Saturday, April 7, 2018
Last Saturday we received one person into the Church here at Our Lady of Peace. Greg Campbell is his name. If you have the chance to meet Greg, take the opportunity to do so. Not only are his wife Helen and him great people, but his Father John shared at the Easter Vigil: Greg's desire for the Eucharist has been strong and inspiring. And, he made quite an impression on me too! One thing that Greg shared with me (and I asked for his permission to share with you) was that the power of the devil, and evil, and darkness was so strongly pressuring him, really fighting him, in the weeks and days before the Easter vigil. He even shared in the minutes before the Vigil service was to start how much he felt the weight of the devil on him at that very moment - pressuring and fighting him to reject God, to reject God's great love and mercy, and to not trust in God's plan, God's will for him. And how true this is in our own lives now! I know I've certainly experienced doubt, a lack of trust, the devil-motivated desire to reject God's will and God's plan for me - and that's just today! And this is been true throughout history as we read the Old Testament and even the New Testament about the early church. And having a Star Wars obsessed home, I can say that if the Star Wars story line has any predictive value in this battle between good and evil, this battle will persist for years to come. And this makes sense: as long as we have free will - this wonderful gift God gives us to freely opt-in or opt-out of love with God (which is arguably is equal to the gift of allowing his son to suffer and die on the cross for us) - as long as there is free will and the devil is constantly provoking us, then there will always be this tension between good and evil in our lives. And even further, as long as there is gratification and pleasure - albeit superficial and quickly fleeting, then sin and evil and darkness will exist and even at times prevail. Right? We know this in our own lives. But my friends, there is still reason for hope and even joy. And today's readings ground us in this Good News! We read in the Gospel: Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: “peace be with you.” He said that twice to them-and then again a week later as he returned to them. Father John will echo these words of Jesus in just a couple of minutes at the Sign of Peace. The words he will pray first relate back to an earlier section of John's Gospel during the Last Supper, as Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for what is to come and offer encouragement with a promise. Jesus says: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. What a wonderful promise! Fr. John will then echo Jesus’ greeting to his Apostles in today’s Gospel with this blessing to us: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” What was promised by Jesus at the Last Supper has been for filled by his Resurrection and it is something that we can readily experience here and now. Jesus Christ is before us now, in our midst: in the Words we read together, in the Eucharist we share, and in this community gathered together in His name. It is in Christ’s presence that we experience his peace. This peace is what the fearful apostles must have experienced in the risen Lord as he appeared to them and moved them into action in today's Gospel. It is the same peace that must have allowed the community of believers to put aside all that they previously thought was self-important and “to be of one heart and mind,” as we recall in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. And it is this same peace that God wants to flood into our hearts and minds today and free us from all sin and evil and darkness in our life. For another day, but worth mentioning briefly now, is that today’s second reading gives us the “how” we can enter into and sustain this peace. It is first by believing in and entering into a relationship with God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and then following God's commandments. And, again, more on this for another day. For today however, I want you to personally know God's peace and the great joy and freedom that comes to us when we accept this gift of peace in our lives. And I also want you to know that you are called to share with others this incredible gift God has for us. Going back to the Gospel, Jesus says to his Apostles: as the Father has sent me so I send you. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to go and share this Good News of God's love, God's mercy, and God's peace with others. So here's my challenge for you: I know you know someone in your life who is not at peace, who does not know God’s peace. It may be a train-wreck or maybe someone who is just restless or feeling empty, but certainly not at peace. Maybe it's a spouse, maybe it's a parent, a child or grandchild, maybe it's a coworker or neighbor, or maybe a stranger who you see every day. It maybe someone who has left the Church for whatever reason, or someone who does not know the Church or even God. Maybe it is someone like the Apostles in today’s Gospel who is full of fear and doubt. Or maybe it is someone like the Apostle Thomas, who has fled the protection and support of family and friends at his/her time of greatest need. First and foremost, pray for that person. Pray that they may be open to the Holy Spirit already in their lives, that they may be open to this incredible gift God wants to share with them. Next consider inviting them to Mass here at Our Lady of Peace. Consider also inviting them to one of our incredible faith formation opportunities: Walking with Purpose, That Man Is You, our parish’s Lady Social (if room is available), our Alpha retreat on April 28 or a full Alpha session next Fall – and that is just to name a few opportunities. Consider inviting someone to explore joining the Church next Easter Vigil. Or just start with an invitation to coffee and donuts after this Mass to enjoy the fellowship of this loving community. Here's my goal: to have more than one person join the Catholic Church a year from now here at Our Lady of Peace. I'd love to have a large group of non-Catholics coming into the church a year from now and having you as their sponsors! I'd love to also have our faith formation opportunities packed with people, even a waiting list. The same for our service activities like our St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights. I'd love to have our parish school at capacity with a waiting list - and the same for our PSR program. I would love to have each weekend Mass packed – even standing room only. This can and will happen when we are at peace – in God's peace. And when people see that we are at peace, then they will seek that peace too and want to be a part of it in this community. I pray that you may know this peace now and eternally and that you may be willing to share this peace with others. I pray that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus today, tomorrow and for eternity. (Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians) May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:34 AM
Saturday, February 10, 2018
I was having coffee with a close friend several weeks ago and we got into this great discussion. We were discussing whether it's easier to become a Christian and sustain that faith in wealth or in poverty, however you might measure that. We talked about the great boom in Christianity in Africa and Asia, where there arguably the greatest poverty in our world, as well as the fortitude of our Christian brothers and sisters in these same parts of the world, as well as the Middle East, where there is great persecution of Christians. We did not come to any definitive answer to the question, but it was a good conversation. Today's gospel presents a similar question for me: was it easier or harder for the leper to approach Jesus? Was it easier for the leper to approach Jesus, having really nothing to lose? He was already unclean physically and spiritually just as we heard prescribed in today's first reading from the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, was it actually harder for the leper to approach, given the same situation of persecution, isolation, oppression, and then compounded by feelings of despair and rejection he most certainly was without hope and in despair. I can just imagine that he could be without any desire let alone the energy or courage to approach Jesus. But as we read in today's Gospel, we do know that he found the desire, energy, and courage and took the risk to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and ask to be healed. Jesus responded with great compassion, right? And then as we read further in today's gospel, the leper was transformed: not only physically healed and spiritually renewed, but also empowered and energized to go and share the good news of God's love, God's healing, God's mercy – so much so did he share this good news “that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” As I reflect on this story, I wonder why, in my relative wealth, knowledge, security, and freedom, do I still struggle with my faith, I doubt, and fail to trust fully in God's plan for me. I wonder if I would have more faith or less faith if I had less wealth or security or freedom? This is the question posed in the Book of Job and it will be a reoccurring them in Mark’s Gospel as we will read throughout the coming year of those who are foreigners, outcasts, and the persecuted and who still approach Jesus was great hope and faith and trust that they will be healed. Well here is what I do know and I believe: I believe that God made us he made us in his image and likeness, he made us good, he made us out of love to love and be loved. I know and believe that God entered into our humanity to show us his love and teach us how to love, especially by showing such great acts of mercy and compassion as we read in today's gospel. And it is the same God who willing takes incredible risks and suffers greatly out of love for us even dying on the cross for the leper, for you and for me! I also know and believe that God gave us his Spirit, who as we will stand together in just a couple of minutes and profess: is the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, out of love, for love. Our Eighth graders were confirmed with this gift of the Spirit last week; and our second graders experienced this gift of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (yesterday/today), as they prepare for their First Communion. And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist that we will receive today at this celebration that strengthens us and nourishes us to be and remain in this love relationship with God. [And it is the Holy Spirit who has helped sustain the marriages of those we celebrate today – those who celebrate a jubilee anniversary this calendar year; and as you will read in bulletin, many were married here – how wonderful.] And I believe it is the Holy Spirit who was working in the leper giving him the courage, the energy, the hope, the faith to approach Jesus and to ask him to heal him. It was also then the Holy Spirit that then empowered the healed-leper to go and proclaim the good news of his healing everywhere he could. It is that same spirit working in each one of us bringing us here, to bringing us back into relationship with God, despite whatever may keep us from trusting him fully, despite whatever may be keeping us from believing in him completely, despite whatever it may be keeping us from hoping in him. It is the Holy Spirit who help us to – as we just sung: turn to the Lord in our time of trouble and to be filled with the joy of salvation! AND it is the same Holy Spirit that gives us the grace – the gift - to be able to share the good news with others when we do experience God’s love. With all this in mind, I love what Saint Paul has to say to us in today’s second reading. He is reminding us that God gives us laws, they are important and serve as a kind of the guard rail in our lives. But simply following rules doesn't make us holy, it doesn't make us get to heaven. It is about our behavior especially our behavior towards God and others. Paul urges us to follow his example, which is really an imitation of Christ, so we must stay focused and not be distracted as we continue on our faith journey. And this means trusting in God, trusting his will and plan for us – and being open to the Holy Spirit to help us do this! So wherever you are in your faith journey, these readings remind us that: here is Jesus waiting for us, waiting to heal us, to restore us in relationship with him. Here is Jesus ready and willing to offer us the greatest joy, the greatest peace, the greatest happiness that we could ever imagine. Here is our God ready to give us, through his Holy Spirit, the help we need – the desire, the courage, the energy to approach Jesus. It for this reason we can have hope - hope despite our hardship or challenge – that we can approach Jesus and find peace and joy. Today's readings remind us and give us a reason to take a risk - just as the leper took a risk, we too must take a risk to move outside of our comfort zone, to move outside of our own challenges and hardships, to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and to ask for his healing so that we might experience the joy and peace that awaits us now and eternally. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:06 AM
Saturday, January 13, 2018
I had the joy and honor to pray with our eighth graders on Friday as they are preparing for their Confirmation next month. As Father John was hearing confessions, I was praying with them before the Blessed Sacrament (at St. Charles high school). As you may know or can imagine, it's tough to be a young adult in today's society. And so I ask for your prayers for them as they prepare for Confirmation. I pray that they may be open to the Holy Spirit everyday to receive the power and wisdom and courage or whatever else they may need to be the Catholic man and woman they are called to be. As I was in prayer, I was also reminded by how much they are bombarded by so many mixed messages about their meaning, purpose, value and worth in life – AND how their Catholic faith can be such a wonderful source of encouragement, hope, and direction. And, even more, how today’s readings offer for them and each of us great guidance. Despite all of the progress we have made in science and health and so many other areas of our life, we arguable are living in a culture of sin and death that is not too different from the one Saint Paul is writing to in today's second reading. This reading is one of these readings where we can easily get lost because of the translation of Saint Paul’s words in to these long and complex sentences and it just doesn't seem to be easily understood. However, what Paul is saying is so beautiful and so timely for us - just not our eighth graders but every one of us. As we read today’s Second reading, St. Paul reminds us that the body is not for immorality, despite what society tells us – in other words, the body is not for our self-gratification and pleasure, but it is for the Lord! Our bodies are made to serve the Lord and we do that by our acts of charity, by our acts of kindness, by our acts of selfLESSness, by our acts of service, by our total self giving of ourselves to the needs of others. Saint Paul then goes on to remind us that there is a profound dignity to our bodies - that we are made in the image and likeness of God, made good, made to love, made by God's love to know love and to be loved. And because of this, we can say, as Saint Paul does, that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore we are to glorify God in our body – and I will add to also protect and defend the body from natural conception to natural death. And now for a shameless plug for Monday evening’s pro-life prayer service. We will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament starting at 7 pm, pray evening prayer together, and have quite time before the Lord. We just ended the season of Christmas – truly a season of life – let us carry this joy for life into our everyday lives by the dignity we uphold for our own bodies and the bodies of others, especially the most vulnerable. That will be my prayer on Monday. Going back to today's readings, they offer truly beautiful insights for us into who we are – our dignity and meaning, as St. Paul reminds us – and then what we are called to do. As Catholics we have a calling, really the responsibility and the challenge to share and teach God's love with others, which leads me to today’s Gospel and First Reading. Like our eighth graders, we are bombarded by so many different things and are pulled in some many different directions that it seems almost impossible that we could experience fully God’s love for us, let alone share that with others. In contrast, I think of Samuel in today's first reading. He is basically at birth given by his parents to be a servant of God and so from his very beginning he is on this path even though he doesn't know it at the time; and so he is in this prayfull place and there's no other distractions, presumably. And even the Apostles in today's gospel seem so quick to drop everything else and follow Jesus as if they had nothing else going on in their lives - no mortgages or tuition payments, or worry about retirement, or illness, or whatever else we have pressing on our hearts and our minds this very moment. So it doesn't seem fair or realistic to be able to compare ourselves to those we read in today's readings right? But really they are no different than we are - humans struggling with so many difficult decisions and choices and pressures and responsibilities. Like us, they were seeking truth, seeking life, seeking God. And like us, they may not know exactly where to go or what to do. And like us, they needed God’s mercy and his grace and his help to find him, to know him, and to love him. And like us, it is God who takes the initiative to invite them into his company, he does not wait for us to get his attention, instead he is there before us, waiting for us to say yes, waiting for us to say: “here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.” So how do we grow closer to God – to his love, his peace, his joy now and eternally? Like Samuel we can go to someone wiser and more mature and to help us, to guide us, to direct us, just as he had in Eli. Or like the Apostles, we can turn to friends and get their encouragement and support, as some did in John the Baptist. And certainly it is the company that we keep and seek – just like the Apostles - that will help us to continue in a life closer to God. And like the Apostles and Samuel, if we set our heart and mind first and foremost to God’s love then we will grow closer to the thing that we long for the most: God’s love. Finally, let me offer two more things we can do. Going back to my time with our eighth graders on Friday, first, we can pray: slowing down, clearing out all distractions – if just for a couple of minutes – to say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God wants nothing more than for us to know his love and hear his words – we just have to listen! And then second is to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and asking for God's help, God's grace, for God's mercy, God's wisdom in our lives. What we need, he will provide us. With God fully in our lives, we will certainly want to share that love with others! But first, we must be willing and able to hear God’s words and receive his help. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:55 AM
Saturday, December 9, 2017
My wife, Tracey, has been on mission the past couple of weeks to find matching camel's hair shirts for our boys to wear this Advent, she found leather belts just needs the camel’s hair suit, so if you know where to find them, see me after mass. My family’s Advent fast of locusts and wild honey lasted about a half of a meal before there was a major revolt, so if anyone needs 40 pounds of freezed-dried locusts, please see me after mass. You know this but worth repeating… the season of Advent is a time for us to prepare for three things. First, we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of that historical event of Jesus' birth - God entering into our humanity. I am grateful for Father John’s periodic reminder throughout the year of this truth that we are an incarnation Church and people. Second, during Advent we also celebrate God entering into our lives daily through his grace, through his word in sacred scripture, and in the sacraments especially the Eucharist. And third, Advent is also a time to prepare for Jesus his second coming when, as today’s second reading reminds us, the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Every year, this year being no exception, I recommit to doing a better job of preparing for these three truths of our faith. And I have to admit that this year I'm feeling a little better in my efforts. That's not to say that my life is any less stressful or easier than in the past - arguably just the opposite. But several things are different this year. For one, I have made a much greater, more consistent and conscious effort to place all my trust in God – trusting that he has a plan for me, for my family, for this parish, our country and our world. I can put my trust a God who can move mountains, fill-in valleys, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims in the first reading, and I can certainly put my trust in a God who has the power to create life, the power to enter in to our humanity, and the power to do so many more incredible things. I am also finding great encouragement from a book that is found at the doors of the church: Joy to the World by Scott Hahn. Admittedly, I am just about halfway through the book. However, the first several chapters have been quite inspiring to me as I've begun this advent season. One of the great insights or at least reminders for me is the truth that, as the author writes: The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity. I am blessed with a great family, and being a deacon has helped me be a better father and husband, I appreciate this point in the book. He goes on to quote: Pope Saint John Paul II who noted that “every good thing-history, humanity, salvation-passes by way of the family.” The author goes on to state that “the truth of Christmas begins with the family. The events turned historically on the decisions of a husband and a father, a wife and a mother.” AND, the author notes: “we know these events only because that mother pondered them in her heart and chose to share them with her son’s disciples.” Today we read not from one of the Infancy Narratives of Matthew’s or Luke’s Gospels that record these events, but from the Gospel of Mark. We will hear much from this Mark’s Gospel over the next several months as we read his Gospel during this lectionary year. But it is interesting that Mark, for many reasons as I hope to reflect on with you in the future, jumps over the infancy narrative's and gets us right into the public ministry of Jesus - 30 years later. I love that we have this Gospel reading today during the Advent Season. Specifically it is John the Baptist’s emphasis not only on repentance but on sharing the good news with others that should be our response to the events that we celebrate at Christmas and that should bring us purpose and meaning, as well as joy and peace. See, the purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts and minds to enter more deeply into this love relationship God has for us and then to share this good news with others, just as Mary did with her Son’s disciples and just as John the Baptist did. We can accomplish by FIRST following the instruction in today’s second reading, which urges us to put aside our anxiety and worry and concern and be at peace, to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, filled with patience. Some may like John’s the Baptists more blunt proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Either way, we are called first to an interior conversion – preparing our own heart and mind to be deeper in relationship with God. SECOND, we must move beyond self to others by sharing with others God’s great love, power and the joy and peace that comes from being in relationship with Him. And we can do this most powerfully and wonderfully within the family God has given us. It may not be perfect and may not be the people we would choose to be with all of the time, but in God’s wisdom, He has brought us together as a family - a family by blood and by faith - and so we are presented with the opportunity to help each other to grow in our relationship with Christ. And so this Advent, I invite you to focus on how internally you are preparing for Christ, AND also externally how you are sharing with others, especially family, this good news of Christ entering our humanity, present with us now, and who will come again. Just as we would share a new job or an engagement or a new house with loved ones, why not share the greatest news of Christmas with those in our life? For me and my family, we are going to go Christmas caroling in our neighborhood. They don’t know that yet, but it checks all the boxes, right? Greater humility, family activity, and spreading the good news of Christmas. I will let you know what happens. The point is to start with self in preparing to grow deeper in love with God and then sharing the joy you WILL experience with others. I will conclude with another passage from Scott Hahn’s book. He writes: without Christ, the world was a joyless place; any place where he remains unknown and unaccepted is a joyless place. Everything has changed since Christ birth, yet everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith. It is our challenge and opportunity to know this joy personally and to share this joy with others today, this Advent and Christmas, and everyday of our lives. May God bless us as you and your family as you go and announce this good news to others within and with your family!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:33 AM
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Our parish school is hosting an open house (tomorrow/today). I invite you to visit, even if you don’t have school-age children. As our wonderful principal recently stated: “Our Lady of Peace School is a Catholic school operated by the Parish and the Diocese of Columbus … our primary focus is to offer a Catholic education for the children, first and foremost, of families who attend the parish.” This is our school and I thank you for the support you have provided it – I am personally grateful because this is where I attended grade school and where my older sons went and now my Kindergartener attends. Again, I invite you to visit and see all the great things happening at our school! Speaking of my sons, my boys and I have an ongoing conversation over the cases of bottled water I have stored in the basement, which I have purchased in the case of an emergency so that we have fresh water. I get very “energized” when I find them drinking those bottles of water from the basement when we have great tap water available to them whenever they want. My wife Tracey and I have a similar ongoing “conversation” about our grocery shopping habits - I tend to buy in bulk, while she is much more practical and getting just what we need for the week. She tends to do most of the shopping, but needless to say there have been times when my bulk purchases have come in handy. Which is a nice segue to today's Gospel. The point of today's gospel is about being prepared. Yes, on one level, it’s about having the right stuff and the right amount of stuff that you might need in any circumstance. But on another level, it is also about a readiness in one’s heart and mind. As the parable goes, the goal of all 10 virgins in today's gospel appears to be to get into the wedding feast - the party! It could be argued that the five virgins who ran out of oil were not really interested in going to the wedding at all – they were just going through the motions. Only 5 of them appeared – by their readiness to endure a delay in the groom’s arrival – to be really focused and committed to the goal of welcoming the groom and getting into the party. Yes, this is just a parable, and the lack of charity and hospitality of the 5 prepared virgins and the groom himself fails by Christian standards – but that is not the point. The point again is being spiritually prepared – ready in our hearts and minds to endure even delay, doubt, hardship and struggle to achieve our goal. For us the goal is to get to Heaven. This is not only our goal, but also our reward. Our goal and reward is to be with our God and to experience eternal peace, joy, and life with Him. And this is what we desire most! Today’s Responsorial Psalm expresses this reality beautifully: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts - like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. To achieve this goal that we truly desire and experience these rewards, we must be spiritually prepared – ready in our hearts and minds to endure delay, doubt, hardship and struggle. We can’t just go through the motions. We must "stay awake" as Jesus instructs in today's Gospel. Maybe not literally 24-7 awake, sleep is good, but nevertheless we must not be passive or inactive or empty in our time or words or actions. Think about those young girls in today’s Gospel – half were just going through the motions, the other half were “all in” - fully invested and committed and focused on achieving our goal. We must also be similarly prepared spiritually. And, yes, our readiness must include accumulating some stuff - we need to take care of our basic needs and provide for our family (even if it means sometimes buying in bulk and hording water bottles in the basement). But we also must be able to empty ourselves of all that we hold as self-important, all that prevents us or distracts us from surrendering to God’s will, God’s love – in that way we are completely focused on and open to God in our life to achieve the goal of eternal life with Him. So the obvious question then becomes how do I know if I'm ready – spiritually prepared - or maybe better asked how do I avoid Jesus saying to me: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Here is one test, of sorts, in the theme of preparedness. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago at our parish’s Alpha session. It is a passage from first Peter chapter 3, verse 15, where the author says to his audience: “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who ask you for a reason for your hope." The author of First Peter is writing to a community who is struggling to live the Christian life in a hostile, secular society that holds different values from them and who are also subject to ridicule and opposition - sound familiar? As Catholics, HOPE is the virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness (as our goal), placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul actually gives us a beautiful example of this in today’s second reading. As he writes to the Thessalonians, he gives his statement of hope to his audience. Despite adversity and doubt, it is his deep belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us new life and that for St. Paul is the reason for his hope. And it is today's first reading that reminds us that God will give us the grace - the wisdom - that we need at all times to be able to seek and find a reason for our hope. Consider the reason for your hope. What do you desire? What is your goal? What brings you here? What keeps you going despite pain, loss, hardship? What brings you the greatest joy and peace? The answer, I pray, is in part the desire for eternal life with God in Heaven. Your complete reason does not need to be some profound doctrinal statement (although it can) and it is okay if it is constantly in development. This is all part of being on a faith journey. The point is that we have working in our heart and mind this statement of hope – this reason for hope in our life. I get that this is hard. It's often not natural for us as Catholics to talk like this, right? We tend to be more comfortable in the liturgy, in private prayer and devotions. But we can do this - just as we talk with great passion about an issue that we care about or a person for whom we have great love, we are also capable of talking about the one thing that will bring us the greatest joy and peace – our God! And, if we can do this, then I have to believe that we are spiritually prepared to endure delay and hardship as we remain ever focused on God’s love and the great reward of eternal life. I have been working on my explanation and invite you to do the same. Pray over it, write it down, and even practice it with family and friends. I know that it sounds crazy, but if we can readily give such an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope as a Christian, then in my humble opinion, we are well prepared spiritually to endure any challenge AND are worthy of a response from Jesus of “Amen, I say to you, I do know you – because you know me.” May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:24 AM
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