Saturday, December 7, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I heard or read somewhere the phrase: no mercy without repentance. I recall these words as I prayed over John the Baptists’ words in today’s Gospel. I tried to find the source of the phrase I heard a couple of weeks ago – as I may have heard it on Catholic radio or read it in a Catholic blog post. A series of Google searches later I found a wonderful article by Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington titled A Reflection on the Modern Error of Preaching Mercy without Repentance. His premise is that too often the idea of God’s mercy without personal repentance is taught in the classroom and preached from the ambo. In other words, there is too much emphasis on how God loves us, is rich in mercy, is kind and forgiving – all of which is true – without an equal emphasis on the reality that all these attributes of God are accessed when we repent for the words, thoughts and actions that separate us from God. As Msgr. Pope puts it: “God’s offer of mercy and healing love stands (forever), and are offered to everyone. But these magnificent gifts must be accessed through repentance…we must come to understand the seriousness of our condition, turn to God, call upon his mercy, and begin to receive the glorious medicine he offers: the medicine of his Word, of the Sacraments, of prayer, and walking in fellowship with the Church, which he established as his ongoing presence and voice in the world.” Finally, Monsignor Pope challenges those who preach and teach to proclaim repentance that unlocks the forgiveness and mercy of God. Admittedly, I find myself at risk of doing this – so eager to share the Good News of God’s love and mercy that I don’t equally emphasize the need for repentance. And certainly, the secular Christmas season there is the risk that we get caught up in the joy of the season that we forget that we must move closer to God, as much as his moves closer to us by becoming man. Yes, we much keep our focus on our goal of peace now and eternally, which is envisioned in the First Reading: Wolf and Lamb; Leopard and kid; Calf and Lion; Cow and Bear; Baby by the Cobra’s Den; and Child by the Adder’s lair. And as we sung in today’s Psalm: Justice shall flourish, and fullness of peace for ever. But to obtain this peace, we must repent. We must acknowledge our sins, as we just confessed: that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do - through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. We must also resolve to not sin again and avoid whatever causes us to sin. This is the act of contrition we will hopefully make this Advent in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whether tomorrow/tonight at our Parish Penance Service or at another time and place. John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, challenges us to go even further: to “Produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance.” That is, if we are truly penitent, if we have a proper sense of what we did to offend and separate ourselves from God, if we are truly sorrowful and commit to sin no more, then our lives will show it. We will be transformed and others will know it. This is what Paul points to in the Second Reading – if his audience is able to reconcile and be in harmony with each other, then they will be transformed, they will be unified and it will show by what they do together – glorifying God with one voice. For us, let’s take the Ten Commandments, which is always a good guide in making an examination of our sins. How about the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. If you find that you are skipping Mass on Sunday or otherwise not making Sunday an exceptional or extra-ordinary day in your week – then repent and produce much fruit. Acknowledge this sin, commit to change, and make it obvious to your family, co-workers, and friends that Sunday is a holy and special day by what you do AND don’t do on Sundays. Or how about the fourth commandment: honor your mother and father. I remind my boys of this often – but it also applies to me and how I treat my parents, right? How do we speak to and care for our parents – regardless of their age or role in our life. If we do not give them honor, then repent and produce much fruit. Acknowledge this sin, commit to change, and make it obvious to others by your words and actions of the great love you have for your parents. I will leave the other commandments to you. This week: 1) repent; and 2) produce much good fruit as you prepare for the Lord.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:51 AM
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I first want to start with a shameless plug for our Lighthouse Media kiosks in the Gathering Space and by the St. Joseph’s statue. These are great resources to help us know, share and defend our Catholic faith. I enjoy these CDs and books and try to listen to them. Admittedly, I don’t listen to them all the time or Catholic radio. Sometimes, especially with the boys in the car, we are listening to music or sports radio; and often when I am alone on the way to work or back, I will just turn off the radio and think or pray. But I do find myself gravitating back to Lighthouse CDs and Catholic radio, and I am often informed challenged, humbled, and ultimately reminded of a foundation of our faith – that we are a resurrection people. We are not defined or limited by our pain, worry, hurt, insecurity, possessions, comfort or pleasure – these will all fade and lose their meaning. We are called to something bigger and better. We are called to an eternal joy and peace with God. The candles on the steps of the Sanctuary from our Mass of Remembrance are a reminder for those who lost a loved one recently that, as Father Kavanagh shared in his homily and prayed in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer Tuesday evening: In Jesus, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality…for those who have died, life has changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven. Today’s readings, in a special way, too remind us of this reality and truth of our faith. Death is not the end, but a new beginning because our God is a god of love and life. It is a faith, hope and trust in the Resurrection of the body that a mother and her seven sons endured great torture to the point of death. They believed that their lives were not defined by or limited to their earthly existence or experiences. The entire story of this family recalls that each brother and their mother echoes the faith of the fourth brother that we heard today: that When he was near death, he said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” Affirming the truth of the Resurrection of the body after our earthly life is over, Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord, ' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." The Sadducees in today’s Gospel were Jewish leaders who did not believe in the Resurrection because they only followed the first 5 books of the Old Testament. They tried unsuccessfully to trap Jesus in a debate about marriage. Jesus was not saying in reply that marriage was bad, remember he instituted Marriage as a sacrament. He was really saying that what we know now is not what Heaven will be. Have read from several different sources this past week of how the Resurrection of the body is like a baby in the womb of a mother – that child has not idea what awaits him or her when born – it is beyond comprension for that child. The same is true for us of what awaits us. While marriage was used to try to trap Jesus, it is in marriage that we get a glimpse of what it means to be a Resurrection people now while on earth. It is in marriage that the bride and groom freely consent to the self-emptying, self-donation, self-gift of themselves to their spouse. In doing so, they experience a greater joy then before. I know how difficult it can be to believe sometimes that something greater awaits us, especially in the midst of pain or loss, addiction or illness, affluence and success, or comfort and contentment. But there is! We are a resurrection people made by a God of love and life, who made us and desires for us to be with him eternally. While you may or may not believe this, or at least struggle to have the faith or courage to believe, I invite you to at least have hope. To hope that something great awaits you. One way to do this is to embrace St. Paul’s words to the Thesselonians, who were also struggling with these issues. He reminded them that: the Lord is faithful; (and) he will strengthen you and guard you. God will give us what we need to be in his love now and eternally. Pray for the grace that the Lord may the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 1:45 PM
Saturday, October 12, 2013
I have found myself following closely the words and actions of our new pope, Francis. Maybe it is because of how accessible his words and actions are with technology, and I think part of it is because what he is saying and doing really resonates with me. Truth be told, I like all three popes of my life time – Blessed John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis – they are great, yet very different. Not that I spend a lot of time on the internet, but I came across this blog post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who was commenting on how blessed we are to have had three wonderful popes in recent history and how each brought something important to the Church. Fr. Longenecker observed that the traits longed for by the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion in the movie the Wizard of Oz, were/are possess, even exemplified by these three popes. (I believe Fr. Kavanagh also referenced this movie in his homily last weekend.) Blessed John Paul the Great was a man of courage - not a cowardly lion – who exhibited a great and fearless fortitude–whether it was his triumphant pastoral visits to Poland, his ceaseless travels around the world, his confrontation of heresy and disloyalty, his survival of an assassination attempt or his final, courageous battle with Parkinson’s–played out in public–John Paul was the pope of courage. Benedict XVI is the pope with the brain – far from the Scarecrow character – who with his precision of thought and clarity of expression articulated the fullness of Catholic teaching, liturgy and practice. And now Francis – with his Big Heart Open to God and Others, is no Tin Man, but a man filled with pastoral love and passion for Christ and his people. Fr. Longenecker goes on to write that actually each of these men possess all three of these traits, and that we need each of these traits to be the Christian men and women we are called to be. I have also been following the news report and blog posts that claim that Pope Francis’ radical love and charity for God and others are not compatible with Church teaching and he will ignore or reject what the Church has taught for the past 2000 years. I have read the full interview that many point to when making this claim, and that is not what I took from the wonderful article. Rather, I read that for Pope Francis the most important thing we need to know as Christians (and for non-Christians to know about us) is that we are called to be in a relation with a God of love and mercy. Yes, the rules, structures, and teachings of the Church are important and necessary, but if we miss the point that Jesus saved you and me, then nothing else matters, nothing else makes sense, nothing else has meaning or purpose. Our God is a God of great love and mercy, who desires more than anything to be in relationship with you and me. He is willing to become man to teach us how to love and is willing to suffer and die on the Cross to restore us in relationship with him! This is the saving love experience by Naaman in today’s first reading, who travels a far distance, goes to great effort, and risks embarrassment to be healed by God. This is the same saving love experience by the leper in today’s Gospel, who pleads with Jesus for pity. And this is the same saving love experienced by St. Paul, who in today’s second reading sings with confidence and trust even as he suffers in chains and prison. These men were treated with mercy by God and were healed physically – of their skin disease or blindness – as well as spiritually by our loving God. Going to another quote by Pope Francis – this one I found old-school in the paperback version of the Magnificat and is attributed to the Pope before he was elected pope. He said “Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. In front of this merciful embrace…we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond.” The men we read about today experienced this merciful embrace and are transformed. After being cured, Naaman proclaims “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” The leper in today’s Gospel returns glorifying God in a loud voice, falling to the feet of Jesus and thanks him. And St. Paul, sing confidently – years after his merciful embrace with our Lord – the ancient Christian hymn: “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” And we too are transformed when we experience the merciful embrace of God – As Pope Francis describes it: the surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy…of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. Let us never be afraid or hesitate to call out like the leper in today’s Gospel: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Let us never be afraid or hesitate to travel far distances and risk embarrassment like Naaman in today’s first reading to experience God’s saving love. Let us never be afraid or hesitate to trust like St. Paul in God’s love, even when we are suffering. The merciful embrace of God awaits you and me. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:10 AM
Friday, September 6, 2013
Next Saturday starts the third year of That Man Is You, which is an initiative to help the men of our parish to be the Christian men – fathers, husbands, co-workers – they are called to be. I invite you to join us next Saturday morning at 7:00 am. I say “us,” but admittedly I know that I will not be there every Saturday, just as I was not able to attend every session last year. I realized at some point last year that I was going each Saturday to become a better husband and father, and leaving my wife home with the boys on the one morning that she gets to sleep in, which is one of the few things she rarely gets to do and enjoys so much. So, I decided that one way I can be a better husband and father was to be at home on Saturday mornings to help out and allow my wife to enjoy a couple additional minutes of peace. If our almost two-year-old decides to sleep in past 6:30, I hope to be here often because I have learned a lot from this initiative and especially enjoyed the fellowship. But family is first – that is my first vocation – although I admit that I am not always good at finding that balance. It is for this very reason that I do believe strongly in the celibate priesthood. Yes, there are and have been married Catholic priests, even married Apostles. But, I believe that the fullest expression of what it means to be a priest is in being able to give oneself fully and completely in service to God and others. And with this point in mind, I turn to my last in the series of homilies I have been giving during this Year of Faith on some of the myths and misconceptions of the Catholic Church. This last myth, from Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church, is that “Priestly celibacy caused the crisis of sexual abuse of minors.” In debunking this myth, the evidence is substantial and confirmed by psychologists, researchers, and [even] insurance companies that priestly celibacy is not a risk factor for the sexual abuse of children. In saying this, I do not mean to excuse or belittle the reality and problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Sexual abuse of a minor by anyone is intrinsically evil and a serious crime! No situation, no motive, or no excuse can justify or mitigate it. Dr. Kaczor responds to this myth more specifically by answering three specific questions: 1) Does priestly celibacy cause the sexual abuse? 2) Why are priests forced to be celibate? And 3) What caused the sex abuse crisis in the Church? And as in the past, the Sunday’s readings are most helpful to talking about this myth. So, first, Dr. Kaczor documents well in just a couple of pages that there is no evidence that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination – or indeed, than non-clergy – notwithstanding the persistent efforts of the news media to make this a crisis of celibacy, which again is unsupported. At is root, we can say that the abuse of a child is the failure to see the child as a person who is made by God, made in his image and likeness, made good. It is a failure to see the child as a person loved and who deserves to be treated with respect, care and dignity. It is a failure to see the child as a brother or sister in Christ. This is the same basis for the appeal St. Paul makes in today’s Second Reading. Paul is writing to a friend and fellow Christian who is also a slave-owner. Paul is appealing to his friend to treat his slave, who ran away to Paul and who Paul is now returning to his friend, to treat him no longer as a slave but more than a slave, [as] a brother, beloved especially [by Paul], but even more so [to be treated] as a man and in the Lord. Although a small minority of priest (less than 4%) have perpetrated sexual abuse, the vast majority of priests are innocent of these crimes and truly model the behavior Paul encourages in today’s Second Reading – treating all with love and respect, regardless of who they are. The question still remains for many: Why are Catholic priests forced to be celibate? Priests freely choose to embrace the commitment of celibacy for the sake of serving God in a heroic way. Dr. Kaczor equates such a choice to someone joining the military – in joining the priesthood or the military, a person volunteers for an arduous undertaking for the sake of being a part of something bigger than themselves in an extraordinary way. For a man to choose to be a celibate priest (or for that matter a woman to choose to be a celibate nun) is impossible if that person does not rely on God-given wisdom. This is in fact Solomon’s prayer in today’s First Reading. He is praying for God’s wisdom to be a just judge and effective leader. Absent such wisdom, we are timid, unsure, burdened, and weighed down – as Solomon reminds us in his prayer. Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel challenges us to consider what is required to make such a choice, it is Jesus who modeled perfectly obedience, humility, self-sacrifice and love by emptying himself and becoming man and by his death on the Cross for us. We cannot be foolish, half-hearted, irresponsible, reckless, or arrogant – such as a person who would build a tower without having all the money necessary to complete it, or to enter into battle without enough soldiers to win the fight. Only with the wisdom of God can one find great meaning and purpose, clarity and truth, confidence and certainty in something so radical and counter-cultural as the celibate priesthood or religious life. Only with God’s wisdom can a man or woman freely, with understanding and clarity, and even with great passion choose to live a celibate life. This leads to the final point: what caused the sex abuse crisis in the Church? As Dr. Kaczor points out: it was not celibacy that caused the problem, but rather a lack of celibacy. The primary cause of the problem rests with a small minority of clergy who radically contradicted the priestly vocation of loving, sacrificial service. Yes, celibacy is a sacrifice for many, it can even be considered a cross they bear. But recall, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. AND In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Our priests are called a life of humble service to God and the Church – this is truly a vocation of service. Their total giving of self for God and the Church, albeit radical to many, is a beautiful expression of love, trust and hope – and for which I am most grateful. THANK YOU. Let us pray for our priest and bishops and religious men and women who have chosen or are discerning to live a celibate life in order to serve completely, obediently and humbly. May God grant them always the grace they need to remain faithful to their choice and humble in their service to God and others. And, echoing our opening prayer, may God look graciously upon them, that by their celibacy, they may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:37 PM
Friday, August 9, 2013
The unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, from which today’s Second Reading comes, offers a wonderful definition of faith: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Father/Monsignor spoke of such faith last weekend, reminding us that we are called to have a faith in something much bigger and greater than what we could ever possess or even experience with our human senses. The author of the letter to the Hebrews expresses a faith that is not wishful thinking, but that is certain and full of confidence. This a similar point I try to make with the couples I prepare for marriage – that the rainbows and butterflies you now feel are great and important, but marriage more than just feelings or wishful thinking, it is about a vocation of service, helping your spouse grow in a such certain and confident faith in each other and in God. Over the past several months I have been focusing my homilies on some of the myths and misconceptions of the Catholic Church. During this Year of Faith, I have tried to use Sacred Scripture – the readings for that Sunday - and the insights and commentary of many smart and faith-filled theologians and scholars to confront popular culture’s distrust, distain, even hatred toward the Church. This is the sixth in my series of seven homilies in this effort. The sixth myth, which is from Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book – The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, is that “The Church Opposes Same-Sex Marriage Because of Bigotry: The Myth That There Is No Rational Basis for Limiting Marriage to One Man and One Woman.” In the eyes of the Church, marriage is a natural institution. It predates both religion and government and is grounded in the nature of the human person. Despite cultural variations, every human society in the entire history of the human race has understood that marriage is a sexual union of man and woman with the purpose of procreating and educating the next generation – and for this reason, marriage has also been given a unique status in the law. Jesus elevates Christian marriage to a sacrament, in which the couple’s relationship expresses in a unique way the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and his people. Dr. Kaczor does a wonderful job of further breaking down this issue and provides fair, logical and honest arguments in support of the Church’s position. And there are certainly many others providing great clarity (and compassion) on this issue, including the bishops of the United States, the Knights of Columbus, and Catholic radio, television and newspapers. So, I will not now repeat these arguments, because honestly without more time to explain or for dialogue on this issue anything I would say will only sound hateful and irrational. So instead, I will focus on the good news the Church holds and teaches on marriage. As I referenced last month, Bishop Campbell recently wrote that the state of marriage is a covenant of life and love between a man and a woman freely united by the vows of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. In focusing on what these elements of marriage, the readings for this Sunday are most helpful. A covenant is basically an agreement that is mutually and freely entered, and has no exit or termination clause. Marriage is a covenant relationship between spouses – they mutually and freely, without reservations or conditions, enter into this lifelong relationship. And so, we can speak of marriage as permanent - a lifetime commitment to help one another – and that it is indissoluble – as they promise to remain together “until death do us apart.” The love of the husband and wife is also a sign of God’s covenant with His people – the promise to stay with us and not reject us, even if we offend or reject him. It is this same covenant that is recalled in today’s first reading with great joy and as a source of strength in the midst of difficulty and hardship. And so, we also say that marriage strengthens our covenant relationship with God, which is the ultimate goal of marriage: to get your spouse to Heaven! In today’s second reading, we recall the model of great faith Abraham had in God – the trust and obedience Abraham had to leave the safety and security of his home and even sacrifice his own son. In marriage, we are called to trust in and be obedient to our spouse, which helps us to in turn have the faith-of-Abraham in God. Such trust creates a unity between husband and wife – a bodily, intellectual, and spiritual union. This faith and unity also allows for exclusivity and faithfulness between spouses. No other intimate relationship should come between you and your spouse –you want and need nothing more than your spouse – that exclusivity and faithfulness is affirmed and strengthen in the bond of marriage. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to a complete trust in God. Not to worry about “stuff” – possessions and belongings – because God the Father will care for us. He will “Provide money bags for [us] that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” Not worried or concerned with material wants or needs - we are called to be ready and willing to serve Him. It is in marriage that we serve Him in our service to our spouse and children. In marriage, we are called to be the “faithful and prudent” servant to our husband or wife and to our children. The Church goes even further and calls married couples to a total self-giving of self that mirrors total self-giving of the steward in Gospel and, even better, Christ on the Cross. And more specifically, married couples are called to a fruitfulness in their marriage that can only come through self-giving. This fruitfulness can be expressed in acts of social justice as well as procreation. Their total gift of self to their spouse generates life in the form of children AND is life giving to everyone they meet, especially, those whose lives are touched by the care and love of a married couple. Catholic teaching holds that sacraments bring grace to those who receive them. Grace is a way of describing how God shares the divine life with us and gives us the help we need to live as followers of Christ. We will receive such grace in the Eucharist we are about to share. The grace from sacrament of marriage brings to the spouses the particular help they need to be faithful and to be good parents. It also helps a couple to serve others beyond their immediate family and to show others that a loving and lasting marriage is both desirable and possible. My friends, let’s us pray that marriages may be filled with this grace, so that couples who have been entrusted with this great gift, may every day renew their vow of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:42 PM
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Immediately after college, I worked as a social worker in St. Louis. One of my community-mates worked with a hospice program for AIDS and HIV patients. During my year in St. Louis, I visited with many of these patients, who were gay and straight, sober and drug-addicted, rich and poor. I remember watching as their bodies and minds deteriorated as the disease took over. I recall one particular man who I had first met when he was healthier, and then visiting with him for the last time as he lay on his death bed. What I remember most about that visit with him was that at his bedside was his dad holding his hand, wiping his forehead, telling stories. That moment changed me forever – I began to put aside my homophobia, my fears and insecurities, as I saw a man suffering and in pain, yet who loved and was loved; I saw a man created in the image and likeness of God, created good, a man of worth and dignity – I saw in him my neighbor. I share this story to introduce the fifth in my series of homilies on the myths of the Catholic Church. As you may recall, I have been following Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book, The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, and using the Sunday readings during this Year of Faith to counter some of the popular misconceptions about the Catholic Church. This has really been a challenge for me – as I grow in my faith and understanding, as well as my ability to share this faith, AND I remain steadfast, even energized, to spread the Gospel. Dr. Kaczor’s fifth myth is that that Church hates people with same-sex attractions. I know the sensitivity of this issue in this parish community and Diocese, and I also know the good news that the Church teaches on this issue. And with that in mind, I share with you that the Church, the body of Christ, loves and welcomes all persons regardless of their sexual attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we must accept with respect, compassion, and sensitivity men and women who have same-sex attractions. As Dr. Kaczor adds: “God loves everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of anything, and this is the basis for the intrinsic dignity of every single person. God’s love includes every single man and woman on earth unconditionally – gay, straight, bisexual or whatever…the message of Jesus, the message echoed by the Church, is that every person should love, value and respect every other person, without exception and without condition. This is the point of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel. We are challenged to love – often by our acts of mercy and compassion, beyond our comfort zone. For a Samaritan to care for Jew was unthinkable. Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise.” To move beyond our fears and insecurities to love – to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. Dr. Kaczor makes an interesting observation in his discussion on homosexuality. He states that prior to the nineteenth century, people were not identified as nor did they understand themselves as “gay,” “lesbian,” or even “straight,” as is common today. They may have engaged in specific behaviors but that did not make them a specific kind of person. I think that this is an extremely important observation, especially in today’s culture. Even though society does, we must not allow ourselves to be defined by our actions, desires, attractions, successes, failures. We are more than our sexual attractions, for sure. Our sexual attractions are often not chosen and should not be cause for shame or guilt. And while sexuality is an important part of who we are, we are first and foremost men and women in Christ – children of God. By our Baptism, we are transformed and free to experience the peace and joy that comes in our personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, it is Jesus who is the image of the invisible God, all things were created through him and for him, he is before all things, and in him all things hold together – it is thus in him and through him that we experience true peace, true freedom, true love – now and eternally. Our response, really the only possible, honest and true response is to love. To love “the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as our self.” To love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. In fact, we cannot avoid or deny this response to love because, as Moses states in today’s first reading, “it is already in our mouths and in our hearts; we have only to carry it out.” Bishop Campbell recently reminded his clergy that “the responsibility of every baptized person is to answer the call of Jesus Christ to holiness…[Bishop Campbell adds that ] an important part of this call to holiness is the pursuit of the virtue of chastity. There are many facets to chastity, but clearly a central part is the understanding that sexual intimacy is reserved to the state of marriage, a covenant of life and love between a man and a woman freely united by the vows of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. [Bishop Campbell concludes this point, by saying:] Every Christian, of whatever sexual orientation, is called to chastity. Dr. Kaczor states that to live a chaste and moral life requires effort and struggle. Married couples struggle not to use contraception and to be faithful to their vows of fidelity; single people struggle to wait until marriage; people who have taken vows of celibacy struggle to live their commitment; and persons with same-sex attractions struggle not to engage in homosexual behavior. And I will add that in our sex-crazed culture, these struggles are especially difficult because there is so much pressure to be sexually active while at the same time there is such great confusion as to its meaning and purpose. And so, it would seem that the Church’s teaching on sexual matters, including homosexuality, is at least as difficult as her other teachings. The truth is that while our struggle to live a chaste life can be difficult, the struggle to love God and our neighbor – as Jesus commands us to do in today’s Gospel – will always be more difficult and require more effort. The struggle to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion will always be the greatest challenge we have in life. AND this struggle to love will also always lead us to the greatest joy and peace. And so, in the midst of our own struggles to follow Christ – whatever that struggle may be – let us, as we sung in today’s Psalm: “Turn to the Lord in our need” with hope and trust that we may find life! Let us turn to God for his grace – that patience, wisdom, courage, humility, whatever we need – to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:55 AM
Saturday, June 8, 2013
For the next several weeks, we will be reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This letter was written about 20-25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and was written to a community of Christians in modern day Turkey. This community of Christians were Gentiles – non-Jews – whom St. Paul had converted to Christianity. The tone of this letter is highly charged, even defensive because Jewish-Christian missionaries who had come after Paul were requiring the people Paul converted - his friends - to follow Jewish laws, such as circumcision. For Paul, we are saved not by following laws (because in our human weakness we will never be able to follow either the spirit or letter of the law perfectly), but we are saved through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And, as Paul stresses, the Gospel he proclaims was not something he invented, but it is from God and it was by God that Paul was called to proclaim it. I appreciate St. Paul’s strong conviction, his risk-taking to admit his own failings AND his great trust in God. It is with this same approach that I address the fourth in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith. Following Dr. Christopher Kazcor’s book, The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, I have been using the Sunday readings to tackle some of the biggest misunderstandings of our Roman Catholic Church and the faith with which she is entrusted by Jesus Christ. Dr. Kazcor’s fourth myth goes something like this: the Church’s opposition to contraception shows that the Church is not only disconnected from modern society, but especially disconnected from the realities of love and married life. As Dr. Kazcor points out, most people, including most Catholics, view the use of contraception as not only NOT wrong, but in many cases a positive duty. In fact, a recent Pew study found that 64% of Catholics sampled said that the Pope Francis should relax the Church’s ban on contraception. I don’t anticipate that happening anytime soon and I will explain why. Before going further, I want to say that I am not trying to be controversial or provocative by standing here at this pulpit and talking about contraception or any other hot-button issue. However, like St. Paul in writing to the Galatians, I speak to you with a great love and also a strong desire that you know God’s love, which I believe is uniquely found and guarded by the Church. So, I am willing to risk embarrassment, being made fun of, or that you will just tune me out, if there is the possibility that I might bring you or your loved ones to reconsider your position on contraception, if you are part of that 64%. So, on the issue of birth control, let me first say that the Church teaches that any action either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, which is specifically intended to prevent procreation is immoral and not permissible in the eyes of the Church. Contraception is immoral and wrong when it frustrates or prevents the unitive and procreative nature of the act, as God designed. Proponents of contraception contend that contraception will transform society for the better – this is the bill of goods sold to so many when the pill first started being mass produced over 50 years ago and still today. Their argument goes something like this: contraception will make marriages better, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, allow greater sexual freedom and happiness, reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions and help control alleged global over-population. In reality, contraception has been harmful to marriages, and has failed to stop increases in STDs, unwanted pregnancies and abortions. We are only now beginning to understand the very serious physical, emotional and spiritual side effects and environmental impacts of contraception. And, as foretold over 40 years ago in the 1968 encyclical Humane Vitae, we are now more clearly seeing how contraception has “opened wide the way for marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, and the objectifying of women. Contraception fits well into a world view that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever. As Catholics, our world view is much different – it is about being a love relationship with a triune God - a God who created us out of love; who suffered and died for us out of love; and, who out of love, continually gives us whatever we need to stay in relationship with him. As Catholics we are called to love God and in turn share that same love with others. In the first reading and Gospel, we are reminded that our God is also a God of life. God works through the prophet Elijah, who prayed to let the life breath return to the body of the widow’s son. And it is Jesus who restored life to the widow’s son in today’s Gospel. These stories tell us of God’s great power to restore life, the importance and value God places on life, and the love and compassion God has for each of us, especially those in need. When couples use contraception to suppress their fertility, they assert that they alone have ultimate power and control to create new life - not God. And this is why the efforts to promote contraception as a matter of women’s health are problematic. Among other things, it is offensive to treat life that we hold so sacred as a disease that needs to be prevented or destroyed. And the irony is that the “treatments” being advanced in the name of women’s health are not improving women’s lives or health, but making them much worse. Many point to the Church’s teaching on contraception and say that the Church just does not get the realities of love and married life. The Church does get it and we can point to its teaching on marriage to prove this. In marriage, spouses seal their love and commitment through their sexual union. Many today find it difficult to understand how profound and meaningful this union is, how it embodies these promises of marriage that: “We will love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives? We will accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” In other words, the married couple is saying: We are ready to accept this person, and all that may come from our union, completely and forever! Only in marriage can we find meaning and purpose, as well as lasting joy, in this most intimate act between a man and woman. Our culture often presents sex as merely recreational, not as a deeply personal or even important encounter between spouses - an encounter that mirrors the total self-giving of Jesus on the Cross. In our culture, being responsible about sex simply means limiting its consequences—avoiding disease and using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. This cultural view is impoverished, even sad. It fails to account for the true needs and deepest desires of men and women. Living in accord with this view has caused much loneliness and many broken hearts - and ultimately distances us from the most important relationship: the one with God. God’s plan for married life and love is far richer and more fulfilling. In marriage, intimacy between a husband and wife is the source of a joy and pleasure that helps the spouses give themselves to each other completely and for their entire lives. And as couples turn away from contraception they will certainly share greater honesty, openness, and intimacy in their marriage. I just wish I heard this message 15-20 years ago! In married life, the Church also gets that serious circumstances—financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members—may arise to make an increase in family size untimely. The Church understands this. At such times, a married couple can engage in marital intimacy during the naturally infertile times or after child-bearing years, without violating the meaning of marital intercourse in any way. This is the principle behind natural family planning (NFP). Natural methods of family planning enable couples to use the very best understanding of our bodies to cooperate with the body as God designed it. We are blessed to have an NFP-trained and certified couple in our parish - Greg and Dorie France. I would encourage you to talk to them or me about this. NFP combined with self-restraint, self-discipline, mutual respect, and shared responsibility are the the most effective and responsible ways to plan a family and to experience a truly healthy and happy marriage. In today’s first reading and Gospel, we hear beautiful responses of faith when the gift of life is restored. What is our response to life? Is it something we contracept? Or is it something we honor and celebrate?
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:51 AM
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Edith Stein, also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a Jewish convert to Catholicism; she was a philosopher and nun; she died in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany in 1942, and was canonized a saint in 1998. Edith Stein once said of Original Sin that it was a very deliberate act of the devil to targeted Eve (and not Adam) to create the first doubt in God, which would lead to Original Sin and all the sin and evil that followed. Edith Stein, I think correctly, thought that the devil had the foresight and even the cunning to know the true power and influence women would have over humanity – both men and other women – and that the devil hoped that such feminine power and influence would help the devil in his battle with God. While the devil was correct in knowing the power and influence women would have; the devil was so wrong that feminine power and influence would align with him and defeat God. And we can thank the countless mothers and spiritual mothers for their teaching and prayers. This story sets up well the third in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith on the Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church. Following Dr. Christopher Kazcor’s book of the same title, the third big myth is that “the Church hates women” - or at least holds them as second-class citizens. It is an unplanned yet nice coincidence that I tackle this myth on Mother’s Day weekend, during the month of May, which the Church holds as a month in special devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and on the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. The short response to this myth is that the Church does not hate women or consider them second-class citizens, but in fact the Church loves and honors women. To this point, Dr. Kazcor responds that the Catholic Church has done more than any other institution in the world and throughout history to promote the well-being of women in providing food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education. Dr. Kazcor further argues that the time, resources, and money expended by the Catholic Church as an institution to improve the well-being of women is impossible to reconcile with the belief that the Church is “anti-woman.” The great dignity of women that Church holds is found clearly in the life and teachings of the Church’s founder, Jesus Christ. Like no one else before him, Jesus affirmed the value of women, bestowed his friendship on them, and protected them. Women were among his followers, and Jesus highly valued their faith. Moreover, the first witness to the Resurrection was a woman. We can also look to what Jesus taught to understand the value and worth that he saw in women. We see this specifically in Christ’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage and the prohibition against divorce. Jesus’ teaching protected women, who especially in the ancient world, were typically put at tremendous economic and social disadvantage in cases of divorce. Furthering this teaching, the Church today upholds the dignity of women by promoting the sanctity of marriage and championing the idea that women are free to marry or not, and if called to married life they must enter into marriage freely and with full consent. Some who hear this may be quick counter by pointing to the “subordination” passages in the Scripture – you the know the ones that always trigger the elbow in the side and chuckles when read. The most popular is Ephesians Chapter 5: “let wives be subject in everything to their husbands.” Much could be said of this passage, but let me just point out two things. First, when we read anything in Scripture, we can’t just pick and chose words or passages, but we must read and understand them in their entirety – and when we do this, we read that the call to be subordinate to your spouse is placed on BOTH husband and wife. And, second, St. Paul is using this passage to call married Christians to a strong mutual love and respect for each other, which is just the opposite of making women inferior to and objects of domination by their husbands. As Dr. Kazcor points out, the reservation of priestly ordination to men is perhaps the sorest spot among critics of the Catholic Church’s treatment of women. Many people understandably believe that this teaching of the Church holds women less holy, less intellectually capable, less pastorally sensitive, or less capable of leadership than men. This is false on two counts: first, the Church does not teach this, and second it is false that woman are less smart, caring, or capable of leading than men. However, the Church is bound by the fact that Jesus – in a completely free and sovereign manner, consistent with God’s eternal plan, and after having spent the night in prayer – chose men exclusively at the Last Supper for the institution of the priesthood. In the male priest, we see the man Jesus, who is called to a life of service, love and sacrifice – not domination, power or exultation. The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, was not called to the priesthood clearly shows that a male-only priesthood does not mean that women are of a lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Just as Christ’s selection of only men to be his apostles did not exhibit or imply in any way the inferiority of women or superiority of men, so too the continuation of this particular apostolic ministry by men does not manifest the belief that women as inferior. Unfortunately, as Dr. Kazcor notes, the Church and its members have not always followed Christ and his teachings as closely as they should with respect to the treatment of women. Blessed John Paul II acknowledged as much when he confessed that many members of the Church, including some in the hierarchy, have acted – and sometimes still act – in ways that fail to express the equality of man and woman. But, such shortcomings do not reflect what the Church and its members are called to be! In God’s sight, men and women share a common dignity that comes from being created by God, in his image and likeness, and made good. Men and women also share a common goal: eternal happiness. It is Christ who leads and proceeds us by His Ascent into Heaven in achieving this goal. This is the joy we celebrate today with the Ascension our Lord – who as we read in the second reading: “seats at the right hand of our Father in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” In today’s first reading and Gospel, we read from two different books the same story by the same author. It is a story worth repeating because the Ascension matters to us. Our Lord now sits at the right-hand of the Father and constantly intercedes for us before the Father. Our Lord’s Ascension also matters because it reminds us that our human bodies are significant and important. Jesus rose from the dead body and soul; and he ascended to Heaven body and soul. However equal we are in the eyes of God, we were also created as man and woman – not gender-neutral robots, but as uniquely man and woman - – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually – each gender is different but with complimentary roles and gifts in our vocation of love and service. It is through this lens, that we begin to see the full and true dignity of women. And this is what I suspect Edith Stein was referring to when she spoke of the power and influence of women that the devil so coveted in the garden of Eden. In our shared vocation to love and serve, women truly have a unique capacity and ability. Some refer to this as the feminine genius - this receptivity (among other qualities) - to love and for life. We see this most profoundly in a woman’s capacity and ability to love and receive new life as a mother – a total self-sacrifice and self-donation for the life growing inside of her. And especially in her ability to then endure the pain of pregnancy and labor to bring new this life and joy into the world. It is this same capacity and ability to love and serve that makes women great wives, teachers & principals, nurses & doctors, lawyers & judges, police officers & lawmakers; secretaries & CEOs; and saints & doctors of the Church. I honor and thank the women in my life – my wife, my mom, my sister – who have so wonderfully exercised their God given capacity to love and serve. I know that I have not always been so respectful or grateful. My prayer for them and every woman is that, filled with the Holy Spirit promised to each of us in today’s readings, they may know always their dignity and value as a woman and the unique joy of God’s plan for them. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:17 AM
Saturday, April 13, 2013
One thing that I don’t feel that I always do well as a father and husband is to ensure that my family knows and experiences the great joy and happiness of our faith. I want them to always know that our Catholic Church is a Church of great joy and happiness. The same joy that we celebrate in a special way this Easter season; the same joy that the Apostles, in the first reading, must have felt as they rejoiced in the face of the same people who had just killed their friend and their Lord; the same joy with which the Psalmist confidently and joyfully praises the Lord, who has rescued us; and the same joy, echoed in our second reading, which is sung by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, by everything in the universe. I wish to do this more/better because too often (and too easily) our Catholic Church is characterized as being just the opposite. So, in the second in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith, I will return Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book – the Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church – to address the myth that our Catholic Church opposes freedom and happiness. This myth goes something like this: The “Church” always says “no” to anything that might make us happy or be of any fun, and even further the “Church” is controlling and suppresses our personal freedom. The short answer is that the Catholic Church is actually a great advocate and support of personal freedom and happiness – that is TRUE freedom and TRUE happiness. In fact, the Church’s primary goal and purpose is to get you, me (and as many others as we can) to Heaven, where there is eternal peace, joy and happiness. In his chapter on this myth, Dr. Kaczor spends a lot of time defining what happiness is, relying on science, philosophy and psychology – which I will not repeat in detail now. I will only summarize by saying that we can understand objectively what happiness is and that we experience different levels of happiness. For me, also, it is important to also understand that there exists a natural desire for happiness, which is of divine origin. Because man is created by God and for God and out of love, only in God will we find true happiness. So, does the Church oppose happiness? No, let me explain why this is true. If one level happiness is found in bodily pleasure, then we can say that the Church does not oppose such happiness. The pleasure that comes from good activities – like drinking water when thirsty, eating when hungry, or even the intimacy between a husband and wife – are good things, which the Church would say should be experienced and even enjoyed. However, as Dr. Kaczor reminds us, when the use of alcohol, food or sex undermines our own well-being and the well-being of others, we reduce our ability to be happy and to have even greater happiness. And so, the Church cautions us to temper such pleasures and avoid abuse. This is often the “no” we hear from the Church – and the “no” society obsesses over. Just as the Church does not oppose pleasure that comes from good things, the Church also does not oppose a higher level of happiness that comes from achieving a competitive advantage as measured by money, fame, power, popularity. There is nothing wrong with money, power, fame, or prestige, or even just wanting them. However, like the pursuit of pleasure, the problem comes when our pursuit for competitive advantage becomes disordered and trumps a greater happiness – the love for God and others. In fact, much has been written recently by our Popes and Bishops on how we as Catholics can participate morally, ethically, and successfully in today’s market place – always upholding the dignity of the human person in the pursuit of happiness. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with money, worldly success, or bodily pleasures. The problem comes when we think that these are the ultimate goals of life or when we seek these things exclusively and never seek higher or greater levels of happiness. The Church teaches that: even if we had all the money, fame, and power in the world, all the bodily pleasure we could handle, and the worldly success possible, we would not be truly happy if we did not know and experience the love of God and others. Jesus made this point very clear when he taught us the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Happiness ultimately consists in a rightly ordered love: love for God - first, love for others - second, and the love of things - last. To be clear about what the Church opposes – the Church opposes a false happiness that places greater value on wealth, fame, power, and pleasure over love. As Dr. Kaczor states: All the prohibitions taught by the Church – all the times the Church says “no” – are in service to an overriding “yes” to a love for God and neighbor. The Ten Commandments, for example, are the loving “no” of the Church, pointing us to a “yes” to a love of God and neighbor. We find great happiness in loving and serving others. And I agree with Dr. Kaczor when he says some of the happiest people have meaningful work or volunteer experiences in service of others, and who also have strong, loving relationships with family, friends, and God. Few activities are more meaningful, significant, and joyful than teaching, helping and caring for others. I see that joy in the face of parents helping their children. I see that in the faces of Father Kavanagh and Sister Barbara who serve our parish needs so well. I see it in the faces of our parishioners when the serve a monthly meal to the homeless through the Open Shelter. And I know that I will see it in your and the faces of the Knights of Columbus who will be collecting after this Mass any loose change you might have to support our seminarians studying for the priesthood. Ultimately, as Dr. Kaczor points out, the primary mission of the Church is to “reconcile all people to God the Father,” which happens to also be the greatest longing for happiness we have and also the greatest source of happiness we can have. So, to this point, there is lots of research to show that people who practice their faith are happier in all aspects of their life. Certainly, we can attribute these benefits in part to belonging to a community – I know that I am happier because I am a member of the OLP community. However, there is also something more to our Catholic faith and practice that brings us even greater happiness – and that is the eternal teachings of Jesus, echoed liturgically by the Church, which promote happiness. For example, the trait of forgiveness is strongly linked to happiness. As Dr. Kaczor notes: those who forgive and let go of their resentments, cease mulling over pain and hurt, and therefore live fuller and happier lives. A second trait that is beautifully promoted by our Church to bring us happiness is the virtue of hope. With hope, we can endure current suffering and trials, trusting that with God’s help perfect happiness is attainable in the life to come. And, finally, the emphasis of gratitude and thanksgiving in the spiritual practices of the Church lead us to greater happiness. Those who are grateful and practice giving thanks to others have significantly higher levels of happiness than those who do not. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times if he, Peter, loves him. There is a lot to this passage, but one thing that Jesus is stressing to Peter is that he has a choice – to follow Jesus or not. Our loving Creator gives us the gift of free will. So, the choice presented to Peter is also presented to each of us. Do we want true happiness now and eternally? Do we want to be part of a Church whose mission it is to teach and encourage true happiness? Then say yes to Jesus! Say yes, of course I love you and will follow you and your Church so that I may know your true happiness now and eternally.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:58 AM
Saturday, March 9, 2013
In today’s second reading, St. Paul urges the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. Father Kavanagh made this same appeal this past Thursday to our RCIA candidates who will soon make their First Reconciliation, as they prepare to enter the Church this Easter vigil. Father also urged our candidates as they approach this Sacrament, and as St. Paul did the church in Corinth, to be ambassadors for Christ. Father urged them to speak favorably of the Sacrament and for them to invite others to experience the joy and peace that comes in receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy in this Sacrament. So, echoing both Father and St. Paul, I invite you to be reconciled to God this Lent by experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation – whether at our Penance Service tomorrow/this evening, or at another parish – AND to be an ambassador for the Sacrament by speaking favorably of it with your spouse, your children, and friends. In this Year of Faith, I urge you to not only be ambassadors for Christ present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also for Christ present in the Church. I think that one of the biggest challenges we have has as Catholics is to be not only an ambassador for Christ, but to also be an ambassador for the body of Christ - the Catholic Church. Many people call themselves Catholic and work hard to be Christ-like, and are even willing and able to share their faith in Jesus. But some believe that they don’t need the Church, or they dislike and are suspicious of the Church, or worse, they reject the Church. The author Dr. Christopher Kaczor, in his book The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, argues that there is a deep unity between Jesus and his body, the Church, and that we need both – Jesus and his Church - to obtain the fullness of the Father’s love, mercy, peace and joy. Dr. Kaczor states that the way to God is through Christ and his Church, but it is sometimes blocked by various misunderstandings people have about what the Church believes and does. And so, his book sets out to examine and clarify seven of the most controversial and common myths about the Catholic Church – thus the full title: The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism. Over the next several months of this Year of Faith – God and pastor willing - I hope to use my homilies and the readings for those Sundays to tackle each of the myths presented by Dr. Kaczor. In doing so, I hope to debunk myths or misunderstandings you and admittedly I at times may have about our Church, while at the same time empowering us with the knowledge and love of our Church to be ambassadors for the Church in our homes, places of work and really everywhere. The first myth is that the “Church opposes Science.” The argument for this position goes something like this: one must choose to be a person of learning, science, and reason, or choose to embrace religion, dogma, and faith alone. The argument continues that the Church opposes science, that it does not sponsor or support scientific research, and it has an explicit distrust of reason in general and scientific reasoning in particular. The short answer is that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as a Church we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, knowledge – and that these gifts will be working in each of us to know God’s will and love in our life. And more specific to the anti-science claims, Dr. Kaczor details in his book that Catholics are numbered among the most important scientists of all time - many of whom were and are clergy and religious - and the Catholic Church, as an institution, has a long history of funding and supporting scientific research and instruction. Dr. Kaczor goes on to address several reasons why this myth persists today, such as erroneous perception that the Church holds a very literal interpretation of the Biblical accounts of creation and Adam and Eve, that science can not support the miracles performed by Jesus in the Gospels, the Galileo controversy – when the teaching role of the Church collided with science, and finally the Church’s opposition to stem cell research that involves the intentionally killing of human embryos. I will leave a discussion of these reasons to Dr. Kaczor and get to the heart of the matter. The real tension is between faith and reason – that is, between believing in a God who is beyond our human understanding AND believing only in what you can experience with your senses or prove by scientific methods. Our culture often pits faith against reason – that the more faith-filled you are, the less reasonable you are. Some go as far as to hold that the two can never be combine or reconciled. Rather than choosing between faith and reason, the Church invites us to harmonize our faith and reason. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls for us to have a reasonable faith and a faithful reason. I also like the words of St. Augustine: “I believe in order to understand, and I understand, to better believe.” Our goal is to bring both faith and reason into a more fruitful collaboration. Faith and reason working together, for example, help us to begin to understand our Loving creator who made us, made us in his image and likeness, made us good, and at the same time creates all that is visible and invisible in such a way that we can begin to understand using reason and science. Reason in fruitful collaboration with faith also help us to answer some of the most important questions facing mankind: What should I do? Whom should I love? Why do I suffer? Reason and science help to begin to know what is happening. Faith helps to give us understanding, meaning and purpose. In today’s Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, the primary point is the father’s love and mercy for each of his son’s that mirrors the even greater love and mercy that God, our Father in Heaven, has for each one of us! But it is the bothers’ thoughts and actions that illustrate well the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. Both brothers are not lacking in their use of their reasoning skills – both use logic and critical thinking to assess their situations, however, one stopped there, while the other also had faith. The younger brother coming to his senses is aware of how horrible his situation is and objectively and critically knows that he would be would be better off returning to his father. It is his faith in something more and greater than what he can sense, which moves him to action. It is his trust and hope in a loving and merciful father that gives him the courage and humility to return home. And his reward? A great celebration filled with forgiveness, joy and peace! The older brother also using his senses and critical thinking assesses his situation, but he did not have the same hope and trust in his loving father. And, so he would have been shocked to hear his father say: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” With reason alone he could never know that he was part of something greater or that joy and peace that follows. Like the younger son, even if it takes a lifetime or much trial and tribulation, we need both faith and reason to truly know the love God has for us. My friends, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and his Church. A Church that does NOT oppose reason and science. Rather a Church that embraces the use of science and reason to help us to know God’s will for us and to experience His love and mercy. May you know and have faith in our God.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:20 AM
Saturday, February 9, 2013
I have enjoyed watching my oldest son and his teammates play basketball this season. I have especially enjoyed watching them mature as a team by winning very competitive games and as players in moving from uncertainty and doubt on the court to playing with confidence in their ability to consistently play aggressive defense, make a lay-up on a fast break, and even make multiple 3-point shots. This is how our faith life should be too: moving from doubt, fear and uncertainty to a pattern of strong and unconditional confidence, trust and hope in our God. As I often say, this is what we are called to do and what we do best. However, too often doubt and uncertainty leaves us feeling not worthy, not willing, and maybe not able to be or grow in relationship with God. This is true for us now, as it has been since the beginning of time, when doubt and uncertainty crept into the hearts and minds of Adam and Eve. They doubted in the power and love of God, which led them to reject God. And we see the presence of doubt and uncertainty in today’s readings. The Prophet Isaiah recognizing his sinfulness bemoans: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Last week we read from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, who in trying to avoid God’s call, says “Ah, Lord GOD! I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” The Apostle Paul in today’s second reading is quick to own up to his faults and failings, describing himself: “as one born abnormally,” and as “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” And Simon Peter, falling to his knees before Jesus says: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And as we know, this is not the last time that Peter shows doubt and a lack of confidence in his faith in Jesus. And for me too, I know my own weaknesses and failures. And, not only am I embarrassed by them, I am also often left unable to do what I need to do as a father, a husband, a deacon, a friend, a co-worker because of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Fortunately, for us (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, me AND you), the story does not end with us wallowing in doubt, fear, uncertainty, and despair. Instead, our story continues with a personal encounter with a loving and merciful God, by which we are transformed. Going back to today’s readings: Isaiah’s eyes saw the King, the LORD of hosts! And his wickedness was removed, his sin purged. Paul’s personal encounter with Christ transforms him from one who persecuted Christians, to one who toiled harder than any other Apostle. And it was Peter, upon seeing Christ do miracles, left everything and followed him. And certainly, my experience of God, especially in the Sacraments, has changed me forever! Just as our loving God does not want us to wallow in darkness; we also can’t remain fixed in a single moment. Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter we go forward from our encounter with Christ more confident and certain in our knowledge and love of God and in our commitment to serve him and others. God in his great love for us, gives us his Spirit to protect us and guide us as we go forward. This is the prayer Father/Monsignor offered at the beginning of Mass: “Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that, relying solely on the hope of heaven grace, [we] may be defended always by your protection.” It is the gift of this heavenly grace that also helps to sustain us and even grow as Christian men and women. It is God’s gift of wisdom, courage, patience, or whatever we might need to overcome doubt, fear and uncertainty in order to live lives with purpose, meaning, hope and joy. In fact, in today’s second reading, St. Paul states that “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.” We need this grace working with and through us! Let’s pray that as we fed by God’s Word and His Body and Blood, we may be filled with this heavenly grace. And as we enter this season of Lent, let our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving allow us to be more open and receptive to God’s gift of grace so that may overcome doubt, fear and uncertainty in order to live lives with purpose, meaning, hope and joy. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:25 AM