Sunday, December 14, 2014
My three-year-old son, Owen, will often ask me: “are you happy?” Inevitably maybe intuitively, he will ask when I am most consumed in my own worry or pity. And in those moments, the honest answer is “no” – I am angry, frustrated, hurt, embarrassed, tired, or impatient and I am not happy. But his question is just that jolt I needed to remind me that I am truly happy or at least I should be, and that I have much to rejoice about. And so maybe after a few-second pause, I respond to his question with: “yes, Owen, of course I am happy!” In a similar way, this Third Sunday in Advent is intended to have that same effect. The readings and prayers should cause us to pause and recognize that while our lives are messy and complicated, that we are at times weak and sinful, and that we experience too often loss and pain in our lives, there is a reason to rejoice. Really there are two reasons. First, we joyfully celebrate that our God became man in the person of Jesus Christ - born of a woman at Christmas - to teach us how to love by what he said and did, and ultimately he suffered and died on the Cross to restore us in relationship with God. Second, we joyfully anticipate Jesus’ second coming when he will defeat evil and sin in the world and return all things to his Father – and then, there will be eternal peace and joy, no more suffering, pain, evil, violence or sin. This is truly Good News and reason to rejoice! It is with such faith that St. Paul, in today’s second Reading, instructs the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always.” Unlike some of Paul’s other letters, this one is not in response to an immediate crisis. Rather he tells them that they have done well to live good Christian lives so far and that they must remain strong and focused as they await the fulfillment of Christ’s promised return, which they thought would happen at any time. So, what I especially like about Paul’s instruction is that he does not just tell the Thessalonians to be happy, empty of any meaning or context – as if they or we are robots or puppets blindly following orders. Rather, he instructs them to rejoice always and then gives them seven more directives. As much as they are general Christian principles by which to live, these directives can also lead us to a deeper faith as well as a joy that is sincere and complete, lasting, and will sustain any Christian in difficulties and adversity. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to not only rejoice always, but to 1) pray without ceasing, 2) to give thanks at all times and places, 3) to not reject or resist the Holy Spirit working in their lives to help them and guide them, 4) to not despise prophetic utterances – in other words listen to what others say, 5) but also to test everything, 6) retain what is good and 7) refrain from every kind of evil. This is good advice – the same advice we would gladly accept if we were buying a car or a house, seeking a new job, or beginning a new relationship, even marriage. Why not do this or even more for the most important thing/relationship in our life – that is also the one thing that will bring us the greatest joy?! This Advent rejoice in God’s love. Rejoice in a love that became human like us to restore us in relationship with God; rejoice in a love that will come to restore peace and joy eternally. This Advent rejoice always, AND 1) pray without ceasing, 2) to give thanks at all times and places, 3) by open to the Holy Spirit working in your life, 4) listen to what others say, 5) test everything, 6) retain what is good and 7) refrain from every kind of evil. This Advent, if asked by someone: are you happy? Pause and then answer with a faithful, joyful, hopeful, thoughtful YES!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:14 AM
Monday, November 10, 2014
Each diocese has a cathedral – for the diocese of Columbus it is St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The cathedral church in Rome is St. John Lateran Basilica. And it even has an inscription placed it that reads: this Church is “Mother and Head of all the churches of the City and the World.” Each diocese also has a bishop – for the diocese of Columbus it is Bishop Fredrick Campbell. The bishop for the diocese of Rome is also the pope of the Roman Catholic Church: Pope Francis, who is the father and shepherd of not just Catholics in Rome but the entire world. In celebrating today the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, which happened on November 9, 324, we celebrate annually the unity of all local churches with the universal church of Rome. And so, in a special way today, we celebrate the reality that Our Lady of Peace parish is united with the Church of Rome and its bishop, Pope Francis. This celebration is also a reminder of the grace of God that flows into our lives by our presence in this Church and our participation in this liturgy – the grace we receive in reading God’s revealed Word in Sacred Scripture here, the grace we receive from the Eucharist here, and the grace we receive in the fellowship of this community gathered together here in faith. And in a very special way, today’s celebration, and especially its readings, reminds us beautifully of the goal and mission of THE Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – and every church – whether it is a basilica, a cathedral or a parish church – and (in the words of St. John Paul II) is to guard, reveal and communicate love: God’s love for us and the love we are called to have for God and others. It is especially true in the domestic church, a term that the Second Vatican Council gave to the family, that uniquely guards, reveals and communicates this love to its members. It is the family in which we first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek His will for us in the midst of his abundant love. And for this very reason, Pope Francis – I have to believe in great zeal for the domestic church – recently stated that the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure that there is no love there. Today’s readings are hopefully a call to action and at the same time a source of encouragement for our families in their many shapes, sizes, proximity and configurations and who are in this parish and in the universal church. After he had successfully established the Church in Corinth and then moved on to do the same in other communities, St. Paul found himself in a long-distance competition with other messengers and messages that followed him. Paul is urging folks in today’s second reading to not be carried way by fancy words and actions, but instead to stay focused and grounded in the one, true, lasting foundation in our life: Jesus Christ. Our families are under attack – we are pulled in so many different directions; bombard by tons of messages and messengers; bombard by the media, politicians, TV and the internet; bombard with mixed messages about what is true, what is important, what is worth living and dying for. The challenge is to remain grounded in Jesus Christ, just as St. Paul urges the Corinthians in today’s second reading. It is only in Christ – and the example he provides us – that we will find joy and peace now and eternally. Is Jesus Christ the foundation of your family and is it obvious to your family members and strangers that it is Jesus Christ? In today’s Gospel, we read the story of Jesus’ great emotion and passion – okay anger – over how the House of God was being used. Has your family been reduced to a place of transactions – going through the motions of work and school, cleaning and laundry and the many other necessary activities of a family or is it ALSO about something more and greater? Is it a place that draws others to God’s love and inspires and supports them in their love of God and others? If not, then today’s Gospel reading challenges us to do a little (or maybe a lot of) housekeeping AND to do so with authority and zeal, like Christ. A zeal that “consumes” us – in which we freely, willingly and selflessly give completely of ourselves for another – as Christ did for us on the Cross. A zeal to re-order our family’s values, actions, and priorities. Finally, in today’s first reading, we read a small portion of a vision by the prophet Ezekiel, who is trying to offer hope to an exiled people who is also without a physical connection to their God – following the destruction of their Temple. Is your family a source of hope for each other in the face of hardship and difficult? Is your family a source of hope for others in need? Is your family like the waters of Ezekiel’s vision that are not only life-giving but life-giving in great abundance? Is your family a place of mercy and forgiveness? A place of joy and peace? While I wish I could say my own domestic church – my family – is always a place of hope, that we always inspire and support love, that it is always Christ-centered in everything we do and say, but truthfully it is not. I think that we do a good job, but we are human, and weak and sinful. And the truth is that, as Pope Francis reminds us, we are under attack by the devil who desires nothing more than to destroy the domestic church as a means to destroy Christ and his Church on earth. Despite many fires, earthquakes and wars, St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome has survived; and has become a symbol of the survival of Christianity itself for over 2000 years. And so, I am confident that the domestic church will survive its many attacks, too! On our part, regardless of the shape, size, proximity or configuration of your family, let zeal for your domestic church consume you. Seek each day for your family to be a place of hope, to inspire and support love, to be Christ-centered in everything you do and say. And be nourished and strengthened now in this space, in this liturgy, and with this parish community, who is united with the Church universal. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 3:33 AM
Friday, October 24, 2014
Today’s Gospel passage is commonly referred to as the Great Commandment, which is really two commandments – FIRST: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; SECOND: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I like the simplicity of it – and I have to believe that there were some Jews in Jesus’ time who also liked the simplicity of it, because there were actually 613 laws of the Torah to be observed – 248 “shalls” and 365 “shall nots.” Some scholars even speculate that there were over 900 laws that a Jewish person was required to follow with equal obedience and fervor. While Jesus’ synthesis of the law into two commands was not necessary novel – there are passages in the Old Testament that similarly synthesized the Law into one or a couple statements – it was Jesus’ authority and insight into what it means to be in relationship with God that is significant then and now. To be in relationship with God means to have this intimate, personal love relationship with God; this is what we are made to do and what we do best; to love freely and completely, holding nothing back; to love with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. If we love God in this way, we will experience great joy and peace. We will also naturally want to follow his commands – to do his will. And, we will want to care for and respect all of his creation, especially the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, foreigners, the poor – as today’s First Reading instructs us to do. We will want to love our neighbor – in the very broadest sense – as our self. Bishop Campbell has asked parishes of the Diocese to focus attention this weekend on the assault of pornography upon men and women – young and old – and on families and society as a whole. I would agree with Bishop Campbell, who said that “pornography has wounded many people and their relationships, and has left disfiguring scars.” And I would add that pornography has left many unable to love God and others as Jesus commands us to do in today’s Gospel and has perverted for too many of us our understanding of the gift of sexuality in the context of marriage and the call to mutual spousal self-giving which mirrors God’s love for each of us. As part of this diocese-wide awareness effort, I want to share with you that there is help if you or a loved one are struggling with this issue. There is a local initiative offering resources 1) to protect families from the onslaught of explicit internet-based material, 2) to promote recovery from pornography use and addiction through counseling and support groups, and 3) to foster prevention through programs that illuminate the nature of the human person and the call to authentic relationships. The initiative is called “My House” – and there are materials in the Gathering Space if you want to learn more. This initiative takes its name from the account in the book of Joshua where Joshua calls the people to decide whom they will serve. He says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It may have been just a nice coincidence that this awareness effort occurs on the weekend with readings so focused on the command to love – but knowing Bishop Campbell a little bit, I am guessing that it was no accident. Regardless, today’s readings challenge us to ask ourselves: who do we serve? In other words, how do we approach Jesus’ command to love God and others; how to we love, especially when we encounter things like pornography, which is the opposite of true love, or a personal illness or addiction, or the loss of a loved one or a job, or any other hardship or difficulty. Are we open or closed to God’s love; welcoming or hostile; skeptical or hopeful; angry or joyful, selfish or selfless? Bishop Campbell reminds us, in his letter regarding the My House initiative, that “We are the people of the Resurrection, called to hope, not to fear.” It is with such hope that St. Paul in today’s second reading relays his efforts to bring the Thessalonians to a personal relationship with God. Paul had only spent three weeks with the Thessalonians, but he – really the Holy Spirit working through him, as he is quick to admit – had great success in converting many to the faith – from idols to serving the living and true God – and those converts to bring others to the faith. It was with great hope that Paul preached and made every effort to do so without seeking glory for himself or relying on the financial support of others in order to prove his motives were pure and his love sincere. Bishop Campbell concludes his letter with this advice: Let us pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to help those struggling with this addiction. We keep our eyes on the risen Lord for He is the one who knows us and loves us in this life and in the life to come.” Yes, let us pray this week especially for those struggling with this addiction. Let us also pray for each other that we may grow in our love for God and others. I urge you to trust in the risen Lord who knows you and loves you and wants nothing more than for you to be loved and to love. Pray this week for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you to be loved and to love. Pray for whatever you need to be open to the love God offers you and seeks in return. Whatever it is that keeps you from loving – from loving the Lord, our God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind AND from loving your neighbor as yourself – ask for God’s help and he will provide.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:13 PM
Saturday, September 13, 2014
You have probably heard of these phrases: The ball is in your court. Think outside the box. Every cloud has a silver lining. These and thousands more like them are clichés or expressions used to convey a thought or idea. However, they are also expressions that have likely lost their effectiveness through over-usage. I am very sensitive to using clichés in my ministry, especially when an individual has recently experienced some type of loss, hardship or pain. It would be easy for me to use common clichés like “just keep the faith,” or “just offer it up,” or “when God closes a door, He opens a window,” or “the Lord never gives you more than you can handle,” especially when I don’t know what to say, let alone when I lack the words to explain why something difficult or even tragic has happened. However true these expressions may be, they may often end up sounding empty or cold. For me at least, one phrase comes off sounding more cliché that any other – and that phrase is “to carry your cross” and its many variations. However, today’s Feast – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – changes the phrase – to carry your cross – from cliché to a wonderful and beautiful expression of faith, hope and trust! Celebrated annually on September 14, the roots of this Feast date back to the Fourth century with the discovery of the actual Cross carried by Jesus and the practice of venerating the Cross as something more than just an instrument of execution. For us Christians, the Cross points to two important truths about our faith. First, that Jesus’ death on the Cross matters. As Jesus himself states to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel: “…[J]ust as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [as we read in today’s first reading], so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So the Cross is about a loving Creator and Father willing to give up everything to bring us back into relationship with Him: to heal us and to give us life – and not just for a moment, or a day, or a week or a month, or a year, or even for our earthly lives, but for eternity. As I like to think about it, Jesus’ death on the Cross is the once and forever payment for the debt we created by our sin – in the past, the present and in the future. Even if we had the right currency to pay this debt, which we don’t, we could never have enough of it to fully pay the debt created by our sin and the sin of others. Christ’s death on the Cross accomplishes what we could never do for ourselves and made possible the eternal joy and peace we were made to experience and for which we long for in our hearts more than anything else. This is reason enough for us to raise up or exalt the Cross, to hold in the highest regard and with great dignity and nobility, but there is more: The second important truth about the Cross is that it teaches us how to live our life. The full expression – to carry your cross – comes from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So often we understand this cross to mean that we must endure some specific problem or difficulty such as a terminal illness, family or job crisis, addiction or some situation that is extremely painful. However, the cross that Jesus refers to is the cross that we bear by living and proclaiming the Christian way of life in the midst of or despite an illness or addiction or crisis or loss or failure. We are NOT limited or defined by these experiences, but rather by how well we – by our actions and words – love. And how do we love? By following Christ. By doing exactly what St. Paul in today’s second reading reminds us that Jesus did: He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. He emptied himself. He humbled himself. He became obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross. And because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that every knee should bend! So when we say to someone: carry their cross when battling an illness or struggling with some crisis (or that person’s loved one watching this happen), we are saying to them: to seek humility (to empty one self of pride, self-pity, embarrassment, anger or frustration, and disappointment); to trust God and his plan for us – to be obedient God’s laws and will for us; and to follow the example of Jesus Christ in all things. And if we do this, God will – we pray – exalt us: to lift us from death to life, from darkness to light, from illness to health, from anxiety to peace, from persecution to freedom, from sorrow to joy. I get that this – seeking humility and obedience – is hard; I know! But our God is always ready to give us the grace we need – the help, the wisdom, the courage, the patience, whatever it is that we need to deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him. Yes, saying “carry your cross” will probably always sound cliché. But, I say risk sounding cliché, knowing that the Cross has not lost its effectiveness and it will never be over-used, because it leads us to eternal life.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:25 AM
Saturday, February 8, 2014
RCIA, as many of you know, is the process by which we initiate adults in the Catholic Church. Like most parishes, we tend to take a more academic approach to RCIA, in which we follow the academic-year and weekly class sessions. This approach provides important structure, community and focus for the participants – those seeking initiation. However, like any classroom setting, no one-size-fits-all – every participate is at a different place in their faith journey, with different motives and desires, support, and capacity to participate and learn. So, the challenge is to help them understand what the Catholic Church teaches – why and what – as well what we do as Catholics; the even bigger challenge is to lead them to embrace the mystery of God – His love, joy, and mercy – which gives us meaning and purpose and is the context upon which every other thing that we might share with participants – Scripture, Sacraments and sacramentals, morality, and Church structure. This was the same challenge that St. Paul had almost two thousand years ago. After many year of trying to lead others to embrace the mystery of God with “words of human wisdom,” likely with mixed results, Paul went to Corinth and used instead the Spirit and power of God. Paul speaks of a loving Father, a grace filled Spirit, and most powerfully, in Jesus Christ how suffered death for us – giving himself completely for us out of love. As Pope Francis wrote in his Encyclical, The Light of Faith, Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. This encounter with God – his words, his creation, especially other persons, and his presence in the Sacraments – transform us. Pope Francis puts it beautifully in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Transformed by our encounter with God, and following Christ’s example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives. This is the point of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading, as he relays God’s message to the Israelite people who had returned from exile only to experience continued struggles and hardship, and at the same time limited their religious activity to personal rituals. Isaiah’s message is that we experience the Lord when we remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; and when we do this light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday. See, there is a clear ‘cause and effect’ in our encounter with God. Going back to the first reading, if we seek an encounter with God, we must: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own; and if we do this we will experience: light, mercy, healing, peace, power – we will know with certainty God’s presence: When you call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! Jesus is even more direct in today’s Gospel. He says that we are to BE salt and to BE light – to bring life and light where there is death and darkness. For the Gospel writer Matthew, who was a Jewish convert to Christianity and was writing to a community of Jewish converts to Christianity, he needed to stress to them that to be a Christian disciple required more than just following a set of rules well – that it is not simply a private or personal matter, rather a public and communal matter. First, we find strength and support in a community of believers – so it is good that we are here celebrating this Mass together, it is good that we have things like That Man Is You and our upcoming Men’s and Women’s conferences, and is good that we have a strong catholic school system, parish school religion, and, of course, RCIA. Second, we are called as Christians to seek an encounter with God and share that with others – to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when we see them, and do not turn our backs on those in need. And then, we are called to share with others the cause and effect of our encounter and their encounter with God – the light, mercy, healing, peace, power – that we will know with certainty God’s presence when we do these things. By your experience of God this celebration, may you be salt and light to all you encounter this week.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:54 AM
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Urban Meyer, the head coach of the Ohio State football team, has a son who is the same age of my oldest son, Riley, and who plays sports for St. Brigid. Inevitably when we play St. Brigid, there is a buzz on the stands of “which player is Urban Meyer’s son,” and “is Urban Meyer here?” I will sometimes kid with my son Riley, do you think that the fans from St. Brigid ask “which player is the deacon’s son” or “is the deacon here?” We both laugh and agree that those questions are highly unlikely. While I would not want the level of attention that Urban Meyer or any other celebrity might attract, it causes me to reflect on my own identity: how I am known by family, friends and even strangers, and for what. Said differently, is it clear to others that I am a Christian man—a husband, father, deacon? A man who believes in and trusts God, and who follows his commands. At least this is what I desire, even if in my human weakness I do not trust, believe, and follow God as often and as well as I can or should. There continues to be scholarly debate as to when Jesus knew his full and true identity as the Son of Mary and the Son of God, and his purpose on earth – some arguing that he knew his whole life, while others argue that it was not until later on as an adult. If there was any doubt before, Jesus’ Baptism by John, which we celebrate in today’s Liturgy, leaves Jesus and us with two certainties: first, that Jesus is the Messiah, the chosen one of God; and second, that the Baptism initiated his public ministry of service and ultimately of sacrifice. There are a couple other of important things to say about Jesus’ Baptism: First, it is a historical fact. The accuracy and reliability of this historical event is found in the fact that all four gospels include this story. More to the point, Jesus’ persistence at being baptized by John has tended to be an embarrassment to many—even John states: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” For some this was a great embarrassment that our Lord and King would be baptized, and it was great threat to the understanding of Jesus’ true divinity and even Christianity itself, that many tried to downplay or suppress this story. Fortunately, this Feast in the history of the Church has been recently restored to the liturgical calendar and to its right and proper prominence in following the Epiphany and closing out the Christmas season. So, while Jesus’ Baptism is a historical fact, for us it is also theological—that is it helps us understand our relationship with God—which teaches us a second important point about Jesus’ Baptism: that Baptism is a necessity in our relationship with God. As the scripture scholar William Barclay points out: it was inconceivable for the Jewish people—the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who felt assured of God’s salvation—that they would ever need baptism. While Jews at the time of Jesus knew of and used baptism, it was only for converts to Judaism; it was only for sinners, shut out from God. So, it is significant that the Gospel author—a Jew writing to a Jewish community—includes this important act of Jesus submitting to baptism by John and even more important, that Jesus, a Jew and the Messiah, would be Baptized. To be clear, and this is the third point, Jesus was not a sinner, shut out from God and in need of Baptism—he was and is without sin and in unity with God the Father; however, by submitting to Baptism, Jesus unites himself with those who are in need of Baptism – you and me. As our leader and lord, Jesus became one with us through participation in this sacrament of repentance and renewal. And by Jesus’ Baptism through water, he makes holy the water by which we are Baptize, giving it the power to forgive sins and unite us with Him. A fourth important point about Jesus’ Baptism is that this event is part of a bigger plan that God has for Jesus and the world. As Jesus states to John in today’s Gospel: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is obedient to the Father’s will and cooperates with God’s plan for him and the world. And out of great love for and obedience to his Father, he submitted to Baptism so that we might be restored in the right or just relationship with God through our own Baptism. A final point about Jesus’ Baptism is what the voice from Heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” As William Barclay points out, this sentence is composed of two separate quotations from the Old Testament. The first is a reference to Psalm 2, which every Jew at the time understood as a reference to the Messiah, the might King of God who was to come. The second quote comes from today’s First Reading from Isaiah, which describes the suffering servant, who: shall bring forth justice to the nations. The voice of God the Father not only grants Jesus credibility and authority as King and Lord, but also directs his mission and purpose—to be a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. We can say then that Jesus at his Baptism is anoint by the Father as a priest, prophet and king. And just as Christ was anointed at his baptism for a life of prayer, teaching an service, it was at our Baptism, that we were anointed priest, prophet and king. This is our true and full identity: to be priestly: praying and bringing others to prayer; to be prophetic: seeking the truth, sharing that truth with others, and ready to defend that truth; and kingly: humbling serving others. Going back to my original question: how I am known by family, friends and even strangers, and for what? This can be our measure: how well do we live as priest, prophet and king. While each of us have our own gifts and opportunities in this world, and are called to live unique lives, at the very core of our identity it is our ability to live the lives we were anointed to live. I encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on how well you live out your priestly, prophetic and kingly life. How well you pray and bringing others to prayer; how well you seek the truth, sharing that truth with others, and are ready and able to defend that truth; and how well and often you humbly serve others. And my prayer for you and me is that there is no doubt in ourselves and others that we are Christian men and women. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:19 AM