Today we celebrate the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. After the angel Gabriel announced that Mary would conceive and bear the Son of God, she set out to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who already was six months pregnant. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, the Bible says that the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy (Luke 1:36-44). But, perhaps he also was bowing down in deference.
The child born to Elizabeth grew up to become the great first-century prophet, John the Baptist, who baptized people in the desert for the repentance of their sins. Though renowned in his own right with disciples following him, John nevertheless recognized his subordinate position in relation to Jesus.
Rather than calling attention to himself, John was sent ahead of Christ to prepare the way of the Lord. The one “coming after me is mightier than I,” he is recorded as saying in all four of the gospels, “and I am not fit to remove his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). Even the feast day of John’s birth falls near the summer solstice when the days begin to grow shorter in anticipation of Christ’s birth at Christmas, a seasonal reflection of John’s self-effacing remark about Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
John was a faithful steward of Christ. He made ready the way of the Lord. Through his humility, he recognized the true gift that had come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. One of the great virtues of a Christian steward is humility, through which we come to realize that all we are and have is given to use by a loving and generous God, who calls us to increase in our generosity towards others.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
During our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we highlight saints who exemplify the qualities of our biblical heroine for the week. This week’s heroine is Ruth. To listen to her inspiring story, scroll up to the Featured Homilies section of our messages page.
The number of saints who have undergone tests of faith, but prevailed nonetheless, is seemingly infinite. Yet few, if any, have survived as many heartbreaks as Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, and remained as devoted to God as she did. Just as Ruth left her homeland to be a faithful servant to Naomi, so too did St. Rose Philippine leave everything she knew in France to expand her religious order to the American frontier.
Against her family’s every wish, she joined the sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Grenoble, France in 1788, dedicating her life to God. But her timing was unfortunate. The infamous, brutal “Reign of Terror” of the French Revolution was cascading across France, forcing her community to disband.
God answered her prayers for guidance in the form of another nun, Madeleine Sophie Barat, who was trying to establish a new order at the same time that Rose Philippine’s was floundering. With the shared goal of educating young women, the two nuns quickly combined their two orders and became immediate, lifelong friends.
To Madeleine Sophie, Rose Philippine told the deepest desire of her heart, which was to serve as a missionary to Native Americans in the infant nation of the United States of America. But her heart would be broken again, when Madeleine Sophie asked her instead to open a school in Paris and establish a convent alongside it.
Despite her disappointment, Rose Philippine threw herself wholeheartedly into the endeavor. But with each passing year, her hopes to be sent to America slipped away, as she became older, and the order in France consumed more and more of her attention.
Finally, in 1818, Rose Philippine was allowed to go. Excited as she was, however, she knew that she would never return to France and would very likely never see Madeleine Sophie again. But her devotion to spreading God’s word prevailed, and she sailed into the unknown full of prayerful excitement.
Arriving in St. Louis, Rose Philippine established another school for young women. But try as she might, she was still not able to minister to the Native Americans. At the age of 71, however, she was finally selected for a special mission to the Potawatomi Tribe in Kansas. There, though, she was dealt a final blow — no matter what she did, she could not master their language and could not minister to them. So, she spent her days and nights in prayer, earning the nickname “Quahkahkanumad,” or “Woman Who Prays Always,” doing the only thing she could for the Potawatomi people.
Both Ruth of the Old Testament and Saint Philippine Duchesne suffered hardships when they emigrated to new lands in obedience to a plan that was not their own. But they remained faithful out of love nonetheless, even when the struggle was not one that they had envisioned for themselves.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
During our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we will highlight a saint who exemplifies the qualities of our biblical heroine for the week. This week’s heroine is Deborah.. Listen to her story on our past messages page by clicking here.
Almost three thousand years after the heroic judgement of Deborah delivered the Israelites from persecution under the Canaanites, another strong woman steps onto the battlefield. This time, she wears a suit of armor and hands down orders from a horse instead of from beneath a palm tree: St. Joan of Arc, who plays a crucial role in the conclusion of the Hundred Years’ War. A series of ghastly conflicts between the rulers of England and the rulers of France over the right to rule France, the war drags on for over a century.
That is, until Joan of Arc comes into the picture.
Born in the tiny village of Domrémy, in Eastern France in approximately 1412, Joan purportedly began having visions of the saints at age thirteen. St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret would visit her, commanding her to drive out the oppressive English rulers threatening France and to bring the crown prince to Reims for his coronation.
In 1429, Joan was finally able to petition the crown prince Charles to allow her into battle. He was highly skeptical of this passionate, fiery, committed farm girl and could not really believe that she had been granted visions from God.
But, he was close to giving up. The English army had held the advantage for the majority of the hundred years, and Charles had exhausted all of his logical options. So, after receiving a cursory report of her religiosity and virtuosity from his theologians at Poitiers, he approved her for battle. His advisers were not so quickly convinced, and suggested she be sent to the Siege of Orléans as a test of her credibility. Although historians disagree on the exact timeline of events after Joan’s arrival at Orléans, it is known that the French mobilized for its first offensive in over five months and that the English forces waved a white flag just nine days later.
Joan is similar to Deborah in so many ways: both women, they should have been ignored and cast aside by the male-centered cultures of their worlds. Yet something compels the powerful men to listen to these women — none of them are completely sure why — and God supports the women, granting them wisdom, courage, and right judgement in the face of adversity.
Joan is a perfect example of bravery and tenacity, and strength and commitment. We can so easily strive to be more like Joan and Deborah, and we can start by simply remembering that God places every person in our lives for a specific purpose. Charles took a chance on the illiterate farm girl from backwoods France. When we pray to St. Joan of Arc, let us ask her for the strength, patience, and empathy to treat each person we interact with as an agent from God, and to take a chance on each one of them.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Three financial auditors occupied our parish offices earlier this week. As part of the Archdiocese’s normal policies and procedures, they were sent to conduct a routine examination of our books and to review our fiscal procedures, as they do every three years. As a result, my mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of accountability.
In the second reading today, Saint Paul refers to our earthly existence as being “at home in the body” but “away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). One day, he writes, we will “leave the body and go home to the Lord” (5:8) In whatever state we find ourselves, we should “aspire to please him” (5:9) because we will have to account for our actions.
It may be uncomfortable to think about, but at some point there will be an audit of our lives. We will be asked to justify our decisions and choices “before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10). Hell enough for me simply will be the shame of having to explain to my savior why I chose to ignore my neighbor, hurt my friend, or fail to contribute my time, talent, and treasure to be a force for good in the world.
It its 1992 pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that “[o]ne day God will require an accounting of the use each person has made of the particular portion of [the temporal and spiritual] goods entrusted to him or her” (20). Indeed, the position of God’s steward “involves trust and accountability” (19). May we all grow in our desire to please the Lord.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Each week during our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we highlight a male figure in the life of our feminine champion. This week’s man is Joshua, whose people were saved by our heroine, Rahab.
Joshua was an apprentice to Moses, the great liberator of the Israelite nation. Moses charged Joshua with defending the people against their enemies as they wandered in the desert before entering the land God had promised them. Once on the edge of the Promised Land, Moses asked Joshua and eleven other scouts to reconnoiter the area, in order to determine whether the land was fruitful, the cities penetrable, and the people vincible.
Upon their return, all but Joshua and another spy, Caleb, claimed that the mission was impossible because the inhabitants were “veritable giants” (Numbers 13:33). The people rebelled in fear and demanded to return to slavery in Egypt. As a result of their faithlessness, that current generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land but rather would die wandering in the desert. God recognized Joshua’s leadership potential, however, and chose him to lead the next generation into the Promised Land years later.
The first step was to cross the Jordan River with two million people, including women and children. The water was raging and overflowed the river banks because it was harvest season. With the water about a mile wide and six feet deep, the task was formidable. But Joshua’s great faith in God allowed him to shepherd the people safely into their new home when the waters parted.
The next challenge was to conquer the land inhabited by Canaanites and other nations, whose savagery and bloodthirstiness were notorious. The first city to be conquered was Jericho. Although its fortified walls were reputed to be insurmountable, God told Joshua that they would fall once the people had marched around the city each day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, blowing trumpets on the final round. Joshua believed the Lord, and the city was conquered. Following his victory, he went on to defeat no fewer than thirty-one nations.
Joshua was faithful to God and a great leader. However, the Israelites soon grew weak because they began to quarrel with one another. Foreign nations exploited those divisions, invaded, and reconquered part of the land. After Joshua died, “a later generation arose that did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:8-10).
Young people today are hungry for hope and insight. But they also are growing up at risk of not knowing God, to the extent we do not invest in them. We invite you to consider sharing your faith with the next generation. Help with our new Sunday children’s curriculum this fall, serve as a catechist for youngsters, or walk with teens as they move into adult discipleship. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in theology, just an open heart and a love for sharing the faith with youngsters.
Learn more about our faith formation ministries on our website.
In the second reading this weekend, the Apostle Paul reflects on the nature of his ministry. He is writing to the Corinthian community whom he “fathered” in faith but now is torn apart by divisions fostered by false apostles.
Despite the problems and hardships they face in their ministry, Paul and his coworkers are not discouraged, he says, but remain confident, because they believe that God will reward them later. “We are afflicted in every way,” he writes, “but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).
In their difficulties, the apostles participate in the cross of Christ. Because they suffer with and for Christ, they also will experience his resurrection. Paul asserts that the effects of their mortality, the “wasting away” of their bodies, and the destruction of their “earthly tent[s]” in the present moment is well worth the sacrifice because they will receive eternal life in the future.
“All of this has been done for you,” Paul continues, “so more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honor him” (Contemporary English Version, 2 Cor. 4:14). The apostles work themselves to death, so that those they serve will have life through Christ.
Paul’s message is clear. To call ourselves God’s stewards involves a sacrifice of our time, talent, or treasure. But what we receive in return will be the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Each week during our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we highlight a male figure in the life of our feminine champions. This week’s man is Moses.
Today, we focused on four women who preserved the life of Moses. Through their courage and faithfulness, they were instrumental in preparing him for God’s plan to lead the Israelite nation out of slavery and form God’s chosen people. But when we look closely at Moses’ own story, we see that he needed a lot of encouragement not to become a stumbling block himself to God’s plan (Exodus 3-4).
“Who am I that I should . . . lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)
Do you hear yourself saying these words?: “Who me? I’m just an ordinary person.” All of us are God’s children. There is no one who is just an “ordinary person.” We are all special and great in the eyes of God. God’s reply to Moses was: “I will be with you” (v.12). When God calls us, he remains with us. You are called to mission and ministry in the Church. God wants you, and he will always be with you.
“But . . . suppose they will not believe me, [or] listen to my plea?” (4:1)
Do you hear yourself saying these words?: “Am I credible? Am I worthy?” God calls us to reflect his power, not our own intelligence or abilities. God’s reply to Moses was an instruction to perform three signs by turning a staff into a serpent, normal skin into leprous, and water into blood. All these signs and wonders were given to Moses for people to believe in God. You are called to mission and ministry. God wants to show his presence and love through the miracles you can work in everyday life.
“I have never been eloquent; . . . I am slow of speech and tongue.” (4:10)
Do you hear yourself saying these words?: “I don’t have the talent for that.” God does not call us because of our abilities but because of our availability. Once we make ourselves available, God gives us the abilities to fulfill his plan. Indeed, God does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called. God’s reply to Moses was: “It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” You are called to mission and ministry. Say “yes” to God, and the Lord will assist and equip you.
“If you please Lord, send someone else.” (4:13)
Do you hear yourself saying these words?: “Call someone else.” The Lord chose you for a purpose. You may not understand the reason, but he chose you. Each one of us has a calling from God, for everyone was created for a purpose. God’s reply to Moses was that Aaron would accompany him as a spokesman. Each one of us has a special role. You are called to mission and ministry, because your particular contribution is yours to fulfill. Your vocation is non-transferrable.
Moses sprinkled the blood of young bulls on the ancient Israelite people to signify their assent to follow God’s laws. In exchange for that rather paltry offering, God established a lasting covenant and adopted them as his own human family. Through the sacrifice of Christ’s blood on the cross over a thousand years later, humanity now no longer needs to offer the blood of bulls and goats for the atonement of their sins (Hebrews 9:14).
In the gospel today, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city to acquire a place where he could eat the Passover with his disciples before he was to be crucified. They were to speak to the owner of a particular home and request a guest room. As Jesus predicted, the cenacle was provided, and the return for that small act of generosity on the owner’s part was the Bread of Life given to all future generations in the Last Supper.
In both cases, the Lord transformed human gifts—the blood of animals and a room—into the precious gifts of divine adoption, sustenance, and redemption. Indeed, the paltry gifts we are able to offer are always one-upped by God.
“How shall I make a return to the Lord?” asks the author of the responsorial psalm today, who answers his own question: It is through a “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” always calling upon the name of the Lord.
Our practice of stewardship begins and ends with the recognition that God pours out his abundant blessings in return for our small sacrifices.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Saint Brendan Church in San Francisco. Check out our exciting featured news articles.