In the gospel reading today, Jesus feeds a multitude of people with next to nothing. We know from other gospel accounts that the crowd included five thousand “men.” With their wives and children, the number of people easily could have amounted to over twenty thousand. Though the task was enormous, of even greater consequence was the message communicated through the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Indeed, the gospel is filled with subtle clues that illustrate the importance of the event. The passage points out that the Jewish feast of Passover was near, for example, connecting Christ to the saving action of God in leading his people out of slavery more than a thousand years earlier. That Jesus “went up on the mountain” recalls Moses, who likewise went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law. The detail that “there was a great deal of grass” identifies Jesus as the divine shepherd in Psalm 23, who makes his sheep “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23). Without question, the miracle was spectacular in both scope and redemptive significance.
It all began, however, with the contribution of a boy who happened to have five loaves of barley and two fish. What other wonder-workers likely would have overlooked as too small of a gift, Christ used to feed the hungry throng. From the tiny offering of his young assistant, the good shepherd cared for his enormous flock.
Whatever provision we can make for the mission of God’s salvation of the human race will be enough for the Lord to accomplish his purposes. Though seemingly insignificant, whatever you can muster of your time, talent, and treasure to support Christ in his love and care for the flock, God will turn into a truly miraculous and saving event. We must all do what we can.
--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 Mary of Bethany. Listen to her complete story on our website. Her companion saint is Thérèse of Lisieux.
What irony it is that Pope Pius X called this woman “the greatest saint of modern times,” when her popularity largely stems from the attractiveness of her simplicity. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, is known for her “little way” of growing closer to God, which like the story of Mary of Bethany summarized in the article above reminds us to slow down and allow the presence of God to wash over us.
Indeed, a stark contrast is drawn in the biblical account between Mary and her sister, Martha. She rushes around stressed out about the preparations that must be made, while Mary chooses to recline at the feet of Jesus and listen to him speak. Saint Thérèse is a perfect example of sitting at the feet of Jesus, which for us is a welcome reprieve from the general notion that holiness is achieved only through greatness.
Thérèse entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux at the age of fifteen, determined to become a saint. But after six years, she found herself feeling insignificant in the stead of God’s greatness. How could she, a young French nun, sickly and confined to her convent, come into the unfailing love for Christ that she wished to practice? Yet through deep prayer and reflection, she soon learned that her very “littleness” would allow her to achieve saintliness because all things are great when done out of devotion to God. Thérèse reminds us that the importance of an act is measured not by its temporal grandeur, but by its intention.
Thérèse once wrote, “Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires. [So,] I close the learned book which is breaking up my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me. . . . I see that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself, like a child, into God’s arms.”
As a sickly woman, Thérèse came to know that heroic acts were not necessary to achieve favor in the sight of God. Little children, who Jesus dearly loved, are certainly not capable of great deeds, she reasoned, so there must be a little way to the Lord. She wrote, “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers. These flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least of these actions for love.”
In doing what she could in devotion to God, Thérèse was a true heroine, like Mary of Bethany.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Every week I write about the power of practicing stewardship, a way of life that is rooted in gratitude and expressed in generosity of time, talent, and treasure. Those who take their call to stewardship seriously almost always experience a profound transformation and are surprised by how easy it has become to give. The catchphrase of stewardship—“we do not give to a need but have a need to give”—becomes a grounded reality in their lives and brings them unexpected joy.
But the flipside of stewardship is the benefit it provides to others, not merely in fulfilling a specific need but in bringing about the mission of the Church. As Father Andrew Kemberling writes in his book, Making Stewardship a Way of Life, stewardship “is a means to an end: evangelization” (OSV Publ’g 2009, 12). This is true because “the fruits of stewardship enable the parish to carry out its mission to “go and make disciples” (Id. 68).
Evangelization is not proselytization. Whereas the latter seeks conversion through crass coercion, the former simply shares the Christian message of love. As Pope Benedict explained, the Church “does not engage in proselytism. Instead she grows by ‘attraction,’ . . . just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love” (2007 Address to Latin American Bishops).
Through the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading at Mass today, the Lord promises that he “will gather the remnant of [his] flock from all the lands . . . , bring them back to their meadow,” and send a Messiah-King to them govern wisely. As Saint Paul suggests in the second reading, Christ is the promised one who has come to establish peace on earth and reconcile us to God and to one another, creating “one new person in place of two.”
Your acts of stewardship generosity therefore not only give your own life fulfillment and meaning but also serve to accomplish God’s will and purpose by attracting back to him those who have gone astray.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The keynote speaker at a retreat I once attended said that, when asked how he is doing, he nevers responds “fine,” as most people say automatically, but rather “I’m blessed!” He reasoned that, since God’s blessings are constant even during difficult times, he would never be lying.
While most of us default to counting only our material blessings, the Lord continually bestows upon us numerous spiritual advantages that are unfailing. Saint Paul lists seven of these in the second reading today, which takes the form of a Jewish hymn of praise or blessing (berakah). In particular, the hymn proclaims that God has (i) chosen us through election (ii) to be his adopted sons and daughters, (iii) pouring out his grace and favor on us. The King of Kings has (iv) redeemed us, (v) revealed “the mystery of his will” that all should be gathered to him and saved, and (vi) made us co-heirs to eternal life. The final blessing is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who marks and protects believers as God’s own possession.
The nearly singular focus on the presence or absence of temporal benefits alone can lead to a crisis of faith when poverty, illness, and other worldly struggles strike. Yet even when it seems that everything once concrete in our lives is crumbling around us, remembering these spiritual blessings through which the Lord immeasurably pours out his favor will bring us to the other side of despair. Counting these blessings, we can say every single day with all truthfulness that we are truly blessed.
--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 Esther. Listen to her complete story on the messages page of our website. Her companion saint is St. Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad.
In John 15:13, we learn that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Our courageous saint this week took that behest one step further — laying down her life, not for her friends, but for the people who were most dangerous to help in her lifetime: Jewish people under Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Saint Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad was born a Protestant in Sweden in 1870. She needed to help support her family, and with no job prospects in Sweden, she found herself in New York City at the age of 18, where she discovered a passion for nursing. At the Roosevelt Hospital, she began home nursing, and had several devout Catholics as patients. These patients inspired Elizabeth to explore the faith, and she began to pray.
A few years later, she felt ready to enter the Church, was baptized, received her first Communion two days after that, and then promptly left America for Europe. She made a pilgrimage to Rome, where she was confirmed, and visited the House of Saint Brigid of Sweden. There, she felt deeply called to dedicate her life to the work of Christian unity, and after a brief trip back to the United States, entered a Carmelite monastery in Italy.
The strong-willed, determined spirit she had shown in entering the Church continued to serve her. She petitioned the Holy See to be allowed to take religious vows under the ancient Rule of the Order of Saint Brigid, eventually gaining special permission needed for this from Pope Pius X.
As a new Brigittine nun, she attempted to revive interest in the order, and in Saint Brigid, in both Italy and Sweden, but was met with little success. Again, this did not deter her, and eventually her little order grew, and received official papal approval in June 1940. Driven by her commitment to Christian unity, Elizabeth felt that she also had an obligation to facilitate interreligious dialogue and perform charitable works towards those who suffered due to racial and cultural discrimination laws.
Horrified by the persecution of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, she hid at least twelve people in her convent in Rome during the Nazi occupation of Italy. While they hid under her roof, Elizabeth did not discourage them from practicing their faith nor did she attempt to convert them. Rather, she built a makeshift synagogue right there for them in her Catholic, Brigittine convent. After the fall of the Nazis, Elizabeth was recognized as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem (a Jewish organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust), for her courage in assisting the Jewish people.
Like the courageous Queen Esther, Elizabeth risked her life to save people with less autonomy than her, and reminds us every day, that a hero is courageous.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
One of my favorite bedtime stories as a child was The Little Engine That Could. A tiny switch engine working in a train yard is asked to pull a freight train with a heavy load over a steep grade. Bigger, stronger engines had refused because the work was too hard, but the little engine agrees to try. As he builds up steam pulling the long line of cars filled with cargo, the miniature locomotive repeats the mantra, I think I can, many times over. As he reaches the peak and starts to coast down the other side, he cries out enthusiastically: I thought I could; I thought I could!
The iconic tale reminds its readers that perceived powerlessness need not hold us back. In particular, Christians rejoice over their weaknesses in order to make room for the power of Christ to live within them. As Saint Paul says in the second reading today, we should be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints,” because it is when we can admit that we are “weak,” then we truly become “strong.”
The practice of stewardship is a daunting spirituality. It requires generosity when resources are scarce, devotion when time is limited, and commitment when talents are needed elsewhere. We may see ourselves as too weak, too poor, too untalented, or too exhausted to give back the best portion of our blessings to God. But as the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, think that you can, and through his grace and power you will.
--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 the Widow of Zarephath. Listen to her complete story on the messages page of our website. Her companion saint is Katharine Drexel.
In the middle of a famine, few would give up their last bits of food to feed a strange man, like the widow of Zarephath did. Similarly, few would give up the entirety of a massive fortune to aid marginalized communities, like our saintly hero of generosity this week.
Hardly anyone would guess that the woman who wore the same pair of shoes every day for ten years and used pencils all the way down to the erasers was the same woman whose inheritance granted her a daily salary of almost $25,000 in today’s money. Yet it was, and she would grow up to be only the second American-born woman canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church.
Katharine Drexel, born Catherine Marie to prominent Philadelphia banker and philanthropist Francis Drexel, was taught from a young age that her family’s wealth was simply loaned to them, and that it was truly meant to be shared with others, especially the poor. While her mother died shortly after Catherine’s birth in 1858, her father and stepmother, Emma, set examples of both spiritual and financial generosity for Catherine and her sisters. Growing up, they were exposed to Francis’s daily prayers and Emma’s unending charity to those in need. Indeed, Emma would open their family home to care for the poor three afternoons a week.
As a teenager, Catherine’s family often spent summers at a second home in the countryside, where her parents actively encouraged her and her sisters to run a Sunday school for the children of their employees. It was during these summers that Catherine developed a special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, and vowed that, like him, she one day would give all of her fortune to the poor.
Educated privately, Catherine had plenty of opportunity to travel across the United States with her parents, where she was horrified by witnessing the abysmal treatment of African Americans on Southern plantations and Native Americans on reservations. A fire was lit in her generous spirit and, following the deaths of both her parents, Catherine committed her life to aiding them. She gave generously of her fortune to organizations and missions helping both groups of people.
Feeling that the lacking quantity was people, she personally petitioned Pope Leo XIII for missionaries. He turned the request back at her, asking her to become a missionary herself. This she did, taking the name Mary Katharine and establishing a new order of nuns: the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. From age 33 to her death at age 95, she dedicated her life and personal fortune of $20 million to the development of missions, schools, and churches for marginalized groups. At the time of her death, there were 501 members of her order, teaching in 61 schools and missions in 21 states.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Raising money is an age-old church endeavor, and the worry that even generous pledges of financial support will not materialize is a constant fear of pastors going back as far as Saint Paul. In today’s second reading, Paul gently chastises the early Christian community he founded in Corinth for not following through on their previous commitment to assist the mother Church located in Jerusalem.
First, he tries to embarrass them by comparing their parsimony to the generosity of far less affluent churches in the area. Next, he compares the charity he is requesting to the gracious act of Christ dying on the cross. Just as he who was rich voluntarily made himself poor for the salvation of the human race, we too should imitate the Lord by spending ourselves for the sake of others.
Finally, Paul refers to the famous story in the Book of Exodus in which God sent manna from heaven to feed his people wandering in the desert (16:18). Just as the Israelites gathered the manna such that some collected more, some less, but in the end none having too little or too much, the blessings God rains down on the world today also should be shared equally. As Paul explains, “your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may [one day] also supply your needs, that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14).
Count your blessings today and set aside a generous portion for the poor in want of material needs and for the Church in its work to enrich impoverished hearts through the preaching of the Gospel, so that all may be equal in the prosperity of God.
--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 Abigail. Listen to her complete story on the messages page of our website. Her companion saint is Rita of Cascia.
The ground in the city of Cascia was tinged with blood, and murder was in the air. Rival noble clans in this medieval town located in the Umbrian region of Italy had been clashing with one another for centuries, and no one seemed to be able to stop the bloodshed. Even the Church turned a blind eye to the law of vendetta, as families raged against one another and killed each other’s sons out of revenge, bringing endless misery to one another. Into this chaos stepped a determined woman who single-handedly ended the warfare.
Saint Rita of Cascia, born Margherita Lotti in 1381, had wanted to become a nun most of her life. Her favorite haunt as a child was the local Augustinian convent of Santa Maria Magdalena, where she helped the sisters care for the sick and those who were injured in battles and local brawls. Her parents insisted, however, that she marry a local boy named Paolo, one of the sons of the infamous and noble Mancini family.
The Mancini’s had long nursed a grudge against several of the rival clans in the area, and Rita sadly found herself a widow at the age of 32, after Paolo was murdered in cold blood. Most likely the attack was linked to the longstanding Mancini feud with other local families. Enraged by the injustice, Rita’s two young sons saw red. As was expected of them in those days, they wanted payback and plotted an “honor killing” against the offending clan in order to avenge their father’s death. Perhaps in response to Rita’s fervent prayer to spare her children from the violence, they both died of natural causes before they could carry out their murderous plans.
Alone in the world, Rita went back to the convent she had loved as a child, but was rejected repeatedly because the nuns and local bishop feared that the carnage of the Mancini dispute somehow would follow her even to the nunnery, endangering the lives of the nuns and those in their care. Resolved to end the mayhem in order to pave the way to a life of peace in the monastery, Rita undertook the seemingly impossible task of negotiating peace among Cascia’s warring families.
After a year of diplomacy and persistent prayer, Rita finally accomplished her mission. A peace compact was signed in 1417, which won the nuns’ hearts and opened the doors of the convent for her. Rita lived and worked happily as an Augustinian nun until the end of her life in 1457.
Like Abigail, Rita was unwavering in her pursuit of peace. At times when testosterone seemed to flow like water and the only option to address injuries brutal retaliation, the cooler heads of Abigail and Saint Rita prevailed. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
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