By Manolito Jaldon,
St. Brendan Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation
Confirmation candidates in the Saint Brendan faith formation program recently served at an emergency shelter for single mothers and their children in downtown San Francisco. I am deeply grateful to Maureen Kosewic, who organized the faith formation families to serve at Raphael House last Saturday.
Raphael House was established in 1971 as the first homeless shelter for families in Northern California. Over the years, the organization has served over 20,000 at-risk families by helping them to achieve stable housing, financial independence, stronger family bonds, as well as a deeper sense of personal dignity and worth. Without any government funding, Raphael House has realized unparalleled success, with up to 85 percent of its families finding long-term housing and attaining real financial security.
Volunteer administrative coordinator for Raphael House, Kellen Sarver, first took the confirmation candidates on a tour of the facility, including the playroom for toddlers, family kitchen, and community library. As we made our way to the rooftop, we caught a glimpse of some of the living spaces where Raphael families actually live.
The candidates, along with their parents, then helped to prepare the facility for its upcoming Harvest Festival. They pulled weeds on the rooftop garden, traced leaves onto construction paper, made pumpkin decorations, and even sketched out a scarecrow.
It was a wonderful Theresian exercise! The great Catholic doctor, Saint Therese of Lisieux, believed that we should do small things with great love. Doing these little things to help the residents of Raphael House prepare for their Harvest Festival was an act of love by our teens that, in some small way, helped to transform a facility into a warm and inviting home for the holidays.
After the visit to Raphael House, I had to dash over to a friend’s wedding. A thought came to my mind and heart, as I transitioned to another event. When two people come together in the Sacrament of Matrimony, they create a domestic Church, in which children are reared, educated, and nurtured in the faith. Through the bonds of Matrimony, they help their children to value the things that Christ valued, to love the things that Christ loved. This is the truest imitation of Christ.
One of Christ’s greatest concerns was for the poor. Indeed, he could not have identified himself more with the poor, when he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
There is a great need to care for the homeless in San Francisco. In fact, family homelessness increases each year by ten percent. Because service is at the heart of our Confirmation program, we will continue to give our youth the opportunity to meet Christ face-to-face in service to them. For that is where Jesus is! Let us continue to foster this value in our own domestic churches.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about how to manage distractions in prayer.
When we pray, we should develop an environment that promotes stillness and quietness within us, in order to be fully present to God without distractions. However, that is not always an easy task. At times, we may find ourselves bored, daydreaming, or feeling anxious or upset while praying. These distractions can be frustrating and even prevent us from praying more often and forming a deeper relationship with God. We may even feel like a “failure” in prayer. Fortunately, there are many ways for us to improve our prayer lives.
We should accept and value the fact that we are embodied persons. Since the body lives in the temporal realm, distractions are inevitable. Because prayer necessarily involves the body, we first should make a concerted effort to put ourselves into a relaxed position and become physically-centered when we pray.
Breathing is critical. Inspiration is like drawing in God’s Spirit. Exhaling is like driving out anything that separates us from God. Focus more on your breathing during prayer, and distractions inevitably will diminish.
Our posture during prayer also is important. Kneeling has been given an honored place in the Western Catholic tradition, but Christians in the early Church also stood to pray, in order show a readiness to go and do God’s work. One saint even prayed lying flat on his back. There is no right or wrong posture during prayer. Choose one that works for you and leads you deeper into prayer.
We also must focus our minds during prayer, using techniques that can help us stay focused. When beginning your prayer session, for example, choose a simple, repetitive chant or hymn that requires little effort and repeat it over and over in your mind. If your mind is stuck in a negative place while praying, think about those things in your life for which you are grateful. When distractions enter, reflect on how you feel about that thought and simply let it go. Imagine the thought drifting out of sight, like a boat floating down a river.
Distractions are a common problem during personal prayer. We cannot stop our minds from thinking, and we cannot stop having feelings. We can, however, learn to listen to those thoughts and feelings, in order to hear how God is speaking to us through them.
Despite the common belief that being distracted in prayer is a nuisance and a kind of spiritual failure, it actually can be a gift. Distractions in prayer can lead us to greater self-awareness by helping us to see the false “gods” in our lives. By experiencing and acknowledging these distractions without self-reproach or blame, we can strive to seek where God is present in those distracting thoughts, which ultimately will lead us closer to the Lord.
By Joanna Collins
Author of Lyrics of Parish Song for Year of Prayer, “We Gather in Your Presence”
On the journey of faith, prayer might well be considered our GPS. It reminds us of our origin, outlines our route, and highlights our destination. In truth, however, prayer is also the vehicle that carries us and propels us forward. Without it, our destination is simply unreachable. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, prayer is “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558). It’s not just important. It’s vital.
Like most raised in the faith, prayer for me began with, well, prayers: dinnertime grace, an Angel of God and “God Bless” before bed, and all the standard “Church prayers.” I knew people who were great pray-ers. My great-grandma, Rose, comes to mind, whose name, I was convinced, was short for “Rosary.” At some point, prayer also became internal: little conversations with God when I wanted to thank Him for something good or, more often, ask Him for something I really wanted. Simple.
Over time, life grew increasingly complex, and prayer shifted, mainly to the back burner. Prayer time was Sunday Mass. Sure, I made my requisite visits to the Grotto before exams during college days at Notre Dame, but what usually occupied my mind in those minutes were the math formulas I needed to know the next morning. And the distractions and diversions just kept on coming.
But God keeps knocking. I recognize now that prayer begins with God’s movement toward me, not vice-versa. And He never gives up. When I’ve struggled most, He’s been there, waiting for me to turn to Him in a quiet moment, admit my failings, and listen. And as I come to know the loving relationship He desires to pour into me, prayer time takes on a whole new urgency.
God is beyond us, God surrounds us, and God is within us. Prayer reflects that reality. We encounter God externally in the wonder of creation and in the songs and prayers of our community of believers. We come to know Him more deeply as we ponder His Word, and seek His grace and mercy in our hearts. Ultimately, we find God in our innermost being, in the quiet contemplation of our soul. God speaks to us in those moments of silence. And in the silence, we can listen.
Paul exhorted his disciples to “pray always,” to pray as we live. But, borrowing a paraphrase of the Catechism, we can’t pray always if we don’t pray sometimes. Personal prayer needs to be built into our day. For me, prayer happens in the stillness of the morning, beginning with a humble offering of praise and gratitude, reflection on the deep desires of my heart, and a renewed commitment to allow God to shepherd me. I offer intentions for each of my daughters, seeking guidance for them where they are most in need of His Wisdom. Then, with a short ‘examen’ at the end of the day, I give thanks for the times I responded to God’s call, and ask forgiveness for the times I didn’t.
God invites us into relationship with him. May prayer be our heartfelt response.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about how God’s grace and prayer relate to each other.
First, it’s important to understand that grace is not a thing. Grace actually is a relationship with God. Through the favor of God, we are invited into his life of love. Grace is that free and undeserved gift from God that draws us more and more closely to him.
The experience of grace develops as we become more fully aware of God’s presence, particularly at pivotal moments in our lives. A German Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, reminds us, for example, that “grace is present in our experience at times when we live beyond our limits, when we hope beyond our hope, sacrifice our safety for our fellow neighbors, or when we seek the cause of truth and justice.”
Grace and prayer are intrinsically intertwined. They depend on and cooperate with each other. The more we turn towards God in praise and thanksgiving, the more the Lord’s grace silently works within us to turn us even more consciously towards God.
It is a kind of cooperation between the human freedom to choose God or to reject him and the grace the Lord gives us to be able to choose him in the first place. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux put it, “every good act which fosters our growing union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit and the love of our world is brought by God’s grace and in human freedom.”
In other words, the more God pours out his grace on us, the more disposed towards prayer we become, and the more we pray, the more God’s grace is set into motion when we pray. This relationship between grace and prayer continues to grow and deepen until that day when we are gathered fully into God’s kingdom and this world is transformed into a new heaven and a new earth and God “may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). On that day, “cooperative grace” becomes “consummating grace.”
The practice of asking for God’s grace in prayer can be found in the famous Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Each week, retreatants are directed to pray for God’s grace to make them more penitent for wrongdoing, to deepen their love for Jesus and their desire to know him and share in his mission, to experience the suffering and death of Christ, and to share in the joy of the resurrection and new life in Christ.
Grace supports and fulfills us as we pray, and we can and should ask for an outpouring of God’s grace in our prayer. This week, try asking the Lord not so much for the specific things you may seek in life, such as health or material blessings. Rather, try simply asking for God’s grace to fill you completely and deeply, and then watch how over time you experience his presence more fully.
By Ben Gerigk,
St. Brendan Catechist
Each week in the bulletin, we 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 more about the meaning of traditional Catholic prayer.
All forms of prayer seek to address the divine through dialogue and a focus on the physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects of human nature. Traditional Catholic prayers, however, are those specifically associated with the liturgical and theological rites of the Catholic Church. Often an individual’s first exposure to the practice of prayer, traditional prayers are deeply embedded in the popular piety and devotion of the faithful, structured according to certain guidelines, and rooted in the rich tradition and history of the Church. Therefore, traditional Catholic prayer is an approach to prayer that has become clearly identified with the Catholic faith and recognized by the faithful as a legitimate devotion to be practiced on a regular basis, in order to grow in holiness and virtue.
The first Catholic prayer, of course, was the Our Father, taught by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. It is the most traditional of all forms of Christian prayer because it remains at the heart of sacred scripture and the prayer of the Church, especially the Mass. Like all traditional Catholic prayers, reciting the Our Father helps us to recall the teachings Christ gave to his disciples thousands of years ago. Examples of other traditional Catholic prayers include the Hail Mary, Glory Be, Morning Offering, Act of Contrition, Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Angelus, Memorare, Guardian Angel Prayer, and the Sign of the Cross.
Traditional Catholic prayers also include a wide spectrum of practices, including vocal prayer, meditation or mental prayer, and contemplation or prayer without words. They can be prayed individually or in a group setting, with or without members of the ordained ministry. Through art, music, and other modalities, traditional Catholic prayers also can be made relevant to today’s Catholic culture.
Sometimes these prayers are criticized for allegedly diverting the attention of the faithful away from the Mass, the greatest prayer of all. Wicks argues, however, that traditional Catholic prayers actually direct our focus towards the liturgy. By attempting to deepen a person’s relationship with God, these prayers assist him or her in participating more fully and sharing more deeply in the fruits of the Sacrament.
As Catholics, we should treasure these special forms of worship that have spanned the generations and incorporate the many types of traditional Catholic prayer into our own prayer life. Even faithful Catholics may fall into the temptation of setting aside traditional prayers, because they do not pray on a set schedule or perhaps find them to be outdated. Yet, because they are traditional, these prayers will always endure in the Catholic imagination. If we allocate sufficient time to pray these time-honored invocations, then our love for God can only intensify and our sense of community as one Body of Christ can only grow stronger.
By Manolito S. Jaldon, Jr.
Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, St. Brendan Parish
Last year the Office of Faith Formation at the Archdiocese took a survey among its catechists. Sixty-seven parishes out of the ninety parishes participated. The results tell us that in San Francisco 112 students participated in Faith Formation as Under 5 members; 1181 were registered in grades 1-6; 2312 students were preparing for First Holy Communion and 1816 were participating in their preparation for Confirmation. The vineyard is abundant in San Francisco County!
This ministry has been popularly called CCD, which stood for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, established in 1562. Awe-inspiring saints like Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, and Peter Canisius, supported the Pope Pius V in establishing the confraternity in which lay people learned methods on teaching the doctrine and eternal truths of the faith.
In a modern post-conciliar world, the ministry is now called Religious Education or Faith Formation because we do more than teach the catechism. We teach children to live life with Jesus at the center of their studies, social groups, and communities. We allow children to ask their questions about Christ in order that they may find him as life’s greatest friend. We train children to be integrated into the parish life through our various ministries, so that they feel a sense of belonging - they feel that the Church is the extension of their front porch at home!
At Saint Brendan Parish, we have looked to Sadlier, Loyola Ministry, and Life Teen as our catechetical tools to form people in faith. We focus more on just having students learn doctrine and eternal truths. We focus on having students encounter the authentic Christ who gathers us around the Eucharist each Sunday. We are disciples forming disciples, not just getting them through sacramental programs. We have 47 students registered into our Faith Formation where we collaborate with families in doing catechesis both at the parish level and at home. We focus on instilling Gospel values to your children and teens.
This task is not only a major undertaking as a parish, it is essential. It is a fact that if by the time teens go to High School and do not commit to a youth group or parish ministry they will leave the Church and find their sense of belonging elsewhere! We can no longer fall into the myth that your teens will return to Church when they begin a family as young adults. Millennials today must be convicted of something or they will fall for anything.
I can personally testify that there is a hunger to rediscover the authentic Christ for teens. They hunger to know more about this love that is hidden in the Eucharist and that guides their political deliberations against a society that has ignored or become passive of this saving God. As we continue to move through this Faith Formation Year, let our discussions with our children around the dinner table and at home not be about a subject in a program or academic textbook. Rather, let our discussions be about a person - Jesus, who is personally connected in our lives, reigns in the domestic Church we know as the family.
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.”