Sunday, December 20, 2015
I took to heart Fr. John’s words at the beginning of this Advent, but too quickly I found myself too often grumpy, stressed and overwhelmed with the lead-up to Christmas – I became the “bah hambag” Fr. John warned against. While not quite 100% Ebinizer Scrooge, the season of busyness quickly left me not eagerly, vigilantly focused on the coming of our Lord. So, I am already planning for next year – I am thinking maybe a full, four week sabbatical for Advent will keep that from the same thing happening next year. Fr. John is hearing this for the first time, so I will wait to receive his blessing after Mass; and I have not yet run this by my wife, who may have some “reservations” with a four week sabbatical in December! Truth be told, I think that I would probably end up as stressed and overstretched regardless of where I was or what I did. Nonetheless, my prayer this Advent has led me to be maybe a little less grumpy, a little less stressed, and a little less anxious this Advent than prior years. And I attribute this to a growing/greater trust in God: a trust in God’s plan for me; a trust in God’s help; a trust in God’s care for me; a trust in God’s love. When I have found that I can place my trust in God more, I truly experience God’s help – his grace, and his care, his love. This is not to say that all my worries go away, that things will instantly be simple, easy or neat – there will still be challenge, difficulty and confusion and uncertainty at times. But when I put my trust in God I am less anxious, less stressed and less grumpy. Today’s readings exemplify and even inspire such trust. Certainly, the two women in today’s Gospel – Elizabeth and Mary – faced great challenges and showed incredible faith and trust in God. Elizabeth - advanced in years, with no children, thought to be barren, was pregnant. She trusted in God. She trust in his plan for her, which included some hardship – as a mother of advanced years – and God flooded her with his love and care for her and her family, like sending a cousin to help her. Which brings us to Mary – engaged to Joseph, but not married and now pregnant. She was asked to assume a great risk; she could have been rejected by Joseph, by her family, and her community – and she also faced great embarrassment and shame. She nonetheless believed and trusted in God and God cared for her by ensuring that she would have the support of her family and husband to do the extra-ordinary. Today’s first reading serves in one sense to foreshadow Christ being born in Bethlehem; it is Jesus Christ who as we read “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” This is who we celebrate being born on Christmas Day and who we eagerly await his return to defeat evil and sin in the world and to restore all thing to God the Father once and for all. This Christmas, we celebrate our Creator, who so loves us, that he sent his Son to teach us how to love and restore us in the love relationship we were made to know and enjoy eternally. We celebrate Jesus born on Christmas Day whose love for us is modeled in his obedience to – doing the will of (as the Second Reading reminds us) – the Father. Truly reason to rejoice and worthy of waiting for. It is also the message of the prophet Micah in today’s first reading that should inspire trust in God. While there is some scholarly debate whether Micah lived during the period of the Assyrian threat to Judah or during the Babylonian exile – both were difficult and trying times for the Israelites – and so his message was one of hope: hope that can only come when one has trust in God’s plan; a trust in God’s help; a trust in God’s care; a trust in God’s love. Today’s Psalm Response is then a wonderful Advent prayer: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. We do need to be saved from our sin that leaves us bah hambag. We need Christ. We need to turn to Christ, with his help, and see and experience his love, his mercy, his peace. We need to know his love so that we can grow deeper in trust with him. We know this from our own human experiences and it also true in our relationship with God. Going back to the Gospel – there is great power in a greeting, right? As we read in the Gospel: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” As you prepare for Christmas – just a couple of days away - consider how you greet others and the effect that your greeting has on them. Is your greeting towards loved ones and even strangers kind and charitable, one that would invoke joy in others (and even cause infants to leap in their mother’s wombs)? Is your greeting one that someone would immediately recognize that your are blessed by God for your trust in him? Even if you are burdened with stress or worry or pain, is greeting to those you meet filled with a joy that comes only from a trust and confidence in our God who will care for you, will love you, and will do whatever you need to be in relationship with him – even to send his only Son to be born of a woman in Bethlehem and to suffer and die so that we might have joy and peace. May God bless you this Christmas and may your greeting to others be full of hope, joy and peace that comes from a great trust in God.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:06 AM
Saturday, October 31, 2015
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We honor and celebrate the lives of the saints: the great men and women who have gone before us and lived extra-ordinary Christian lives. We remember that we are in communion with these individuals – they stand ready and willing to intercede for us to our Heavenly Father. And, we remember that we are called to be saints, ourselves. Today’s readings give us a glimpse of what it means to be a saint. These readings remind us that our pursuit of a saintly life is what we were made to do, what will bring us the greatest joy, and yet much of it remains still a great mystery to us. Nonetheless, today we are reminded and hopefully inspired to live lives focused on things greater than possessions and stuff, our pain and frustrations, or the blink of time that consists of our time on this earth. (P) Today’s Gospel passage of the Beatitudes is the Gospel reading proclaimed at my marriage. I am reminded by these words, that as much as I am called to be a saint, by my marriage, I am also called to help my wife to be a saint. Hopefully like all couples, we want much from marriage: we want to be accepted unconditionally by each other, we want to be filled with love and happiness; we want a family. Ultimately, our purpose, our goal – what we want from marriage – is to help our spouse live a saintly life and to get our spouse into Heaven! So, the Beatitudes offer a wonderful examination of conscience for married couples on how they are doing on this goal. (And really this is for everyone, as we are all called to be saints and to a life of service towards others – some by marriage, others by a vocation to priestly or religious, some a single person in service to family, friends, strangers). So I invite you this week to get a copy of the Beatitudes and reflect over these words. • Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit: o Not be consumed by possessions and wealth o But to have our life order to: Have a need for God & Loving and serving others • Jesus says: Blessed are the meek: o Instead of being consumed by pride and selfishness; be selfLESS, giving of self with great humility completely and totally • Jesus says: Blessed are they who mourn: o Care and empathy for spouse o Allow others to mourn for you and to be comforted • Jesus says: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: o Not so much a physical hunger and thirst, o But desire to love and be loved, our whole being is focused on the dignity and justice of others • Jesus says: Blessed are the merciful: o Mercy: to treat others better than they deserve; showing mercy towards • Jesus says: Blessed are the clean of heart: o Purity and chastity in marriage union and towards spouse • Jesus says: Blessed are the peacemakers: o Bring peace to the marriage and family; just not violence by also chaos, anxiety • Jesus says: Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake o Not that marriage should be a persecution, but that sometimes, even marriage we will need to stand up for what is right and just and true, even if that causes division o Even better that we can endure hardship and persecution together Remember Jesus’ promise for those who desire these beatitudes: comfort, satisfaction, mercy; we will be called children of God and the Kingdom of Heaven shall be ours! My friends, be inspired by this Feast to become the saints you are called be AND Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:41 PM
Sunday, August 30, 2015
I invite you to join me and many, many others in praying today and this week for an end to abortion. The recent series of videos documenting the horrible and disgusting practices of Planned Parenthood remind us that evil exists in our world and that not only is it legal, but acceptable to so many! In contrast stands the Catholic Church and its teaching on the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages. So, specifically, I invite you to pray at least one Hail Mary every day this coming week. Pray to Mary, who experienced the ultimate and most wonderful unplanned pregnancy and chose life! Pray through Mary to her Son Jesus Christ that he may welcome the souls of all the unborn into his loving embrace, and that he may give grace to those in the abortion industry - that they may have a change of heart, stop participating in the killing of the unborn, and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. I really do hesitate being so blunt on this issue. But as Catholics we are called to know and share the truth of God’s love and will for the world – it is not one of death and darkness, but of life and light. So many are in the dark on this issue and can justify in their own minds the intentional killing of innocent human beings, and so we must pray. Whether it is those like the founder of Planned Parenthood, who was unapologetic and militant in her use of abortion to eliminate those she deemed inferior – for her an others like her we must pray; or those working in the abortion industry or in government willingly participate abortions – for them we too must pray; and for those who have had an abortion – we must pray, not with judgment but with love and compassion; for those without hope as they face an unplanned pregnancy – we must also pray and support them by our acts of love and charity. I can sympathize with those in darkness and in the midst of sin; I know what it is like to be so distant from God’s love. I think about my moments of greatest darkness in my life – they were probably the saddest moments as well as the moments of greatest longing and emptiness; and at the same time moments that I could completely justify my sinful thoughts and actions. Although I was educated enough to know better, I was not willing to accept living apart from sin. Thankfully, through the grace of God, I am now a recovering sinner. Which brings me to today’s Gospel. The passage I just read was the conclusion of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus invites, really challenges his disciples, which includes us, to unite ourselves to Jesus, who satisfies our greatest hunger and nourishes us for life eternal. Here is Jesus explaining how great his love is for his disciples: that he is willing to give himself completely - body and blood, soul and divinity - completely out of love for them. This is the love our God has for us, too! We learn that many said that this saying is too hard, who can accept this. In other words, they understood – intellectually – what Jesus was saying and asking of them, but they just were not willing to believe and do what he taught – and so, as we read, they returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Jesus. Isn’t this true in our own lives at times? See, to accept Jesus’ invitation means to first surrender our own will, our ego, our pride. Second, to accept Jesus’ invitation means to then live a new life as a Christian, to follow God’s commands and God’s will for us, and to then be willing to share God’s love and truth with others. To be fully Christian then means to being willing to risk living a life of difficulty, it means being willing to risk alienation, being mocked and persecuted. And if you think I am exaggerating, think about the Church’s stand against abortion: when we take a stand – by our words and actions - in defense of human life from conception to natural death, we not only face the risk of but more than likely we will be mocked and alienated by the media, government officials, maybe even family and friends, and so many others in society. But here is the good news: in also accepting Jesus’ invitation, we are living the life we were made to live, we are doing what we truly do the best, and we are living a life that gives us the greatest happiness, we have clarity of meaning and purpose in our life. And remember, Jesus promises us in today’s Gospel the help of the Holy Spirit, which we will need to put our past behind us and give ourselves totally to God. We can not do this alone, we need help. And it is with this help and clarity of purpose that we experience a peace, a joy, and a confidence that allows us to not only understand but to fully accept Jesus’ invitation. It is with such help and clarity, that the Apostles words today make perfect sense, right? To whom shall we go? You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. The same of Joshua’s words in today’s First Reading. Joshua declares that for him and his house, they will serve the Lord. Like Joshua, we can, in the face of so many temptations and distractions, declare that we and our families will place our trust completely in Lord, protects us, cares for us, who loves us. And even further, we can understand and even embrace St. Paul’s counter-cultural words on marriage in today’s second reading – that each spouse is called to die-to-self and give one’s self fully and completely to the other just as Christ has done for us. And so let me conclude with the second prayer. This is the prayer that I will pray for you and me that we may daily accept Jesus’ invitation. It is titled a Prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will, all that I have and possess. You have given them to me; to you, O Lord, I restore them; all things are yours, dispose of them according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for this is enough for me. Amen.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 12:02 PM
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Amos, who we read about in today’s First Reading, lived more than 700 years before Christ. We know that he left a good life in the south and headed to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to condemned the bad behavior, especially that of the rich and powerful who exploited and took advantage of the poor. The book of Amos is divided into three parts. In the first section, Amos rails against the sins of far-away of kingdoms; then the sins of his own Southern Kingdom; and finally, he attacks the sins of the Northern Kingdom – its exploitation of the poor, immorality, senseless forms of worship, and rejecting God’s prophets. Amos demand that God come down upon Israel in judgment. In the second section, Amos goes on to detail “why” Israel needed to be punished – for its failure to meet their social and religious obligations. In the third section, Amos rails against the meaningless sacrifices and public rituals that were being conducted while the poor remained oppressed and exploited. Amos challenged the people of Israel to change their ways, as God’s judgment was imminent. The book of Amos gives us a unique historical glimpse into the great prosperity of the Northern Kingdom: the fever of commercial activity, the frenzy of banquets and festivities, the unbridled luxury of the rich and powerful. And at the same time, we read of the lack of conscience of the rich, their abuses of power, and exploitation of the poor. Sound familiar? No prophet is more easily relatable to the modern world than Amos – the social inequities that he denounced 25 hundred years ago are still very much with us today. While the Church has a strong and consistent teaching on the dignity of each person and for the priority we must give for the care of the poor – often our efforts are too little and too late for the most vulnerable. Like Amos, we – Church leaders and members - must continue to be a voice for the most vulnerable in our community and world, and we must regularly and generously give from our resources to those most in need. The prophet Amos, combined with our Second Reading and Gospel, also reveal two important truths of our faith. First, Amos was grounded in the covenant relationship between God and Israel. He was empowered – really so angered – when he saw such great offenses against God as when the Israelites rejected, or at least ignored, God’s will for them. We too are a covenant people – we too are in relationship with God. We are made by him, made in his image and likeness. And even further, as today’s Second Reading reminds us: God chose us, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him – he gives us every spiritual blessing in the heavens and gives us all wisdom and insight, so that we might know his will and plan for us. And even though we sinned against him and reject his love and will for us, today’s second reading reminds us that God the Father forgives our sins and restores us in relationship with him by sacrificing his very own Son. It is in this relationship that we find our value and worth, our true meaning and purpose. See, God has placed in our hearts such an infinite desire for happiness that nothing can satisfy it but God himself. We try to find happiness in so many other things, right? We are even willing to redefine God’s commands and what society has held as sacred. Our value and worth, our true meaning and purpose is found only in God. Yes, there are other important things – like family and friends, work to provide for the resources you need, things to keep us safe and healthy, but nothing is as important as our relationship with God. Second, today’s readings remind us that when we understand and live fully our relationship with God, nothing else matters. Amos, was a D.I.P. – that is a double-income-prophet (he was a farmer with income from both cattle and taking care of trees, so he was well-off). But he left it all to do God’s will; he even endured hostility, persecution, and embarrassment – as we read today – to do the will of God. The same is true of the Apostles in today’s Gospel. They left everything – I mean everything except the clothes they were wearing – and followed Jesus’ command to spread the Good News. When we understand and live fully our relationship with God, nothing else matters and we are able to do great things. While we are all not called to give up everything we have, we are called to take risks, move outside our comfort zone, and sacrifice what we think is important by earthly standards – like personal gratification and the possession of stuff. This week, pray that in Jesus’ example of love, through Jesus’ gift of grace to help us, and with Jesus’ constant care for us, we can know God’s will for us and be ready to serve him and others. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:19 AM
Saturday, June 13, 2015
I have read that the mustard seed plant, which were hear about in today’s Gospel, is an annual plant that has a very small seed that germinates as soon as it is planted in the ground and then it grows very quickly. I am told that it is very difficult to control once it has grown to a certain height and it is difficult to keep pruned. This is how my mind works sometimes: in my moments of doubt, insecurity, weakness, or lack of trust in God’s plan for me, an evil or sinful thought is planted in my mind and it grows quickly and almost out of control – like the mustard seed – causing me to toss and turn at night, fixate on a problem, and for a period of time be frozen by anxiety and worry – all because I don’t trust God completely and at all times. If you are anything like me, today’s readings offer great comfort and hope. Today’s readings remind us – in our moments of weakness and sinfulness, despair and hopelessness – that we are called to “walk by faith,” as Saint Paul instructs in today’s Second Reading. Not to walk by fear, uncertainty, doubt or selfishness. But rather, to walk by faith in a God who made us and loves us. To walk by faith in a God who wants us to know his love, peace and joy. To walk by faith in a God who will do the necessary tilling, watering, pruning, and nurturing in us that will result in a great harvest of faith, trust and love in him. In other words, God will give us the help we need. God’s help – his grace - working in us will help us to face our fear, uncertainty, doubt or selfishness. Carrying on the gardening metaphor, the fruit of this grace – what results when we accept God’s help – are the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness, and chastity. Instead of fear, uncertainty, doubt or selfishness, this what we are invited to experience now and eternally. This is the Kingdom of God envisioned by the Gospel writer Mark! However, just like the mustard seed plant that grows quickly and spreads even faster, our ego and selfishness, our doubt and insecurity, our pain and loneliness can easily and quickly grow and block us from the Kingdom of God. It should be God’s love and mercy that is spreading like the mustard seed plant, but too often it is just the opposite. For this reason, we need to act with courage and urgency, of which St. Paul speaks of in today’s Second Reading, to remove in our own lives whatever it is that keep us from trusting God. Maybe it certain TV shows or sites on the Internet or applications on our smartphones; maybe is a certain person or group of individuals; maybe it some place, some behavior, or some thing. Whatever it is, spend time this week in prayer with God, who wants nothing more than for you to be free from what ever it is that is keeping you from the Kingdom of God. Ask for the grace – the help – to be free to trust and love him completely! So that like the mustard seed plant, God’s love, peace, joy may be with you always! My hope and prayer is that in the coming months, our parish, as we move from maintenance mode to a mission-driven parish (as I shared with you last month), that we will create opportunities and small groups to support each other in our personal journey towards the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, continue to pray and take comfort and hope in our loving God’s promise in today’s readings: that he will protect you, and care for you, and give you whatever you need most to be in relationship with him. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:20 AM
Saturday, May 9, 2015
I recently started a new job with Mount Carmel Medical Group. Earlier this week, I was invited to sit in on a meeting – as I continue to my learning curve about healthcare and the Mount Carmel hospital system. The meeting was about whether a set of doctors that we wished to employ aligned with the mission of the organization, which by the way is an unapologetically Catholic hospital. This was a particularly uplifting moment as I was feel a bit overwhelmed by the new job responsibilities and the challenges of being part of such a large corporate entity. Here was this big organization battling competition, budgets, regulations, and bureaucracy and still made sure that its most important decisions were in-line with its mission. Our first reading makes me think that Peter must have had a similar mission-discernment moment. Our first reading tells bits and pieces of really one of the most important developments in the early Church: the realization by early Church leaders that: “God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” I have no doubt that the Apostles fully embraced Jesus’ great commission to: Go Forth and Make Disciples of all the Nations. However, for most, the “all” meant Jews and those who converted to Judaism. Peter was no doubt on fire with the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel to Jews and convert them to Jesus. It seems obvious to us now, but I can also understand how Peter may have been so focused, determined and passionate in his ministry to the Jewish people that he could miss the bigger mission at hand. We do the same in our own lives, right? At our job, we can get so focused on completing tasks that we easily forget why we are doing what we do. The same can happen in marriage, where we get so distracted by other things that we forget the promises we made to our spouse on our wedding day, or even the love that brought us together. This is also true in our parish life, where we get so entrenched in spaces, programs and persons that we forget what the true purpose of a parish is. Pope Francis reminds us that: “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.” It was during a two-day conference – the Amazing Parish conference – that I attended a few weeks ago that I had this mission-discernment moment of what our parish life should be. I was with Father John, Kathy and Ed Price, and Julie Carmona from OLP, along with representatives from 22 other parishes from the Diocese of Columbus, as well as 75-80 other parishes from across North America who were there to learn how to build an amazing parish in spirit of Pope Francis vision for parishes. [As a quick aside, the Catholic Foundation sponsored all of the Columbus Diocese parishes to attend this event, which was both very generous, and a statement of their commitment to parish life in our Diocese.] The big take-away for me from the conference was: that while we have a great community here, quite unique and wonderful in many respects (which I did not need to go to this conference to find out), we are not the parish we need to be or can be. So I want to take a couple of minutes to share with you what I learned, what we, as a parish, might become, and to invite your participation. What the Amazing Parish model envisions is a transformation of parish life – a total paradigm change in the role and purpose of the parish – to move from MAINTENANCE TO MISSION. The Amazing Parish model has three foundational principals. The first is prayer – we will need to constantly pray to God to know his will and for the help to know him, love him and serve him. The second is a leadership team that Fr. John will form to serve as advisors to him in this transformation process. The third foundational element of an amazing parish is a clear vision and plan. In large part, this is already done for us. Our parish exists to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission: to “Go forth and Make Disciples of All Nations.” And Jesus already gave us the values to guide not only our lives, but to running a parish: to love God and to love others as today’s Gospel and Second Reading beautifully remind us. So the vision and action plan that we create for Our Lady of Peace, will be based on these principles and it will be what informs and guides what we need to start, stop and improve. The building blocks for an Amazing Parish being with the Sunday Experience. This is the source and summit of our faith and our week, and we need to improve it. The folks at the Amazing Parish conference encourage parishes to focus on three things: music, message, ministry – in other words: hymns, homily, and hospitality. As you can see from this weekend’s bulletin we are already working on a greeter ministry, and soon we will have a new music director to fill the vacancy left by Linda’s retirement. And, I commit, for my part, that while my homilies may not be 3-5 minutes, they will break-open the Sacred Scripture we share and move us to grow deeper in love with God. A second building block for an Amazing Parish is Compelling Formation. The advise we received was to start with the study of Sacred Scripture; we are blessed with many option that we will fully explore. The bottom line is that we need to better know our faith, so that we can share it with others and even defend it, if we need to. Small Group Fellowship and Discipleship is another building block of an Amazing Parish. We have already experienced the power of small groups in our parish – for example with That Man Is You, the Lent and Advent Scripture Sharing Groups, and a Prayer Shawl ministry. We will need to create more opportunities for us to experience Catholic fellowship and that support our mission to spread the Good News. And this leads to the final building block of an Amazing Parish: we need to be a parish with Missionary Zeal. This is probably the most foreign and uncomfortable for us modern, American Catholics, but is ultimately what our faith leads us to do. We are called to evangelize and discipleship – to know and share the Good News of God’s great – unconditional, all merciful – love for us; and to live the example Christ gave us by what we say and do in community with others. As complex as this may sound, it is actually quite simple: we need to move from a parish in maintenance mode to a parish fully engaged in forming and empowering disciples. If we can do this, then the things that have historically been the focus of parish life – Sacraments and charity, finances and facilities – will prosper – I am confident of this. We are going to take our time to create the vision and action for OLP. I want to make sure that it is not something that just ends up on a bookshelf somewhere, but instead is one that is transformative. In the coming months we will be asking for your help, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, we need your prayers. Please pray for the success of this effort. Please pray for Fr. John and the leaders of this effort – that they have the courage and wisdom necessary to lead this transformation of our parish. Pray also that you may be open to change, especially if you are called to take a new, greater or different role in the parish. I will conclude with this story. Last weekend, we baptized a fourth generation parishioner. The first generation, great-grandmother, who joined the parish in the 1950’s could not believe how few people were in the pews. She kept saying how surprised she was to see so few people, and how surprised her deceased husband would have been. I envision in the near future that our pews will be full because this will become even more than it is now a place of welcome and belonging, a place where we are all fed spiritually, and a place where we are equipped and empowered to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. May God bless you and this parish.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:34 AM
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the Apostle Thomas. My middle son, Jonah, took the name Thomas as his Confirmation name when he was Confirmed last month by Bishop Campbell – the Apostle is the patron saint of architect’s, which he hopes to become someday. The Apostle Thomas was prominent in the Sunday Gospel reading just before Palm Sunday, in which he boldly challenged his fellow Apostles to go with Jesus to Judea, so that they may die with him. We had two of our adults who were Confirmed at the Easter Vigil take the name Thomas – one for the Apostle, and one for Thomas Aquinas. And, with a three year old son at home, Thomas the Tank Engine, which by the way is no relation to Thomas the Apostle, has become an unhealthy obsession, which keeps the name Thomas ever-present! And then finally, as we read in today’s Gospel, the Apostle Thomas again takes another prominent role. As accurate as the title Doubting Thomas may be, based on what we just read, I find myself wanting to defend Thomas from this disparaging title. So I was encouraged when I read the great Bible scholar William Barclay’s description of Thomas: that Thomas never lacked courage, although he was arguably a pessimist; and more important, that Thomas loved Jesus – without any question, hesitation, fear or doubt – and loved Jesus even to the point of being willing to die with him. William Barclay goes on to point out that Thomas has two great virtues – really two virtues that each of us should desire to also possess. First, Thomas absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what he did not believe. There was an uncompromising integrity and honesty about him. In our own lives we know how our own doubts and insecurities make it easy to act like we know or agree when we don’t (or vice versa) in order to fit in and avoid standing out. Second, Thomas’ other great virtue was that when he was sure, he WAS sure. There was no second-guessing or buyer’s remorse with Thomas. When he was sure, his surrender to certainty was complete. Upon encountering the risen Lord, he surrendered his uncertainty completely and proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” It is these same virtues in our five adults who joined the Church last Saturday evening that are so inspiring to me – their profession of faith was certain, sincere and confident. We get the same sense from the author of today’s second Reading, who proclaims with conviction the truth that we called to love God and others. We pray to have such clarity, certainty and confidence in our job, our marriage or vocation, let alone our faith life. William Barclay also acknowledges Thomas’ one true mistake: that he withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. He was so broken-hearted that he could not be with others, but could only be alone with his grief. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first visit by Jesus. And how true this is in our own lives: we miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from God and others and try to be or go-it alone – this is the very essence of sin. So it is good that we are here, in this fellowship of Christians, to encounter our risen Lord in Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist. So it is important for us to note that it is in the fellowship of the Christian community Thomas encounters Jesus. Even more notable is that a week after his first visit Jesus came again, through locked doors, stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you,” and then spoke directly to Thomas. Jesus, in his great love, in his great mercy – his divine mercy, knew Thomas’ heart and overwhelmed him with the deep and unfailing love of God. Pope Francis describes this encounter this way: Jesus reacts with patience towards Thomas; Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time; he does not close the door; he waits – and because of this, Thomas is transformed, no longer an unbeliever, but a believer! Pope Francis goes on to remind us that God is always waiting for us; he never grows tired. It is Jesus who shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence, hope – so that we might also be transformed, like Thomas, by God’s love! I pray that you may know and be transformed by the great patience our God has for you. Regardless of your doubt, offense, rejection, pain, or hurt, our God is patiently – in his deep and unfailing love and mercy - waiting for you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:11 AM
Saturday, March 7, 2015
I recently completed a good book. It was a memoir of a guy who went to Wittenberg University in the early 70’s, about 20 years before I did, and it tells his experiences playing football, being in a fraternity, and generally about life on a small, liberal arts campus. Our experiences are remarkably similar. While the book recalled for me many great memories and friendships from college, it was also a reminder of how distant I was from God (not God from me) during my college years – and how truly restless, really empty at times, I felt amidst all the worldly pleasures of college life. To be clear: I had/have a great family life growing up, a strong Catholic education before college, and while at college I rarely missed Sunday Mass and even regularly prayed the Rosary. So, I knew God and was not intentionally rejecting Him - it was just that I was too often consumed in the worldly pleasures and pursuits of college that I did not know, understand or maybe even care to be in relationship with God. Even now, I can recall the distance between me and God that left me restless and longing for more – I just did not know then what. I now know that we were made to be in relationship with God, and that we will always be restless and longing for more until we are at rest with God. We can say as much about the Israelites in today’s First Reading and the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. Physical thirst and hunger intensify a spiritual hunger that the Israelites have for God. Certainly, the God who did all those incredible things for them in Egypt, would also care for them in the desert. But, when we are distant from God – when we don’t trust in God – it is easy to not have hope, and to even grumble, as the Israelites did. In a similar way, the Samaritan woman, for all intensive purposes is considered an outcast and has distanced herself from God and her own community. She has cycled through relationships and she is still restless and longing for more. So, it is no coincidence that she sits alone next to a well of water. But, here is the good news amidst our own restlessness and longing: we are loved by God. And as St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading: God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us in order to restore us in relationship with Him – in fact, Jesus gives us the example of how to love God. Even more, as St. Paul states: the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The living water of the Sacraments of Baptism, foreshadowed in today’s readings, transforms us. As St. Paul states: we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have access to his grace in which we stand, and we can boast in hope of the glory of God. In other words, we can be like the Samaritan woman who is transformed after her encounter with Christ. And what did she do? She was so filled with joy and peace that she immediately shared that joy and peace with others. I get that – for lots of reasons and too often – we remain distant from God, still restless and longing – not filled with God’s joy and peace, let alone eager to share it with others. Last Saturday, I attended the Men’s Conference with me two older sons – it was a great event. One thing that struck me, especially in the presentation by Chris Spielman, was the call to honesty. Chris Spielman said several times in sharing his faith journey that he needed to be honest with us and speak the truth. I was struck by this, because it was not until I was honest with myself about my actions, thoughts, intentions, motives that I slowly and gradually closed that gap between me and God. Truthfully, it remains a work in progress, but the more I am able to be honest with myself and God about my sinfulness, the closer I am to God: the greater joy and peace I experience, and the less restlessness I feel. This Sunday and the next two Sunday’s during the 10:00 a.m. Mass, we will celebrate the “Scrutinies,” as part of the R.C.I.A. process. These scrutinities encourage a spirit of repentance among our elect preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil – and today’s readings reinforce for them (and us) the power of the waters of Baptism. Father John will pray that as they continue their preparation for Baptism, that they will embrace a spirit of self-searching and repentance – in other words, that they will be honest with themselves and God about what separates them from God and be willing to conform their lives more and more to the example of Christ. My challenge to you is FIRST to be inspired by our elect preparing for Baptism. Embrace the same spirit of self-searching and repentance – be honest with yourself and God about what separates you from God. SECOND, set aside time every day this week to pray over that question: what truly separates you from God. And THIRD bring whatever it is to the Sacrament of Reconciliation next Monday, during our parish penance service. If you need help discerning what keeps you from God’s love, Google “examination of conscience” or read the partial list in this week’s Catholic Times from Pope Francis. I challenge you to be HONEST. If you are truly honest, it will be difficult, maybe even embarrassing, and you may not like what you find. So, ask the Holy Spirit to enter into your heart and mind to help you know and speak to Christ whatever it is that is most pressing in your life. Seek forgiveness and God’s help to avoid whatever it is that separates you from God, so that you be at rest with God now and eternally!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:14 AM
Saturday, February 7, 2015
This Sunday we celebrate World Marriage Sunday, a day the Church celebrates the importance of marriage and family life. This weekend’s bulletin has a great insert on why marriage matters – so pick one up. And to help celebrate this Day in our parish, Fr. John will offer a blessing for married couples before our final blessing and dismissal – so don’t go anywhere. At first glance, today’s readings might not offer much on the topic of marriage. At best, the reference to Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in today’s Gospel would suggest that at least one maybe other Apostles were married. At worst, the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, which in Mark’s Gospel falls between two stories of exorcisms of demons, sounds more like the start of a bad mother-in-law joke. For the record, I have a great mother-in-law; and although I am a bit biased, I think my wife’s mother-in-law pretty awesome, too. Anyhow, as Sacred Scripture always does, today’s readings reveal good news about who we are and who we are called to be. As today’s Psalm reminds us, our God is good and gracious, he rebuilds what is destroyed, he gathers what is lost, he heals the brokenhearted, he binds our wounds, and as he knows each star in the sky by name, he knows us, and he loves us. God created us out of love to know his love now and eternally. But as we too often experience in our own lives, we don’t know his love or at least we just don’t feel it. We struggle or fail in relationships and jobs, we experience stress and anxiety, we have health problems, and experience loss and death of loved ones. We are left empty and feeling more like Job in today’s first reading: in which life is a drudgery, we feel like we have been assigned months of misery, our nights are troubled, filled with restlessness until the dawn, and then our days are not much better – they come to an end without hope, and we ask ourselves: shall I not see happiness again, let alone eternal joy and peace?! However, there is something in our hearts crying out for something more lasting and satisfying – even if we don’t immediately know what it is, let alone how to obtain it. This is true of Job and each one of us. This hope burning in our heats is for God’s everlasting, joy-filled love. The good news for us is that Jesus came to teach us about this love. As we read in today’s Gospel, he set people free – not only from their physical, mental, and spiritual infirmities – but also from the worst affliction of all – the tyranny of slavery to sin and Satan – so that we might not only know this love, but experience it fully and eternally! And here is the beauty of the vocation of marriage that we celebrate today: the goal of marriage is to get your spouse to Heaven. Couples promise to each other on their wedding day: to have and hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do they part. And this means, among other things, that spouses must help each other to know God’s love, especially when one spouse is feeling more like Job. As spouses, we are called to bring what Christ taught us to the relationship and share the good news of God’s love with our spouse and to do so humbly, selflessly, and with great care and compassion. BTW: Priests and religious of our Church have the same vocation, but they are called to serve all persons, just not one person. When we read a great book, we are excited to share that book with someone; the same is true after seeing a great movie; we do the same when we first start dating someone and want to introduce that person to our family and friends, right? So, we can appreciate the enthusiasm, passion and even urgency of Jesus in today’s Gospel to share the good news of God’s love – he knows a great truth and wants to share it with as many people as possible. We also get the same sense of enthusiasm, passion and urgency as we read Saint Paul’s letter today. St. Paul who is not concerned about what others might say or do to him and is willing to endure great hardship in order share the Gospel with others. So, it is no surprise that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law immediately waited on Jesus after being healed. After we experience God’s love, our natural response is to not only feel joy, but to act. Experiencing God’s love, awakens our call to share the good news by what we say and do with enthusiasm, passion and urgency. Having today experienced God’s love in Sacred Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in this community, my prayer is that you not only feel joy, but are motivated to now act – to go and share the Gospel of the Lord!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:58 AM
Saturday, January 10, 2015
This weekend, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This marks the official end to the Christmas season. Admittedly, I took down our Christmas ornaments last weekend, but I did get my thank you notes out before the season ended! Also this weekend, at the 11:30 Mass, Fr. John (our pastor) will ask our approximately seventy 7th and 8th graders of the parish, who are preparing for Confirmation in March about their freedom, intent, desire as candidates for this Sacrament. Often, I think, with such questions, there is confusion by candidates, parents, godparents, and others about what is happening at Confirmation. When we prepare these young adults for the Sacrament of Confirmation, we do so not simply as a rite of passage for them – as if on the day they are confirmed that they are transitioning from Christian youth to adults, or from immature to (more) mature Christians. While on some level it is true and even proper to view Confirmation as an opportunity for a young man or woman to affirm publicly his or her faith and unity with the Church, they actually can and should do this everyday by what they say and do – by waking up every day with the desire and intent to know, love, and serve God and others more and more. Confirmation is better understood as a Sacrament of Initiation – initiation into a relationship with our God, which begins with Baptism and is strengthened in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation – initiation into the one relationship that will bring us the greatest joy and peace now and eternally. As we have been working to prepare our 7th & 8th grades, which is mostly done by our wonderful teachers (McMahon, Roberts, Ulibarri, Rost), we can not stress enough to the students the necessary and important connection between their Confirmation and Baptism. So it is with great intention (and some hard work) that we selected this weekend, in which we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, to gather our Confirmandi and ask them a series of questions. This connection between Baptism and Confirmation is very important for several reasons. First, the function of Confirmation in our Catholic lives is to focus our attention on the gifts of the Holy Spirit that first came to us at our Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit that dwells in each of us from the day we were baptized; it is the Holy Spirit who is given to us as God’s most precious gift – a gift freely given out of love; and it is the Holy Spirit who is to be our strength and our guide in living the Christian life. Second, it is this gift of the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, that aids us in fulfilling the call to conversion. We are called to a life of continual conversion - gradually rooting out sin and selfishness and to give our lives more and more completely to God – by following his commands and loving him and others more and more. The Holy Spirit gives us grace to see our sin for what it is – rebellion and a rejection of the love of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to turn away from all that would keep us from his love. And so, we will ask our candidates if they reject sin and evil in their lives – and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pray that they will not only answer yes tomorrow/today, but every day. Third, believing is only possible by grace and the help of the Holy Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to God’s love and mercy and who makes it easier for us to accept and believe in our Triune God. So, another important set of questions that we will ask our Confirmandi today (tomorrow) – and that will be asked of them again at their Confirmation - is their own faith – a faith in our Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. At their Baptism, their parents and godparents made this profession of faith for them, now we ask them to make it for themselves - by the grace and help of the Holy Spirit they will answer “yes” they do believe. Finally, Confirmation should be an opportunity for the Confirmandi to enter into a fuller, deeper participation with and as a member of the Christian community. And this really means at least three things. First, all the faithful – you and me - are expected to take responsibility for those being Confirmed. We are to support them by prayer (and even fasting), make them feel welcome and give them, by what we say and do, the example of what it means to be a Christian. This is a promise parents and godparents made at Baptism and it will be a promise that they, with all gathered at the 11:30 Mass tomorrow, will renew. Second, the hope is that our Confirmandi will not only feel welcomed and empowered to take a more active role in the liturgical and charitable activities of the parish, diocese and universal Church, but also be willing and able to share and even defend our faith. And third, the hope is that by what our Confirmandi say and do, that they will serve as living reminders of our own Baptism and Confirmation and the commitment that it entails. By what they say and do, we should become more aware of the Holy Spirit in our lives and with the Spirit’s help and guidance be inspired to continue our own faith journey. The anointing by Bishop Campbell in March during the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the completion of our 7th & 8th graders initiation into the Church. Let us pray for our Confirmandi as they prepare for Confirmation, that they may grow in their love of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which began at their Baptism.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:22 AM