Monday, December 31, 2012
The Lord be with you. R./ And with your Spirit. A reading from the holy Gospel according to John. Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” The Gospel of the Lord. My brother and sister-in-law just celebrated their 15 wedding anniversary a couple of days ago. We laugh now about their wedding day only because they wanted a cold, white Christmas wedding and it ended up being one of the warmest Christmas’ on record – no such worries for you guys today. I actually like that you chose to be married during the Christmas season, because there is so much joy that surrounds us at this time and it sets the right tone to celebrate what you are doing today – that of love and joy. In the first reading, we are reminded that we are not simply robots, machines or computers, but we are made uniquely by God in His image and likeness, we are made good! This means that we possess a dignity and holiness above any other creature. It is our loving God-Creator who continues to draw us into an intimate, personal love relationship. This Christmas we celebrate that God so loved us that he sent his Son to restore our broken relationship with Him and to teach us how to love God and each other. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. How did Jesus love? He cared for the sick and dying. He showed great compassion and mercy to all. He forgave those who hurt him and insulted him. He fed the hungry. He protected the weak, those persecuted and marginalized. And in the end, he suffered great embarrassment and physical pain, and even death, out of love for us. This is how we are to love each other. And Tony and Nikki, this is how you are to love your spouse! And Jesus promises us that if we do this, if we love like he did, our joy will be complete. So the joy you two have experienced as a couple leading up to today and even experienced today is just the beginning. This is not to say that you will be free from problems and difficulties – you can just ask your married grandparents, parents, and other relatives and friends about that. It will be your job as spouses to help each other to love, especially when it may be difficult to love. And, it is in the Sacrament of Marriage that you also receive the grace from God to sustain and grow your love for each other. This is what St. Paul alludes to in the second reading. God, because he wants us to love, will give you the grace to be patient and kind to your spouse, to NOT be jealous or pompous, to NOT be inflated or rude, to NOT be selfish, quick-tempered, to brood over injury, or rejoice over wrongdoing. I pray that your marriage may be filled with God’s grace, love and complete joy! Nikki and Tony, I commend you for your decision to marry and more specifically to make this public statement of your desire and commitment to enter into a permanent, faithful, and fruitful union with each other. You could have easily avoided making such an act – certainly popular culture does not appear to value or reward such decisions, plus with so much tragedy and despair in our country and world you could have simply lost hope in the future together. But instead you have great courage to live out this what is becoming almost counter-cultural and you likely with continue to face opposition in living as a Christian married couple. AND instead of doubt or discouragement, you also have hope and trust that a life together – in a permanent, faithful and fruitful union – will bring you true and lasting happiness. I promise you it will. So, again, thank you, on behalf of married couples gathered here – for affirming and renewing our decision as married couples – and thank you for being a wonderful example and inspiration to your single family and friends of the great joy that awaits them if they are willing to take the risk you take today. After all that, are you still ready to make this vow of married life to each other? If so, then I invite you with your wedding party to stand before the Altar.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:12 AM
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Last Sunday was my second in a series of talks with our 7th & 8th grade Parish School Religion students as they prepare for Confirmation this April. I have been sharing with them Blessed John Paul II Theology of the Body, which is based on the wonderful truth that we are made by a loving God, in His image and likeness, made good, made to experience God’s love – body and soul – now and eternally. I am eager to share this beautiful truth because I believe that it is not only good and true, but because I share it with the wisdom of hindsight, wanting to share with them what I wish that I had heard as a teenager and young adult – it would have saved a lot of anxiety, confusion, hurt, embarrassment, and insecurity – although there would still be some angst – it was the teenage years! It is with a similar motive that the author of today’s first reading writes the Book of Baruch. Baruch is the main character of the Book and was the prophet Jeremiah’s esteemed secretary, who lived during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The actual author (or group of authors) of the book lived 4-5 centuries later – at a time in which the Jewish people experience great persecution. And so the authors wrote in the face of adversity and hopelessness, with the wisdom of hindsight, to offer encouragement and hope. The Book of Baruch reminded the Israelites then and us today that we are loved by a God of great power who can and will make every “lofty mountain low” and fill-in the age-old depths and gorges, so that we might know his security, joy, mercy and justice. It is also a reminder that God wants us to remove our robe of mourning and misery; to be transformed in his glory and to be one with him forever in the “peace of justice.” We only read from the Book of Baruch a few times in the entire three-year lectionary cycle – this Sunday and the Easter Vigil liturgy – and has a very contentious history. The Book of Baruch and six other books of the Catholic Old Testament are not contained in the Protestant Bible. Catholics refer to these seven books as deutrocanocial, while Protestants often refer to them with the title Apocrypha. The Catholic Old Testament follows the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint, which is contains 46 books of the Old Testament and was translated into Greek around 250 BC. These books were used by Jesus and the Apostles, the early Church Fathers, and was infallibly reaffirm at the Council of Trent as divinely inspired. Protestants follow the Palestinian canon of Scripture, which was not officially recognized by Jews until 100 AD. It was this set of Scripture that Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther, relied on to support their their reform doctrine. Much more can be said on this, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to briefly say something about this often controversial issue, when talking about the Book of Baruch. As Catholics, it is good that we look back on the books of the Bible – all 73 of them! - to learn of God’s great love revealed to us in these writings. But we must not stop there, we must also look forward. And this is what we do during the Advent season. We celebrate the past when God became man to teach us how to love by what he said and did. And we anticipate the future celebration of Jesus’ Second Coming, at which time God’s love will defeat once and for all death so that we may have eternal life. This Advent we stand between our own past and future. Between our doubt, brokenness, pain, weakness, and adversity AND our loving, merciful God who has truly done great things for us. And so, I say to you, echoing today’s Responsorial Psalm: be filled with joy! Be like St. Paul who was transformed by God’s love and has this great joy, love, confidence and hope for his friends in Phillippi, of which we read in today’s second reading – which by the way was written as Paul sat in jail awaiting his execution. Be like St. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel whose trust in God allows him to fearlessly call people to a baptism of repentance and a forgiveness of sins, so as to prepare the way for Jesus – and he continued to do so even when threatened with death. Be like Holy Mary, whose Immaculate Conception we celebrate today/yesterday and who was full of grace and without hesitation said yes to God, even if that meant that she would have to watch her own son suffer and die on the cross. Make this Advent your time to remove your robe of mourning and misery and to be transformed in his glory. I invite you to attend tomorrow’s/tonight’s parish penance service and be transformed by God’s love and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – be sorrowful for your sins, seek forgiveness, and commit to avoid sin in the future. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:17 AM