roger. “I would eat my vegetables very slowly, and take only one small bite at a time. I thought of it as some grand gesture of defiance, but it was really so that I could stomach the healthy but difficult-to-swallow food.”
The philosophy behind the Saint Brendan Small Bytes program takes a similar approach. Modern society is flooded with promotions, information, and advertisements. According to a recent article published by the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages each day. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.” Fellow comic Steve Martin offered a similar sentiment, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
“Although the workload of many of our parishioners can be overwhelming and their free time rather limited,” said Father Roger, “I don’t think that our busyness should stop us from the business of learning more about our faith each day. That’s why we created the Saint Brendan Small Bytes program. We want to be so succinct, pithy, and informative, that we can’t be ignored. We also want to convey difficult theological ideas in an understandable and digestible form.”
Launching in October, a series of talks on Sunday mornings will seek to deliver small servings of theology and catechesis to parishioners with the opportunity to learn more later in the same week. One Sunday each month, parishioners will be invited to gather for twenty minutes after the 9:30 a.m. Mass to learn something new about their faith from a dynamic speaker who will offer a more extended talk on the subject the following Wednesday evening during an hour-long service that will include uplifting praise and worship music and time for engaging and energizing prayer.
“We call it small bytes with a ‘y,’” said parish Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon, “because a ‘byte’ is a unit of data or information. This program will offer a small amount of information that is both palatable and interesting.” Consistent with the parish theme for this year--Pray Together. Stay Together—the small bytes talks will focus on some beautiful ways to pray that are rooted in the Catholic tradition.
In October, Jesuit Father Joe Spieler will discuss the contemporary experience of contemplative prayer and will lead an interactive session the following Wednesday evening on concrete ways to practice contemplative prayer. In November, Father Roger will speak about the positive effects of gratitude. Other topics will include how to create an atmosphere of prayer at home with your family, the spirituality of eastern Christianity, praying with the gospels and with the saints, and prayer through music and movement. Each Sunday during the six weeks of Lent, a dynamic homilist will discuss the meaning of the various parts of the Mass so that we all can rediscover the joy of the Sunday liturgy in this Emmaus Series.
For more information as well as the full schedule, click on the “Take a Small Byte” button on the homepage of the parish website at stbrendanparish.org.
The Year of Prayer begins next week at Saint Brendan Parish. The catchphrase for the year will be Pray Together. Stay Together. “Everything begins with prayer,” Father Roger said. “We can do nothing without a profound experience of God in our lives that can only come through prayer. But the fullness of our prayer life is experienced, not alone, but in community. That’s why we’re beginning small groups in our parish.”
A table group of parish leaders at the International Catholic Stewardship Conference last week in Atlanta, Georgia discussed the need for small groups to reinvigorate parish life. “Many people come to church Sunday after Sunday but don’t really know what to do next,” said one participant. “What are the next steps for someone with an active Catholic faith?”
Small groups offer Christian disciples an outlet to share with others what faith means in their lives, both the struggles and joys of their spiritual journal, with trusted friends. “We’ve got to overcome the natural inertia of keeping everything inside,” said Father Roger. “It’s important that we come out of our shells a little bit and begin to trust the people who have been sitting in the pews around us for years. We can learn from each other.”
To emphasize the communal dimension of prayer, the parish began a four-week message series last week called, Get off your high horse, Lone Ranger, and let’s do life together. To counter the common tendency to keep to ourselves, Jesus addressed behaviors and attitudes in the gospel readings over the four-week period that keep people isolated from each other, such as making judgments about others, refusing to forgive people, holding onto resentment and jealousy, and becoming too self-righteous. “The most common reason people avoid joining groups and ministries,” Father Roger remarked, “is that they are afraid of judgment and rejection. But once they take that first step and join a group, all the fear disappears and they will experience fellowship in Christ and acceptance among a group of their peers.”
Twelve small groups representing a variety of stages in life and interests have already been formed and are ready for parishioners to join, including:
“There’s a group for nearly every stage and interest in life,” said Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund. “We’re also encouraging people to start their own group if they have a special interest not already covered by an existing group.”
Saint Brendan Small Groups are easy to join. Click on the “Join a Small Group” button on the homepage of the parish website (www.stbrendanparish.org) to review the groups in detail and to sign up over the internet. Tables will outside of Mass this weekend to take sign ups. Or simply call the parish office at (415) 681-4225, and we’ll get you connected.
President John F. Kennedy once said that “change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Saint Brendan School resumed classes two weeks ago, and hundreds of parents filed into the church for Back-to-School Night. Change was in the air with a new year and a new school principal, Ms. Dianne Lakatta, who joined Saint Brendan on August 1.
“After twelve years of stability at the helm of the school, I think parents may have felt a bit uneasy about the future,” Father Roger said. “I know that when they really get to know Ms. Lakatta they will see that she is passionate about her Catholic faith and will be a strong leader for our school, while also demonstrating a loving, tender, and caring disposition towards students, parents, faculty, and staff.”
The parish’s Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation kicked off the evening by leading the assembly in prayer, asking for God’s blessing over the new school year. Father Roger discussed the pastoral vision for the both the church and school in the coming year. “Our parish theme this year is Pray Together. Stay Together,” said Father Roger. “So, all of our big events this year are designed to breathe new life into your relationship with God. We’ll hear from world-class speakers at fun, all-parish events as part of our Spiritual Happy Hour program. We’re going to discover new ways to pray through our innovative Sunday morning Small Bytes Program. We’ll also have many opportunities to join a small group and to do life together with people in your own circumstances.”
As part of the parish’s emphasis on prayer this year for both the church and the school, Saint Brendan School students will have the opportunity to participate in an innovative new program at Sunday Masses. “When it comes to religion,” Father Roger wrote in a three-page letter to parents describing the new initiative, “students learn from a variety of experiences such as classroom interaction, service projects for the poor, as well as regular participation in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Sunday worship of the parish community.” Children of all grades will be able to serve in different capacities according to their grade level, including as gift bearers, greeters, ushers, members of the children’s choir, lectors, altar servers, and even Eucharistic ministers after their Confirmation in the eighth grade. “We’re asking for 100 percent participation in this pilot program,” said Father Roger. “We know there may be a few bumps in the road, including scheduling issues, but we’re giving this a test run for a year and then will evaluate to see how it went.”
Father Roger then introduced the new principal to the parents. Ms. Lakatta introduced the new staff and gave a presentation on the new school year. The evening concluded with the parish theme song this year composed by the Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri, and former local parishioner, Joanna Collins. “I am so excited about this new year,” said Father Roger. “Change can sometimes be difficult, but, as Gandhi once said, ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
Do you ever wonder what happens to the money after you place your offering in the basket? The answer is that Saint Brendan has its own “money buddies” to process the collection. In addition to the rectory office staff, Saint Brendan’s Collection Committee consists of parishioners Mario DeBono, Robert Crisera, Elizabeth Gamarra, Lucille Kovash, Jack (“Grumpy”) Mona, Jeff Porter, Stacey Simpson, and Ella Tsang.
These dedicated parishioners report every Monday morning to get the collection money from the safe, where it is securely stored after each Mass. Once the cash has been removed from an envelope and counted, the amount of the donation is written on the envelope. The different denominations of bills are placed into separate bins and then the cash is counted by hand twice. As a final check, the cash is run through a cash counting machine like you see at the bank.
Up until last month, each parishioner’s donation was entered manually into our parish data system. Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund, saw an opportunity to make this process more efficient and asked our vendor to place bar codes on all envelopes beginning in August. Lisa then acquired a bar code scanner like you see in stores. Now with one click of the scanner, each parishioner’s information is entered automatically into the database. Another click on sheets printed with the barcode for amounts typically donated (ex. $1000.00), and the data entry is complete.
While the cash is being counted, other committee members process the checks. Each check is endorsed and the endorsed checks are then grouped into stacks of twenty-five and totaled on an adding machine with a tape for backup. The checks are then run through a scanner one at a time and parishioner information and check amount are entered automatically into the parish’s data system. Once data entry is complete, the checks and the cash are taken to the bank to be deposited.
Another innovation on the horizon, which you may also have seen at the bank, is a remote check depositing machine which can deposit each stack of checks in a matter of seconds. With remote deposit of checks in place, only the cash will remain to be taken to the bank. A planned improvement to make even this final step of the process more efficient will be to place the cash in tamper-proof bags and have it picked up by an armored truck service and taken to the bank. This will save staff time driving to and from the bank and waiting in line for a teller.
Processing collections is a ministry of the church. Starting with the next three-month schedule, Collection Committee service dates will be entered into the Ministry Pro Scheduling system, like all other ministries of Saint Brendan. This will ensure that there are enough counters and make getting substitutes easier when counters cannot serve. “We are deeply grateful for every donation received. It is my personal obligation to ensure that the amounts we receive from the generous stewardship of our parishioners is handled responsibly and used only for the glory of God. I am thankful our Monday morning ‘money buddies,’ who make this happen.”
More than a dozen future leaders of small groups at Saint Brendan Church convened a few weeks ago for an evening of camaraderie and hands-on training. “Part of the year of prayer we are embarking on this Fall involves small group fellowship and faith-sharing,” said Father Roger. “This group of dedicated leaders volunteered to facilitate these groups, and we wanted to make sure that they had every resource and all the support they needed.”
The night began with prayer by Saint Brendan Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon, who read the story of the Road to Emmaus. When Jesus walked and shared a meal with two disciples after his resurrection, “their hearts were burning within them,” Manolito said. “It was the original small faith-sharing group.”
During an hour-long presentation, Father Roger laid out his vision for small groups at Saint Brendan’s. “Small groups are important,” he said, “because they are biblical, they encourage personal transformation, and they grow the church from below.” Leaders of small groups are not intended to be theologians, experts, or people with all the answers, Father Roger remarked during the meeting, but rather courageous individuals who are willing to create a safe environment for meaningful discussion about topics that matter the most to people in their everyday lives.
Like mini-churches, small group meetings ultimately serve the same purposes as Sunday morning worship, just on a smaller scale, Father Roger explained. Small groups should magnify God in prayer, grow as the body of Christ in membership, help people mature in their faith, eventually serve others in ministry, and go on mission for Christ. “Make sure the rubber hits the road,” Father Roger insisted. “Ask your small group members near the end of the meeting how they can make sure to apply what you have been discussing to their current lives through acts of ministry and mission in the coming week or month.”
After the presentation, group leaders moved to a nearby circle of chairs in order to practice. Members of the impromptu small group shared thoughts on a passage from John 20, when the risen Christ appeared to his frightened disciples, breathed on them, and sent them out into the world. “It was an incredible moment of off-the-cuff faith sharing,” said the founder of Random Acts of Catholics, Paul Venables, who facilitated the group. “I was honored to lead it.”
Father Roger then blessed the group, as Sister Angela handed a lit candle to each person. The evening concluded as the leadership team shared a meal together. “From the opening prayer, catechetical presentation, and group discussion, to hospitality and the sending forth, the entire event modeled what a typical group meeting would be like,” said Father Roger. “While every meeting and group will be different, it is my sincere hope that every Saint Brendan parishioner will join a small group and ‘do life together.’”
Parents at Back to School Night last week received a sneak preview of Saint Brendan’s new website, which officially launched on September 1. “We’ve been working on it for almost a year,” Father Roger said, “and I couldn’t be more pleased with what our creative team has developed. The site is modern, elegant, and visually pleasing.”
The work began last October when the parish hired Steve Keegan Photography to capture the life of the parish and school over a typical weekend. “What he came up with was sheer artistry,” said Lisa Rosenlund, Parish Manager. “The pictures are nothing less than stunning, and they make our new website incredibly inviting.” Indeed, the point of a modern church website is to persuade ecclesiastical shoppers to stop in. “[I]f your church does not have a decent website you’re uninviting a lot of people,” said author and theologian Kevin DeYoung. “Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website” because “most people on the web looking for a church will never visit if your site stinks.”
Above the “fold” of the new homepage stand the words in bold print, Find Your Way With Us. “By their very definition the words are welcoming, inviting everyone to follow the Navigator to find their way to Jesus and to discover their course in life,” said the parish’s Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon. Indeed, the nautical-themed site was designed with the user in mind. Each page of the website directs visitors to parish resources that can help them navigate the sometimes strong currents of life. The homepage, for instance, contains all the programs for the parish Pray Together. Stay Together year of prayer, upcoming featured events, the weekly bulletin, a way to sign up for the parish’s weekly e-newsletter, as well as a contact form for those who need help from the staff.
The other pages lead the user on a virtual journey of faith, from connection to a community, prayer to God, healing from life’s wounds, growing in faith, and loving others through service and mission. The Join the Crewpage introduces the user to the parish community and explains what they can do to help by joining one of our many ministries. Prayers and information about our sacraments can be found on the Strength for the Journey page. People needing help with healing can find information on the Seek Safe Harbor page, and our faith formation programs for adults and children are described on the Find True North page. The All Hands on Deck page sets out our philosophy on stewardship and grateful and generous living and allows visitors to give online, while the Fill Your Sails page contains our Sunday messages, featured articles, and good news about the parish.
“I am so proud of this website and the design team,” said Father Roger. “It is truly a work of art.” To visit the site, go to www.stbrendanparish.org.