In the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine, prominent American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article entitled, “The Case for Reparations,” which discussed the continuing negative effects of slavery on African-Americans in this country and demanded that reparations be paid. The article is the latest in a movement seeking compensatory payments from the American government to descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the Atlantic slave trade. According to proponents, the goal of reparations is to restore the African-American community to the economic position it would have enjoyed but for centuries of slavery and ensuing racial discrimination.
Whatever you may think of the call for such reparations, it is painfully obvious of late that racial tension and inequality continue to thrive in this country. Kaepernick’s knee-taking gesture, the “Black lives matter” movement, and the violence in Charlottesville a little over a year ago testify to that reality. It also seems relatively indisputable that much of the conflict is rooted in severe economic inequality. According to a recent article from the Pew Research Center, for example, large gaps between the incomes of blacks and whites persist in this country, with “blacks earn[ing] 65% as much as whites in 2016” at the median (July 12, 2018).
In the second reading today, Saint James has harsh words for the callous rich. “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud [and] have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (Jas. 5:4). We may too easily exculpate and excuse ourselves from social injustices because we have no direct involvement. Yet, most of us enjoy an unparalleled standard of living compared to others.
While few of us may have any real control over global poverty, we can work to keep our side of the street clean by advocating for social justice, paying our workers a fair wage, and giving back a significant portion of our income to the poor. As Protestant reformer John Wesley once said ,“earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
No problem, I can do that!” “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.” “I promise.” “I’ll make that happen.” We, humans, love making commitments to each other. It makes us feel wanted and needed. But often it seems like the only thing easier than making a promise is breaking one. Making commitments is vital to our relationships with other people, though, so how do we manage our commitments in a way that allows us to grow and be challenged but also to feel fulfilled and not “overstretched”?
The Bible says that we should “not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no,’ that you may not incur condemnation” (James 5:12). Still, we make promises all the time, often with good intentions, but sometimes never end up fulfilling them. So, why do we make those commitments if we know (or least suspect), deep down, that we won’t keep them anyway?
Psychological research has shown that we end up neglecting our promises because we make a conscious commitment to the promise without evaluating all the subconscious thoughts that affect our likelihood of following through. It’s easy to say, “Sure, I’ll read the Bible for 30 minutes before bed each night,” but it’s very difficult to keep that up, because we don’t remember that we also committed to spending time with a significant other before bedtime or that we also promised to call a friend we haven’t spoken to in a while. Before we know it, the “other” things pile up, and we’ve forgotten our promise altogether. Why should we make promises, then, if we can’t keep them? Because the act of making promises commits us to relationships with other people and gives us opportunities to grow along the way. We should certainly do our best to keep these promises, but when we inevitably break a promise or two (or several), God provides us with the incredibly humbling and valuable opportunity to sincerely apologize and promise to “do better next time.”
Take stock of the promises you have made to other people in the last month. Have you followed through on them? Are you actively working to follow through on them? Have you forgotten about them? How could you better live out one of your promises, say, to be a better husband or wife, a better student, or a better team player?
Try to pick one promise to work on this week, and make a personal commitment to keeping it. Set an alarm on your phone, or write a reminder on your calendar, and ask, “Have I addressed my promise today? How can I do better?” Research shows that we actually keep our promises more when we keep them to ourselves. So keep this exercise to yourself. Write down your promise and make the space and time to reflect on it. As we recommit ourselves to our personal promises, we will also be in a better position to commit ourselves to larger goals, like a commitment to God and his Church.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
In our message series this week, we consider the problem of social competition. Although few would openly admit to it, “keeping up with the Joneses” pretty much is expected behavior in today’s social climate. A disconnect has always existed, however, between religious values and the race to accumulate material possessions.
In the first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, for example, the wicked of the world want to persecute and condemn the “just man” to a shameful death. They have convinced themselves that there is no God and have decided to “enjoy the good things” of the earth with abandon, filling themselves with “costly wine and perfumes” and acting immorally, relying on their own “strength [as their only] norm of justice” (Wisdom 2:1-11). As Saint Paul writes, they focus not on God, but on their own bellies (Philippians 3:19).
The wicked band together to mistreat the person who loves justice and acts morally and uprightly because he is “obnoxious.” The just man is insufferable to them because he does not condone or participate in their behavior. They want to kill him because he condemns their worldly values and passions (Wisdom 2).
To be clear, however, what makes the righteous person obnoxious is not necessarily his or her express disapproval. The Bible says that “merely to see him is a hardship for [the wicked]” (Wisdom 2:14), because his lifestyle, which is “not like other men’s” (Wisdom 2:15), reminds them of their iniquity. In other words, the moral conduct of a just person shames others without having to say a word.
Even today, serious Christians often are ridiculed and mocked as “little goody two shoes,” Victorian prudes, or uptight prisses because they are perceived as abstaining from the game of keeping score and striving for social advantage. Those who follow the principles of Christian stewardship—grateful for God’s blessings and generous is passing them along—are still very much held in disdain by some people.
Yet, as Scripture reminds us, “the souls of the just are in the hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1).
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Ah, FOMO — the Fear Of Missing Out. It’s such a real thing in college, which I just started about five weeks ago. Someone always seems to be doing something cooler, more exciting, more groundbreaking, more challenging, and overall more amazing than you. There are people who always seem to be able to participate in the fun activities happening around campus, and I wonder to myself: Do they ever do homework? How are they always able to say “yes” to every activity? All of the worry and insecurity wrapped in my desperation to “keep up with the Joneses” is distracting and exhausting, and doesn’t actually help me get any work done or hang out with the people who are becoming my friends. Yet, it’s virtually inescapable.
And, so, I’ve been trying to live Romans 12:2 — “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” St. Paul reminds the Romans that social pressures and stresses do nothing for us; not for our worldly thoughts and plans, nor for our spiritual life or relationship with God. We are called to “be transformed” and “to discern what is the will of God,” which sounds like a pretty tall order. Really, St. Paul is asking us to critically engage with our spiritual lives, checking up on ourselves and where we find ourselves in our spiritual journeys. For myself, I’ve been interpreting his words as a call to silence my stressing subconscious and to take time for myself amidst the chaos of school and social life.
One of my classes assigned us to “Take a Breath on the Bluff” twice each week, spending fifteen minutes in solitude and reflection. No other people, no music, no eating, no sleeping — simply being present with ourselves in that particular moment with no specific agenda rather than to “be.” At first, it was so difficult to sit on a bench alone (staring at an albeit pretty view), purposefully doing nothing. There was always another piece of homework to turn in, another club meeting to run to, another person to meet — I almost felt guilty during my sessions of solitude. But I’ve grown to see that “doing nothing often leads to the very best something” (wisdom courtesy of one very wise bear, Winnie the Pooh).
From kindergarteners to college students, those who are working to those who are not, we are all guilty of becoming caught up in the social stratification of life. It’s no one’s fault. We humans learn about ourselves and about the world in relationship to the experiences and narratives of others. But it’s easy to compare ourselves to each other that way. So take a moment this week to empty your mind of as much worry, stress, and anxiety as possible. Go outside, take a few deep breaths, and feel your mind settle. A settled mind can so much more easily discern the will of God, because it can remember “[t]hat there is no fear in love, but [that] perfect love drives out fear” (John 4:17). No matter how stressful, emotionally-draining, or time-consuming social situations can be, nothing will change the fact that God will walk at your side always, full to the bursting with non-fearing, perfect love.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
In our message series this week, we consider the problem of setting and keeping priorities. During his earthly life, Jesus repeatedly taught his followers that the kingdom of God must come first over other worldly concerns, especially money.
“No servant can serve two masters,” he warns on one occasion. “He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve [both] God and money” (Luke 16:13). Likewise, “to gain the whole world but forfeit [one’s] life” by focusing on the wrong things is a losing proposition (Mark 8:36). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” Jesus also admonishes his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. “But store up treasures in heaven . . . .” (Matthew 6:20).
Priorities clearly were important to Christ, who preached that material possessions and worldly concerns must yield to God and the eternal things of heaven. So, it’s a little surprising when Saint James seems to suggest the opposite in the second reading today. It’s “the necessities of the body,” he writes, that take precedence over a mere blessing spoken in faith. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ . . . what good is it?” (Jas. 2:15-16).
The usual priorities seem to be reversed when it comes to those who suffer want. We are not to worry about our lives or what we will eat, drink, or wear (Matthew 6:25), but when it comes to the poor and vulnerable, the needs of the body prevail. When you stop to think about it, however, the priorities really are the same. For ourselves, we trust in God. For the needs of others, God trusts in us.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
“Get your priorities straight.” “Set measurable, attainable goals for yourself.” “Make a list of what is most important to you.” We’ve all heard them — phrases that are repeated over and over again, supposedly inspiring us to grow faithfully, scholastically, and professionally.
Making that list of priorities is easy. But sticking to it? Way harder! And how do we keep God at the center of our lives (and at the top of our priority list) when so many things are vying for our attention? Luckily, today’s prescription helps us to revamp those priorities — and offers support on how to keep them.
Number 1: Stop making God your first priority.
This advice from Christian author Gregory Coles offers a refreshing perspective, once the shock of his words dissipates. “If you were asked to make a list of your top priorities, faith, family, friends, and your job might make the list,” Coles writes. “Stop making God your first priority.” Wait, what? Isn’t God supposed to be my first priority at all times?
Coles looks at it a bit differently. “Don’t demote God to #2, or #3, or #67, between #66 (stylish wall decor) and #68 (organic breakfast cereals),” he insists. “I’m not saying that your life would be better off with less God in it. I’m saying that God is too important to be just your first priority.” In other words, when God is one check-box on your list of priorities, there are a million other things on that list which are simply distracting us from our relationship with him.
Well, if God isn’t number 1, 2, 3, or 67, where is he? Coles has the answer: “When God is your first priority, he might get 10 or 20 hours a week. But then real life kicks in, and you’re back . . . trying to take care of all those other priorities you neglected while giving God your best.” Referencing John 13:35 — “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another”—Coles urges us to make God the only priority we have. He should be the whole list, “the substance of every part, the logic behind every choice you make.”
Number 2: Make going to Mass a priority.
Going to Mass is an active, committed experience; it is probably the most direct expression of our faith. But since prescription number one is encouraging us to live our entire lives through Christ (not just compartmentalizing certain parts for him), shouldn’t going to Mass be unnecessary? Definitely not, says Pope Francis. “How can we carry out the Gospel without drawing the energy needed to do it, one Sunday after another, from the limitless source of the Eucharist?”
Living a moral life, showing love to others, is of paramount importance, but it is impossible to do that without the support of our time at Mass. We “need to take part in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus . . . can we put into place his commandment, [and] be his credible witnesses.”
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
The words from Saint James’ letter in the second reading today couldn’t be clearer, or more challenging. In last week’s passage, James wrote, rather pointedly, that “pure” religion is expressed in caring “for orphans and widows in their affliction,” who were considered the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society at that time. Indeed, giving charity was then, as it is now, central to the mission of Jesus Christ.
But James goes further today when he insists that Christians may not create distinctions among themselves based on economic class or social standing. “Show no partiality,” he says. “[I]f a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,” they are of equal value in the sight of God and should be in our eyes as well.
Once during a Sunday Mass at my last church, several motorcycles roared into the parking lot. I could hear the groans of the assembly, as the tatted-up bikers walked into Mass late. People started shifting in their seats uncomfortably, having made, like myself, an instant judgment about these unexpected intruders. To everyone’s surprise, they took off their helmets, genuflected respectfully, and sat down to worship. They probably had been out for a ride on a Sunday afternoon and were looking for a church somewhere. But we made distinctions and judged them as outsiders who did not belong. Shame on us.
It is not easy for those of us who are comfortable to feel kinship with the poor, who can be dirty, ill-mannered, and even manipulative. Many of us give them a wide berth or even cross the street when they appear in our neighborhoods.
The charge of a Christian steward, however, is not merely to throw money at problems like the poor, but to engage with them personally and somehow, through considerable effort and prayer, see the Christ hidden within them.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
The unknown. It’s a really scary place, full of questions and concerns, and no one person to go to for help or advice. It’s also an extremely broad fear, which makes things really scary, because it seems like there’s no one expert to whom you can turn.
As Father Roger said in his Sunday message this weekend, our parish today embarks on a year-long journey of reflection on the need for healing and spiritual wellness in our lives. Some of us, however, may feel a great deal of resistance to the idea of probing too deeply into our spiritual and emotional selves. In many ways, it may be like going to the doctor. The scary list of “what ifs” can get really long: What is going to happen to me there? What if I get bad news? What if the problem is too big and can’t be fixed? Like latrophobia, or fear of doctors, the resistance to getting better spiritually most often is rooted in fear of the unknown.
So, where does one start to begin addressing fear of the unknown? One of the first (and best) steps to take in combating fear of the unknown is writing down what makes you fearful. It seems silly and obvious, but writing down our fears pulls them out of the abstract recesses of our brains and forces them into concrete reality. Seeing our fears on paper can help us identify how to deal with the “what ifs.” In other words, physical lists help us to organize our hectic brains.
But lest you worry about a big, scary list of fears staring up at you, our faith has us covered even then. In Isaiah 43:1, it is written, “this is what the Lord says — he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’”
And, there’s a wonderful piece of advice in Matthew 6:34 that addresses fear of the future, pretty much the biggest unknown that ever was: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
There’s a popular poem called “Footprints in the Sand,” in which a person reflects on scenes from his or her life while walking along the ocean. The person sees God’s footprints beside the individual’s own, except in the lowest and darkest of times, and asks God, why did you leave me, at those particular moments, when I needed you the most? God responds, “I love you and will never leave you . . . . When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
However clichéd and circulated this poem is, it illustrates that the Lord really does walk with us always. He has claimed us for his own. He has claimed each and every part of us and our lists of big, scary fears. And, he’ll carry us when we need it. When we can remember that immutable truth, then we don’t have to be so afraid, even of looking within ourselves for a few spiritual soft spots. Our God will be there to carry us along the way.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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 answers to a question we received (and one we didn’t!). Here are the responses from our staff bulletin writer, Claire Kosewic.
1. Can I wear sweatpants to Church?
Sneakily, this question is quite loaded, and can quickly lead to pretty heated discussions on other standards of behavior at Mass. Basically, though, there are two main schools of thought on this issue. Some people say that because Mass is a formal celebration of our highest sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, we should dress formally and respectfully, as we would for a job interview or formal social gathering. Some churches don’t allow men to enter in shorts, or women to enter without their shoulders covered — the rules can get pretty extreme and can even be a deterrent to Mass attendance. On the other hand, however, some people take the saying, “come as you are” a bit too literally. They believe that all kinds of clothing — sweatpants, jeans, leggings, even pajamas — are welcome in Church. These people emphasize that the clothing you wear should not preclude you from attending Mass.
Not being allowed into Church because of the clothing you wear seems a little extreme, but so does allowing any attire for Mass. Pajamas for consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus? I think not. There isn’t really a rule of thumb to follow on this one, which complicates things, but a happy medium between these two options definitely exists. The “easy” answer: no sweatpants, no denim, no leggings, and definitely no pajamas. Instead, non-denim pants, modest tops, modest skirts and dresses, and button downs and polos are all great options. That being said, don’t ever let your clothes stop you from coming to Mass — your attendance at Mass is really the most important thing. After all, the disciples didn’t go home and change clothes before they hung out with Jesus.
Father Roger says: “But I love jeans!”
2. Should I turn off my phone at Mass?
As a young person, I find it incredibly annoying when I am constantly lectured on the dangers of my phone and how it’s turning my brains into scrambled eggs. There are so many positive reasons for having and using a cell phone. But, my friends and I all know that there is immense value in disconnecting from our electronics regularly and making space for quality in-person interactions.
One of those times to definitely disconnect: Mass. It’s impossible to make space in your mind for God when you are connected to the entire world through your pocket. And while there are many fabulous faith-centered apps, Mass isn’t really the best time to take advantage of them. So, power off, and listen up — Fr. Roger’s homilies, though long, are actually pretty interesting!
Father Roger says: "But what about techie priests?"
Today we begin a five-week period in which portions of the Letter of Saint James in the New Testament will be read aloud at Sunday Masses. The author most likely is not one of the two James’ listed as Apostles in the synoptic gospels, but rather a relative of Jesus who after the death of the Lord became the leader of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem and himself was martyred in 62 A.D.
For the most part, the letter focuses on ethical conduct and responsible moral behavior in living the Christian life. It begins with an exhortation to persevere in faith and avoid temptation (1:2-16). The passage today warns readers, in particular, to conform their lives to Christian principles. Merely to listen to the gospel message without following its moral instruction amounts to self-delusion. Claiming to have faith without performing good works or helping the poor, James says, is like looking in a mirror and then forgetting your true appearance or, in other words, lying to yourself (1:23-24). “Do not be deceived,” James cautions his readers (1:16). We must be both “doers” and “hearers” of the Word.
Indeed, the genuine practice of stewardship arises from faith and is expressed in good works. It takes faith to comprehend that “every perfect gift is from above” and to be grateful for God’s “good giving” (1:17). But it also requires works of charity to become what James says we truly are: The “firstfruits” of our new birth in Christ through faith (1:18). According to Jewish custom, the firstfruits, or earliest produce of an abundant harvest, are offered to God in thanksgiving.
The truth about stewardship is that, when we actually live according to the law of love, we become the firstfruits of the plentiful harvest of faith in action that Jesus cultivated through his great sacrifice on the cross. And that is the greatest thank you note we can give to the Lord.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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