I don’t think I could think of a more ubiquitous buzzword in this day and age than “leadership.” Leadership coaching, books, and seminars abound — from TED talks to television, to LinkedIn and school lesson plans, leadership is a theme we just can’t seem to get away from. In this “Common Sense” message series, where we reflect on why it just makes good, old-fashioned sense to believe in Jesus, we talk today about Jesus’s efficacy as a leader. Like Father Roger wrote, Jesus’s charisma, servitude, and deep commitment to the encouragement and bettering of others made him one of the most effective leaders out there.
But if our society is encouraging us all to be leaders, who is there to lead? And, more importantly, how can we adequately be followers of Christ. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with emphasizing the necessity and benefit of strong leadership, there is so much value to be gained from stepping into a follower role, where you allow the wisdom and strength of others to guide you forward. This provides not only a necessary, compassionate break for ourselves and the intense pressure of all the leadership, all the time, but also gives us a better perspective for when we step back into that leadership role.
While some saints are remembered for their great works — their founding of religious orders, their fearless defense of the Catholic faith, their strength in the face of Herculean odds, there are some saints who simply chose to love Jesus simply, through word and deed, and whose gentle holiness elevated them to sainthood.
One of the most popular saints to fit this description of simplicity and humility is St. Therese of Liseux. Her “Little Way,” in which she strove to glorify God through prayer and simple acts of generosity and kindness in her quiet, cloistered life, shows us that being a committed follower means just as much spiritually as does being a committed leader. God does not choose who enters heaven based on the charisma of their leadership or the number of people they evangelize — God admits to heaven those who follow with great love.
Because, in the act of following, we often become inadvertent leaders. St. Therese of Lisieux probably never imagined that she would inspire the work of Mother Teresa, one of the greatest humanitarians of our time. She probably never imagined that her life would be reflected in the lives of Blessed Cecilia Eusepi or St. Teresa of the Andes, both young nuns who committed their lives to Christ at an early age.
Pope John Paul II even conferred on her the title of Doctor of the Church, in recognition of her exceptional wisdom. Prior to her death, St. Therese of Lisieux is said to have written that she committed herself to “let fall a shower of roses” wherever she walked, these roses being little deeds inoculated with great love. She never aspired to greatness, writing “Humility consists not only in thinking and saying that you are full of faults, but rejoicing that others think and say the same about you,” — this humility is exactly why she is great.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
A group of fifty people participated in a special 10:00 a.m. Mass held at Saint Brendan Church before the Annual Walk for Life on January 25, 2020. According to staff member, Sister Angela Furia, it was the largest gathering in recent memory and even included members of Holy Name and Saint Stephen parishes.
The Mass was followed by a reception complete with “food for the journey,” as well as a heartwarming reunion among many who see each other only for this yearly event. The group even sang a joyful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to MaryAnne Schwab, venerable champion of the Saint Brendan Pro-Life ministry for many decades.
Following the reception, more than twenty parishioners walked together to the Forest Hills Station and rode the Muni to the Civic Center. “Tens of thousands” of people, the largest group in the sixteen-year history of the Walk for Life gathered in front of City Hall. Just the day before, on Friday, President Trump became the first president to personally address the March for Life in Washington, D.C. His support for Pro-Life issues was cause for hope and joy. Amidst all this energy, Father Celestine received a text message that his friends from Nigeria were watching the event live through EWTN!
On a personal note, the highlight of the rally was the testimony of Kathleen Folan. Over twenty-five years ago, Kathleen was raped in her junior year of college. Ashamed, she kept her secret, only to realize a month later that she was pregnant. She never considered an abortion. “I knew that God had entrusted
this child to me, and I already loved him.” Kathleen chose adoption over abortion. It was a difficult process, but with prayer and grace, she found a Catholic family in Maryland who were well-suited for her child. It was more than coincidence, that both Kathleen and the adoptive parents independently chose Nathan, meaning “a gift from God,” as the name of her child. Kathleen chose love instead of violence to heal the violence that had been committed against her. Today, Nathan is twenty-five years old and is a blessing to all.
There is more good news. The Archdiocese of San Francisco recently announced its plan to open a Women’s pregnancy center, called “Bella,” near the Cathedral. This center represents a shift of the Pro-Life movement from the abortion issue to tangible services for women experiencing a crisis pregnancy, abusive relationships, and fear of homelessness.
After the rally, it was our turn to actively participate in the Walk and, as the psalm at Mass this morning urged us, “tell the good news” to all the world that life is precious. Market Street was crowded with families, students, religious, priests and seminarians, some praying the Rosary in English or Spanish, others singing Marian songs. The children were joyful, especially the four youngsters from our own parish. The Church came to the streets of San Francisco last Saturday afternoon, and each step from City Hall to the Ferry building was an expression of faith, hope and love and a proclamation that God’s gift of life is indeed precious.
—Dr. Lou Sheerer, Parishioner
Yesterday was the last day in a week of prayer for Christian Unity, a week called by Pope Francis each year so that “all Christians may once again be a single family, according to God’s will, ‘so that they all may be one.’” The word “catholic” means universal, Francis reminds us, and it is our duty and privilege to engage in conversations and communion with people of other Christian faiths.
In reflecting on this article, and in light of our message series on common sense reasons to believe in Jesus and the Catholic Church, I decided to revisit my middle school history and theology classes in hopes of answering one question: how did we get the Roman Catholic Church of today, as I know it and experience it? I had a few vague recollections of a “schism” and learned all about Martin Luther in high school, but my historio-theological knowledge was lacking.
In the year 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. For the Byzantine Empire and it’s emperor, this was a major blow. The Byzantine empire had withstood centuries of attack and instability, while the Roman empire crumbled, so for Leo to crown Charlemagne and ignore Byzantium was a massive slight. This led to a tense relationship for about 250 years, until an official split between Western and Eastern Christianity in 1054.
Eastern Christians of the Byzantine empire severed all ties with the pope and the Holy Roman emperor, becoming the Greek Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, Charlemagne and “western Christians” became the Roman Catholic Church. As the years went by, differences in language, culture, and tradition drew the two Christianities further and further apart. Finally, Pope Leo and Patriarch Michael excommunicated each other and their respective churches. It wasn’t until 1965, that Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople finally removed the excommunications.
Following the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church suffered more division at the hands of one very well-known Catholic priest, Martin Luther. A German living in the 1500s, Luther was primarily concerned with the practice of selling indulgences, wherein a wealthy person could spend a certain amount of money to reduce their time spent in Purgatory. The pope at the time, Leo X, and his predecessors had gotten into the habit of selling these indulgences to pay for their palaces and outsized luxuries. The more money one had, the more one could spend on indulgences, and the less time one would spend in Purgatory, by decree of the pope.
This angered Luther, who thought the practice unfair and un-Christlike. His writings and eventual excommunication led to the Protestant Reformation of the Middle Ages.
The Catholic Church has continued to evolve over the centuries, with the formation of the Church of England in 1534 and new Protestant denominations springing up regularly. However, one thread unites all division: it is not God. It is humanity, acting as god, in the place of the God who truly leads us all, and calls us more deeply into a universal identity. Humanity is responsible for much of the pain and suffering from these splits; compassion, compromise, goodwill, and forgiveness are the only ways forward — “that they may be one so the world may believe” (John 17:21). It’s “common sense” to believe in a universal Catholic Church, because that is what God intended and created.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
In our new message series, “Common Sense,” we’re going to focus on all the reasons that it makes sense to believe in the teachings of Jesus. The Church has not always practiced what it preaches. Yet, it cannot be denied that Christianity has produced some of the most robust and ubiquitous social justice teachings of any thought tradition, and this very well may be one of the strongest reasons to sign on to Christianity.
Those social justice teachings connect directly to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. As Catholics today, we take up the mantle of social justice championed by Jesus. We commit to challenging authority, dining with sinners, forgiving without qualification, and serving everyone with dignity and compassion.
The sanctity of human life is a critical issue for the Catholic Church. All people, regardless of race, gender, creed, socioeconomic status, or country of origin, are entitled to dignified, compassionate treatment in all facets of their lives — from institutions, people in power, laws, and social policies.
The crisis at our own country’s southern border has been in and out of the news in recent months, seen especially in the grossly inhumane treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers by our current presidential administration. Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have clearly defined the Catholic Church’s position on this issue. Although countries have a right to control their borders, Catholics also recognize the right of all human beings to freely migrate from their country of origin. The Church also consistently advocates for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform and for the humane treatment of migrants at the border.
Pope Francis offered some beautiful words for the 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, where he reminds us that “it is not just about refugees” — it is also about acknowledgment of our fears (that may, consciously or not, lead to intolerances and exclusion) and an appeal to our common humanity (like the Samaritan, who opened his home to the Jew, when his fellow Jews failed to).
Through migrants, Francis says, “the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference, and a throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan” (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees).
January is filled with New Year’s Resolutions — ideas of being more compassionate, more loving, more open to growth might have made some people’s lists. It’s been shown that it can be easier to commit to a resolution with a rationale attached. Our faith is the common sense rationale, grounded in scripture and tradition of life.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Miracles are an incredible testament of faith to us as we navigate the complexities of our everyday lives. We hear of incredible healings and miraculous conversions, and are encouraged and bolstered in the practice of faith. The church is incredibly accepting and supportive of miracles, so why does it follow such a strict practice for accepting their validity? Why does the church support science and the role of medical healing? Aren’t those positions contradictory to a doctrine of miracles?
The short answer to these questions, as we wrap up our message series on the power of miracles in our lives, is that the church recognizes that life and faith are intertwined; after all, we are called to live lives of faith (we are not called simply to “live” or to “have faith”). Catholics and other religious people sometimes face skepticism or criticism while sharing their beliefs, because many people do not understand the church’s position on these complex cases.
Take, for example, what is referred to as “faith healing” — the practice of prayer and gestures, such as the laying on of hands, that are believed to elicit divine intervention in spiritual and physical healing. Catholics are in full support of these practices, engaging them in sacraments like the Anointing of the Sick. But, Catholics also believe in science and medical healing — no person trained in the faith would advise someone to go against sound medical advice in favor of waiting for “God’s healing,” which is the case in other faiths.
Catholics recognize two kinds of healing, which are not mutually-exclusive: one kind justified by science and one kind justified by faith. These healings, explained by different pieces of Catholic doctrine, work in concert with one another, just as our lives and our faith practices intertwine. One can be a good Catholic and believe in peer-reviewed, supported science; holding these beliefs in concert does not weaken either’s power.
In answer to the other concern, why the church cares so much about validating miracles, it is not because the church is eager to discredit people’s unique and powerful faith experiences. The church maintains strict approval standards because many outside the church, who do not experience an active engagement with the love of Christ, are eager to discredit people’s faith experiences. In order to maintain respect for Church teaching — a teaching that allows many people to experience the love of God in ways that they may not even realize — the church must be careful about the miracles it chooses to “accept.”
That being said, God’s movement in our lives is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that He would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and deliver us to eternal life, is truly awe-inspiring. No matter the way, shape, or form God chooses to move in your life, all experiences are valid and worthy of respect and thanksgiving. God is infinite, unlimited. The human experience is by definition limited — in time, space, and compassion. None of us really knows how God is working, but we all can benefit from the light of His love. Human definitions of miracles cannot limit the grace and power of God.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Miracles are such a rich source of inspiration in our faith. Our God is the God of the possible and practical, as well as the impossible and impractical, after all. Miracles are those impossibilities and impracticalities, and God shows us His strength and potential through them. As we turn to explore “internal miracles” and movements of the human heart in the last three weeks of our message series on miracles, I was drawn to explore the life of Padre Pio, an Italian Capuchin friar, who is perhaps most notable for bearing the stigmata (the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ).
Born in 1887, Padre Pio joined the Capuchins at age 15, having expressed a desire to join a religious order from the age of five. He was drafted in World War I, and served Italy in the medical corps for several years, though he did have to take a leave of absence for medical reasons. In August of 1918, just a few months after his permanent discharge from the military, Padre Pio began experiencing “a painful stigmata that would come and go over a period of weeks.”
This stigmata, wounds on each of his hands and feet as well as a slash in his side, mirrored the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, and eventually became permanent. Countless doctors and medical professionals examined the stigmata over the course of Pio’s lifetime, and were all baffled at the wounds’ presentation. The wounds caused him great pain and embarrassment, Pio reported, but despite bleeding constantly and never healing, they were never infected, nor did he experience any side effect of constantly bleeding (like a drop in blood pressure). The wounds were also described as “floral- and sweet-smelling,” a highly unusual description of traumatic injuries.
Many remained skeptics of Padre Pio’s stigmata, and the Vatican too censored his priestly activities for a brief period. Padre Pio was a mystic and was said to have physically struggled with Satan in dreams and in prayer. Many people believed in his power and closeness to God, however, and his priestly privileges (saying Mass, offering confession, and counseling the community) were eventually restored.
Christian theologian Ivan Illich wrote on the stigmata in a paper titled “Hospitality and Pain,” saying that the appearance of the wounds stems from “compassion with Christ . . . [and] faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain.” He theorizes that the stigmata appear in deeply religious individuals who exhibit “exceptional poignancy of faith” and “an intense desire to associate [themselves] with the suffering Messiah.” These qualities were certainly exhibited by Padre Pio, both during his lifetime and after, having been canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
Though he accepted the stigmata with grace, Padre Pio himself did not consider them a miracle. In fact, he often wept from the pain and embarrassment they caused, though he hid them in public at all times. But, his compassion as a human being was so great that he carried the wounds of Christ, who died for the world — living openly as both a follower and a channel of Jesus’s love and peace for all people. That, indeed, is a miracle of the human heart.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
We’ve spent this season in hoping, tender anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, which we celebrated on Christmas Day. It is incredible to think of the miracles that have been performed through faith — people healed unexpectedly, people having the chance to see God, people meeting Jesus or the Virgin Mary — and something about their testimonies buoys our faith, which is not always the easiest to maintain. As human beings, we seek “proof” and “facts,” and it can be hard to remember that God doesn’t work in proof or facts; He is so much more.
But what happens when it seems like God is quiet? When no matter how hard you pray (for big miracles or small miracles), God doesn’t seem to be moving? This can feel especially evident when dealing with the loss or struggle of a loved one. How can God be ignoring these prayers, when they are so raw, so heartfelt, so open? And, if it seems that others’ prayers are being answered while yours are not, the whole experience can feel even harder.
Luckily, our faith offers so much comfort for these feelings; first and foremost is the counsel that God never leaves the side of His people. Our God braves the wilderness for each and every one of us, following us out into the night as many times as we leave. Human definitions are constrained by a series of limits that simply do not exist for God; we cannot and will not ever be able to understand the magnitude of His devotion to us. But, we can bask in its light and its love.
For the big miracles, an oft-quoted lesson offers some comfort. God has three answers to prayer: “yes,” “not yet,” or “I have something better.” While this perspective can be hard to grasp in the depths of the trenches, it can be a ladder out. God, who knew and loved each and every one of us before we were even Earthside, always listens. The “something better” answer stings, especially when what’s already there is pretty great. But, just as we cannot comprehend the love of God, neither can we comprehend the workings of God.
As Catholics, we are called to keep the flame of faith burning brightly. When that faith flickers, it might be a good point to stop and take stock — the prayers for big miracles are quickly replaced with prayers for small miracles, but we must make sure that we are praying with intention always.
For the smaller miracles we ask for, Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic invites us to think about what we are asking of God: “Too often when we pray, we pray for tweaking. We want God to tweak this and tweak that . . . We don’t necessarily want our lives transformed. Transformation may seem attractive in a moment of blissfully holy idealistic exuberance, but . . . we like to distance ourselves from the inner work required to bring about such a transformation.”
“We pray for tweaking, and then wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayers. God is not interested in tweaking. God is in the business of transformation. He wants to turn your life upside down, which as it turns out, is right side up. If you want to see something incredible, start praying for transformation.”
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Chances are, if you’ve heard of a miracle attributed to a saint or holy person in the last hundred years, that miracle is going to be one of healing. Unexplained healing of cancer, paralysis, brain injury, or other terminal illnesses are some of the most incredible stories that we hear today. Even for Catholics like ourselves who put our faith in God wholeheartedly, there’s something reassuring about hearing these stories — they’re like the proof we don’t need for God’s existence, but are happy to know and experience.
Over 90 percent of the miracles that have qualified holy men and women for sainthood in recent years have been related to healing. Why? They’re often some of the easiest to verify. When the Vatican begins the sainthood process for any person, there are two criteria that must be verified before the person is officially canonized. First, it must be proven that the person “led an exemplary life of goodness and virtue worthy of imitation, or were martyred for their faith or experienced a powerful conversion process that inspired them to replace a life of immorality with outstanding holiness.” Second, and more central to our discussion today, is that there must be two verifiable post-mortem miracles associated directly to them.
In order to limit speculation among non-believers, the Vatican is extremely strict about the cases it dubs “miraculous.” Massive teams of investigators, both within and outside of the Vatican, including doctors, forensic scientists, detectives, historians, and lawyers are called on to explore supposed miracles. Often, it’s not until a source completely unaffiliated with the Vatican accepts the miraculousness of an event that the miracle can be attributed to a candidate for sainthood.
Why miracles? Well, we venerate saints because we see them as intercessors on our behalf — they bridge the gap between us and God, which sometimes (in spite of God’s overwhelming mercy and love) can feel pretty daunting. Saints are people, like each of us (imagine one of those spreads in a tabloid magazine: “The Saints! They’re Just Like Us”), who knew the challenges and humility of humanity. The Vatican sees miracles as “proof” of a person’s capabilities as an intercessor. After all, if you can pray to someone for guidance and healing and those prayers are answered in a big way, it’s likely that they have been bringing those intercessions to God (because all healing comes from God).
Two women helped Pope John Paul II become a saint (from his track record as pope, it was hard to deny that he’d lived a life of exceptional holiness): one, a French nun named Sister Marie Pierre who was miraculously healed of Parkinson’s disease, and two, a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Diaz, who was miraculously healed after a brain aneurysm left doctors telling her she had less than a month to live. You can read more on these miracles. There’s incredible documentation about the process of their verification.
It’s undeniable that living a life of holiness is probably the most important part of the canonization process (Pope John Paul II reduced the miracle requirement for canonization from three to two). But there’s something to be said for a “verified” work of God that just can’t be explained away.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Holy places and objects can have such power in our intercessions. Sometimes, these things can help us connect with God in just the right way. Take, for example, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Thousands of people have traveled there, seeking peace and healing in the spot where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. Though the committee on miracles at Lourdes has only officially recognized 70 cures as “miraculous,” thousands more individuals have drawn both spiritual and corporal comfort from visiting the shrine.
That is not to say that we venerate the shrines or the objects; we venerate Mary, Jesus, and the saints that have appeared in these places and things, and sometimes, the physical item or location can help guide us in our spiritual conversations.
If traveling to Lourdes isn’t quite possible, there are some other incredible things to look into that have all been said to facilitate miracles — among them, La Médaille Miraculeuse (the Miraculous Medal). Designed by St. Catherine Laboure after an apparition from the Blessed Mother in 1830, it said that for “those who wear [the medal] with confidence, there will be abundant graces.”
In 1830, St. Catherine Laboure was living in Paris, France, a young nun and a member of the nursing order of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. During evening prayer on November 27, she reported that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her, the Blessed Mother displaying herself in an oval frame, standing on a globe, with rays of light shining out of her hands. The words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” appeared around the edge of the frame.
When Catherine asked why some of the rays didn’t stretch as far as the others, Mary reportedly replied, “Those are the graces for people who forget to ask.” Catherine said that the image then rotated, revealing an “M” with a cross, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary encircled in a border of 12 stars. Mary asked Catherine to bring these images to her confessor, with the request that they be turned into a medal. This she did, and the first medals were produced in 1832.
Thousands of Catholics today wear the Miraculous Medal, which is said to be most effective when worn around the neck every day. And, it has certainly been attributed to some incredible miracles, including the 1948 healing of a little boy, who had been in an accident that caused “irreversible brain damage.” Doctors told his parents that their son likely would not survive and that, if he did, he would never speak, move, eat, or be the same.
Fr. John A. Hardon, who was sent to be a chaplain for the boy’s family, decided to try the medal as a last resort. He found one, tied it around the boy’s neck with a scrap of blue ribbon he’d found, and had not even finished reading the prayers associated with the medal before the little boy opened his eyes.
The first thing the little boy did after this miraculous healing? Ask his mom for ice cream.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Some of the most incredible miracles we hear of involve the accounts of people who claim to have seen heaven or met God, and have had the incredible ability to come back and tell us about them. Called near-death experiences, or NDEs, these stories are highly contested and fraught with disagreement. But, it is impossible to deny that the stories of those who seem to know the unknowable — a firsthand account of God and heaven — are comforting. As Advent is a season of calm, comforting, and reflective faith experiences, it seems like a perfect time to learn about these fascinating stories.
The bestselling book and movie of the same name, “Heaven Is For Real,” tells the story of Colton Burpo and his NDE after he underwent an emergency appendectomy at the age of four. His doctors didn’t think he’d survive. But he did, against all odds. His parents were thrilled and buoyed by the strength of their prayers. God had heard their pleas.
In the weeks and months following his surgery, Colton’s parents began noticing odd things about their son. He told them that he’d “been to heaven,” “seen Jesus,” and “in heaven, you live forever with God!” Colton told his parents about his sister, miscarried by his mother a few years prior and about his great-grandfather, “Pop,” who’d died thirty years before Colton was born. There’s no way he could know about either person, yet he did. He also said that during his surgery, he saw his father “yelling at God as [he] prayed” and his mother “crying in a different room.” He could even share details of the surgery itself.
Blues singer-songwriter Pam Reynolds also recounted an NDE, a fascinating scenario because of the medical monitoring of her condition at the time of her experience. She was having an extremely risky surgery to remove a brain aneurysm; the location of the aneurysm meant that in order to remove it, doctors had to cool her body to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and drain all the blood from her head. Special monitoring ensured that she had zero brain activity during the operation, which was successful.
When she woke up, however, she recounted an impossible story of heaven. She described the brightest, warmest, most welcoming light one could experience — a meeting with God, she said. She met family members who’d passed away, communicating especially with her uncle. The more time she spent there, the less she wanted to leave. But her uncle pushed her back, and she came back to her body. She described details of her surgery, and could even recall what her surgeons discussed during the operation and music they listened to.
Death is one of the scariest things for us to wrap our heads around as humans, mostly because nobody can tell us about it. Our faith tells us that God and heaven will be waiting for us, but it’s certainly reassuring to have someone experience it, and come back to tell us about it. Certainly seems miraculous . . . .
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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