Saturday, October 7, 2017
Earlier this week I had a meeting (really an interview) with a group of men who are on the Board of Trustees of a pro-life group; and they were exploring whether I would be a good fit for the board. We started the lunch meeting in prayer and I was probably not even listening to the words being said, because I was just so filled with joy that were here at a public restaurant, praying together for God’s presence and wisdom during our discussion. After the lunch, I admittedly had mixed emotions: excited to have such an authentic, sincere, energetic, and faith-filled encounter, AND also a bit embarrassed and even discouraged at my own self-awareness of my inability or hesitation to be so free and open in my faith - which is I know there – just that I too often am not as public about it as I can and should be. Well, certainly today's readings challenge me – and I hope each of us - to confront our own self-righteousness or hardheartedness or embarrassment or fear or pride or doubt or insecurity that keeps us from fully surrendering to and trusting in God's great love for us and then sharing that with others. Jesus does not mince words as he continues in today's gospel to confront the priest and elders with their own rejection of God and of him. The parable we read today is actually part of a set of three parables directed at this group of religious leaders. And they are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel as being told during “holy week” - the week leading up to Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. Jesus uses these three parables to confront their rejection of God and the fate that awaits them. Last week we heard about the parable of the two sons who showed a lack of obedience to their father; this week we read of the vineyard owner and the tenants who revolt against him; and then next week, we hear a parable of a wedding feast in which the guests reject that invitation to the party. Specific to today's parable, Jesus is direct and unambiguous to the priests and elders to whom the parable was addressed – and really each of us. The priests and the elders knew well today's First Reading and Responsorial Psalm from their studies of the prophets and psalms; and so they understood God's great gift of life and prosperity for them, they also understood that they – the Israelite people, the chosen one’s – are called into a covenant relationship, and that there is then a great responsibility with being in this relationship and a fruitfulness that will come forth from being in this relationship. And they must have also clearly understood Jesus' point that they are the tenants who have rejected and killed the landowner’s son – they are the ones who have rejected God the Father and his Son, Jesus, and with poetic foreshadowing: they are the ones who will put Jesus to death in a few short days. As we hear these difficult words of Jesus and reflect on him this coming week, I invite you and really challenge you to pray over whatever it is that's holding you back from fully embracing God’s love. Whatever it may be – our own self-righteousness or hardness of heart or embarrassment or fear or pride or doubt or insecurity - whatever it maybe that's keeping you from going further in your relationship with God – pray over it. We tend to want to group the priests and elders of Jesus’ time in a single, non-descript unit, but they - like us - had their own issues and challenges and reasons for acting as they did. Pray for whatever it is that keeping you from going further in your faith. You may be saying to yourself: I am here at Mass (and I would say that is a good thing), but I am also challenging you to go even further. What is keeping you, for example, from praying in public, praying with your spouse or family (and just not grace before meals), talking about Jesus in the workplace or other public space - which we all know is taboo and certainly politically incorrect, what is keeping you from inviting a friend or a coworker or a neighbor to join us here at Mass? And believe me these are the same questions I am asking myself! And again you may be thinking I'm fine - I'm here at Mass and I have even have my own private prayers and my own devotions, so all is good. Yes that is good but I would say don't stop there. We won’t build a house just let it collapse in disrepair; we won’t invest money without expecting a positive return; and as echoed in today's readings, we won't build a vineyard without expecting good fruit to come from the vines. And we know how well a project or job or relationship goes if we are half-hearted, do just the minimum, and don’t have our heart and mind fully present – it will eventually fail. The same is true in a relationship with God. Remember, we are called to be in this love relationship, that is what we are made to do, that is what we do best. And as today's readings remind us: this relationship is not to be hidden or forgotten, and it is not to be barren, or to grow wild, or even to be hostile. Rather there is a very fruitful, public and outward component to our relationship with God – this relationship then becomes a source of great peace for us and others. Which leads me to my final point. Saint Paul's letter in today's second reading was written as Paul is sitting in prison. And he gives two wonderful instructions at the conclusion of his letter that are still relevant and timely for us today. First, he tells us to have no anxiety at all – to not worry - but to pray and ask God for whatever it is that you need. I am reminded of the words of one of our wonderful parishioners who would add: that we need to be very specific in our prayer. And with this instruction to pray, St. Paul reminds us of this promise: if we do this, if we make a requests known to God, then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. St. Paul’s second instruction is: for us to keep our minds focused -focused on what is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious and excellent and on all things that are worthy of praise. In other words: don't be distracted by all of the chaos and noise that can quickly fill our minds and hearts. And again if you do this, there is the assurance that the God of peace will be with you. We will have God’s peace in our minds and our hearts. So, this week, I ask for you to pray for me, as I will be praying for you, so that we may be in constant petition to God asking for his help to enter deeper into and stay in relationship with him. I pray, and ask you to join me in praying, that we may also remain focused on this relationship not be distracted. I pray, and ask for your prayers, that we can surrender our self-will, self-righteousness, hardheartedness, embarrassment, fear, pride, doubt, and insecurity, so that I may know God’s peace – today, tomorrow and for eternity.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:28 AM
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Jeremiah’s words from last Sunday’s First Reading have been ringing in my ears this entire week. Maybe you recall them: You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. Jeremiah complains that the Lord has made him do what he does not want to do, and what Jeremiah has reluctantly done does not appear to him to be very successful. And even worse, Jeremiah finds himself the object of laughter – everyone is making fun of him – and all he can show for his efforts are disrespect, criticism, and rejection by those he is trying to save. For Jeremiah, who tried in earnest to oppose the political and religious winds of the day that were in opposition to God’s covenant, his fate would be arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace. We are called today to be prophets like Jeremiah – sounds attractive, right? In fact, by our Baptism, we were anointed priest, prophet and king. In my shorthand: a PRIEST to pray and lead others in prayer; a KING to humbly serve the needs of others; and a PROPHET to know the truth, share the truth with others, and if necessary to defend the truth. A prophet is one who speaks on behalf of God – bringing the message of God into our world, into the human family within our homes, our neighborhoods, our places of work, and into our daily lives. Prophets are also called to bring us to conversion – to the often thankless job of not only calling others to listen to and trust God, but to then challenge them to reject sin and heal brokenness in individual lives and within their faith community. Regardless of the issue, we are challenged to seek God’s will and share that with others. And yes, this means moving beyond emotion, political correctness and popularity. This is what Jesus did. As prophets, we are carrying on the work of Jesus today. As modern day prophets, we may too often feel like Jeremiah: ill-equipped, or unwilling, or beat-up, discouraged and alone in the work of being a prophet. Fortunately, our role as prophets are strengthened by the Mass – in hearing God’s words spoken to us from Sacred Scripture and receiving the Eucharist to nourish us in our work. And certainly, through daily prayer we can be open to God’s Word, as well as to filter out the rest of the noise that bombards us. And we are blessed here at OLP to have a strong school and Parish School of Religion program to equip our youth to go out into the world to be the prophet that they are called to be. And, our adult faith formation programs – Alpha and our men’s and women’s programming, among others – reinforce and support us as adults in our call to be prophets. AND, today’ readings speak directly to us. Like Ezekiel in today’s first reading, being a prophet comes with great responsibility – to not only speak God’s message, God’s truth however difficult it might be, but to also realize that if we ignore this responsibility there will be grave consequences. This point hits home especially for me as a father in my responsibility to teach my sons and hold them accountable, and also the consequences for me if I knowingly ignore or reject this responsibility. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reinforces this responsibility of bringing others to conversion. Jesus is speaking of those within the faith community of the Church who have sinned. He is instructing them to seek reconciliation. And as prophets, we need to help “win over” those who have sinned – for their sake and the sake of the community. We can often miss this last point because our faith community (as wonderful and loving as it is), and even with our families and neighborhoods, we tend to be so private, isolated and disconnected. But we know from our human experiences that the adversity of one person affects others: an absent co-worker, an injured team member, a family member who is sick or struggling with an addiction. In these situations, there is certainly a desire, even an urgency, to heal, fix or repair what or who is not well. This is even more true within the Church because as we are reminded in today’s Gospel: “For where two or three are gathered together in [Jesus’] name, there am I in the midst of them.” If there is sin and brokenness within this faith community, we weaken our human capability to make present Jesus. This is why we need strong men and women of faith to speak the truth humbly, compassionately, and confidently to those in our life who most need conversion. A commentary from Liturgical Press offers this wonderful insight into today’s Gospel: the work of effecting reconciliation and conversion (in my words, the work of being a prophet) is not about simply making a personal judgment about someone and their words and behaviors; rather it is about helping them to turn their life around and become once again faithful members of the community – and this work is always communal, informed by humble prayer, and guided by Jesus who remains “in the midst” of his Body, the Church. And I will add, that it is also out of love, as St. Paul states in today’s second reading, that we are motivated to act – loving our neighbor, even our sinful neighbor, as we love our self. Going back to the prophet Jeremiah, he says: I will not mention him [God], I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it. How true is this for us! There is a battle raging in each one of us (as well as in our families and communities). If we are completely honest with ourselves, burning in our hearts and minds is God’s love and the desire to share that love with others. We may want to ignore or suppress this truth, but it is real. Like Jeremiah, we may at times want to run from it, but so strong is this desire, that we can never escape it. So, I say: don’t be afraid to be the prophet you are called to be! God will give you the grace – the help – you need. Be bold in speaking God’s word. AND Enter into the other battle – the one raging in our families and communities – and bring God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s peace to those who need most to hear these words. Be willing to surrender to God’s will for you and be the instrument of God in your home, in your marriage and family, in your place of work, in your neighborhood or community, in this faith community, in the world we live in. Go and be great prophets – God needs you to be, and we need you to be a great prophet! May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:19 AM
Friday, August 11, 2017
Shout-out to VSB students I just completed a crash-course on hospital chaplaincy at Riverside. It was a wonderful experience – intense, but wonderful. Among other things, I definitely have an even greater respect and appreciation for the doctors, nurses, chaplains and many others who provide such great care to patients. Many of you are in this profession – so, thank you! Most of the individuals I was assigned to visit as a chaplain were recovering from minor surgery and would be home within a day or two. Sometimes, I would visit with someone who had been in the hospital for a week or longer. And sometimes, I would visit with someone or their family in the final hours or minutes of the patient’s earthly life. Sometimes, my visits were brief and mostly chit-chat, and sometimes the visit was longer with deep discussion of life, death and faith. Today’s readings for me frame well what many of the patients struggled with: where is God in the midst of pain, suffering and loss? And I stress “frame” the issue, because only before God in Heaven will we truly and fully know the answers to such questions. However, like Elijah in today’s First Reading, I was reminded this summer that God is fully present in our lives and in our world – sometimes in a strong and heavy wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks, or in an earthquake, or in fire; but more often in a tiny whispering sound. In other words, there may or may not be miracles or other unexplainable events to demonstrate the presence and power of God, but God is nonetheless present in the small and simple acts and words of others: the extra time spent by a physician answering the same question of a patient, over and over again; the calming voice of a nurse before a treatment or surgery; or the friendly greeting of an associate welcoming a guest as they enter the hospital, delivering a patient’s lunch, or removing trash from the patient’s room. And certainly in the countless other ways each of us – in our own places of work, in our homes, families, and neighborhoods – make God present by our love and charity toward others. Well, today’s Gospel frames another issue: the doubt we may experience in the face of pain, suffering, and loss – doubt in God, doubt in what is true, what is good. Like Peter, we may confidently approach a challenge only to quickly sink. But here is our God saying to Peter and us now: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” In these moments, we need to take to heart Fr. John’s words from his homily last weekend: When Jesus is with us – and he always is – absolutely nothing can harm us. See, the Lord keeps watch over us at all times, just as he did for Peter and the Apostles on the stormy sea, and especially for us in our moments of temptation, anxiety and doubt. My chaplain experience also strengthened my faith in God and in the Catholic Church. As I have previously shared, I was often on the defensive to explain to my peers the many myths and misconceptions of the Church. I was (and am) grateful to have the clear and definitive teaching of the Church, especially this summer, for the Church’s teachings on end-of-life issues. The Church teaches and we are called to believe and understand that: God created each of us for eternal life; our lives are a precious gift from God; we are created in God’s image and likeness; we made by God’s love to love and be loved. These truths inform all our decisions about healthcare, specifically: we have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for God’s glory. This duty to preserve our lives, however, is not absolute. In other words, we are not required to receive every type of medical treatment imaginable and at any cost in order to stay alive. Further, death is an inevitable part of life and is more importantly a transition to our goal: eternal life. Because Christ’s death and Resurrection, death should not be feared and thus we do not need to resist it by any and every means. Yes, there are lots of complex ethical and moral healthcare dilemmas that I will not even attempt to address here – like the use of assisted nutrition and hydration, the care for someone in a persistent vegetative state, and euthanasia. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to go it alone in resolving these issues. We have the solid and consistent teaching of the Church and wonderful leaders and thinkers to guide us. Which brings me to my next point. When/If we become the patient, we should be at the center of any medical-moral decision that affects us, and that we should include family, significant loved ones, and our health care team in the decision making process. When a patient is no longer able to take an active role in the decision making process, an advance directive for health care can be a legitimate and helpful way to bring the patient’s values and preferences into the decision making – and it assures that legally your wishes will be protected and honored in accordance with your faith. I strongly recommend that you have advance directives and ensure that they align with several key points: • We may forgo or even withdraw medical treatments if they offer no reasonable hope of benefit, are excessively burdensome, and only prolong the dying process. • Food and water must be given so long as they are beneficial, even if their administration requires artificial means (such as the use of a feeding tube). • Acts that intentionally and directly cause my death, e.g., physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, are never morally permissible. • Medications and treatments that bring comfort and relieve pain, even if they indirectly and unintentionally shorten my life, are permissible and encouraged. • The parish and priest should be notified and that the sacraments be given. As Catholics we know the importance and power of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum, and the prayers of others at this critical time. We seek, through this request, the sources of grace that will bring us comfort and strength for the end of this life and the beginning of our eternal life with Christ. I encourage you to read and review your current living will and durable power of attorney for health care, or work with me or someone your trust to create your own advance directives. I have posted on our parish website, a link to Ohio’s legally recognized advance directives packet. Make sure to keep a copy for yourself and give a copy to your doctor. And most importantly, have the conversation with your loved ones about what your end-of-live wishes are so that it is well-know and certain. I will conclude by stressing the importance of prayer. Often my chaplain visits would conclude with a prayer – a prayer for peace, comfort, wisdom, freedom or whatever the patient needed most at that moment. Recently, I was reminded of Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender, which is a wonderful prayer for each of us in the midst of pain, suffering, doubt and loss. I have included it this week’s bulletin and now commend this prayer to you: Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. Amen.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 2:52 PM
Saturday, July 8, 2017
I really like Jesus’ exclamation in today’s Gospel. Jesus is exclaiming a truth about God the Father and at the same time there is also more. It is as if Jesus makes this wonderful profession of faith in God the Father, and at the same time affirms who he is relation to the Father, what he has been called to do, and to whom he has been charged to serve. I can almost image the scene of Jesus making this exclamation. In Matthew’s Gospel, just before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus has made some very strong and difficult statements against those who lived in towns where he had done “mighty deeds,” but they had not “repented” – they rejected his message, and Jesus is unambiguous about the not-so-good things that await them. And then the author of Matthew’s Gospel gives us today’s passage. Here is Jesus with his disciples and also surrounded by those in authority who are in opposition to him, by those who do not believe or trust in him, and by those who are also curious by what he has said. So, I see the beginning of today’s Gospel as Jesus reasserting this authority, as a teacher, to say and do the things he has done. It can also be said that is Jesus grounding himself in his relationship to the Father, what his Father’s will is for him, and how he is called to go about doing his Father’s will in the midst of or despite the hostility and rejection he has AND will experience. This is what we need to do too. Like Jesus we are called to be in relationship with God the Father, we are called to be his disciples spreading the Good News of God’s love and mercy, and we called to do this with great passion, conviction and at great risk. Like Jesus, we will be challenged to speak the truth when it might not be popular to do so or at great personal risk to our egos or even our life. And like Jesus we need to be grounded in who we are, what we are called to do, and how we are called to go about doing the will of God. Often, when we are faced with some challenge to our faith and we (okay I can at least speak for myself and say I) panic or duck from whatever it might be. Certainly, a big part of that might be that we don’t know our faith as well as we should, and possibly not as well as the person across from us of another faith or world-view with whom may be in conflict. Sometimes we don’t want to offend others or be considered politically incorrect. And sometimes we lack the confidence and conviction to speak or act. I have recently experienced this as I have been taking a chaplain course at Riverside this summer. My peers in the program are good people of many different faiths and worldviews and who also hold many myths and misconceptions about the Catholic Church. So, I find myself explaining and even defending what the Church teaches AND why. This is not always been easy and it has often pushed me outside my own comfort zone, but it has been good. And, admittedly, there have been times when I have had to do some homework and come back the next day with more or a better explanation. But I have felt compelled to share and even defend my Catholic faith (although not always perfectly or consistently) because of my relationship with God. I am motivated by my understanding and belief in who I am and what I am made for and call to do. That I am made in the image and likeness of God, made by God’s love to be loved and to love. That I am made to experience what was prophesied over twenty-five hundred years ago by the Zechariah: to experience Jesus Christ who is humble and loving, who is our lord and savior, and who leads us into this personal, intimate relationship with God that is filled with joy and peace. That I am made to experience life in its fullest – not limited only to our earthly and physical wants and needs, but as St. Paul reminds us a life filled with the Holy Spirit who transforms and resurrects life as we know it, if only we welcome God in our lives. And that I am made to experience a relationship with God not bound by a set of lengthy and complex rules, but rather where the yoke is easy and the burden is light, a relationship based on love - where if we free ourselves to be fully in relationship with our God it will be the easiest, most natural thing we can do since it is of course what we were made to do! I invite you to grow in this wonderful relationship! And more specifically, consider joining us this Fall for our parish’s Alpha program (or if you have already done Alpha, consider getting involved in one of the many ministries or faith formation opportunities in our parish and Diocese – see me or Fr. John, and keep reading the parish bulletin for opportunities). I invite you to grow in your faith and build meaningful friendships with others like you who seek to know the truth and desire peace and joy in their life. Consider inviting a family member or friend to join you. Maybe that person, if they are not Catholic, will continue with the RCIA process and join the Church. I invite you to explore what it means to be in relationship with God and the great joy and peace awaiting you. May you know God’s rest, promised to us in today’s Gospel, now and eternally.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:23 AM
Saturday, May 13, 2017
We recall in today's first reading the selection and commissioning of the first group of deacons in the Church. So, I will take this opportunity to first thank you for the support and encouragement that you have shown me over the past several years in my role as a permanent deacon – you have not stoned me to death as they did to one of the first deacons: Stephen, which is the story that follows today's first reading in the Acts of the Apostles, so thanks for that too. I am also grateful for the support from Monsignor Grimes initially, then Father Kavanagh, and now Monsignor Johnson – while I am assigned to this parish by Bishop Campbell, it is with the support and encouragement of the pastor that I am here – so thank you Father John! And while I am thanking people, I need to certainly thank, on this Mother's Day weekend, my mom – who is here at this Mass – she certainly has taught me by her words and actions how to humbly serve others, which is the calling of the deacon. So, thank you, Mom! [And while I am thanking people, I need to certainly thank, on this Mother's Day weekend, my wife – who is here at this Mass – she certainly has supported me and our family during my years of formation and now in my ministry in the parish. So, thank you, Tracey Marie!] While talking about the diaconate, I also want to take this opportunity to encourage any man of the parish to consider a vocation to the diaconate – talk to Fr. John or me about this. There are so many good men in this parish, who I know would be great deacons – who have such a great capacity to love and serve God and others – and we need your help. As a deacon, and as a father and husband, I embrace the words in today’s second reading: I want to be united with Jesus in such an intimate, living, powerful way and I desire to be a part of his Church, to serve God, and share with others God’s great love for us. As much as this is my desire, I too often find myself more like the Apostles in today’s Gospel – worried, confused, uncertain, and lacking in faith. I would like to think that if I was around Christ for years, as the Apostles were, then I would be fearless and confident. But I have been with Jesus my whole life and I still worry and lack a full and unconditional trust in God. The reality is that we are human and by our weaknesses there will always be room for worry, confusion, uncertainty in our minds and hearts. The alternative to this reality, however, is to grow closer to God the Father through his son Jesus Christ. This is Jesus’ point in the Gospel. In our worry, confusion, uncertainty, there is God the Father who is the truth and life. It is God the Father who made us, who made us in his image and likeness, who made us out of love, to be love and to love – He is LIFE. It is God the Father who is the origin of everything and authority over all. It is God the Father who is the source of all goodness and who lovingly cares for all – every person and everything – He is TRUTH. The thing we desire most – life and truth – is not only something we can know and experience fully, but it is made readily available to us through Jesus – truthfully it is only through Jesus that we might know life and truth. United with God the Father is the Son, Jesus. This is how Jesus in today’s Gospel can state with authority: “if you know me, then you will also know my Father,” and “the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his work,” and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And, it is with this authority that we will profess in just a couple of minutes that we believe in Jesus, who is: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. Jesus IS the way and the truth and the life. Jesus IS the way to truth and life. The challenge for us is being willing to let go of our worry, confusion, and uncertainty, and to be more open to God so that we can know and experience truth and life. As we work on this daily, we can find encouragement in today’s Gospel. First, Jesus does not want his disciples or us today to be troubled – he tells them and us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He does not want worry, confusion and uncertainty to consume us, let alone keep us from truth and life. Second, Jesus has prepared a place for us in Heaven – he wants us to be with him and his Father eternally. Jesus is reminding us that he is anticipating and wants more than anything for us to be with him in Heaven. Third, Jesus was so patient with his friends, and he will be the same with us. He could have given up on them, after being with them for years and having performed miracles in front of them and spoken the same powerful message over and over – and they still did not get it; I know that my own patience is far less as I quickly get frustrated having to repeat myself to my three sons! But here is Jesus, just before his Passion, patiently and loving explaining again and again who he is and what he has to offer them. And finally, we can hold firm the promise Jesus offers us: whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these." This is what awaits us when we trust in and follow Jesus, who IS the way, the truth and the life. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 7:33 AM
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Last Sunday, we had about thirty of our parish 8th graders Confirmed by Bishop Campbell. It was a wonderful celebration. I have had the honor to assist the Bishop with several Confirmations in the past, and I love the parting command he gives to the Confirmandi at the end of Mass. I am paraphrasing here, but he says to them: remember your dignity as Christian men and women – a dignity that you must honor and protect and even defend at all times and under all circumstances. And I will humbly add now to that command: that this dignity comes from God, who made us, who made us in His image and likeness, and who wants nothing more than for us to know true and lasting happiness and peace, which comes from being in relationship with our loving God. I feel like a broken record, or skipping CD, or whatever kids listen to nowadays when I speak of this. But this is such Good News for us, especially in the culture in which we now live, so I want to share with you over and over again. And, in a special way, today’s readings give us an important insight into this truth. In the great love God has for us, he gives us the choice to be in relationship with Him. In fact, as the First Reading reminds us, not only do we have a choice, but out of great love for us, whatever choice we make God will give us what we choose: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. How wonderful! How awesome! Well, today’s Gospel reveals even more about this relationship God created for us to experience, this relationship God desires for us. God has given us commandments for how to be in relationship with Him – think of them as guardrails, an instruction manual, or street signs to guide us and help us. On one level, Jesus reminds his disciples and us that these laws given by God thousands of years ago are necessary and important, and are to be followed even today. Jesus goes on to challenge his disciples and us to do even more than just the minimum that the law requires. He knows that we can and actually want to do more, and he is challenging us in our relationship with God and others to do more than what we have done in the past, to exceed what others may have set as an example or expectation for us, and to go even further than what we ever thought we were capable of doing. And we do this all the time in our lives, right? When we are engaged in, committed to, and excited about something, then we are willing and able to push beyond our comfort zone and go further than we ever imagined. For those that play sports, we do more than just show up for the game – we are willing and able to train in the off-season, do the extra reps in the weight room or practice field when we are fully committed to the team and winning. The same in the workplace; we are willing to arrive early and stay late, and do more than what the job description outlines when we are fully engaged at work. And the same is true in marriage; we are willing to be present to our spouse even when things are not easy or fun; we are willing to sacrifice our own wants and needs for our spouse. The same is true in the love relationship with God. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenging us to do more. It is not enough to just avoid murder, but we are challenged to avoid the anger that may lead to murder; and even further, we are challenged to go to great lengths to seek forgiveness for any anger that we may have for another. Jesus is also challenging us that it is not enough to just avoid adultery; He is challenging us to also avoid lust or anything that would dishonor the vows of marriage and the dignity of another person. Additionally, Jesus challenges us to avoid divorce and uphold the loving, unbreakable bond of marriage, to go the extra mile to repair a fractured marriage, and if the marriage has failed, then to uphold the dignity of your spouse, to seek forgiveness for your faults and failings, and to show great charity to your spouse and children And finally, Jesus is challenging us to not hide behind false or misleading statements, but to always speak truthfully, directly, honestly – to be open and transparent in all that you say – to Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' I will conclude with my own challenge to you. Pray this week over these challenges Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. Which one are you struggling with the most? Which one have you failed? Which one do you need the most help with? (If you don’t like any of these four, come back next weekend as this Gospel passage continues with two more challenges for you to discern!) Choose one to be your focus this Lent. Choose to reject sin and anything that leads you to sin – any person, place or thing that will lead you away from God’s love. And recall today’s First Reading: whatever you choose will be given to you by our loving God. I pray that you choose to be in relationship with God, to follow his will and commands in your life. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 3:52 AM
Saturday, January 7, 2017
I had to laugh during Fr. John’s homily last Saturday. It was during the vigil Mass for the Solemnity for Mary, the Holy Mother of God; it was also the evening Mass on New Year’s Eve and hours before the Ohio State football game; and the intention for the Mass was for our former, much beloved pastor, Monsignor Grimes – may his soul rest in peace. I had to laugh thinking that somehow Fr. John was channeling Msgr. Grimes as Fr. John gave a two minute homily as if to allow those in attendance (and maybe even the celebrant himself) to more quickly get to their New Year’s Eve party and to watch the Ohio State game – just seems like something Msgr. Grimes might do?! However brief, Fr. John’s words were excellent. He challenged us to model the Blessed Virgin Mary as she 1) listened, 2) pondered, and 3) acted upon God’s words and events in her life. I have been praying a lot this week over this challenge, especially as we conclude the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany this weekend. I have been praying a lot over the fact that how too often I fail to do any of these three well, let alone all three together! But, it is the Christmas season and especially the Feast of the Epiphany that gives me encouragement and hope as I try to model Mary. The light, brightness, radiance and glory overflowing in today’s First Reading points to our loving God who throughout history and even at this very moment is speaking to us, inviting us (again and again) to be in relationship with him – a relationship that will bring us great joy and peace! A defining moment in this relationship is what we celebrate at Christmas: that God so loved us that he became man to show us how to love and be loved, to show us how to follow God’s commands and to do his will; and to then repair what has been broken by our failure to love and be loved, by our failure to follow his commands and to do his will not our own. The Epiphany then is a reminder that this wonderful relationship and the joy and peace that comes from being in this relationship is not exclusive to a few, but open and available to ALL people. Today’s First Reading reminds us that ALL - a once defeated and scattered Israelite people, as well as peoples from foreign lands – will come to see and know and give glory to our God who loves us and goes to great lengths to keep his covenant relationship with us. Paul in today’s second reading passionately reminds us that ALL people are called to be members, coheirs, and copartners in this relationship and its physical presence on Earth: the Church. And then in the Gospel, the author Matthew, a Jew, writing to a primarily Jewish community, stresses to them (and us) that God’s gracious love extends to ALL – by having the magi, who were not Jews, to be the first to pay homage to the new born king: Jesus Christ. Equally important on this Feast of the Epiphany is that our God is ever-present in our life. Maybe not always in dramatic ways, like entering in to our humanity or coming to us in dreams as we have read about today and throughout the Christmas season from the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels. More often it is the less obvious encounters and experiences of our daily lives that we experience our loving God speaking to us, caring for us, protecting us, guiding us, comforting us, empowering us – and often in wonderful and mysterious ways. Today, it is hard sometimes, with so much noise, to hear, see and experience God in our lives; or we are so consumed with our own wants and needs, our fears, anxieties and insecurities that we can’t or don’t want to experience God. And we see this play out in today’s Gospel. Herod is so self-consumed that he completely misses the one thing that he longs for, the one thing that will bring him what his heart most desires: God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ. Compare that with the magi who were willing to go to great lengths, take great risks, and to give away great wealth to experience God – I can only imagine the great joy and peace they must have experienced in seeing the infant! I will conclude by repeating Fr. John’s challenge from last week to: 1) listen, 2) ponder, and 3) act upon God’s words and events in our life. I will only add (humbly to Father’s challenge) that you pray for the grace, the help you need, to 1) be open to hear, see and experience God in your life; 2) to slow down enough to discern honestly, humbly and fully what God is calling you to do; and 3) to confidently and courageously do God’s will and to share God’s love with others. May God bless you!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:14 AM