Saturday, May 13, 2017
We recall in today's first reading the selection and commissioning of the first group of deacons in the Church. So, I will take this opportunity to first thank you for the support and encouragement that you have shown me over the past several years in my role as a permanent deacon – you have not stoned me to death as they did to one of the first deacons: Stephen, which is the story that follows today's first reading in the Acts of the Apostles, so thanks for that too. I am also grateful for the support from Monsignor Grimes initially, then Father Kavanagh, and now Monsignor Johnson – while I am assigned to this parish by Bishop Campbell, it is with the support and encouragement of the pastor that I am here – so thank you Father John! And while I am thanking people, I need to certainly thank, on this Mother's Day weekend, my mom – who is here at this Mass – she certainly has taught me by her words and actions how to humbly serve others, which is the calling of the deacon. So, thank you, Mom! [And while I am thanking people, I need to certainly thank, on this Mother's Day weekend, my wife – who is here at this Mass – she certainly has supported me and our family during my years of formation and now in my ministry in the parish. So, thank you, Tracey Marie!] While talking about the diaconate, I also want to take this opportunity to encourage any man of the parish to consider a vocation to the diaconate – talk to Fr. John or me about this. There are so many good men in this parish, who I know would be great deacons – who have such a great capacity to love and serve God and others – and we need your help. As a deacon, and as a father and husband, I embrace the words in today’s second reading: I want to be united with Jesus in such an intimate, living, powerful way and I desire to be a part of his Church, to serve God, and share with others God’s great love for us. As much as this is my desire, I too often find myself more like the Apostles in today’s Gospel – worried, confused, uncertain, and lacking in faith. I would like to think that if I was around Christ for years, as the Apostles were, then I would be fearless and confident. But I have been with Jesus my whole life and I still worry and lack a full and unconditional trust in God. The reality is that we are human and by our weaknesses there will always be room for worry, confusion, uncertainty in our minds and hearts. The alternative to this reality, however, is to grow closer to God the Father through his son Jesus Christ. This is Jesus’ point in the Gospel. In our worry, confusion, uncertainty, there is God the Father who is the truth and life. It is God the Father who made us, who made us in his image and likeness, who made us out of love, to be love and to love – He is LIFE. It is God the Father who is the origin of everything and authority over all. It is God the Father who is the source of all goodness and who lovingly cares for all – every person and everything – He is TRUTH. The thing we desire most – life and truth – is not only something we can know and experience fully, but it is made readily available to us through Jesus – truthfully it is only through Jesus that we might know life and truth. United with God the Father is the Son, Jesus. This is how Jesus in today’s Gospel can state with authority: “if you know me, then you will also know my Father,” and “the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his work,” and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And, it is with this authority that we will profess in just a couple of minutes that we believe in Jesus, who is: God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. Jesus IS the way and the truth and the life. Jesus IS the way to truth and life. The challenge for us is being willing to let go of our worry, confusion, and uncertainty, and to be more open to God so that we can know and experience truth and life. As we work on this daily, we can find encouragement in today’s Gospel. First, Jesus does not want his disciples or us today to be troubled – he tells them and us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He does not want worry, confusion and uncertainty to consume us, let alone keep us from truth and life. Second, Jesus has prepared a place for us in Heaven – he wants us to be with him and his Father eternally. Jesus is reminding us that he is anticipating and wants more than anything for us to be with him in Heaven. Third, Jesus was so patient with his friends, and he will be the same with us. He could have given up on them, after being with them for years and having performed miracles in front of them and spoken the same powerful message over and over – and they still did not get it; I know that my own patience is far less as I quickly get frustrated having to repeat myself to my three sons! But here is Jesus, just before his Passion, patiently and loving explaining again and again who he is and what he has to offer them. And finally, we can hold firm the promise Jesus offers us: whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these." This is what awaits us when we trust in and follow Jesus, who IS the way, the truth and the life. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 7:33 AM
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Last Sunday, we had about thirty of our parish 8th graders Confirmed by Bishop Campbell. It was a wonderful celebration. I have had the honor to assist the Bishop with several Confirmations in the past, and I love the parting command he gives to the Confirmandi at the end of Mass. I am paraphrasing here, but he says to them: remember your dignity as Christian men and women – a dignity that you must honor and protect and even defend at all times and under all circumstances. And I will humbly add now to that command: that this dignity comes from God, who made us, who made us in His image and likeness, and who wants nothing more than for us to know true and lasting happiness and peace, which comes from being in relationship with our loving God. I feel like a broken record, or skipping CD, or whatever kids listen to nowadays when I speak of this. But this is such Good News for us, especially in the culture in which we now live, so I want to share with you over and over again. And, in a special way, today’s readings give us an important insight into this truth. In the great love God has for us, he gives us the choice to be in relationship with Him. In fact, as the First Reading reminds us, not only do we have a choice, but out of great love for us, whatever choice we make God will give us what we choose: If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. How wonderful! How awesome! Well, today’s Gospel reveals even more about this relationship God created for us to experience, this relationship God desires for us. God has given us commandments for how to be in relationship with Him – think of them as guardrails, an instruction manual, or street signs to guide us and help us. On one level, Jesus reminds his disciples and us that these laws given by God thousands of years ago are necessary and important, and are to be followed even today. Jesus goes on to challenge his disciples and us to do even more than just the minimum that the law requires. He knows that we can and actually want to do more, and he is challenging us in our relationship with God and others to do more than what we have done in the past, to exceed what others may have set as an example or expectation for us, and to go even further than what we ever thought we were capable of doing. And we do this all the time in our lives, right? When we are engaged in, committed to, and excited about something, then we are willing and able to push beyond our comfort zone and go further than we ever imagined. For those that play sports, we do more than just show up for the game – we are willing and able to train in the off-season, do the extra reps in the weight room or practice field when we are fully committed to the team and winning. The same in the workplace; we are willing to arrive early and stay late, and do more than what the job description outlines when we are fully engaged at work. And the same is true in marriage; we are willing to be present to our spouse even when things are not easy or fun; we are willing to sacrifice our own wants and needs for our spouse. The same is true in the love relationship with God. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenging us to do more. It is not enough to just avoid murder, but we are challenged to avoid the anger that may lead to murder; and even further, we are challenged to go to great lengths to seek forgiveness for any anger that we may have for another. Jesus is also challenging us that it is not enough to just avoid adultery; He is challenging us to also avoid lust or anything that would dishonor the vows of marriage and the dignity of another person. Additionally, Jesus challenges us to avoid divorce and uphold the loving, unbreakable bond of marriage, to go the extra mile to repair a fractured marriage, and if the marriage has failed, then to uphold the dignity of your spouse, to seek forgiveness for your faults and failings, and to show great charity to your spouse and children And finally, Jesus is challenging us to not hide behind false or misleading statements, but to always speak truthfully, directly, honestly – to be open and transparent in all that you say – to Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' I will conclude with my own challenge to you. Pray this week over these challenges Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. Which one are you struggling with the most? Which one have you failed? Which one do you need the most help with? (If you don’t like any of these four, come back next weekend as this Gospel passage continues with two more challenges for you to discern!) Choose one to be your focus this Lent. Choose to reject sin and anything that leads you to sin – any person, place or thing that will lead you away from God’s love. And recall today’s First Reading: whatever you choose will be given to you by our loving God. I pray that you choose to be in relationship with God, to follow his will and commands in your life. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 3:52 AM
Saturday, January 7, 2017
I had to laugh during Fr. John’s homily last Saturday. It was during the vigil Mass for the Solemnity for Mary, the Holy Mother of God; it was also the evening Mass on New Year’s Eve and hours before the Ohio State football game; and the intention for the Mass was for our former, much beloved pastor, Monsignor Grimes – may his soul rest in peace. I had to laugh thinking that somehow Fr. John was channeling Msgr. Grimes as Fr. John gave a two minute homily as if to allow those in attendance (and maybe even the celebrant himself) to more quickly get to their New Year’s Eve party and to watch the Ohio State game – just seems like something Msgr. Grimes might do?! However brief, Fr. John’s words were excellent. He challenged us to model the Blessed Virgin Mary as she 1) listened, 2) pondered, and 3) acted upon God’s words and events in her life. I have been praying a lot this week over this challenge, especially as we conclude the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany this weekend. I have been praying a lot over the fact that how too often I fail to do any of these three well, let alone all three together! But, it is the Christmas season and especially the Feast of the Epiphany that gives me encouragement and hope as I try to model Mary. The light, brightness, radiance and glory overflowing in today’s First Reading points to our loving God who throughout history and even at this very moment is speaking to us, inviting us (again and again) to be in relationship with him – a relationship that will bring us great joy and peace! A defining moment in this relationship is what we celebrate at Christmas: that God so loved us that he became man to show us how to love and be loved, to show us how to follow God’s commands and to do his will; and to then repair what has been broken by our failure to love and be loved, by our failure to follow his commands and to do his will not our own. The Epiphany then is a reminder that this wonderful relationship and the joy and peace that comes from being in this relationship is not exclusive to a few, but open and available to ALL people. Today’s First Reading reminds us that ALL - a once defeated and scattered Israelite people, as well as peoples from foreign lands – will come to see and know and give glory to our God who loves us and goes to great lengths to keep his covenant relationship with us. Paul in today’s second reading passionately reminds us that ALL people are called to be members, coheirs, and copartners in this relationship and its physical presence on Earth: the Church. And then in the Gospel, the author Matthew, a Jew, writing to a primarily Jewish community, stresses to them (and us) that God’s gracious love extends to ALL – by having the magi, who were not Jews, to be the first to pay homage to the new born king: Jesus Christ. Equally important on this Feast of the Epiphany is that our God is ever-present in our life. Maybe not always in dramatic ways, like entering in to our humanity or coming to us in dreams as we have read about today and throughout the Christmas season from the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels. More often it is the less obvious encounters and experiences of our daily lives that we experience our loving God speaking to us, caring for us, protecting us, guiding us, comforting us, empowering us – and often in wonderful and mysterious ways. Today, it is hard sometimes, with so much noise, to hear, see and experience God in our lives; or we are so consumed with our own wants and needs, our fears, anxieties and insecurities that we can’t or don’t want to experience God. And we see this play out in today’s Gospel. Herod is so self-consumed that he completely misses the one thing that he longs for, the one thing that will bring him what his heart most desires: God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ. Compare that with the magi who were willing to go to great lengths, take great risks, and to give away great wealth to experience God – I can only imagine the great joy and peace they must have experienced in seeing the infant! I will conclude by repeating Fr. John’s challenge from last week to: 1) listen, 2) ponder, and 3) act upon God’s words and events in our life. I will only add (humbly to Father’s challenge) that you pray for the grace, the help you need, to 1) be open to hear, see and experience God in your life; 2) to slow down enough to discern honestly, humbly and fully what God is calling you to do; and 3) to confidently and courageously do God’s will and to share God’s love with others. May God bless you!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:14 AM
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Growing up, my dad traveled a lot for business – often away from home several days a week. So, I am very familiar with the passage in today’s First Reading, as my mom would too often need to recite it to my misbehaving brother and sister: Lo, the day is coming, [my mom would say] blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the [mother of this home]. I am just kidding. Actually, my sister and brother and their families are here at this Mass with my parents to celebrate my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, which is the intention for this Mass and for which Fr. John will kindly offer a blessing for them. When I have the opportunity to Baptize infants, I always try to make the point to parents that they are the first and best teachers of their children – in all things, just not our faith. In fact the Baptismal rite stresses this point several times, so I try to emphasize that this point is especially true when the parents are mad or frustrated or even hurt by their spouse. I remind them that their children will certainly see and hear how the parents interact and will follow their example. So, I urge the parents to call on the grace they received in the Sacrament of Marriage to love their spouse when it may be hard to love them, to forgive even when it might seem impossible to do so, to care for and show respect for their spouse when that may be the last thing they want to do. This is the example they provide their children in how to be a Christian, this is the example they will imitate in trying to be a Christian. And this is the point St. Paul is making in today’s Second Reading as he tries to teach and correct his friends by urging them to follow his example. And this is the gift my parents have given my brother, sister and me: a wonderful example of love, forgiveness, respect and care for each other which each of us tries to imitate in our married lives, as parents and as Christians to others. For this, and may other things, we thank you and celebrate fifty years of marriage. One final note on my parents: I am happy to report that they have not handed us over to be put to death as today’s Gospel warns – and for this we also thank you! While I am making light of this passage, today’s Gospel is an important message for us to hear. We can easily dismiss the message as doom and gloom – not something that applies to us, certainly not today (although depending on how you are feeling after Tuesday’s election, opinions may differ). But this an important and timely message we need to hear and respond to because it reveals a wonderful truth about our loving God and offers us a source of hope, peace and even joy in the midst of hardship. The scholar William Barclay reminds us that this passage offer several important insights into Jesus and about being a Christian today. First, Jesus could read the signs of the times. Like the prophet Malachi, in today’s first reading, who made a stern warning to the Israelites who had become lukewarm in their faith and lax in the obedience to God, Jesus was prophetic in speaking the truth to his disciples. Jesus clearly saw and warns of the terrible things people would suffer as his followers. It must have been with great sadness that Jesus was aware of the things to come for those whom he loved so much. Which leads to the second insight: Jesus was completely honest. One of the guiding principles of my employer is that when we communicate, we are to be open, honest and transparent – there are no games, manipulation, bait-and-switch in our interactions with others. Similarly, Jesus loves us and respects us so much that he is always going to be honest with us. This is true in the Gospel stories we read, in the Church Jesus established, and through the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The third insight is that Jesus promised his disciples that they would never meet their tribulations alone. Certainly, if your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends have not handed you over to be put to death, then I pray that they are in your life to help you face you challenges. And it is our loving God who is fully present in wonderful and sometime mysterious ways and who gives us the grace – the help – we need to face any challenge, any tribulation with courage, humility and perseverance. Finally, the Gospel passage reassures us with Jesus’ promise of safety that is beyond the threats of this world. We will experience pain and suffering – physical, emotional, spiritual – but “not a hair on our head will be destroyed” – this is the promise Jesus gives us. And as the First Reading reminds us: for those who trust in God and follow his commands, despite any trial or tribulation, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays. See, out of great love for you and me, Jesus – the sun of justice – will speak the truth to us, he will always be honest with us, he will never leave us alone in our suffering, and will protect and care for us. This is a great source of hope, joy and even peace for me (and I hope for you) in the face of hardship. The reality is – because of sin – there will always be pain and suffering in our world and in our lives; and for those who seek God’s love and share this love with others, evil will lead others who reject this love to turn against us. So, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when” and “how” we as Christians might suffer. The late Cardinal Francis George once predicted: “I expect to die in my bed, my successor to die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.” I pray that my parents, many, many years from now will die in their bed; I pray that I might have the courage to die in prison or a martyr in the public square for being a Christian; and I pray that my sons will have the faith –through the example of their parents and grandparents – to pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization. And, I pray for each of you when and how you might suffer for being Catholic in your family, in your place of work, or elsewhere that you might always know and be strengthened by God’s love. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:48 AM
Saturday, September 10, 2016
This past Thursday evening we had over one hundred people in our school cafeteria to begin our parish’s 11 week Alpha program. And we had nearly 30 men yesterday morning to start our parish’s fall Men’s program. It was wonderful to have such a diverse group of individuals together seeking faith and fellowship – lots of great energy and enthusiasm, too. I want to extend a special thank you to Fr. John and our leadership teams for all their hard work to host these events – many are with us at this Mass – thank you! As you may have heard or read, there is a Presidential election set for later this Fall. I will defer to our good pastor and the Bishops of our state and country to help us navigate, as faithful citizens, the challenge we will certainly face in the election booth in November. Needless to say, this election cycle has stirred a lot of interest – certainly in part because of the many pressing and important issues facing our country and our world, and as much by the “complex” personalities running for office. This election has also reminded me of the great need and desire we have as citizens and humans for leaders – leaders of our county, our communities, and in our places of work, our places of worship, and even in our home and within our families. This is what makes today’s first reading so interesting. The back-story is that the Israelites made a golden calf as a proxy of sorts for God. Like us at times, the Israelites could not cope with an invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they could see and touch and understand. And without their faithful leader Moses – the one who lead them out of slavery from Egypt and who was now up on a mountain with God and with no scheduled return date (or if he was even coming back), they turned to Aaron. It is Aaron’s failed leadership that underlies this story. Out of fear of the mob, or maybe a temporary loss of faith himself, Aaron showed no resistance to the people’s request to “make us a god who will go before us.” He didn’t seek to persuade them of the error of their ways. He didn’t encourage them to be strong, to have faith, to have hope in the same God who rescued them from slavery. Rather than discouraging bad behavior, Aaron tells them to take off the golden earrings that they were wearing, and bring them to him and he made a molten calf. Because he did not stop others from behaving badly and even participated in the bad behavior himself, he failed: he failed both his people and his Lord. Aaron also failed the test of honesty as a leader. When he tried to explain to his brother, Moses, about what took place while he was away, he failed to tell the truth – or at least he was not totally honest in what he said. Aaron twisted the facts to make it appear that he did not cause anything wrong to happen. Further, Aaron failed by not taking responsibility for his actions. He blamed the Israelites for making and worshipping the golden calf, rather than taking responsibility for at least his part in this event. I share this not to beat up Aaron, who has an important and valuable role in the Old Testament and our Salvation history; rather, I share Aaron’s failed leadership to highlight what the balance of today’s readings offer us as insight into true leadership. First, while not completely perfect or innocent himself, Moses does exhibit great courage to speak the truth, to defend the Israelites and God’s covenant with them, and to then humbly ask God for mercy, as we heard in today’s First Reading. Then, St. Paul in writing to his friend Timothy in our second reading, is humble and well aware of his past failings, appreciative of the gifts God has given him, and understands the great responsibility and trust God has also given him, and now confidently and boldly speaks the truth to others of God’s great love and mercy. And finally, in today’s Gospel we hear of a shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep until he finds it, and when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, then calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice; and of a woman having ten coins and losing one lights a lamp and sweeps the house, searching carefully until she finds it, and when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice; and lastly, of a father filled with great compassion for both of his sons and patiently waits for his lost son, and when he arrives home, the father runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and celebrates his return. This is certainly the love and mercy our God has for us. These parables also provide the example of how we are to act toward others – the leaders we are called to be. Yes, each of us is a leader – maybe not by title, or election or level of power, but we each have been given certain responsibilities. We may not be able to directly influence the individual behaviors of our leaders in our governments or corporations, but we do control our own behaviors and actions and attitudes. Today’s readings then show how were are to act when given responsibility: to be brave and humble, aware and grateful of our many gifts, caring and attentive, willing to risk everything for another, to go to great lengths and self-sacrifice for someone or something, and to show great mercy and compassion toward others – even those who may have hurt us or embarrassed us. This week, I invite you to consider the responsibility you have been given – maybe it is at work, here at the parish, in your neighborhood, or in your family or home. How have you acted well? How have you failed? Pray this week for the grace to be the leader you are called to be, the leader that others need you to be. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:38 AM
Saturday, August 13, 2016
In my mid-20s, I had a summer internship in Washington DC and while there, I connected with the Catholic Worker movement. Several from that community were having a protest at the Pentagon early one morning, so I joined them on my way into work. Admittedly, I was participating from a FAR distance; so what I can remember are: 1) Martin Sheen the actor was there, 2) that blood was being thrown onto the exterior wall of the Pentagon, and 3) many were arrested that day. Needless to say, I quickly ducked away from the protest, proceeding to work as the Dispatch headline – Congresswoman’s intern arrested for throwing blood on Pentagon – flashed through my mind. That event still remains with me, even though so many years have passed, because of their act of civil disobedience, not motivated by politics, but by their Catholic faith and their commitment to following Jesus’ example of non-violence. Certainly today’s readings invoke the question: what do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? Recalling the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading: what am I willing to say or do that might put me into a deep, underground prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life, just as Ebed did for Jeremiah into today’s first Reading? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family? What is worth laying down my life for? Through the eyes of our Catholic faith, we can see and know that it is not for money, power, or possessions that we will take such great risks. Although we may be often tempted to think that for a million dollars or to be the CEO or president we would be willing to sacrifice everything. And even if we go down that road, we soon find that we are not satisfied, but still long for more. It is Jesus who points us to the one, true answer: love. Jesus freely and willingly suffered and died for us because he loved us and wanted us to know this love and share this love with others. It is this love that we too can find reason to risk everything. It is Jesus’ beautiful example of love – willing to suffer and die for us – that models for us what we are called to do and what will bring us true and the greatest joy and peace in our life. Here comes my plug for our parish’s Alpha program…it is programs like Alpha that we can come to know or better understand the love relationship we were made for, the love relationship we are called to be in, and the love relationship that will bring us the greatest joy, and THE relationship worth suffering and dying for. So, I want to invite you to join us this fall in our Alpha program. There are cards about Alpha in the pews to take home and even share with others; and I also want to invite you to come to a sneak-peak of Alpha in the parish hall after Mass – we will also have some goodies for you to eat and drink. Going back to our readings, Jesus challenges us to clear all the junk that keeps us from fully and freely experiencing God’s love – this is the fire he speaks of in today’s Gospel – clearing away all the possessions, and people and empty pursuits in our life that keep us from God’s love. To be a Christian requires us to act outside this space – although what we do here is critical and necessary to our faith! As we leave here and go out into the world we live, and work and play, it will not be easy, we may not be popular, and we certainly will not always be comfortable; too often we will experience sacrifice and hardship. And as Jesus promises us: to follow Jesus will likely result in conflict – households will be divided, parents against children, relative against relative! But here is the Good News: we are not alone. “Brothers and sisters: we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – as the second reading reminds us. It is the saints who inspire us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” It is Jesus who has experienced the same shame, suffering, hardship that we endure in the face of opposition as we fully live out our lives as Christians. Inspired by Jesus’ and the saints’ example of perseverance, we must “not grow weary and lose heart.” So I ask again: What do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? What is worth being thrown into a prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family, my friends, my co-workers? What is worth risking your own life? I suspect that for many/most of you, your answer to my questions included family and friends. In addition for me, it is the issues of life and religious liberty. I do anticipate that sooner or later I will be faced with the situation where I will be forced to make a decision that may result in imprisonment in defense of these fundamental truths of our faith. Maybe for you and me, it might also be reporting some crime at work, or standing up to a bully, or confronting a loved one with an addiction, or challenging a cohabitating child or grandchild, or defending someone’s rights or dignity. The list goes on… This week, I invite you to pray over these questions; take time to write down your responses and then share them with someone. Be prepared to act knowing that you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, nourished by this word and meal we share today, and strengthened by the truth of God’s great love for us. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:06 AM
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Sin to out bid a priest, deacon or religious in the silent auction? Still waiting on whether I won silent auction. Thanks volunteers. Invite to dinner. Always a great event! It is good that we have this festival each year as a way – not only to raise some money for the school – but to also to welcome our neighbors to our parish campus, as well as maybe welcome back some fallen away Catholics AND to have the opportunity to share the joy and love we know as Catholics. In fact, we are called to be a welcoming people – as an institution: the Church, and individually: as Catholics. We see this in our liturgy – our greeters, music, this space should all be welcoming and inviting (we are getting there!); or even when, for example, we celebrate the Sacrament of Infant Baptism, we start by greeting the parents, godparents and child at the doors of Church – as any good host would – welcoming them not only into this place but also into God’s love and mercy. It is also in our Catholic institutions that we exemplify our welcoming spirit: in our Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities. And we can not forget the domestic Church: our families, where we must be welcoming of each other within the family even when we experience dysfunction – just as the Father does of both sons in the story of the Prodigal Son. And individually, we are called to have a spirit of welcome in everyone we encounter: family, friend, co-worker, stranger, even enemy. As recent events remind us, a spirit of welcome is much needed in our families, places of work, communities, and in our world. There is a need to be welcoming of each other regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, profession or any other “classification.” And, there needs to be a welcoming regardless of someone’s actions, words or behavior. To be clear, we can love and welcome the sinner, but not the sin; we can show care, compassion and mercy towards others, even if their words or actions are offensive, hurtful, or destructive. I get that the problems facing our world are complex social, economic, political, and historical in nature. But remember Christ too lived in a world filled with hate and violence, and filled with complex social, economic, political, and historical problems AND what did he do: he welcomed all – showing care, compassion and love, even in the face of hostility, embarrassment and rejection. The only way we can do this – to be so welcoming – is to first see and understand in each other that we are made by God, made in his image and likeness, made by God’s love to be loved and to love. It is this very fundamental truth of our Catholic faith that gives each of us a dignity, value and worth AND demands respect, care and compassion – as truly someone worth welcoming. This is the example Jesus gives us over and over again in the Gospels, this is the example we are called to embrace and follow. Today’s readings then give us some insight into how we can be so welcoming. As a “Martha” myself, I feel the immediate need to go on the defensive about what we might interpret as Jesus’ treatment of Martha in today’s Gospel. Jesus does not reject the hospitality and effort given by Martha, but he does reject her anxiety and worry. He wants to make sure that Martha does not miss what he has to offer: his Word, his love, his mercy. We need to possess the best of both Mary and Martha: welcoming and serving of others, while at the same time being attentive and listening. Abraham exemplifies the hospitality we are called as Catholics to show toward others. As we just heard, it was a hot day (like today) and Abraham was no “spring chicken” but, in his old age and weakened body, he RAN to greet his guests, bowing down to the ground before them, and began to serve them. He was fully present, fully focused in serving his guests; and did so with no expectation of receiving anything in return. And greater than what to offered in food, shelter and comfort, was what he offered in his attentiveness towards them. And for this he was greatly rewarded. Yes, it was a friendly audience that Abraham welcomes – actually a divine audience – but we are called to show such welcome to just not family and friends, but also strangers, even enemies! So, I like that the welcoming-themed First Reading and Gospel passages are paired in our Lectionary with today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. St. Paul reminds us of two things. First, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Suffering and pain have a way of either causing us to collapse within ourselves or to be like St. Paul, who is writing from prison and is most likely in great physical pain, but nonetheless embraces his pain as an opportunity to unite himself with Christ and all that Christ has done for us. We are faced with a similar decision in each encounter we have, right? In our own fear, insecurity, doubt, anxiety and worry, do we turn inwards – unable to be welcoming and hospitable; OR are we able to move beyond ourselves to show respect, care and compassion – to be truly welcoming – towards all. Second, St. Paul goes on to remind us that we are called to share God’s love and mercy with others – first welcoming and then sharing. We do this when we move beyond our fear, anger, insecurity and pain to welcome someone and then share with them the joy, peace, and love we know when we are in relationship with our God. This is the example Christ provides us, St. Paul models for us, and what we are called to do. We hope to accomplish this, in a small but powerful way, through our parish’s Alpha program this fall and about which you will be hearing more about in the coming weeks. In the meantime, in just a couple of minutes we will stand together and say this beautiful prayer: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Jesus not only provides us with the example of welcoming others, but he awaits our welcome of him in our hearts in minds. It is in the Eucharist that we receive the grace – the help, the courage, the strength – to welcome Christ into our heart and mind and then to be the welcoming Catholic we are called to be. As you say these words today, offer up whatever it is that keeps you from welcoming Jesus and others and then in receiving the Eucharist, receive the grace to welcome those you encounter this week, so they too may know God’s great love.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:00 AM