I go to a Jesuit university. We are encouraged to let a spirit of service filter into everything we do, from working at the food bank with our professors to spending a morning standing in community against hatred and bigotry. We’re constantly reminded of doing the right thing, of living a life of service, of putting others’ needs before our own. And, I would wager a guess that my university isn’t the only place that constantly reminds its people to do the right thing.
I’ve heard about “doing the right thing” for as long as I can remember — definitely beginning in preschool, though probably before that, with the influence of my parents and siblings. But haven’t we beaten that topic absolutely to death? I’ve been thinking about these questions quite a lot, especially with this week’s message focusing on the importance of remaining on the path of righteousness. So it seems to me that the reason we keep highlighting “everyday heroes” and talking about “doing the right thing” is that it’s hard, and it might actually go against our human nature. We need constant reminders and examples of going against the status quo to remain on the path of righteousness.
Our liturgical tradition is filled with all kinds of people who left everything or gave up everything to do what was right. Many of them we venerate as saints today — saints are built-in examples for us to emulate. Picking a specific saint to learn from and about is a really incredible opportunity for finding a new role model. Go home and look up Thomas of Cana, Rose Philippine Duchesne, or Genevieve. Or, learn more about a saint you might have already heard about — maybe the saint whose name you took for a confirmation name, or the saint whose feast falls on a special day for you.
But the best part of finding examples of people who did the right thing is that they’re not confined to saints or other Catholics. People all over the country and all over the world are doing the right thing, regardless of race, religion, color or creed. A group of teenagers publicly stood up to defend their friends, schools, and communities after a gunman opened fire on their high school last Valentine’s Day. Muslim groups from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area raised over $200,000 for their Jewish neighbors after tragedy struck at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Women in California prisons bravely volunteered to fight the devastating wildfires that ravaged communities close to ours at the end of last year.
So I’m going to end this week with a challenge: go out into the world, and do one thing in service of someone else. Whether it’s buying the coffee for the person behind you in line, or volunteering for a task at home or work you’d normally avoid, live this week as a man or woman with and for others. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to keep each other accountable to doing the right thing. Because we all get it — the path of righteousness is hard!
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Proverbs talks about three kinds of people—the wise person, the fool, and the scoffer—and cautions us against some of them (4:10-19). How are they involved in stewardship? I think we would all like to be considered “wise,” which needs no further explanation.
Considering someone a fool, of course, is disparaging. So, understanding such a person can be a challenge. It could be someone who is unaware, unconcerned, or disconnected. Or fools may believe in the good of all, and in their actions to accomplish good for others, but may not always be successful because of their own limitations.
The scoffer, on the other hand, actively shuns stewardship. Scoffers may feel they have nothing to offer anyone, or that their efforts will be useless or ineffective, or even consider acts of charity to be a fool’s errand in the first place.
Our efforts to be good stewards may not always be successful, or even noticeable, but we can still be effective when we become aware of the needs of the world around us, avoid the pitfalls of cynicism and defeatism, and honestly try to give of ourselves. Looking forward in this way, we become wiser and may even sense some success from our efforts, and be motivated to keep trying.
James Pruch, who ministers to college students with his wife Carly, once said faith begets obedience, and obedience proves faith. As we grow in faith and holiness, we become more sanctified and grow in stewardship, which brings us more satisfaction in our special relationship with God, and motivation to follow in his path.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
The proverbs we study this week in our message series, Foolproof, focus on everyone’s favorite topic — money. Money can make us feel awkward, proud, uncomfortable, happy, and pretty much any emotion in between. The proverbs this week, found in the Old Testament, speak about how to be smart with money. Jesus flipped the tables of money-changers in the temple square in Jerusalem while simultaneously inviting tax collectors to be his apostles, and many of the saints we celebrate today are noted for their piety, generosity, and dedication to simple living.
Matthew’s gospel provides an account of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he might do in order to successfully enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus reminds him to keep the Commandments (which the young man says that does), commands him to give away all of his possessions to the poor, and asks him to follow him and his disciples. Upon hearing this, “the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions,” and Jesus says to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” (Matthew 19:22-24).
Some very popular saints, like Francis and Clare, gave up everything in order to serve their communities, and stories of their generosity and that of those who followed them, prove to be ubiquitous in Catholic tradition. So it’s interesting to find out that there is indeed a patron saint to consult for financial matters: Saint Matthew (yes, the same Matthew whose gospel is full of treatises about money and the importance of generosity). Matthew was a tax collector in Jesus’s time, one of the most (if not the most) despised of all professions. The Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish people at large generally considered them to be liars and cheats, charging more taxes than were truly owed and keeping the difference for themselves.
But Jesus asked that Matthew turn from his tax collecting anyway and become an Apostle, one of his most trusted friends and advisors. This Matthew did. He was honest about his shortcomings and abandoned them for a life in Christ. As the patron saint of bankers, bookkeepers, accountants, and tax collectors, Matthew’s example reminds us to keep our relations with money centered in Christ. His story implores us to spend our money wisely, to be cognizant of the impact our money has on others (negative and positive), and to keep our money dealings respectful, remembering that God is the one true God which we serve and honor (especially as it feels like everything is fiscally-motivated these days).
Prayer to Saint Matthew: Matthew, you acknowledged your relationship with money and admitted your sinful ways in order to turn into the warmth of Christ’s love. Help me to use my money wisely and honorably, that I might too feel the eternal light of God.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
It may sound odd mentioning righteousness and winning with money in the same sentence, but stewardship involves managing our treasure (money) as we travel along our own paths to righteousness.
As stewards, we win with our money when we give our time, talent, and treasure to those we are certain need help. We also win when we give a portion of our gifts to God. Proverbs encourages us to “[h]onor the Lord with [our] wealth” (3:9). On this feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial gift of himself, his body and blood, to us in Communion. After Melchizedek blessed him, Abraham “gave him a tenth of everything” (Gen. 14:20). Saint Paul also reminds us: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
If we want to stay on the course to righteousness, we also shouldn’t delay or postpone an opportunity to help someone, whether they reach out to us or not. We don’t win with our money if we postpone giving to a need that motivates us. We aren’t effective stewards if we don’t think we have anything to offer that would help others or their situation.
Stewardship helps keep us on the path to righteousness because when we share our gifts, we are focused on helping others, and aren’t thinking about our own wants and desires.
Again, stewardship isn’t ultimately about giving to a particular need, it’s needing to give, as much and as best we can. Stewardship enables us to win though our efforts, and we move forward along the path of righteousness.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
Over the course of the next few weeks, our summer series Foolproof will be focusing on the Book of Proverbs and how the lessons those stories teach us can be applied to our lives everyday. From wisdom to money management to forgiveness, the proverbs hold a lot of advice for us. Stories are one of the best ways for us to learn, and indeed King Solomon did intend this book to be a set of stories for his son — examples that his son could learn from in order to grow in wisdom.
But since there’s just not enough time in the homilies to adequately squeeze out all the value in each parable, we’re going to use this space to explore the life of one person who lives out the lesson of the week’s proverb really well. Some of them are Catholic, some of them aren’t. Some of them are well known, others aren’t. But what they all have in common is a beautiful commitment to living into the incredible wisdom of the proverbs.
They’re all what we might call role models. If asked, we could probably all come up with a list of role models. Parents, spouses, coworkers, and friends might be some of those people. There’s been some really interesting psychological research on the subject of role models recently, and what it’s discovered is that we connect best to role models who espouse virtues that we ourselves choose to live through. When we can identify behaviors of a person that correlate with one of our core values, they become a role model for us. That’s what makes my list of role models slightly different than my best friend’s or my mom’s or my favorite college professor (incidentally, all of whom are people that I consider to be role models) — we all have different core values.
So we’re going to start this summer message series with a challenge: try to determine the two primary values with which you identify the most. These are not values you wish you had or values that the people you admire have; these are the values that you have. This can be really hard to do, so try to test each value as a lens for decision-making. If it feels like a value you would use in making a tough decision, it might be one of those really important ones for you. A few examples to get you started — adaptability, accountability, bravery, compassion, diversity, inclusivity, caring, kindness, ambition, trust, courage, hope, love, fulfillment, family, generosity, understanding, growth, learning, pride, grace, and commitment.
It’s probably going to be really hard to pick just two or three, because if you’re anything like me, you want to live into all of the positive aspects of each of these values. But really try, because each value is a lens through which you can view the people of this summer’s stories. See how generosity, ambition, and fulfillment moved one person, while accountability, pride, and courage aided another. Hopefully, these values will help the stories of these people come alive for you — and maybe they’ll become role models for you too.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity, a core belief of our faith. How can we understand this divine mystery, why is it important for us, and how does it relate to stewardship?
Let’s start with the Trinity. Some people may think Christianity has three gods, not one. But not only do we have only one God, in three persons or manifestations, but there are many examples around us that help show how something can exist in three distinct parts or elements, yet still make up a whole.
St. Patrick’s example was the shamrock, three leaves forming one plant. St. Ignatius of Loyola likened the Trinity to three distinct notes that form a musical chord. Bread, a daily staple, consists of three main ingredients, flour, water, and yeast. In geometry, an equilateral triangle consists of three equal angles and sides that form a perfect shape. In chemistry, the Lithium-6 isotope consists of three pairs of two protons, two neutrons, and two electrons; there doesn’t seem to be another such equal molecular form in the Periodic Table. Maybe the best, most perfect example is life-giving water itself, because water can exist in three states, and still be water: as a liquid, a solid (ice), and a gas (steam).
Yes, our world reflects our triune God, but how does this relate to stewardship? Sharing our time, talent, and treasure not only reflects the Trinity, but also our love, dedication, and service. Stewardship is trinitarian by definition and nature, not just application.
So why is the Trinity important to us? The Trinity provides gifts and insights into our God, and gives us direction in our stewardship efforts, so that we provide for others (reflecting God the Father and Creator), share our faith with them (Jesus, God the Son, and the Word Made Flesh), and make stewardship a way of life (God the Holy Spirit). We can become motivated to give constantly of ourselves, not just giving to a particular need from time to time.
Let us be grateful for our triune God then, and let our efforts reflect the Holy Trinity.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
When we share our time, talent, and treasure through stewardship, it’s like giving others many different kinds of gifts. They can be gifts of love, effort, and life, and gifts of life are the focus for this week.
For example, we can help out at food banks, as many of our St. Brendan School students have done, or donate food to them, or at other collection locations. We can donate our time by picking up litter from sidewalks, in front of our homes or our neighbors’, whether on our own streets, in a park, or at the beach. We can forego enjoying a cozy fire in our fireplaces on “Spare the Air” days, or, when thinking about looking for a new car, consider a vehicle that is fuel-efficient or uses cleaner fuels. We can also donate our time to mentor, tutor, befriend, or assist someone in need.
The recent St. Brendan Blood Mobile on Sunday, May 12, is another wonderful, successful, concrete example of a gift of life because giving blood saves lives. Our fellow parishioners, the O’Leary Family, organized the blood drive, and family members donated, along with many others.
Today is Pentecost, a day filled with gifts. The apostles not only received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but also became confident and unafraid to preach the Good News to everyone staying Jerusalem at that time. When Jesus first appeared to the apostles after his resurrection, he told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Jesus also promised that the Father would send this Advocate, who would “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). That occurred on Pentecost, considered to be the birthday of the church.
Let us rejoice then for the Holy Spirit and his gifts that we celebrate today, and use them abundantly in sharing our gifts of life with others.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
As we come to the last week of Faith Answering Questions before the beginning of our next summer message series, we’re going to address two seemingly very different questions — first, why the God of the Old Testament seems so different from the God of the New Testament, and second, why the priests wear different colors during different times of the liturgical year and what each means. These questions, while different in their scope and focus, are equally important, rooted as they are in the deep focus on tradition in our Catholic faith. Scripture and Tradition form the basis of our faith practice, and indeed, both of these questions trace their roots back to one or both of those principles.
So, “why does the God of the New Testament feel so different from the God of the Old Testament? It seems a little jarring. Drowning Egyptians, burning cities seems inconsistent with Jesus.” And that’s true, looking at the seeming discrepancy in the way God interacts with his people before and after the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Before Jesus, God seems to punish his people quite frequently. The Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years, weathering droughts, famines, infighting, infidelity, and more. But when Jesus comes along, he completely shifts the rhetoric to one of love and forgiveness. It feels a bit like a 180!
The best explanation of this that I’ve found comes from an incredibly honest and human perspective. It paints God as one with us on our spiritual journeys, giving us more and more understanding as we learn to become much more just and merciful and kind in everything that we do. God was the benevolent, perfect, loving Creator all along, but we weren’t quite ready to understand that.
Our perspectives were limited until the ministry of Jesus enriched them, when we were more able to understand the actions of God. Similar to the way a child might feel wrongly judged when a parent punishes him or her for an action (until they grow to understand the rationale), so are we with God. As Jesus formed his ministry around love and forgiveness, we grew in understanding, and were able to see the actions of the God of the Old Testament in context.
As to why the priests wear different colors during the different liturgical seasons, that too dates back to long-standing religious tradition. Originally modeled on the clothes that were the ordinary attire of Roman farmers, all liturgical robes were white. Now, the white vestments signify purity, holiness, and righteousness — colors of Feast days and seasons like Christmas and Easter. Red vestments signify the Holy Spirit, fire, love, and saints who have died for the Christian faith.
Green vestments represent spring, new life, and hope—colors for Ordinary time. Purple vestments signify repentance and penance, worn during Advent and Lent and other times of repentance. Rose (pink) is the color of joy, and worn on special occasions during the year to signify the coming of a joyful holiday: the third Sunday of Advent, and the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Blue, black, silver, and gold robes might also be worn, but are much less common.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Many of the complicated questions we have about faith come from how the Church teachings fit into the larger conversations in areas like public policy, news, and scientific advances. This week’s question is a great example: “I’d like to know a little more about the Catholic Church’s stand or thoughts on reproductive technology and families seeking the help of technology in conceiving.”
It’s a big question, and it seems as though popular discourse on reproductive technology is always changing, so it’s helpful to look at official Church policy to answer in cases like this. In 1987, a group of cardinals, bishops, priests, lay theologians, and canon lawyers came together to issue a document called the Donum Vitae (“the Gift of Life”), which addressed the ethics of modern fertility treatments. It had two important conclusions: first, it is not wrong to seek the help of technology to overcome fertility; and second, only some of the available fertility treatments are moral. A treatment is immoral if it violates the dignity of the human person or the institution of marriage.
One popular reproductive technology is in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, the woman takes a medication to cause several of her eggs to mature simultaneously while the man provides sperm; these materials are then cultured in a Petri dish in a lab to allow embryos to form. Thus, the life created through IVF is not created by a deeply personal act between a man and a woman, but through a laboratory procedure done by a third party, an act violating the dignity of one of the acts of marriage.
Additionally, in order to increase the chances of the procedure’s success rate, several embryos are formed at once. Many of these embryos never go on to be used in the implantation procedure (where the embryos are transferred back to the woman’s uterus in the hope that at least one will implant), instead being frozen, used for scientific research, or labeled as medical waste. Because the Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, the disrespect for the embryos throughout the process violates the dignity of the human person.
It is critical to note that any children conceived through IVF are still children of God to be loved, cherished, looked after, and nurtured always. Also, if parents conceived via IVF not knowing that the Church views it to be immoral, they are not subjectively guilty of sin.
However, other methods of reproductive technology, such as the tracking of one’s natural cycles, the use of fertility drugs, lower tubal ovum transfer (LTOT), and gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) are all deemed morally acceptable by the Church.
Like many applications of Church teaching to the wider world, everyone seems to have a different view and the conversations are so multifaceted. In everything, remember that our greatest commandment requires us to act wholly and completely from love, of ourselves, of our friends, and of those who are not yet friends. Any learning or discussion that comes from love will be the right kind, and we will all be better for it.
Note: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has some excellent resources for answers to “faith application questions,” with scriptural and canonical reference, for further exploration.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
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