The second reading today often offends modern sensibilities when Saint Paul writes that the “husband is head of his wife” and that “[w]ives should be subordinate to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22-23). Indeed, when one bride mistakenly selected this passage for her wedding, I remember the bridesmaid reading it aloud during the ceremony while at the same time rolling her eyes many times in an exaggerated fashion to make her disapproval clearly known.
As I pointed out in my homily, however, an often missed point is that Saint Paul actually wrote that both husbands and wives should be “subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). While his instruction to women perhaps too uncritically accepted conventional standards, the essence of the passage actually is directed to husbands. In fact, what Paul had to say to men was nothing short of groundbreaking and radical.
At the time Paul was writing, husbands had complete dominion over their wives. They were considered little more than property with which the husband could do as he saw fit. Wives were often abused and mistreated as a result. Paul’s radical message is that the basis of Christian marriage is love, not authority. Moreover, the husband is to imitate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and “hand himself over for” his bride (Ephesians 5:25), because the very definition of love is self-donation and subordination to the one who is loved.
Indeed, any form of authentic love is marked by the mutual submission of one to the other, including Christian discipleship. As followers of Christ, we are called to die to ourselves out of love for our neighbor. Stewardship expresses this call to discipleship through various forms of service using our God-given time, talents, and treasure. In seeking to serve and not be served, we follow the command to love others and imitate Christ in the process.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As part of our Faith Answering Questions message series, we received several questions from parishioners about the death penalty. Here is a response from our staff bulletin writer, Claire Kosewic.
The Roman Catholic Church has an “unconditionally pro-life” stance, which means that all human life must be protected, honored, and cherished as gifts from God. Although the issue of the death penalty has raised a great deal of debate among Catholics, the U.S Bishops, in a document entitled, A Culture of Life, argue that (i) God set a precedent in the Bible for the exercise of mercy towards those who commit heinous crimes, and (ii) the practice of the death penalty not only goes against Jesus’ most important commandment but negatively impacts all of human society.
In chapter four of the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Time passes, and both sons bring offerings to the Lord. For whatever reason, God looks with favor on Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Overwrought with anger and jealousy, Cain attacks Abel and kills him. Although he tries to deny it when God confronts him about the murder, Cain eventually admits his crime. Rather than condemning him to death, God shows mercy and allows Cain to live. He will have to live in exile, however, which will make him a target for others. In another act of mercy, God marks him with a special tattoo — a sign to all that Cain is protected by God, and that no one is ever to harm him.
The story of Cain and Abel sets a clear biblical precedent against the death penalty. Cain committed murder, one of the most abominable of all crimes, yet God acted with mercy towards him. We, too, must follow that example of unconditional love and forgiveness. No sin is too great to repent from, we are taught. And, rarely (if ever), does the act of taking another human life bring closure to those directly affected by the crime.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “No act, even an execution, can bring back a loved one or heal terrible wounds. The pain and loss of one death cannot be wiped away by another death. . . . We also share the . . . loss and heartache that are the result of unspeakable acts of violence. Our family of faith must care for sisters and brothers who have been wounded by violence and support them in their loss and search for justice. They deserve our compassion, solidarity, and support. However, standing with the families of victims does not compel us to support the use of the death penalty.”
Furthermore, they wrote, “When the State, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. The use of the death penalty ought to be abandoned not only for what it does to those executed, but for what it does to all of society.” In supporting the death penalty, we support a culture of violence, hatred, and vengeance, not a culture of love, forgiveness, and compassion, as we are called to do in Jesus.
During Mass, we’ve been 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:
1. What is the Church’s rule on fasting before communion? How has it changed?
In 1983, Pope John Paul II laid down the law on fasting before communion: you must not eat or drink anything, except water or medicine, for at least one hour before receiving communion. (This does not mean at least one hour before Mass — if you were going to attend the 9:30 a.m. Mass, you could probably eat up until 9:15 a.m. or so, assuming that communion generally takes place at about 10:15 a.m. during that service.) Certain exceptions to this rule do apply — sick or elderly people and the people who care for them, such as nurses and doctors, do not have to fast before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
Traditionally, the Catholic Church was very strict about the Eucharistic fast, requiring that anyone who wanted to receive communion could not eat or drink from the midnight before Mass until after they had received the sacrament. Water and medicine were included in “eating and drinking,” and there were no exceptions for children, the sick, the elderly, or even clergy. If a priest was going to say four Masses in one morning, he might not be able to eat or drink until past noon!
Catholics have fasted before taking the Eucharist for all time — in 240 A.D., the Christian writer Tertullian described the Eucharist as a bread which must be eaten before taking any other food. Likely, this tradition came from the Jewish culture, which gives extreme importance to fasts and includes them in several sacred celebrations. The rules for fasting have relaxed significantly since then, however, mostly for the sake of convenience, so they’re extremely easy to follow.
2. Does God love animals? How much does God love animals compared to human beings?
The short answer is yes, that God does love animals very much. We read in Genesis 1:20-25, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal...God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good.” God created all the animals on this Earth, and He loves them all dearly. When He made humans, he did give us superiority over the animal kingdom, but with the stipulation that we would always be kind to other living things. Being cruel to animals defiles God’s creation, and is in direct contrast to anything God wants of us. Since human beings were created in God’s own image, we are responsible for showing the kindness and respect God shows to us, to all of creation.
Additionally, God takes many opportunities to remind us of the wisdom of animals. In Job 12, Job chides those who say that he [Job] will stop believing in God when his fortunes fail. He tells those non-believers that even the animals know that everything, good and bad and terrible, comes from God in heaven. “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?”
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Writer
When I first converted to the Catholic faith in 1989, I couldn’t wait to go to church on Sundays. The liturgy was captivating and brought me hope and strength for the coming week. The music and singing lifted me up, the homily edified me, and the communion I received with the Lord and other worshipers made me feel whole and part of something bigger than myself. The Mass was an irresistible experience for me, and I looked forward to it as each weekend approached.
Indeed, the first and most fundamental purpose of the Church is worship. As Psalm 34:3 says, “O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.” To worship God fulfills the first portion of the Great Commandment Jesus gave in Matthew 22:37-40: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul and with all your mind.”
In the second reading at Mass today, Saint Paul encourages his readers to cast off ignorance that leads to sin through worship. Instead, “be filled with the Spirit,” he urges them, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:18-19). Throughout Scripture we’re commanded to celebrate God’s presence by adoring him in liturgy and common worship.
Our fundamental identity as stewards for God can lead us to the incorrect conclusion that service to others should be our primary goal. Sometimes we get so busy serving God by trying to do good deeds that we forget to offer the first and best sacrifice of our time in prayer. However, the Bible says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10). Notice that worship is primary and comes before service.
Saint Paul says that we are to “give thanks always and for everything” (Eph. 5:20). Indeed, Christian stewards are grateful for all of God’s blessings. The greatest of these, however, is the opportunity and ability to worship him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Wonder Woman, with her Golden Lasso of Truth, metal gauntlets, and Amazonian sword and shield, paints an impressive picture of strength, power, and wisdom. She always manages to save the day, making superhuman feats of athleticism and intelligence look like everyday occurrences.
The Wonder Women of the Bible we’ve been learning about over the past several weeks and their female saint counterparts could be said to do the same. Armed with prayer, wit, conscience, savvy decision-making, and courage, they have saved lives, rescued nations, kept the persecuted safe, led their countries into (and out of) battle, and much more. Their achievements are awe-inspiring, which makes them easy to admire, but in some senses very difficult to emulate.
So, the final “saints” in this series will be two women who aren’t actually saints at all. They are both world-renowned and their actions are almost venerable, but there is a key difference between them and the saints: whereas the saints’ actions were Godly, inspired acts of faith that seem impossible to replicate, there are some relatively simple ways to be like these women. (It would probably be pretty difficult to guide the entire nation of France to military victory like Joan of Arc or to leave one’s home, family, and friends behind for a completely foreign land like Rose Philippine Duchesne.)
In fact, the first one of them wasn’t even a Catholic. She simply saw something wrong with the world, felt an obligation to speak up, and did so — which happens to be exactly what Catholic social teaching asks of us. Rachel Carson is frequently cited as the mother of the American environmentalist movement, and her book Silent Spring is widely credited as the catalyst for governmental regulation of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. She was a scientist who noted a disturbing trend in the wildlife populations in areas with high rates of pesticide exposure, wrote a book about it, and changed the way we view chemicals and conservation forever. That was very difficult, but joining a Surfrider weekend beach cleanup, working to compost and recycle more, or spending a weekday afternoon restoring native plant species to San Francisco with the Presidio Native Plant Nursery wouldn’t be difficult at all.
Dorothy Day was a Catholic convert who dedicated her life to the development of the Catholic Worker Movement. It began as a sociopolitical organization, and has since evolved into communities of Catholics working to serve those living life on the margins. With the Great Depression in full swing and almost one-quarter of working America without work, Day saw how hard life was, and she did something to make it better. But starting a social movement isn’t the only way to reach out to those living on the margins. Be a little like Day, and give some time to St. Anthony’s Dining Room or the San Francisco Food Bank, make lunches for the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s sandwich Sundays, or make a small donation to a favorite charity each month.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the incredible feats of these Wonder Women of the Bible. But, we can all be Wonder Women (and Men!) in our own ways, and leading an army into battle isn’t necessarily on the job description.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
As I relax on the pristine sands of Newport Beach, I write this article and think of you trapped in the unforgiving fog belt of San Francisco. Hang in there; relief will come in a few weeks. Gazing off into the cloudless blue-lined horizon, I give thanks to God for the warm sun that scatters its balmy rays over me and literally bakes into my skin. As the waves lap over the coastline, I remember, however, that the greatest of God’s gifts are ever expanding. Though the Lord gives us the beautiful sun, for example, his truest and best gift is the light of the world, Jesus Christ.
The gospel reading this weekend shores up this truth. In the days of Moses, God gave manna to his people starving in the desert. Fine flakes like hoarfrost appeared on the ground each morning after the early dew had evaporated. More than mere deposits of frozen water vapor, however, the gift consisted of tiny particles of bread that actually fed the “hangry” Israelites. Later, after leading the tribes into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, the Lord expanded this gracious gift, giving them instead a fertile land rich with fruits, vines, grains, and livestock, which satisfied their hunger even more completely.
In the fullness of time, however, God expanded his already-generous gift even further. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus said in the gospel reading today. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Once again, the Lord outdid himself.
Though we can never outdo God in generosity, we can follow his lead and work to increase our gifts of time in prayer, energy in service, and treasure in financial giving back to him. After all, we do no less than magnify the Lord when we seek to expand our offering in honor of him who gives us everything.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Don’t Eat What You Kill
One of my first jobs in the legal field was with a large law firm where an informal slogan was bandied about among the partners and associates: “Eat what you kill.” The catchphrase meant that each lawyer’s compensation was based on the revenue he or she generated personally. Depending on how successful the attorney was in finding and retaining clients, he or she alone would reap the benefits or suffer accordingly. Unlike other types of partnerships, risk was not shared among lawyers under the “eat what you kill” model, nor were the rewards.
Over the last four weeks at Sunday Masses, we have been reading through Saint Paul’s letter sent to an early Christian community called the Ephesians. Paul writes that he has been made a “steward” of the mystery of God’s plan to bring together both Gentiles and Jews through a common belief in Jesus. Through their unity in Christ, “the dividing wall of enmity” has fallen, Saint Paul writes, and “one new person” has been created “in place of two” (2:14-15).
As a result, we are to “live in a manner worthy” of our calling, “striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (4:1-3). Hence, we must “put away the old self,” filled with “deceitful desires” that only serve to divide us, “put on the new self instead,” and grow “to mature manhood” in a “unity of faith and knowledge” (4:13, 22-24).
We are called to be one in the Body of Christ. The diversity of gifts among us are not to be hoarded selfishly. As Christians, we do not “eat what we kill,” but rather try to share generously what has been given to us. In spite of everything that may divide us, we all hold in common “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:5-6).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
During our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we highlight saints who exemplify the qualities of our biblical heroine for the week. This week’s heroine is Mary, the Mother of God. Listen to her complete story on our website. Mary’s companion saint is Bernadette Soubirous.
How does one find a saint to compare to the saint of all saints, the mother of all, the mother of Jesus? It’s simply not possible. Saints are the intercessors of our prayers to the Lord, and Mary is the greatest intercessor of them all. But there are certain saints to whom Mary has appeared, and under her guidance, they have been able to be agents of corporal and spiritual healing. One of these saints is Bernadette Soubirous, whose name may not be as recognized as the town she came from: Lourdes, France.
Bernadette was born in January 1844 to extremely poor parents, the first of nine children. She was a sickly child her whole life, having contracted cholera as a toddler and suffered from uncommonly severe asthma. This, coupled with her family’s dire financial situation (all eleven members of her family lived in a one-room cellar, a former dungeon, in a wealthy relative’s home) and her reputation as a “simple child” and a poor learner, did not endear her to the local people. She could barely read or write.
Yet one day, when she was sent out to collect firewood with her younger sister and a friend, a “very beautiful lady” appeared to her above a rose bush in the grotto of Massabielle. Clad in blue and white, with a yellow rose on each foot, the “lady” made the Sign of the Cross over Bernadette, and together they prayed the rosary. The visions kept coming, but most of the villagers, including her own mother, thought Bernadette was crazy.
On February 25, the ninth apparition, the “lady” asked her to drink the water from the grotto. The next day, the murky, brown waters ran crystal clear. A few days later, Bernadette reported that the “lady” asked that a chapel be built on the spot and “a procession formed.” At the thirteenth apparition, the “lady” finally revealed herself to be “the Immaculate Conception.” At this, the town was bitterly divided. However, Bernadette continued to report her visions: she had eighteen in total.
After rigorous examinations by both the Church and the French government, it was established that Bernadette’s visions were truthful and accurate. A chapel was built on the site, and Lourdes now receives approximately six million pilgrims annually. The Church has recognized seventy official miracles from intercessions at Lourdes, the most recent just in February of this year.
While the Virgin Mary intercedes for all of us, and guides us all as the perfect spiritual mother, it seems that there is no place plainer in the world that shows her loving hands than at Lourdes, the place where she appeared to Saint Soubirous. In the hopes of the pilgrims, the trials that bring them to the holy place, and all the people working there today, “the Lady” is clearly evident.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
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