Monday, March 11, 2019
This Sunday we celebrate the right of election for those unbaptized individuals seeking to join the Catholic Church. We also celebrate the call to continuing conversion for those who also seek to join the Catholic Church at Easter and who have been baptized in another Christian denomination. On one level this marks the final step or the homestretch in their journey to joining the Church. It also provides an opportunity for them to meet the bishop and to be introduced and welcomed to the larger church not just our parish community. And it’s also an opportunity for them to make public their decision to become Catholic. In the ancient church, the catechumens who wanted to be baptized that year would give their names to their pastor sometime before Lent. If the pastor thought they were ready, he would submit their names to the bishop. At the beginning of Lent, all those seeking baptism would go before the bishop who would question the catechumens and their godparents about the catechumens’ lifestyle. If the bishop discerned the catechumens were ready, their names were inscribed in a book or on a scroll. For those catechumens who the bishop thought needed more formation, he would send them away, telling them to amend their lives and return again next year. Fast forward to today and we make a similar discernment and ask a similar set of questions of both our candidates and catechumens. We ask their sponsors and those helping our catechumens to prepare for joining the church questions like: have they listened to God‘s word and responded to that word and began to walk in God‘s presence? Have they shared the company of the Christian brothers and sisters and join them in prayer? And do you consider these catechumen worthy to be admitted to baptism, confirmation and Eucharist? And for our candidates, who have already been baptized, we ask a similar set of questions of their sponsors and teachers: have they listened and reflected on the apostle’s instruction proclaimed by the church, joined their brothers and sisters in prayer, and advanced in a life of love and service? Have they come to a deeper appreciation of their baptism, in which they were joined to Christ and his church? And finally, do you consider these candidates ready to receive the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist? In short, it’s a question of whether they are ready to be a disciple of Jesus Christ - to follow him, imitate him in all things. See, it is a life in Jesus Christ to which we were baptized and they will be also initiated into! And so, knowing that God has chosen them and called them, we ask: are they ready? Today’s readings are rich in meaning and purpose for us as we begin our Lenten march toward Easter. Even more, these readings ready us - our catechumen, our candidates, and you and me - for the rigors of discipleship that each of us have been chosen by God for and called by Him to do. So I say that today’s readings then offer us the good, the bad, and the really good in our life as disciples. The good is that our God is in this relationship with us for the long run. God our Creator, who is loving, merciful, and patient has not left us alone. God is not some distant being or abstract thought, but a real, living presence in our complicated and often fragile human experience. God‘s existence and continual presence is revealed to us throughout history. This is the ancient creed that is recited in today’s first reading. The words and actions recalled in this ancient creed testify that our God cares about our suffering and desires to protect us and provide for us. So great is this love and care for us, that God entered into our humanity, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. And further he gave his life to save us; and he now is living at our side every day to enlighten us, to strengthen us, and to free us! And even more, out of incredible love for us, God through his son Jesus Christ, instituted the Catholic Church – our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – to help us be the disciples that we have been chosen and called to be. So, thousands and thousands of years of a God who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us, and who continues to desire that for us today and including for our candidates and catechumens. How good is that?! However, here is the bad: the Devil is real. The catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Devil, Satan, acts in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom. Unlike the angels we sang of in today’s responsorial Psalm, the church teaches that Satan is a fallen angel, and a seductive voice opposed to God. And further, because Satan would like to destroy our relationship with God, we must be on guard against his Temptations. If we don’t acknowledge Satan, then we won’t recognize his efforts to confuse us, to bind us, and to tempt us away from God‘s will, God’s love, God‘s mercy and all the joy and peace that comes from God alone. Even more, if the devil is not afraid of the son of God, as evidenced in today’s Gospel, he is certainly not afraid of us and especially not of our candidates and even more especially of our catechumen who don’t have the benefit of the gift of grace of baptism-yet! Which leads me to the really good news. God gives us his Spirit and Word - He gives us these gifts to help us. Just as they were a shield and sword to protect Jesus in today’s gospel, so will his Holy Spirit and his Word protect us in our greatest moments of need. God‘s Holy Spirit will give us whatever we need when we need it most-wisdom, courage, strength and patience. Whatever we need to be the disciple that we are chosen for and called to be - God will give us what we need. And God also gives us his word in sacred scripture. Just as Jesus used scripture to fight back against the Temptations of the devil, so two can we use God‘s word to give us truth. Truth to comfort us and to guide us, so that we might always know what is good, right, and just-and to reject any temptation by the Devil. This is certainly the effect Paul intends in today’s second reading. As he writes to his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome. He relies on scripture to guide them and encourage them. And so I too, echoing St Paul’s words and Psalm 91 we just sang together, turn to scripture to offer our candidates, our catechumen, and you my brothers and sisters in Christ, words of encouragement and guidance. Scripture says: No one believes in him will be put to shame… For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved - God clings to us, he delivers us from all our distress. This, my friends, is our calling; this is our faith; this is our hope; and it is our joy - now and eternally. May God bless you!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 3:58 PM
Saturday, February 9, 2019
This past week, I have heard our new Apostolic Administrator Frederick Campbell twice on Catholic Radio. On both occasions, he was talking about our three vocations as Christians. The first is our vocation to life. He stressed that our first vocation is to the dignity, sancity and value of life - a point he stressed to our 8th graders just a couple of weeks ago at Confirmation. He also stressed that this vocation to life requires us to protect and defend life - from natural conception to natural death; a point that is a challenged as even more states advance laws to take life in the late terms of pregnancy, or even at the time of birth. As Catholics, we must be clear and united in our defense of all life. And this is why I am especially proud of our school and PSR students who have been collecting coins as part of an effort by our Knights of Columbus to support moms in crisis pregnancies. I could go on more about this vocation of life, but will shift to our second vocation as Christians: Holiness. Our wonderful leader of our parish’s men’s group, That Man Is You, is constantly reminding us that we need more holy men and women, we need more saints, especially in the midst of the crisis in our Church, in our communities and in our families. Pope Francis reminds us that the Lord has set the bar extremely high for you and me: "He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence." And then there is the third vocation Bishop Campbell speaks of which is our state of life, in which we pursue life and holiness. That is, as a single person, or married, or as a religious or clergy. It is in today’s readings that we are guided in our pursuit of that second vocation: holiness. In Luke’s Gospel, just before the passage we read today, Jesus heals Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law. You would think that after having just experienced that miracle Peter would be all-in. Yes, Peter welcomes Jesus onto his boat, and yes, Peter followed Jesus’ command to lower the nets into the water but there still seems to be some doubt and uncertainty in Peter. And I don’t think it was because he didn’t like his mother-in-law and was mad at Jesus for making her well (just kidding). I certainly get it from Peter’s perspective. I too doubt, and fail to trust, and fail to always follow God’s commands - even after experiencing God’s grace in my life. I fail to seek his will for me, and I feel that I am too often questioning what His plan for me is. And even more, like Peter, my response is too often to want to depart from Jesus. Not that I’m rejecting him, certainly not, but more out of shame and embarrassment. I want my response to be like Isaiah who says: “here I am Lord.” Not because of guilt, or religious duty, or blind obedience. But I want my response to be just that because of love - in response to God‘s incredible love for me, and as an expression of the love fills my heart and my mind - and a love that I want to share with others. I want to believe, trust, follow, and to then bring others to know and believe in this incredible God of ours. In other words, I want to be HOLY. So today’s readings give me inspiration to do just that. First it is in today’s second reading that Paul reminds us that we are saved - truly saved - by the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul grounds us in the truth, the fact, the history that Christ suffered and died for US, he rose from the dead for US. And he appeared to so many has proof of the fact that he did all of this for US, out of love for US. Second is the miracles that happened in today’s readings: the filling of the nets with fish when there were no fish to be caught, and the opening of the mouth of Isaiah by the angel. These extraordinary, yet real and tangible experiences of God’s power and love are incredible gifts for us even today. I know even in just recently for me it was not mere coincidences but miracles that provided me the necessary encouragement and hope that I needed in my moments of discouragement and doubt and failure. I’m certain it was God working, just as he did for Peter and for Isaiah and even Paul, bringing them and me to know his love and will. Third, I love Paul’s point that by the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace to me has not been INeffective, in deed the grace of God is in me. In other words, we can not do this alone, we need God’s help, and the good news is that he is willing to give us all the help we need, especially in our failings and doubts, in our pursuit of our holiness. Finally, as we read in all three readings the main character is ready to let go of everything they hold onto and to believe and trust in God: Isaiah is ready to serve, Paul is willing to toil harder than all, and Peter is going to leave everything and follow. We too are called not to run away from obligations or ignore our responsibilities, but instead to let go of anything that keeps us from fully loving and trusting our God. Lent is just a month away and is a perfect time to focus on those things in our life that distract or hinder our pursuit of holiness - consider now how you can use that time to let go of those things that keep you from being the saint God is calling you to be (and the saint we need you to be). And if you want to jump start your pursuit of holiness now, consider attending the men’s or women’s Catholic conference. As I conclude, I will offer this final thought for him today’s first reading. In the first reading, we read of angels crying out to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of host! All the earth is filled with his glory! We too will sing these words together in just a couple of minutes, as they have been sung from the earliest times of the Church. In the first reading, we skip over a verse from the book of Isaiah, which details Seraphim with three pairs of wings each used for a particular purpose as they sit before God. One pair to cover their faces in reverence for the God before them; one pair to cover their extremities in modesty; and the third pair extended in preparation for flight - ready to serve God. As we sing this song in just a couple of minutes, let this be our prayer and mindset before the Eucharist: reverence, modesty, and service before God. I can’t image a better prayer to guide us on the path to holiness: reverence, modesty, service. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:55 AM
Monday, January 14, 2019
This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, which officially marks the end of the Christmas season. You may recall Father John’s homily from Christmas Day, in which he instructed us to keep celebrating Christmas until mid-January. And here we are! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been celebrating, including resisting the temptation to improve my diet or to exercise more. But starting Monday, now that the celebrations are over, I’ll try to do better at all of those things I’m supposed to be doing - I will let you know how it goes. In addition to extending the Christmas season and the joy that we celebrate in our Creator God entering into our humanity, I like having today’s celebration on the liturgical calendar for a another reason. And that is that in the celebration of Jesus‘s baptism, we are reminded of our own baptism and the transformation that happened to us in that wonderful sacrament. After his Easter resurrection, Jesus gave his followers (His Apostles, those who followed them, and you and me today) these instructions: “Go into to all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is often called “the Great Commission.” From this commission, we are Called to be baptized, and then to become his disciples to go and bring others to Christ through baptism and knowledge of God’s commands. The key is our calling to be a disciple. Dr. Edward Sri in his book Into His Likeness, which has been at the doors of the Church throughout the Advent and Christmas season (and I think there still a couple at the doors), says: The goal of a disciple in the first-century world of Jesus wasn’t nearly to master his rabbi‘s teachings, but imitate the way he lived: the way he prayed, worked, trusted in God‘s providence, helped the poor, lived friendships, and serve the people. Dr. Sri goes on to say: if we are going to be disciples of Jesus today, we must aim for a lot more than believing a set of doctrines and following the rules of our faith. We must go deeper and consider what is happening interiorly in our spiritual lives: are we moving closer to Christ, encountering him a new each day and becoming more like him? Being a disciple of Jesus, Dr. Sri continues, is not merely going through the motions with our faith: attending mass, saying some prayers, and avoiding bad things. Following Jesus as a disciple is a whole way of life - his way of life transforming us in an incredible love radiating through us. One additional point from Dr. Sri: our discipleship is a lifelong process of becoming ever more convinced of our littleness, learning to rely on God and cooperating with his grace as we are slowly being transformed into Christ likeness. The Fourth Century saint, St. Gregory, in speaking of the Jesus’ Baptism and of our own Baptism said that: God wants us (you and me) to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. We are to be radiant lights as we stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. We are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now we have received (through Baptism) - though not in its fullness - a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. (A sermon by St Gregory Nazianzen, The Baptism of Christ) It is then God’s gift of Baptism that helps us to be the disciples we are called to be. The immersion in water and repeating the words of Jesus: to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” accomplishes three things for us spiritually. First, we are freed of all Sin - Original Sin, and also any personal so that we may have in our lives. Second, we are joined to Christ and his Church - literally and spiritually. And third, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and all of the wonderful fruits that come from the outpouring of the love between God the Father and the Son that give us the help we need now: wisdom, courage, patience, whatever it is now that we need most. It is with, through, and in this gift that we become the disciples we are called to be. Immediately after the immersion in water at our baptism, there are a series of rites and blessings and prayers. One of my favorite is the anointing with oil. That oil, which has been blessed by the bishop, is placed on the crown of the head and this prayer follows: The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life. Amen. In other words, we (you and me) are anointed priest, prophet and king. As a priest we are called to pray and to lead others in prayer. As a prophet, we are called to know the truth, to seek the truth, to share the truth, and even defend the truth, when necessary. And as kings, we are called to humbly serve others. And as Jesus’ disciples, we do this in imitation of Jesus Christ who was and is supreme Priest, Prophet, and King. To be his disciple, we imitate Christ: Priest, Prophet and King - praying, seeking and sharing the truth, and humbly serving others. The rite of baptism, whether it is for an infant or an adult, is a beautiful sacrament and liturgy. I invite you to join us on the last Sunday of any month after the 1130 mass when we celebrate our infant baptisms. And for our adults who are seeking to join the church, we will baptize them - and especially this year, our catechumen: Amanda - at our Easter vigil service. The rite of baptism, our baptism, has so much more to offer us as disciples. However, I will leave you with one final prayer from the rite of baptism that is offered for those children or adults that have just been baptized and who are our newest disciples in Christ. We pray: The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen. And so my prayer for you is this: that today and every day that your ears maybe opened more and more to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim God‘s great love to others.
I like that the author of the Gospel of Luke provides the details contained in today’s gospel passage. I personally like details, but even more, I appreciate the historical accuracy provided by the author. We know that Luke was a historian and a doctor, and thus the attention to detail and the precision about people and places. I also appreciate the fact that in this detail there is a contrast between the rulers of the day - those in power politically and religiously - and that of John the Baptist, which emphasizes that the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ - is just not for the powerful and elite, but for all people. Scholar William Barclay further comments that these details emphasize the significance of John the Baptist in the history of the world - that the emergence of John was one of the “hinges” on which history turned and thus the Gospel writer’s use of multiple ways of dating John in history - a sort of bold, underline and capitalization effect. We could even argue: but for the faith and courage of John, these names would otherwise be lost to history. If we jump ahead 2000 years, we still see this focus on titles and roles and jobs in our world. We place a lot of our value and worth in what we do or what we have done. I know that I at times have placed a lot of my self-worth in what I do and what my job is. But as I was reminded on this morning/yesterday morning at our That Man Is You group, we need more men and women like John the Baptist today, amidst the scandals in our church and families and communities, we need more saints who seek God’s love first and are willing to humbly and selfLESSly willing to share this good news with others. I offer to you that today’s readings, and this season of Advent, challenge us today to think not just about what we do or the title we hold, but also to consider what we seek. In other words, what do we seek in our lives? In what, or from where or whom do we seek out that brings us meaning and purpose, joy in life, and peace? In what or from where or whom do we find motivation and even inspiration? And for Christians, the answer is God! Which leads me back to last week's gospel. If you remember, Jesus warns his disciples (and us today) to beware that our hearts do not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life (among other things) - Fr. John spoke well of this point! This is true: we are consumed too often by the anxiety in our daily lives and cause us to be easily AND quickly distracted from what is most important. But the truth is that our hearts desire more than carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life. Our hearts desire God. Which leads me back to the Gospel reading from yesterday/Fridays lectionary, in which we read of two blind men who seek healing from Jesus. They asked for Jesus’ mercy and he grants them healing both physically and spiritually. Their faith combined with their pursuit of something more than their current state of life allowed them to not only encounter the powerful love of Jesus, but (really AND) also transformed in their lives, so much so that they could not contain their joy or their desire to share this joy with other (despite Jesus’ stern warning not to). This is what we are called to experience too! Going then to today’s Gospel, the litany of leaders had their own pursuits which were not out of love for God or others, and in stark contrast to John the Baptist who was strong, confident in his calling to love and serve God by proclaiming God’s love and urging others to return to that love. It is in today’s first reading that serves as the rallying cry for us to move closer to that love John proclaimed, to that which our hearts truly desire, to the one thing that we bring us true and lasting peace and joy: the incredible love relationship with God made possible through, in and with Jesus Christ. The first reading reminds us that we are to remove the anxiety, mourning and misery that too often consumes us and be transformed by the splendor of glory from God, which happens when we trust in God with sincere repentance. And then in the Responsorial Psalm, we are reminded of the promise and reward that awaits us when we do: joy and happiness. This week my brothers and sisters, I invite you to spend some time quietly in prayer reflecting on what it is that you seek most in your lives. If you’re like me it’s probably mostly consumed by work and paying bills and providing for family and loved ones. But, even for just a couple of minutes, put aside the anxiety and worry in daily lives to consider what it is our/your heart most desires. And then as you reflect on that, ask yourself also what it is that is keeping you from seeking this incredible gift God is offering us. As you find answers to these questions, I invite you to come to our Penance service next Monday (December 17) and, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to be free from those sins and receive the grace to sin no more and to more freely and fully seek the joy and love of our God. I’ll conclude by repeating a prayer found in today’s second reading. Saint Paul is writing from jail and he is writing to his beloved friends, the community he first found success in leading others to Christ, and so there is a very close and intimate love that he has for the people of Philippi. And so echoing the words of Saint Paul, I pray that in this Advent season, as you prepare to experience Christ, especially at Christmas: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Amen!
Sunday, November 11, 2018
I want to invite you to our parish-school’s open house (tomorrow afternoon/this afternoon). Even if you don’t have school-age children or grandchildren, this is our parish-school and I want you to know our wonderful principal and the great teachers and families that are part of our parish-school community, especially because of your generous support - both financially as well as in your prayers for our school and our students. So please visit the school (tomorrow afternoon/this afternoon) and see the great things that are happening there. Well, earlier this week I received an email from a friend. It was one of those emails that you have likely received that has a story with some type of moral point to it. This email had great story that I want share with you - and even if you may have already heard it, worth hearing again. The story is about Charles Plumb who was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience. One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, ' You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down! 'How in the world did you know that?' asked Plumb. 'I packed your parachute,' the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, 'I guess it worked!' Plumb assured him, 'It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today.' What a great story! But, I share the story now for a couple reasons. First, I love that it tells the story of our veterans - those who did incredible feats and also those who supported them. So, on this Veteran’s Day (weekend), I thank the veterans here with us today (including my dad, a Navy veteran, who is with us at this mass) for their service - thank you. Second, I love how this story parallels our readings today and tells us really “how” we are to live as Christians. How we are called to humbly serve others and God; and how we can be inspired by others actions, and then how we can respond with gratitude for what others do. But before we get to the “how,” it is necessary to remember the “why” of our Christian lives. As I always say - and hopefully you’re not too tired of me saying it - the WHY is that we must remember that we are made to be in relationship; we were made to love and to be loved. This is what we do best, this is in what we find our truest and fullest meaning and purpose. It is in this relationship that we find our truest and fullest joy and peace. Because of this relationship our soul, our entire being, gives thanks and praises the Lord, as we just sung. But, because of sin we freely choose to fall out of relationship. By our thoughts and words, by what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do - as we just confessed - we gradually or dramatically fall out of relationship with God. But my friends the good news is in today second reading. As we just heard: now once for all he [Jesus] has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.” And the reading continues: [Jesus] will appear a second time not to take away sins but to bring salvation to those who are eagerly await him. So the question then is: restored in relationship how do we eagerly await Jesus’ return and our salvation? Today’s gospel gives us the “what to do” and the “what NOT to do.” To state the obvious (I hope), we want to be more like the poor widow, who from her poverty has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. And we want to be less like the rich people who gave from their surplus wealth. (And to be clear, wealth is not bad - it is what we do with our wealth that matters.) Jesus makes the further point that we want to be even less like the scribes who accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor in the banquets, devouring the wealth of others, and much more - all for attention and self-profit. The scripture scholar William Barclay furthers this teaching by stressing two points. First, like the poor widow, our actions must be the sacrificial. It’s not about the amount or the size, but the sacrifice of your generosity - he says we must give until it hurts. Second, Barclay stresses that real giving has a certain recklessness in it. He makes the point that the poor widow could’ve kept something back for her own needs, but instead she gave everything she had. We can do this only when we are fully in love with God and trust in him. Which leads me to a wonderful promise contained in today’s readings. Our God cares for us just as he did for Elijah and the widow in today’s first reading (who by the way, also gave with sacrifice and even recklessness), and just as we sang in today’s responsorial Psalm - when we love and trust God, He sets us free, feeds us, cures us, protects us, and sustains us. It may not always be what we want (like that $1.6 billion lotto, which I did not win by the way) - but it will always be what we need! We just need trust God and ask for his help! I will conclude with one more insight from today’s Gospel. I love that Jesus knows the hearts and minds of the scribes, of the rich people, and the poor widow. He knows that she gave from her poverty, that she contributed all she had, that she gave her whole livelihood. And the same is true of us. In this intimate love relationship Jesus has for us, he knows us personally, he knows what motivates us, what pains us, and what causes us hurt and rejection and insecurity, and he knows what brings us peace and joy. And this my friends is a good thing. It is not something to fear or to run away from or to be embarrassed about. And, I love that Jesus pointed the Apostles to the poor widow in order to teach the Apostles, knowing their doubts and fears and insecurities, so that they know BOTH how to eagerly await AND how to be inspired by others. Going back to that email story of Charles Plumb, he goes on to state that sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we may fail to say hello, please or thank you - just as he did countless times for the man who folded his parachute. And too often we do this especially for those in our lives who humbly and quietly care for us, who pack our necessary parachutes - our physical parachute, our mental parachute, our emotional parachute, and our spiritual parachute. And so I invited you, as you enter deeper in love with God, to be inspired by these individuals in your life who God has placed here and who love sacrificially and even recklessly. And then also I invite you to be grateful for those same individuals in your life. As you go through this week, I invite you to be inspired by and grateful for and thank these people in your life - your spouse, your children, your parents and grandparents, your friends and coworkers, and yes the stranger you cross paths with every day. May God bless them and you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 1:40 PM
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Soon after college, I worked for a political campaign - thinking that I might want to get into government or politics some day. I was working for George Voinovich’s campaign, and whatever you may think of him as a politician, what struck me was his deep Catholic faith. It was during a campaign event for him, in which I recall helping to celebrate our state motto that was being memorialized on the grounds of state capitol. Its our state motto, With God All Things Are Possible, that is from the Gospel of Matthew and parallels the passage in today’s Gospel: All things are possible for God. I will sometimes think about those days in my 20s and what I thought God was calling me to do, and then to fast forward to today, 20-25 years later, and still find myself wrestling with the same question: what do I want to be when I grow up, or maybe better, what is it that God is calling me to do. What is more clear today for me than it was in my 20s is: God‘s great love for me. Despite the challenges I may experience today, as a father, as a husband, and as a deacon, I am filled with joy in God‘s love, which I know and experience daily. And for this reason, I can say with confidence that I know God‘s love, that I know he has a plan for me, and that I trust in the plan he has for me - even if it seems impossible to me, even when I get discouraged and feel like I am failing. So today’s readings are wonderful boost in the arm. As we just sang in the Psalm: we pray for God to fill us with his love and then we will sing for joy. Simply put: In God’s love we find joy. In God‘s kindness, in his gracious care for us, and in his mercy, we experience joy despite any hardship, loss, pain, embarrassment, we can still experience joy in God’s love for us! Even more, this love is an incredibly intimate love, as today second reading reminds us. It is a love that is living and effective in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. As the letter to the Hebrews says: Jesus’ love for us is sharper than any two edged sword and this love penetrates between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is a love, on one hand, that leaves us totally exposed and naked because it is close and personal, but also at the same time a love that allows us to freely choose to be in of this love relationship - how wonderful is that! And today’s Gospel tells us even more about this incredible, intimate love relationship God has for us. As we read in today’s gospel, Jesus knew what was on this man’s heart and mind, what was keeping him from truly entering into this love relationship, and what was keeping him from leaving everything to follow him – for him it was his wealth and money. In the same way, Jesus knows, intimately and personally, what keeps us from entering, fully and completely, into this love relationship with Him – while not all of us are called to leave everything and follow Jesus, we are all called to leave behind anything that will keep us from or hold us back from following Jesus. Our wonderful God know what that is, and out of true love, he does not force a decision from us, rather He allows us to freely choose – that is true love. See, Jesus knows our wants and desires, he knows what uniquely fills us with joy and what motivates us; He also knows the pain in our hearts and our minds, our loneliness and our anger, and He knows our frustration and our pride, AND he knows what keeps us from loving him. I suspect that if we spend some time, anytime, we can quickly discern for ourselves, if we don’t know for already, what keeps us from fully entering into relationship with God, what is keeping us from following Jesus. But this is what is required of us to be in relationship: we must have the awareness of what prevents us from following Jesus. He wants us to be in this relationship, but He will not force or pressure us, he WILL give us the choice. So we can take confidence in the words from today’s second reading: the Word of God, Jesus, in his great love for us gives us the gift to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart – that is, to know what our heart desires (God) to know what it is that keeps us from loving him – whatever that may be for us. This is true now, two thousand years ago when the second reading was written, and true a thousand years before that when King Solomon lived and ruled. He was given the opportunity for anything, anything in the world, and King Solomon chose the gift of prudence – the gift of wisdom to know our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it. Our challenge is to every day use this gift of prudence given to us to know this great love before us and to better understand what is keeping us from the one thing that’ll bring us our greatest joy and our greatest peace now and eternally. Finally, if we are honest with ourselves, to love God will be hard – that was the case for the man in today’s Gospel and it is true for us today. It will require sacrifice, it will be radical and counter- cultural. And, just as Jesus for tells us in today’s gospel, it may require us to give up house and brother or sister or mother or father or children or lands. There will be times when we want to quit - just as the man did when he walked away from Jesus in today’s Gospel. There will be times when it will seem impossible to do. But here my brothers and sisters is the good news: Jesus promises us two things in today’s Gospel. First, as Jesus told his apostles, he says to us: for human beings it is impossible, but not for God, all things are possible for God! See, our God will give us what we need, when we need it – He, through his grace, makes it possible for us to do the everyday things we need to do as well as the extraordinary. We just need to be open to his love, to his plan for us – he will give us what we need! And remember his second promise in today’s gospel: even if we lose everything that we think is important here on earth, we will receive 100 times more; and even if we lose everything and even experience persecution, we will know eternal life. And that my brothers and sisters is our goal and our reward: eternal life - eternal love, eternal peace, eternal joy. May God bless you today and everyday as you seek to grow deeper in love with God.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:27 AM
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Last Sunday afternoon, I attended an event hosted by the Diocese on Living as Missionary Disciples. The speaker reminded us that our primary purpose as Christians is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. For another day I will share more about what I learned – however, I am excited to say that what we’re doing in this parish is pretty remarkable to promote living as missionary disciples. Anyhow, as I sat through the presentation and reflected on it over the following days, I kept coming back to the first principle of living as missionary disciple: the need for a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ or at least an openness to such an encounter. And I’m convinced that this is the starting point, truly the foundation, for our response to the crisis facing our church today, as well as the crisis we experience in our families and our own personal lives. In the midst of the chaos, the anger, the frustration, the hurt, the disappointment, the embarrassment that we may feel in the wake of this recent crisis, my friends, there is HOPE. It is Jesus Christ who knows us and loves us personally and intimately. It is Jesus Christ who wants nothing more than for us to know God‘s great love, and the peace and joy that comes from being in this relationship. It is Jesus Christ who so much wants us to know and experience this love that he was willing to suffer and die for us. It is in this encounter with the person of Jesus Christ that brings us meaning and purpose, joy and peace, and yes hope in the midst of crisis. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Recall the exchange between Jesus and Peter in last week’s Gospel: as Jesus’ disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him, Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." Or the wonderful words of Saint Augustine of Hippo that Father John reference last week: “because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” And pulling from today’s second reading: God willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls - Jesus Christ. And one last quote that I heard beautifully last Sunday at the workshop on evangelization - It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that is it not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship, him to find our peace in him, as not to. This encounter is more than simply following set of rules. Rules are good and important - and today’s first reading reminds us that God gives us rules out of love to help us. And Christ instituted the Church to further help us. But as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, the rules are not the end, but a means to the end - that end being this incredible love relationship with God. And that is why Jesus‘ words spoken two thousand years ago, echoing words spoken many, many years before that, get to the heart of the crisis facing our Church, our families, and our personal lives. “Well did Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written: this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me...“ As one of the Alpha testimonials shared last weekend: we must move Christ from our head to our heart – only then will we know what is right and true. See, when we experience and live in this loving and intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, we want nothing more and nothing less! So it is good that we are here to experience our living God in this faith community, and the Sacred Scripture that was just read, and in the Eucharist we are soon to share. And then, echoing the words of today’s second reading, we can leave our gathering today strengthened to be doers of the word and not hearers only, because as the author continues: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. If you are full of emotions and uncertainty about the crisis facing our Church, you are not alone. I believe that it is nothing less than Satan in the Church working to destroy its greatest threat: the Body of Christ, and things may get worse before they get better. I do pray that there will be justice for our shepherds of the church you have failed us, as well as reconciliation and peace for the victims and their families. And, in the meantime, I believe we can find hope, even peace, now in Jesus Christ. With that last point in mind, this week I invite you to do one additional thing to encounter Christ new or differently. Having celebrated Mass today, this coming week: Go to daily mass. Pray Lectio Divina - you can find it on our parish website. Go to adoration this Thursday - even for just a couple minutes. Go to confession and experience the grace and peace of the sacrament of reconciliation. Practice the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, comfort the homeless, visit the imprisoned and the sick, and pray for the dead. Remember what we just sung together: The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. My friends, take great comfort and strength and your personal encounter with our living God Jesus Christ today at this Mass and every day this week. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:57 AM