While “Saturday Night Live” might not be the best place to get spiritual guidance, one of the skits, about the difficulties of making friends, popped into my head as I sat down to write this week. It’s super hard to cultivate community, especially when we are all so busy with school, work, and life responsibilities. But look at Jesus, they were saying: he was a 30-something adult male with twelve best friends; yes, twelve!
And they weren’t wrong. Jesus had an incredible group of people who literally dropped everything to follow him, support him, and love him. Jesus and the apostles were #SquadGoals [Editor’s Note: Teen speak for finding a friend group], if you ask me. If God created each one of us to be part of his family, how exactly are we supposed to go about finding a place in that family? How are we supposed to find our faith family; our own group that’s #SquadGoals?
The good news is, there are so many ways to create fellowship in faith communities. Faith is meant to be shared, discussed, challenged, and otherwise engaged with — one of the biggest barriers to community-building is feeling a lack of common interest with the people around us — so even if you are different in absolutely every single way from the person sitting beside you in church, you’re both there. You both know an experience of God, and you automatically have something to discuss with one another.
We’ve talked about it before, but small groups are an incredible way to build a community of fellowship. Jesus tells us in the Bible that, “if two of you agree on Earth about anything for which you want to pray, it shall be granted to you by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Not only do small groups help us explore the teachings of God; Jesus also tells us that the intentions and prayers shared in small groups “shall be granted.” Here at St. Brendan’s alone, we have small groups for everything from Marian devotion to walking to parenting to Ignatian spirituality; find more information on the parish website or at the welcome desk in the back of the church.
If the established small groups don’t work with your schedule or aren’t totally your speed, what about creating one of your own? It doesn’t have to be anything crazy complicated. Just call a friend or two to meet for coffee at Noe Valley Bakery on West Portal, share a pastry, and talk about living as a Catholic. That’s a small group, right there, where you can experience mercy, authenticity, sympathy, and mutuality.
Or what about finding a faith community online? Like and follow St. Brendan on Facebook, or even follow a few Catholic Instagram accounts (@coffeewithsaints, @blessedisshe__, or @dynamiccatholic are great places to start). The best part about building a faith community is that it can have many, many pieces and iterations. My first faith community was a chocolate club with a priest very dear to me. If I can have a chocolate-based small group, you can have one too.
--Claire Kosewic, Volunteer Bulletin Writer
Though it may not seem like it when we’re trying to keep our Lenten observances (how many days is it until I can drink coffee again?), Lent is one of the fastest moving seasons of the liturgical year. It’s only 40 days, which translates to about five or six Sundays, depending on whether or not you count Palm Sunday as the last Sunday of Lent or the start of preparation for Easter. For a season meant to be of quiet penance, reflection, and personal growth, it doesn’t seem like you get much time!
But one of the best ways to capitalize on Lenten observance is by maximizing your time in prayer, especially on Sundays at Mass. Mass often feels like an event to check off the calendar, and it can be very easy to forget that Mass is a prayer (the most important prayer we have as Catholics). However, with a little bit of intentional commitment, it’s relatively easy to reclaim Mass-as-prayer.
There are many forms of the Mass, however. They all celebrate the same Eucharist, the same mystery of the bread and wine manifested into the Body and Blood of Christ (side note — every time I write about or think about the miraculous mystery of our faith, it astounds me), but each with a bit of a different flair.
The Novus Ordo Mass is the one that we are all (likely) the most familiar with. Translating literally to “New Order,” it is the style of the Mass adopted post-Vatican II, and is characterized by the priest facing the congregation, the Mass being said in the common vernacular, and lay people being heavily involved in the celebration.
The Latin Mass, Tridentine Mass or “High Mass,” is quite a bit different than the Novus Ordo. When one attends a Latin Mass for the first time, it’s incredible to imagine what a change it was for priests and lay people alike to transition to the New Order Mass. During the Latin Mass, the priest mostly faces away from the congregation, and most of the prayers are silent or spoken very softly. A choir will chant certain parts of the Mass while the priest prays, and participation of the congregants is “interior, involving eye and heart.” (Star of the Sea offers a Latin Mass every Sunday at 11:30 a.m.)
The Divine Liturgy, also known as the Byzantine Rite, is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches. While somewhat similar to the Novus Ordo, there are some distinct differences, especially in regards to the traditions of Communion. Normally, the bread is leavened (symbolizing the risen Christ), dipped into the chalice, and offered to each person with a spoon. The priest also says a personal prayer over everyone receiving Communion, and normally asks your name as you approach. Other prayer offices, like Great Vespers and Compline, are also often held throughout the week in Orthodox communities. (Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church offers Byzantine Rites every Sunday at 10 a.m.)
An interesting Lenten observance might be to try out some of the different types of the Mass, and see if any of them speak in a particular, meaningful way to you to help you worship more fully. Sometimes all it takes is something a little different to help us reclaim the mystery of faith.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Love makes us do crazy things: makes fools of us in its vulnerability, makes agents of us in its power, makes people of us in both its complexities and simplicities. (After all, is there anything simultaneously more complex and more simple than being human?) So what the heck does love have to do with common sense? Ask anyone struggling with heartbreak or deep in passionate connection, and they’d probably tell you that there is no rhyme or reason to love. It is not common sense.
But love is common sense, as Christian author Bob Goff writes, because “love does.” Goff’s book, “Love Does: Discover an Incredible Life in an Ordinary World,” talks about his own experience of leaning into love, which isn’t common sense until one does it. Love requires a leap into the unknown and into passion, but love is what drives us to move through our lives. It is a commitment, an awareness, a rawness, and an openness that leads us to deeper engagement with the lives we live.
“[Love] pursues blindly, unflinchingly, and without end. When you go after something you love, you’ll do anything it takes to get it, even if it costs everything,” Goff writes. There’s a lot of wisdom to what he says: though loving is hard, once the loving is happening, nothing else matters. Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones (where love is scary) and into our growing zones (where love does). When we lean into a radical experience of loving, our world blossoms. Love informs the people, experiences, and memories we cherish: love lets us be passionate, vulnerable, selfless, and uncomfortable. Love helps us to grow.
Goff writes, “Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kinds of things that love does is something that most people plan to do, but along the way just kind of forget. Their dreams become some of those ‘we’ll go there next time’ deferrals. The sad thing is, for many, there is no ‘next time,’ because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life — not a single decision.”
Love is common sense because it allows us to live. Jesus wants us to love and live with abandon, extending a hand to sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors, enemies — everyone we encounter. Love is the mechanism for the framework of life; simply put, without love, we cannot live full human lives.
There is a prayer entitled “Falling in Love,” attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ. His words speak more eloquently to the common sense of love than anything else I’ve ever come across:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love, in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything.” (Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book)
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
In our message series, “Common Sense,” we are reviewing the reasons to follow Christ’s teachings. One important reason is that it leads to eternal life. Here is our companion article on why seeking life everlasting makes good sense.
Every time we pray the Nicene Creed, we end with the words “...and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” If you’re anything like me, saying the Nicene Creed sometimes feels like a reflex; muscle memory, if you will. I don’t always fully engage while saying the words. But it is our entire faith summarized into about three paragraphs, which is especially incredible when you consider the centuries of written, oral, and practical tradition that are responsible for our contemporary Catholic beliefs.
And, those ending words are some of the most important in our faith tradition: as Catholics, we believe in life after death, where we will enter into full communion with Jesus Christ in heaven. We will be welcomed into everlasting life at Jesus’s second coming, as explained in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, but only if we have lived for others as Christ did.
People will be sorted as “sheep” and “goats” — the sheep having fed a hungry Jesus, satisfied a thirsty Jesus, clothed a naked Jesus, visited a prisoner Jesus, welcomed a stranger Jesus, and cared for an ill Jesus. The goats will have done none of these. Both groups will ask Jesus when they were supposed to have done these things — the sheep protesting that they had done no such thing, and the goats protesting that they never saw Jesus in these capacities.
And Jesus will say to the sheep, “‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Likewise, he will say to the goats, “‘Amen I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’” (Matthew 25:40,45).
Our eternal life is not guaranteed. We must live as disciples of Christ in all that we do, say, and believe. For every kindness, act of compassion, moment of mercy or forgiveness, we show the world what it means to be a follower of Christ. Unfortunately, the times of our human failings also reflect back onto Christ.
In Chapter 5 of his gospel, Matthew reminds us: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? . . . You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. . . . Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-16).
As Christians, we will fulfill the Nicene Creed; we will be sorted into the righteous at the second coming; we are the light of the world; we are the salt of the Earth. The life that we profess each week at Mass is within our control, shaped by our actions and inactions — but in living lives of Christ, we will be glorified.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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
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