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
During Mass, we’re addressing some of your more complex questions about the Catholic faith in our message series, Faith Answering Questions. Here are a few less weighty but still interesting questions we received.
For the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how to make evangelization easier and more natural. But one of the main reasons Catholics give for being hesitant to evangelize is a lack of knowledge. So, in the few short weeks before summer, we’re going to be responding to “FAQs — faith answering questions” and hopefully tackle some of those doubts.
In this article, we’re going to answer three questions. First, is it appropriate to chat before, during, and after Mass, or does that disturb the sanctity of the space? Second, what are the rules about eating before Communion? Is it a sin to eat less than one hour before receiving the Body of Christ? Finally, why is Communion wine sometimes not red? It is the blood of Christ, after all. We’ll talk about the second and third ones together, as they do both concern the Eucharist.
Regarding reverence at church and during Mass, it is completely correct to say that the church is a sacred space for worship and prayer, a place where we worship both as an entire Christian community and in the privacy of our hearts. Thus, loud, unnecessary chatting during Mass (even if it’s related to church or the message being shared) is discouraged, as it detracts from the experience of those around you. If something said inspires you to speak, remember that point and have a fun conversation after Mass over coffee and donuts. Before and after Mass, just be conscious and courteous of those praying around you and try to keep conversations to a low volume. That being said, remember that church is just as much a time for community-building and catching up with friends as it is for quiet prayer and reflection, and try not to fixate on the whispers or the pre- and post-Mass chats of others. We’re all here for the same reason, after all, united in our love and beliefs, no matter how vocal (or not) we choose to be.
Regarding fasting before Communion, it is indeed stated in Canon Law that one should refrain from eating or drinking one hour before receiving the Eucharist. Exempt from this are the sick, the elderly, those caring for the sick and elderly, and priests who are saying more than one Mass in a day. The consumption of water and medicine do not count as breaking the fast, either, for everyone. The concept of this kind of fasting is that it keeps us physically hungry, and thus opens our hearts to be more fully filled with spiritual nourishment during the Mass. Finally, communion wine (otherwise known as sacramental wine) may be red or white. The color and the grape are not vastly important as long as the wine is not spoiled, as the blood of Christ is not present until the wine is blessed.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
Evangelization is a challenging goal. Still, we can take heart that it doesn’t mean trying to influence or compel others to adopt our own spiritual views. Rather it’s telling people about what we believe, what we have, and what we can offer. Evangelization is about sharing and telling, not forcing or influencing.
It may be sound tired to say so, but the Good News we have remains so very fresh. As part of our parish message series, Fearless Evangelization, here are some simple ways we can stay within our own comfort zones, yet reach out to others, through our stewardship of time, talent, and treasure.
For time, we can take an extra bulletin or two, and give them to people we know, or friends in crisis or need. For our talents, we can use them in a multitude of ways, volunteering or joining one of our parish’s small faith sharing groups, to contribute and learn from our fellow parishioners. For treasure, when a homeless person asks us for money or food, we can buy them a sandwich or slice of pizza, and add other items like fruit that is easy to eat, a snack, and bottled water or a soft drink. It may not be the most nutritious meal, but it satisfies the person’s need for nourishment for a short time. Many of us already do this when we prepare sandwiches for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. And remember to say, “God bless you,” when you encounter that person in need.
Finally, if we see someone who is unhappy, stressed, suffering, or in need, even on public transit, we can pray that they get through the day. We can give people we don’t even know our love and compassion. So let us learn to accept our role in evangelizing others, and feel confident that we can do this through our own stewardship efforts.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
Linus, Charlie Brown’s best friend from the long-running “Peanuts” cartoon strip once said, “There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” While I can’t comment on the politics or the Great Pumpkin, I can certainly understand why we might not want to talk about religion. People have had all sorts of experiences with religion, and “evangelization” still feels pretty taboo for us Catholics. It’s not something we’re taught from a young age, let alone something that we can get comfortable with overnight.
But as we work through less obvious ways of evangelization in our Sunday messages and start talking about our faith more and more, we get deeper and deeper into the learning zone and further and further from the panic zone.
If you’re still looking for small ways to get evangelization going, don’t worry! There are so many ways to share your faith. Try putting a quote from your favorite saint or other religious inspiration into your email signature or putting your favorite Bible verse into a social media bio. It might inspire someone to research that saint or religious person or to look up the verse. Or, try wearing a piece of religious jewelry — a crucifix or a rosary bracelet (guys, you can do this too!).
If you’ve already found your one thing (and hopefully more than one thing) and have been working on sharing your faith in casual conversation, try really hard to keep it up! Maintenance of your newly-minted practices will take some time, and that’s okay.
Many people say that they avoid evangelization because it feels overbearing or pushy to talk about religion; they’re worried about offending someone or giving someone the wrong impression. But the little actions we’ve been talking about and the causal mentions of our faith in everyday conversations are so important because they mark you as a person that people can feel comfortable with asking their faith questions.
For people who’ve fallen away from a faith, they probably want to know why you stayed (if it’s the same faith as theirs) and might have questions about how the faith has changed since they practiced (if it’s changed; or, they might not be aware of any changes, so the things you share might spark questions for them). For someone of a different faith, they might have questions about the details of your faith. For someone who only knows about Catholicism from the news media, they might have a lot of tough questions about the culture of Catholicism.
In any case, answer as honestly and truthfully as you can. That includes not making it up if you don’t know the answer. If someone asks a question you can’t really respond to, ask a friend or look it up online. Bring the question to church and ask a priest or nun or other religious person; chances are, everyone will learn something in the process.
If you remember anything, make it this: evangelize much, often, and always. Make yourself someone that people can bring the tough questions to, and answer those questions as best you can. Ask prayerfully for guidance whenever possible, and keep going!
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Last week, we talked about little things that we can all do to help move the act of evangelization out of the panic zone and more into the comfort zone. From sharing a CD or playlist of Christian music with friends to putting a Christian sticker on your car, laptop, or other visible place, evangelization doesn’t have to be scary or aggressive. While some might write these actions off as passive or too small, no action is too small for God. In the spirit of doing small things with great love, as Mother Teresa reminds us, these little actions make us more comfortable in sharing our faith. Little things bring our faith into the everyday, not just something we think about for an hour on Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings.
Doing little things might move us closer to the mark, but little things might not propel us all the way into the comfort zone (which is where we’d all like to be in terms of evangelization). So how do we start doing bigger things? Once you’ve done a small thing, stop to congratulate yourself! Don’t forget that evangelization is really uncomfortable for a lot of us, and taking the first step into something new is really hard. The goal of these exercises is to ease into it.
But at some point, we need to start actually talking about our faith. And, no, I’m not talking about intense philosophical or theological discourse in the break room at work or in line at the grocery store (sure to make both you and your audience uncomfortable!). I’m talking about mentioning your faith in casual conversation, hopefully with the help of your small actions.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll be late to [insert Sunday morning event here], but you can count on the fact that I’ll be there after Mass! My church has these really awesome message series and I can’t miss the next installment of the one we’re talking about now.”
“Oh, that sticker on my laptop? It’s from my church small group. We meet every week to [insert small group activity here] — it’s something new that I just got involved with, but am loving so far.”
“Oh, this music? It’s by some of my favorite Christian bands — a great mix to listen to after a rough day, or car dance to after a really good day — there’s always a song for whatever I’m in the mood for.”
I go to a Catholic university, but my roommate isn’t Catholic. She started asking me questions about my faith when I’d mention that I was going to Mass or a campus ministry event. That meant that I could share my faith, and she was initiating the conversation. The conversations were on her terms, not mine, which made us both more comfortable. Making your faith something you mention casually will likely pique the interest of others, who will ask you questions, and evangelization will come naturally.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Sometimes, when leaning into the discomfort of a new concept or idea, the best way to get started is to say yes, and do something small. While we’ve talked about the basic principles of evangelization, why we should all say yes to sharing our faith, and small things we can do in our prayer lives to emphasize a connection with God, we haven’t really talked about anything concrete that we can do to share our faith.
Some people feel comfortable speaking in public; some feel comfortable going door-to-door; some feel comfortable chatting in one-on-one settings. But what if any kind of direct interaction with evangelization feels nerve-wracking? It makes a lot of sense that evangelization sometimes feels scary and foreign (unfortunately, long-time Catholic culture — “pay, pray, and obey” — encourages this). There’s good news though! You don’t have to jump right into public preaching or faith-sharing. Taking baby steps are the best way to get comfortable in discomfort.
What if evangelization looked like wearing a t-shirt or hat with Catholic messaging on it? Or reading a faith-centered book in public? What if evangelization looked like putting a sticker on your car, laptop, water bottle? What if evangelization looked like listening to worship music in the car with the windows rolled down, jamming out to Switchfoot or Hillsong United (If you don’t know what this, come to our Electric Mass on Sundays at 5 p.m.)? What if evangelization looked like adding a quote from a pope or a Catholic saint to the end of your email signature?
Evangelization does look like all of these things. Evangelization can, and does, often start with a small, visible action. Catholics like to use Saint Francis’s quote on evangelization (preaching the gospel at all times, using words only when necessary) to excuse us from the practice. But doing one of these small actions might cause someone to ask you a question, wherein words do become necessary as we attempt to answer the question to the best of our ability. Saint Francis, then, is actually inviting us to take agency over the spreading of our faith, starting with a small (verbal or non-verbal) action, and then encouraging us to step beyond that a bit as we can.
I share music playlists with friends; sometimes I add worship music to them. I have a sticker on my water bottle that says “the greatest good is what we do for one another,” a Mother Teresa quote. I got the sticker from a prayer group on my college campus — one of my friends asked me about the sticker, was interested, and came to the group’s next service event with me.
At a retreat once, I did a really interesting activity. Laid out on the ground were three massive, concentric circles. The center circle was “the comfort zone,” the middle circle “the learning zone,” and the outer circle “the panic zone.” The leaders read off a series of statements, and we were asked to visually rate our comfort within these circles. Evangelization, for many of us, might feel like it’s in the panic zone. Let’s start small together, working our own ways into the panic zone, and maybe, just maybe into the comfort zone.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Our four-part series on the core values of stewardship concludes this week with gratitude.
On Easter we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, the triumph of life over death, the ultimate gifts of love and eternal life. God loves us so much that he gave us his son Jesus, who gave his life to save us. When someone gives us a gift, it’s usually given out of love, and naturally our gratitude follows.
We can accept that God gives us everything we need, and he does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. When we realize this, we are grateful for God’s wisdom in what he provides for us. If there’s something we don’t have, maybe we didn’t need it in the first place. If God wants us to have something, we can remember that nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37).
Gratitude is the fruit of some of the other core values of stewardship, like our identity and trust in God. As we broaden our awareness of God’s plan in action all around us, we lose our self-centeredness, and focus on what we have, and what we can do with it. Stewards see everything as gifts from God. Since we have all that we need, we don’t – and won’t – need to take anything for granted.
Gratitude also helps us realize we can make do with less, and not need everything we may want, which can brighten and declutter our lives. If we start thinking we don’t need so much, we lose our self-centeredness and desire to control and acquire.
If we don’t have to have everything we want, we also realize how much we really do have, which is probably more than we will ever need, thanks to God’s generosity. We realize how fortunate and blessed by God we are, and that is how we become grateful stewards of God’s wonderful, abundant gifts.
--Jim Wollak, Parishioner
This week, we engage in discussions of the transformative power of forgiveness, and its incredible potential as a force for evangelization. Forgiving ourselves and forgiving others allows us to enter more fully into the light of Christ, making our faith experiences more loving, positive, and open, which in turn encourages us to share those wonderful, warm experiences.
I thought long and hard about a practical way to bring evangelization and forgiveness together into one theme for this week — reflection and discernment are incredible exercises, but they often leave us wanting for some kind of concrete conclusion or action item that we can apply in a more general setting. Eventually, through reading all kinds of tips and tricks for evangelization, thinking, and many, many rough drafts, this week’s evangelization tip came to me: say the name.
Prayer is such a big part of evangelization: praying for ourselves, that we might live as the examples of Christ that we are called to be, praying for others, that their hearts and minds might see the light and the love that guides faith, and praying for a kinder, gentler society, that it might welcome the joys of belief and belonging that so often seem to be forgotten.
So say the name of the person you are praying for. It can be hard to stay focused when praying — drifting off into thoughts unrelated to the prayers at hand (as one is almost guaranteed to do) can often end with our forgetting the purpose of the prayer in the first place. Using the person’s name keeps the prayer real, and really present. Repeat their name over and over in the course of the prayer, and keep the focus on praying into that person. This can be especially helpful as we look to forgive others, and pray kindness and patience into their lives, as well as your own.
Science has shown that we are acutely attuned to the sound of our own names — we can pick out someone shouting our name in a crowded room and can even recognize our names even under deep sedation. Our names have power to informing our identities, and acknowledgement of these identities set us up for positive prayer.
It might be hard to find someone in the New Testament who exemplifies the spirit of evangelization (besides Jesus, of course) better than St. Paul. His epistles to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Thessalonians, and others are full of treatises to the people that they pray for themselves and others, joyfully, and always — “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for...me that speech may be given me to open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,” (Ephesians 6:18-19).
Paul uses their names, references to their hometowns, and always the greeting “brothers and sisters.” He keeps his prayer and ministry personal, spreading the good news individually to the masses, as we should strive to do this week. Don’t change yourself (you are already fearfully and wonderfully made), change a word — and use the name.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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