Saturday, November 12, 2016
Growing up, my dad traveled a lot for business – often away from home several days a week. So, I am very familiar with the passage in today’s First Reading, as my mom would too often need to recite it to my misbehaving brother and sister: Lo, the day is coming, [my mom would say] blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the [mother of this home]. I am just kidding. Actually, my sister and brother and their families are here at this Mass with my parents to celebrate my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, which is the intention for this Mass and for which Fr. John will kindly offer a blessing for them. When I have the opportunity to Baptize infants, I always try to make the point to parents that they are the first and best teachers of their children – in all things, just not our faith. In fact the Baptismal rite stresses this point several times, so I try to emphasize that this point is especially true when the parents are mad or frustrated or even hurt by their spouse. I remind them that their children will certainly see and hear how the parents interact and will follow their example. So, I urge the parents to call on the grace they received in the Sacrament of Marriage to love their spouse when it may be hard to love them, to forgive even when it might seem impossible to do so, to care for and show respect for their spouse when that may be the last thing they want to do. This is the example they provide their children in how to be a Christian, this is the example they will imitate in trying to be a Christian. And this is the point St. Paul is making in today’s Second Reading as he tries to teach and correct his friends by urging them to follow his example. And this is the gift my parents have given my brother, sister and me: a wonderful example of love, forgiveness, respect and care for each other which each of us tries to imitate in our married lives, as parents and as Christians to others. For this, and may other things, we thank you and celebrate fifty years of marriage. One final note on my parents: I am happy to report that they have not handed us over to be put to death as today’s Gospel warns – and for this we also thank you! While I am making light of this passage, today’s Gospel is an important message for us to hear. We can easily dismiss the message as doom and gloom – not something that applies to us, certainly not today (although depending on how you are feeling after Tuesday’s election, opinions may differ). But this an important and timely message we need to hear and respond to because it reveals a wonderful truth about our loving God and offers us a source of hope, peace and even joy in the midst of hardship. The scholar William Barclay reminds us that this passage offer several important insights into Jesus and about being a Christian today. First, Jesus could read the signs of the times. Like the prophet Malachi, in today’s first reading, who made a stern warning to the Israelites who had become lukewarm in their faith and lax in the obedience to God, Jesus was prophetic in speaking the truth to his disciples. Jesus clearly saw and warns of the terrible things people would suffer as his followers. It must have been with great sadness that Jesus was aware of the things to come for those whom he loved so much. Which leads to the second insight: Jesus was completely honest. One of the guiding principles of my employer is that when we communicate, we are to be open, honest and transparent – there are no games, manipulation, bait-and-switch in our interactions with others. Similarly, Jesus loves us and respects us so much that he is always going to be honest with us. This is true in the Gospel stories we read, in the Church Jesus established, and through the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The third insight is that Jesus promised his disciples that they would never meet their tribulations alone. Certainly, if your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends have not handed you over to be put to death, then I pray that they are in your life to help you face you challenges. And it is our loving God who is fully present in wonderful and sometime mysterious ways and who gives us the grace – the help – we need to face any challenge, any tribulation with courage, humility and perseverance. Finally, the Gospel passage reassures us with Jesus’ promise of safety that is beyond the threats of this world. We will experience pain and suffering – physical, emotional, spiritual – but “not a hair on our head will be destroyed” – this is the promise Jesus gives us. And as the First Reading reminds us: for those who trust in God and follow his commands, despite any trial or tribulation, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays. See, out of great love for you and me, Jesus – the sun of justice – will speak the truth to us, he will always be honest with us, he will never leave us alone in our suffering, and will protect and care for us. This is a great source of hope, joy and even peace for me (and I hope for you) in the face of hardship. The reality is – because of sin – there will always be pain and suffering in our world and in our lives; and for those who seek God’s love and share this love with others, evil will lead others who reject this love to turn against us. So, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when” and “how” we as Christians might suffer. The late Cardinal Francis George once predicted: “I expect to die in my bed, my successor to die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.” I pray that my parents, many, many years from now will die in their bed; I pray that I might have the courage to die in prison or a martyr in the public square for being a Christian; and I pray that my sons will have the faith –through the example of their parents and grandparents – to pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization. And, I pray for each of you when and how you might suffer for being Catholic in your family, in your place of work, or elsewhere that you might always know and be strengthened by God’s love. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:48 AM
Saturday, September 10, 2016
This past Thursday evening we had over one hundred people in our school cafeteria to begin our parish’s 11 week Alpha program. And we had nearly 30 men yesterday morning to start our parish’s fall Men’s program. It was wonderful to have such a diverse group of individuals together seeking faith and fellowship – lots of great energy and enthusiasm, too. I want to extend a special thank you to Fr. John and our leadership teams for all their hard work to host these events – many are with us at this Mass – thank you! As you may have heard or read, there is a Presidential election set for later this Fall. I will defer to our good pastor and the Bishops of our state and country to help us navigate, as faithful citizens, the challenge we will certainly face in the election booth in November. Needless to say, this election cycle has stirred a lot of interest – certainly in part because of the many pressing and important issues facing our country and our world, and as much by the “complex” personalities running for office. This election has also reminded me of the great need and desire we have as citizens and humans for leaders – leaders of our county, our communities, and in our places of work, our places of worship, and even in our home and within our families. This is what makes today’s first reading so interesting. The back-story is that the Israelites made a golden calf as a proxy of sorts for God. Like us at times, the Israelites could not cope with an invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they could see and touch and understand. And without their faithful leader Moses – the one who lead them out of slavery from Egypt and who was now up on a mountain with God and with no scheduled return date (or if he was even coming back), they turned to Aaron. It is Aaron’s failed leadership that underlies this story. Out of fear of the mob, or maybe a temporary loss of faith himself, Aaron showed no resistance to the people’s request to “make us a god who will go before us.” He didn’t seek to persuade them of the error of their ways. He didn’t encourage them to be strong, to have faith, to have hope in the same God who rescued them from slavery. Rather than discouraging bad behavior, Aaron tells them to take off the golden earrings that they were wearing, and bring them to him and he made a molten calf. Because he did not stop others from behaving badly and even participated in the bad behavior himself, he failed: he failed both his people and his Lord. Aaron also failed the test of honesty as a leader. When he tried to explain to his brother, Moses, about what took place while he was away, he failed to tell the truth – or at least he was not totally honest in what he said. Aaron twisted the facts to make it appear that he did not cause anything wrong to happen. Further, Aaron failed by not taking responsibility for his actions. He blamed the Israelites for making and worshipping the golden calf, rather than taking responsibility for at least his part in this event. I share this not to beat up Aaron, who has an important and valuable role in the Old Testament and our Salvation history; rather, I share Aaron’s failed leadership to highlight what the balance of today’s readings offer us as insight into true leadership. First, while not completely perfect or innocent himself, Moses does exhibit great courage to speak the truth, to defend the Israelites and God’s covenant with them, and to then humbly ask God for mercy, as we heard in today’s First Reading. Then, St. Paul in writing to his friend Timothy in our second reading, is humble and well aware of his past failings, appreciative of the gifts God has given him, and understands the great responsibility and trust God has also given him, and now confidently and boldly speaks the truth to others of God’s great love and mercy. And finally, in today’s Gospel we hear of a shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep until he finds it, and when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, then calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice; and of a woman having ten coins and losing one lights a lamp and sweeps the house, searching carefully until she finds it, and when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice; and lastly, of a father filled with great compassion for both of his sons and patiently waits for his lost son, and when he arrives home, the father runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and celebrates his return. This is certainly the love and mercy our God has for us. These parables also provide the example of how we are to act toward others – the leaders we are called to be. Yes, each of us is a leader – maybe not by title, or election or level of power, but we each have been given certain responsibilities. We may not be able to directly influence the individual behaviors of our leaders in our governments or corporations, but we do control our own behaviors and actions and attitudes. Today’s readings then show how were are to act when given responsibility: to be brave and humble, aware and grateful of our many gifts, caring and attentive, willing to risk everything for another, to go to great lengths and self-sacrifice for someone or something, and to show great mercy and compassion toward others – even those who may have hurt us or embarrassed us. This week, I invite you to consider the responsibility you have been given – maybe it is at work, here at the parish, in your neighborhood, or in your family or home. How have you acted well? How have you failed? Pray this week for the grace to be the leader you are called to be, the leader that others need you to be. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:38 AM
Saturday, August 13, 2016
In my mid-20s, I had a summer internship in Washington DC and while there, I connected with the Catholic Worker movement. Several from that community were having a protest at the Pentagon early one morning, so I joined them on my way into work. Admittedly, I was participating from a FAR distance; so what I can remember are: 1) Martin Sheen the actor was there, 2) that blood was being thrown onto the exterior wall of the Pentagon, and 3) many were arrested that day. Needless to say, I quickly ducked away from the protest, proceeding to work as the Dispatch headline – Congresswoman’s intern arrested for throwing blood on Pentagon – flashed through my mind. That event still remains with me, even though so many years have passed, because of their act of civil disobedience, not motivated by politics, but by their Catholic faith and their commitment to following Jesus’ example of non-violence. Certainly today’s readings invoke the question: what do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? Recalling the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading: what am I willing to say or do that might put me into a deep, underground prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life, just as Ebed did for Jeremiah into today’s first Reading? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family? What is worth laying down my life for? Through the eyes of our Catholic faith, we can see and know that it is not for money, power, or possessions that we will take such great risks. Although we may be often tempted to think that for a million dollars or to be the CEO or president we would be willing to sacrifice everything. And even if we go down that road, we soon find that we are not satisfied, but still long for more. It is Jesus who points us to the one, true answer: love. Jesus freely and willingly suffered and died for us because he loved us and wanted us to know this love and share this love with others. It is this love that we too can find reason to risk everything. It is Jesus’ beautiful example of love – willing to suffer and die for us – that models for us what we are called to do and what will bring us true and the greatest joy and peace in our life. Here comes my plug for our parish’s Alpha program…it is programs like Alpha that we can come to know or better understand the love relationship we were made for, the love relationship we are called to be in, and the love relationship that will bring us the greatest joy, and THE relationship worth suffering and dying for. So, I want to invite you to join us this fall in our Alpha program. There are cards about Alpha in the pews to take home and even share with others; and I also want to invite you to come to a sneak-peak of Alpha in the parish hall after Mass – we will also have some goodies for you to eat and drink. Going back to our readings, Jesus challenges us to clear all the junk that keeps us from fully and freely experiencing God’s love – this is the fire he speaks of in today’s Gospel – clearing away all the possessions, and people and empty pursuits in our life that keep us from God’s love. To be a Christian requires us to act outside this space – although what we do here is critical and necessary to our faith! As we leave here and go out into the world we live, and work and play, it will not be easy, we may not be popular, and we certainly will not always be comfortable; too often we will experience sacrifice and hardship. And as Jesus promises us: to follow Jesus will likely result in conflict – households will be divided, parents against children, relative against relative! But here is the Good News: we are not alone. “Brothers and sisters: we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – as the second reading reminds us. It is the saints who inspire us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” It is Jesus who has experienced the same shame, suffering, hardship that we endure in the face of opposition as we fully live out our lives as Christians. Inspired by Jesus’ and the saints’ example of perseverance, we must “not grow weary and lose heart.” So I ask again: What do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? What is worth being thrown into a prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family, my friends, my co-workers? What is worth risking your own life? I suspect that for many/most of you, your answer to my questions included family and friends. In addition for me, it is the issues of life and religious liberty. I do anticipate that sooner or later I will be faced with the situation where I will be forced to make a decision that may result in imprisonment in defense of these fundamental truths of our faith. Maybe for you and me, it might also be reporting some crime at work, or standing up to a bully, or confronting a loved one with an addiction, or challenging a cohabitating child or grandchild, or defending someone’s rights or dignity. The list goes on… This week, I invite you to pray over these questions; take time to write down your responses and then share them with someone. Be prepared to act knowing that you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, nourished by this word and meal we share today, and strengthened by the truth of God’s great love for us. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 11:06 AM
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Sin to out bid a priest, deacon or religious in the silent auction? Still waiting on whether I won silent auction. Thanks volunteers. Invite to dinner. Always a great event! It is good that we have this festival each year as a way – not only to raise some money for the school – but to also to welcome our neighbors to our parish campus, as well as maybe welcome back some fallen away Catholics AND to have the opportunity to share the joy and love we know as Catholics. In fact, we are called to be a welcoming people – as an institution: the Church, and individually: as Catholics. We see this in our liturgy – our greeters, music, this space should all be welcoming and inviting (we are getting there!); or even when, for example, we celebrate the Sacrament of Infant Baptism, we start by greeting the parents, godparents and child at the doors of Church – as any good host would – welcoming them not only into this place but also into God’s love and mercy. It is also in our Catholic institutions that we exemplify our welcoming spirit: in our Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities. And we can not forget the domestic Church: our families, where we must be welcoming of each other within the family even when we experience dysfunction – just as the Father does of both sons in the story of the Prodigal Son. And individually, we are called to have a spirit of welcome in everyone we encounter: family, friend, co-worker, stranger, even enemy. As recent events remind us, a spirit of welcome is much needed in our families, places of work, communities, and in our world. There is a need to be welcoming of each other regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, profession or any other “classification.” And, there needs to be a welcoming regardless of someone’s actions, words or behavior. To be clear, we can love and welcome the sinner, but not the sin; we can show care, compassion and mercy towards others, even if their words or actions are offensive, hurtful, or destructive. I get that the problems facing our world are complex social, economic, political, and historical in nature. But remember Christ too lived in a world filled with hate and violence, and filled with complex social, economic, political, and historical problems AND what did he do: he welcomed all – showing care, compassion and love, even in the face of hostility, embarrassment and rejection. The only way we can do this – to be so welcoming – is to first see and understand in each other that we are made by God, made in his image and likeness, made by God’s love to be loved and to love. It is this very fundamental truth of our Catholic faith that gives each of us a dignity, value and worth AND demands respect, care and compassion – as truly someone worth welcoming. This is the example Jesus gives us over and over again in the Gospels, this is the example we are called to embrace and follow. Today’s readings then give us some insight into how we can be so welcoming. As a “Martha” myself, I feel the immediate need to go on the defensive about what we might interpret as Jesus’ treatment of Martha in today’s Gospel. Jesus does not reject the hospitality and effort given by Martha, but he does reject her anxiety and worry. He wants to make sure that Martha does not miss what he has to offer: his Word, his love, his mercy. We need to possess the best of both Mary and Martha: welcoming and serving of others, while at the same time being attentive and listening. Abraham exemplifies the hospitality we are called as Catholics to show toward others. As we just heard, it was a hot day (like today) and Abraham was no “spring chicken” but, in his old age and weakened body, he RAN to greet his guests, bowing down to the ground before them, and began to serve them. He was fully present, fully focused in serving his guests; and did so with no expectation of receiving anything in return. And greater than what to offered in food, shelter and comfort, was what he offered in his attentiveness towards them. And for this he was greatly rewarded. Yes, it was a friendly audience that Abraham welcomes – actually a divine audience – but we are called to show such welcome to just not family and friends, but also strangers, even enemies! So, I like that the welcoming-themed First Reading and Gospel passages are paired in our Lectionary with today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. St. Paul reminds us of two things. First, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Suffering and pain have a way of either causing us to collapse within ourselves or to be like St. Paul, who is writing from prison and is most likely in great physical pain, but nonetheless embraces his pain as an opportunity to unite himself with Christ and all that Christ has done for us. We are faced with a similar decision in each encounter we have, right? In our own fear, insecurity, doubt, anxiety and worry, do we turn inwards – unable to be welcoming and hospitable; OR are we able to move beyond ourselves to show respect, care and compassion – to be truly welcoming – towards all. Second, St. Paul goes on to remind us that we are called to share God’s love and mercy with others – first welcoming and then sharing. We do this when we move beyond our fear, anger, insecurity and pain to welcome someone and then share with them the joy, peace, and love we know when we are in relationship with our God. This is the example Christ provides us, St. Paul models for us, and what we are called to do. We hope to accomplish this, in a small but powerful way, through our parish’s Alpha program this fall and about which you will be hearing more about in the coming weeks. In the meantime, in just a couple of minutes we will stand together and say this beautiful prayer: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Jesus not only provides us with the example of welcoming others, but he awaits our welcome of him in our hearts in minds. It is in the Eucharist that we receive the grace – the help, the courage, the strength – to welcome Christ into our heart and mind and then to be the welcoming Catholic we are called to be. As you say these words today, offer up whatever it is that keeps you from welcoming Jesus and others and then in receiving the Eucharist, receive the grace to welcome those you encounter this week, so they too may know God’s great love.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:00 AM
Saturday, June 11, 2016
My son Owen (who is 4 – or as he reminds me 4 ½) had his tonsils removed just before the Memorial Day weekend. My wife and I did our best to prepare him for what to expect before, during and after the procedure – having some experience with our second son – Jonah. Even with all the preparation, we could not get him to take the pain medicine after surgery to give him some comfort, as well as the ability to drink and eat without even more pain. So for days, we did our best to comfort him knowing that if only he took some kid's Tylenol he would feel much, much better. We said to each other: that strong will is going to pay off for him in the future, but now he just needs to trust us and take the medicine! It occurred to me that this is often true in our relationship with God. Here is our God saying: I love you and I will do anything for you; I have a plan for you; I want you to know the freedom, peace and joy that I have to offer you – just trust me! But too often, we can't see beyond our fear, pride, insecurity or embarrassment to experience God's love and mercy. Yes, we sometimes know and reject this love; but more often we are so self-consumed that we can not see beyond ourselves to see what God is offering us. As if God is a parent holding their child in the middle of the night trying to comfort him or her, begging us to please take the medicine that will bring you what you most desire – what we most need; and we – the child – ignore or resist or even fight this gift from God. Fortunately, God persists! Today's readings capture the many ways in which we, as humans, do just this – in which we are not open to God's love and mercy in our lives. King David, in today's First Reading, exemplifies our tendency to choose self first – not God or others. While we read that he was later sorry for his actions, David put first his own lust, pride and disregard for life. Paul, in the Second Reading, highlights another way in which we close ourselves off to God. The temptation is to either reject rules completely, or to blindly follow rules and forget why the rules are there. Here Paul is reminding us that it is all about a relationship – the laws guide and help us in this relationship, they are the means, not the end. The Pharisee in today's Gospel demonstrates another trap we build for ourselves: convincing ourselves that if we act a certain way, hang around with the "right" people and avoid the "wrong" people, then we are doing okay – and certainly better than others. Finally, we don't know what exactly the woman in today's Gospel did to make her so despised – whether she was a politician or a telemarketer; but that did not matter any more to her, and it certainly did not matter to Jesus. She was only focused on one thing – not her past, not her fear or embarrassment – only on God’s love and mercy. Remember, God knows us and wants us to be in relationship with him; he sees through all the junk and distractions that keep us from seeing what is waiting for us: God’s love! What is it that is most pressing in your life at this moment? What is heaviest on your heart and in your mind? Work, finances, relationships, health, loss – or all of the above. I suspect that if you are like me, it took but a second to draw to mind whatever it is. I invite you this week to model the woman's approach to Jesus in today's Gospel. She did not hold back her trust, her hope, her love for God; even with all her baggage – she was able to move beyond embarrassment, pride, doubt to give herself over completely to Jesus. She experienced, in that moment, his love and mercy and must have been completely overwhelmed with peace and joy – this awaits us, too! As you begin and end your days this week, offer this pray: Lord, I know you love me; I may not understand why this challenge is before me, and I am not certain that I can endure what is before me; but I trust that you have a plan for me and will give me what I need to do your will. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 2:42 PM
Saturday, May 14, 2016
I want to challenge you to share with someone this week that you are for life. I don’t want you to do this to be political – either endorsing a candidate, a party or an issue; and I don’t want you to do this to be provocative, argumentative, or confrontational. Rather, I want you to do this as a wonderful expression of your faith; your Catholic faith in our triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who made us to be in an personal, wonderful love relationship and does everything possible to keep us in this relationship. To say you are pro-life, will immediately – in today’s society and culture – become a political statement (right?), but it is – or at least should be – a statement of faith, hope, trust in the gift of life God has give us so that we may know His love, peace, joy now and eternally. As I have often said from this ambo, our God is a god of life, not death. And our Creed, which we will stand together in just a couple of minutes to profess, says it all! First and foremost, we believe in the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And most especially, we believe that God made US, he made us in his image and likeness. He made us to be in relationship with Him. Life is a wonderful gift from God. A gift that we should cherish above all other things. It is also this gift of life is good, valuable, meaningful, dignified and even sacred. We believe, and profess, in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who he came down from heaven and became man. As Fr. John recently reminded me, we are an Incarnation Church! God became man not only to show us His great love for us and to restore his in the love relationship we were made to live in, but also his Incarnation shows us that there is great dignity in life – the same life God entered into and shares with us. And Jesus, by his very life – by what he said and did – provides us with so many wonderful examples and affirms over-and-over the dignity and value of life. And we know, by his care and attention especially for the weak, the sick, the alienated, that all life has value and worth! Even in Jesus’ suffering and death we can find meaning – certainly that life is fragile and must be protected, but also that by Jesus’ death he restored us in the one relationship that matters more than anything else: our relationship, our life with God. Jesus’ resurrection, which we also profess, is a reminder that truly our God is a god of life, that Jesus has conquered death - death no longer has a hold on us, it is nothing to fear! And it is in the Ascension, which we celebrated last week, that we are reminded, among many things, that 1) Jesus proceeds us and leads us to our goal: eternal life, and 2) that the body matters – Jesus ascended soul AND body as a reminder that our life, our bodies, have value and dignity. We continue our profession of faith by saying that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us life; the Holy Spirit lives in us and transforms us – guiding us and giving us the help to move from despair to hope, from darkness to light, from anxiety to peace, sadness to joy, selfishness to service, death to life. It is this gift that we recall and celebrate in a special way today – the Feast of the Pentecost. Jumping to the end of the Creed, we profess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We believe that at the end of the world the bodies of all the dead will rise from the earth and be united again to their souls eternally. Our bodies are not shells or snake skins that we shed to never use again – just the opposite. Our lives are eternal - body and soul. Our prayer is that we may know – body and soul – eternal peace and joy! Through such faith, we can say that life is good, life matters, it has dignity and value and must be protected at all times. So it makes perfect sense that, as Bishop Campbell says, the vocation of life is primary – even before a vocation to holiness or any particular state of life – we are called to be in relationship, to know and understand this great gift of life from God, and to then protect and defend it from all harm or any threat. It is also through such faith, that we also have a foundation – a source of truth – in other words, a filter or lens to see and understand all things. Certainly this includes the hot-button life issues (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, just war, immigration), but also includes the day-to-day experiences and encounters of our life. Through the eyes of faith, we can see that there is a dignity and value in every person we encounter – even a stranger or enemy. Through the eyes of faith, we can see that there is a dignity and value in every person: from conception to natural death; whether they are fully-independent or differently-able by disease, injury or age; and regardless of how they look, what they do or say. Yes, all life matters, it is good, it is full of dignity and value! Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So, again, I invite you – really I challenge you – to share this week with someone that you are pro-life. Maybe practice with your spouse, your parent or child (heck, practice with me on your way out of the Church after Mass); and then work up the courage or confidence to share with a co-worker, a non-Catholic friend, or even a stranger that you are pro-life. Remember this is not a political statement, but a statement of faith - faith in our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who gives us this wonderful gift of life that we are called to know, share, promote, and defend. Too often we are intimidate, bullied, even persecute for our faith, which includes the value we place on life. But do not be deterred, discouraged or frightened. Share with someone this week that you are pro-life. You just need to say: I am for life, I am pro-life, I am pro-choice and I choose life, life matters – that is all you need to say! Simple and sweet. See, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said: “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” This passage was intended to encourage the early Church in the face of persecution, and to remind them/us that it is the Holy Spirit that will be our source of courage in the face of persecution. My friends, announce with confidence, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that you are pro-life. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:38 AM
Friday, April 8, 2016
Two months ago now, I shared in my homily that our mission as Catholics is two-fold: 1) to be in relationship with God (now and eternally); and 2) to share with others the great joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship with God and to then invite them into this relationship. When I preached last month, I then expanded on what it means to be IN relationship with God by explaining how we might experience God in relationship (in the Sacraments, in the liturgy, whenever two or more are gathered in his name, in nature and all things created by God, in Sacred Scripture, and certainly in prayer); and also by explaining who we are in relationship with (This is our Creed: the statement of what we believe, really in WHOM we believe: Father, Son and Holy Spirit); and then by explaining what is happening in this relationship with God (It is God who is taking the initiative: creating us, drawing us into relationship, and giving us the tools and the help to be in relationship with Him combined with his great love and mercy for us and towards us – and then it is our response to God – our surrender, our trust, our faith, our love - that brings us into full relationship with him, which allows us to experience the joy, peace, and freedom of being IN relationship). Today’s readings present then (for me at least) the real challenge of being IN relationship with God. It is not so much the mystery that I struggle with or even the pain or suffering or loss that we might experience despite being in relationship with God. It is really the ebbs and flows of our faith journey. How we can be so excited one moment and then lost and confused the next. How we can be so overwhelmed by his love and mercy and then in the next breath reject or forget this same love and mercy. I want to be on fire for God all the time like the Apostles in today’s First Reading. I want to be confident and certain and fearless and zealous. I want this in my job, in my marriage and other relationships, and I want this also in my faith life. I want to be like the Apostles who spoke with such authority and confidence, even willing to take great risk without hesitation. I want to be able to surrender completely to God, to trust him unconditionally, to never doubt; I want to be always so focused on God and others, rather than on my own wants and needs. But too often, however, I am (we are) more like the Apostles in today’s Gospel. Before saying more about this, I want to emphasize the most important point of today’s Gospel, today’s readings, arguably the entire Bible: The Lord Has Risen! The passage I just read was likely a later addition to the Gospel intended to leave no doubt or question that Jesus Christ, crucified and died, rose from the dead. The risen Jesus was more than mire vision or dream, not a ghost or spirit, but a real person. The tomb was empty, the burial cloths remained; it was Jesus who was fully present – flesh and blood; physically present to walk, eat and drink with, to be touched and have conversations with. It was the risen Jesus who was seen and encountered by the Apostles and thousands of others and of whom not only the Gospels were written, but other non-Christian authors wrote about. Jesus conquered death by his resurrection. Our God is a God of life – not death. Jesus’ resurrection is not only a sign of his great power – his divine power - but also that life has meaning, significance, value and dignity – all life AND especially a life lived fully in relationship with God! The Resurrection is not only a real event in history, it is a source of hope and joy for us. And, it was the encounter with the Risen Lord, combined with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the events and experiences that followed, that convicted the Apostles to act as they did in today’s First Reading. So now back today’s Gospel… Like most things, our life is not going to always be an extreme high (even if our society wants us to believe that!). More than likely, it is going to be lots of highs and lows, with hopefully most of our life somewhere in a healthy middle. This is especially true in our faith life. So I can appreciate the fact that the Apostles are found fishing in today’s Gospel – they return to what is familiar. We do this all the time – we go to what or where we find comfort and security in times of confusion or even chaos. We have our comfort foods or clothes or spaces, right? So, arguably at the/a low point for the Apostles, the returned to what is safe and familiar to them. And it is also not surprising that the Apostles did not immediately recognize Jesus. I read somewhere that it was because Jesus was wearing some type of hat on the beach (sun tan from a warm, three day vacation) – no, I am just kidding, that is not true. What is true is that we will easy miss or not recognize someone who we barely or remotely know. We will recognize our spouse, our parent or child – whom we love - if they speak to us or stand near us – right? So, it is no surprise that the disciple “who loved” Jesus, as we just read, was the one to recognize Jesus first. How often do we miss Jesus standing right in front of us, speaking directly to us?! It is Jesus who wants nothing more than for us to be in this love relationship with God – even to the point of suffering and dying so that we might be restored in relationship! And this is what is so wonderful about the fact that Jesus tests Peter as he did today’s Gospel. It is in part an opportunity for Jesus to show the unconditional and limitless love and mercy of God for us (despite rejection and even denial by those whom Jesus loved) – and equally an opportunity for Peter to show that his previously weak and failed love (denying Christ three times) is now strong and focused, and that as humans we can come back from sin. Each of us face this dual reality everyday: God’s unconditional and limitless love and mercy AND the opportunity to demonstrate by our words and actions our strong and focused loved for God. So what keeps us from such a love? What causes us to retreat to what is familiar and safe? What causes us to fail in recognizing too often the greatest love in our life? I would say it is fear. Fear of embarrassment, rejection, pain, loss, being alone, of failing, of death. But, my friends, we have no reason to fear! Remember: Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated embarrassment, rejection, pain, loss, alienation, failure, and yes, even death. These things no longer matter, they no longer have a hold on us, they have no control over us! This is the joy, freedom, peace, the life that awaits us when we are IN relationship with God. So, go and share this Good News with others.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:24 PM
Saturday, March 12, 2016
When I preached last month, I shared that our mission as Catholics is two-fold: 1) to be in relationship with God (now and eternally); and 2) to share with others the great joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship with God. A parishioner shared me after one of the Masses that he understands this mission and even buys into it, but that he does not really understand what it means to BE in relationship with God. I suspect that some, maybe many, Catholics, if they are honest, might say the same thing. Truth be told, I find myself struggling with that question at times, too. One way to answer the question of: what it means to BE in relationship with God is by explaining how we might experience God in relationship. Just as we might say that to be in a relationship with our spouse or another loved one, we would list certain, specific things that we do together that define our relationship. The same is true for our relationship with God. We experience God – we are in relationship with God – in the Sacraments, in the liturgy, whenever two or more are gathered in his name, in nature and all things created by God, in Sacred Scripture, and certainly in prayer – when we talk and listen to God. This is true and wonderful, but the risk is that we might go through the motions of these actions, but still not BE in relationship with God, right? We can go to Mass, say a Rosary, kneel before the Lord in Adoration, whatever it is and still not BE in relationship with God. So how then do we be in relationship with God? Another way to answer the question of: what it means to BE in relationship with God is by explaining who we are in relationship with – or at least with whom we desire to be in relationship. This is our Creed. This is the statement of what we believe, really in WHOM we believe: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the statement of faith that we will profess in a couple of minutes. It is also the gift we will give this weekend to our catechumen – those adults to be Baptized at the Easter Vigil – as they conclude their preparation efforts to be initiated in the Catholic Church. Just as I might describe my wife – and all her wonderful qualities and all that I know to be true about her, we do the same about our God when we profess our faith – when we recite the Creed. This certainly works on one level, but again the risk is that it can be formulaic and possibly even disconnected from relationship – as if I were simply reading a recipe or an instruction manual. Apart from the flavorful dish, the recipe has no meaning; apart from the incredible model toy we want to build, the instructions have no value or significance; the same is true of our relationship with God: apart from being IN relationship with God, these words have no value, meaning or significance. So how then do we be in relationship with God? I think/I believe that we grow IN relationship with God by understanding what is happening in this relationship with God and responding to that. It is God who is taking the initiative: creating us, drawing us into relationship, and giving us the gifts, the tools, the help to be in relationship with Him. And then it is our response that brings us ever closer to what God is doing in and for us and in our lives and leads us to the joy, peace, and freedom of being in relationship. So it is important then to understand what God is doing. In a beautiful way, today’s readings show us in what ways God is acting in us and in our lives. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us, even when we have physically, emotionally and spiritually exiled ourselves from God, he opens our graves – he opens the hole we have dug for ourselves by our sin, by our rejection of God’s love, by our rejection of his will for us, and the emptiness and darkness we experience as a result - and he will have us rise from our graves…he will put his spirit in us that we may live! This is God’s promise to you and me. And, as we just sung, truly With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption. To BE in relationship with God means to be in relationship with someone who loves us despite our offenses, despite our pride, despite our arrogance; someone who loves us with such great mercy – treating us better (far better) than we deserve; someone who wants nothing more than to be back in relationship with us. Jesus in today’s Gospel gives us further insight into what our God gives us, what he brings to this relationship, what he offers us in being in relationship with him. Jesus is in control and fully present, he is full of emotion and love for others and is not afraid to share it – he is not some passive, distant or unattached God – he wants to be in relationship with us. He encounters us where ever we are emotionally, spiritually, physically – just as he did with Martha and Mary. Jesus also affirms that our God is a God of life – not death. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is not only a sign of his great power, but also that life has meaning, significance, value and dignity – all life AND especially a life lived fully in relationship with God! Such an out pouring of love and mercy by God should invoke, really demand, a response from us. This is the good news of today’s second reading: while we are still bound by our human bodies and all the weakness and desires and failings of being human that cause us to struggle in our relationship with God, we are not without hope. The Holy Spirit can still reside in us to help us respond to God’s great love and mercy. The challenge is to make room for the Holy Spirit. We can make more room for the Holy Spirit by freeing ourselves - emptying ourselves from those things that keep us from being in relationship fully with God. We can make room by surrendering to God’s will (not our own), to God’s love (not to those things that may bring as instant gratification, but quickly fade), and to God’s mercy (by acknowledging our faults and seeking forgiveness). We know this from our own experiences. We can’t be in a marriage or be a parent or a priest or religious or really any state of life, unless we are willing to die to self for another – to let go of our own wants (even needs) for the sake of another. This is what God has done for us and what we are called to do in return. This is what it means to be IN relationship with God! We can start now by making a great confession to God. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Own your faults and failings, seek forgiveness, be filled by the Holy Spirit, receive the grace to be able to move on and be open and free to live in the relationship God desires for you. I invite you to our Parish’s Penance service on Monday and bring a friend or family member. Before you arrive – make a good examination of conscience – and if you need any help doing so, go online to St. Gabriel Radio and listen to Fr. Larry Richard’s talk from this year’s Men’s Conference. Be honest with yourself and remember – God already knows you and your sins, he just wants to be reconciled with you and be restored in relationship with you. My friends, make room for God - make room in your heart and in your mind, in every encounter you have, in every thought, in every desire, and in every word you speak so that you may be filled with the joy, freedom, peace, mercy, life that awaits you when you are IN relationship with God and then…go and share this Good News with others.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 5:05 AM
Saturday, February 20, 2016
I recently returned to a particular email from work. It is from my employer's interim President and CEO and he was writing to organizational leaders about leadership. He highlights a couple of messages that a leader should communicate during times of uncertainty. Two stand out for me: 1. Clarity of Mission 2. Flexibility with our plans. Yes, these are textbook principles of leadership and business, AND they are also, I think, equally, if not more applicable to our faith lives. First, as Catholics, our mission is clear: it is about being in relationship with our God. Last Saturday, I had the honor to assist Bishop Campbell during the Confirmation Mass at Immaculate Conception. One of the questions he always asks the Confirmandi is: Why did God make you? I was quick to raise my hand as did about every student – because they were well-prepared for this question. Bishop Campbell did not call on me, but the student whom he did call upon answered correctly (as I suspect most of you would have responded): God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. This is our mission and purpose as Catholics, right?! Our mission as Catholics is actually two-fold; and so we can say that not only are we called to be in relationship now and eternally with God, but to also invite others to be in this relationship too. "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20) Second, as Catholics, we also need to be flexible with our plans. There are certain truths that are NOT bendable or optional, right? This is one of the beautiful aspects of creation and nature, also of our faith and our Church. And certainly our mission does not change – it has not changed for the past 2,000 years and won't in the future. However, how we pursue this mission has and will change, right? Think about the impact of technology in our faith – the access to Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church, and how we can communicate this information to others through the use of technology. As another example, the role of the parish must be flexible – we at Our Lady of Peace are slowly transforming from maintenance mode to an amazing, dynamic parish that is driven to form disciples equipped and empowered to evangelize (again, part of our mission). This Sunday's readings reinforce these principles in our faith life. The covenant relationship between God and Abraham, highlighted in today's first reading, is certainly the goal of our human existence. The measure of our success in achieving this goal is the profound experience of God – to experience his love, his mercy, his care generosity for us that comes when we freely and fully enter into relationship with him. The scholar Lawrence Boadt describes it as the overwhelming, personal experience of God's presence that affects the entire direction and quality of our life. The covenant relationship with God transforms Abraham. Similarly, the Transfiguration experience of Jesus by Peter, John and James was both equally wonderful and mysterious, joyful and enlightening. In fact, this is my hope for each of you: that you may be transformed by an experience with God that radically and wonderfully brings you great joy and peace. And ultimately, our mission is to get to Heaven, where we experience this joy, peace, freedom of being in relationship with God eternally – this is truly our heart’s desire: to be citizens of Heaven, as St. Paul reminds in today’s second reading. St. Paul's admonition in today's second reading exemplifies the second principle: the importance of being flexible. He is warning his brothers and sisters – whom he loves and longs for, his joy and crown – to not be fooled by others who demand adherence to circumcision and dietary laws of old in order to be a Christian. To be clear, Paul is not saying to follow "Paul's rules," but rather to be an imitator of him, who stands firm in Christ. It is Jesus Christ who teaches us by his example of love and obedience to God the Father of what it means to be in relationship with to God. We don’t achieve our mission by blindly following a set of rules. Not to say that rules are not important – they are: they are the guardrails that can keep us focused on what is most important. However, it is about relationship, not rules; it is about following Christ's example of love and obedience to God's will for us, God's plan for us, God's desire for us to be in relationship with him now and eternally. I will add then that Peter's desire to set up a tent in today's Gospel is an example of NOT being flexible. I agree with scholars who say that the offer to set up a tent is Peter's expression of reverence in this Transfiguration event – it would have been an incredible, awe-inspiring experience. Heck, I don't blame Peter for wanting to stay in that moment. However, it can be also point to an inability to change, to grow, to mature – to want to stay put rather than grow in relationship with God, including experiencing the uncertainty and difficulty that may await in the future. The truth is that the Transfiguration is for the disciples benefit, not Jesus'. It is a moment to strengthen and encourage the disciples for what awaits them next: Jesus' passion and death. And similarly, we need to be open and flexible to such experiences with God to strengthen us for what awaits us in the future. I will conclude with one more principal from my boss’s, boss’s, interim boss, and that is: Over Communicate what you are sure of. With so many distractionS in our world and uncertainly about what the future holds, we will always benefit from over-communicating what we know to be true: that God loves us, that he has an unlimited love, mercy and care for us, so much so that he was even willing to have his own son suffer and die so that we might be restored in relationship with him. Over-communicating what is true is certainly what St. Paul did so effectively, as well as the Gospel writers. So it is good to read these writings often as well as to take advantage of resources like Catholic Radio and our Lighthouse Media resources at the doors of the Church. In the midst of pain or loneliness, frustration or hurt, anger or loss, or anxiety about what the future holds, take a moment to remind yourself of what, through faith, we can be sure of: God’s love for you! You can even use today’s Responsorial Psalm as the phrase of week, if you will, to over-communicate what you are sure of: The Lord is my light and my salvation. Maybe as you start or end the day, maybe at a particularly stressful moment of the day, or if you wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, you can over-communicate the truth that: the Lord is my light and my salvation. Singing it is optional, but finding comfort and strength in what we are sure of is certain! May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 2:50 AM
Saturday, January 9, 2016
A couple of weeks ago, just after Christmas, a parishioner mentioned that I should read the periscope in the missallette for the Feast of the Holy Family. She said that since we both have teenage sons, I would appreciate the reflection. And, I am glad that did. In recalling the story of Jesus being “lost” and then found in the Temple, the reflection reminds us that Jesus matured from a boy, to a tween, to a teen, and then to a man; and that Jesus gradually became aware of his Father’s call. The reflection goes on to state that: “this is what every parent raises their child to do: to listen for God’s call in their lives…and that we are called to be holy – not [necessarily] perfect.” A wonderful set of reminders! Knowing that I was preaching in a couple of weeks, I then flipped a few pages and read the periscope for this Sunday: The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I was reminded that Luke’s account of Jesus’ Baptism is unique from the other Gospel accounts in that there is this delay between the time when he emerges from the water and when the Holy Spirit comes upon him and the voice of the Father says: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke regularly presents Jesus at prayer at important points in his ministry: here at his baptism; at the choice of the Twelve (Lk 6:12); before Peter’s confession (Lk 9:18); at the transfiguration (Lk 9:28); when he teaches his disciples to pray (Lk 11:1); at the Last Supper (Lk 22:32); on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:41); on the cross (Lk 23:46). (http://www.usccb.org/bible/luke/3:15#5) So, it is no surprise that the evangelist would have this pause before of one of the mini-epiphanies or revelations of God that we celebrate during the Christmas season: the birth of Jesus, the visit by the magi, Jesus’ baptism (recalled today), and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. So this prayer-pause (if you will) not only reinforces the importance of prayer in our lives – just as it was for Jesus – but it also reinforces that God’s actions in our lives, and our response, is not random or mere coincidence, luck or fate. God is always acting in our lives – drawing us closer to him, so that we may know his love and mercy, and ultimately his joy and peace. Even if we don’t know it (or want it) God is present – that is the love of God, our Father. And in certain, powerful ways, such as our own Baptism, God’s love and mercy floods us – but more often it is in the everyday interactions, tasks, struggles, even pain and frustrations in which we encounter God and his unconditional and overwhelming love and mercy for us. And like any relationship, it can’t be just one-sided, right? God’s love and mercy demands a response – this is what Fr. John challenged us to consider last week. If we are honest and sincere in our desire to find peace and joy in our lives – even if at this very moment we don’t know where that could possibly be found – then let me offer this challenge: Consider the words spoken by the voice from heaven in today’s Gospel: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Consider what these words mean to you. Do your actions and words invoke such a response from God? From others? Maybe, if this is hard to contemplate for a relationship with a God who may seem distant or uncaring or even the opposite of loving, then consider your relationship with a family member, a friend, or loved one. Do your actions and words towards them invoke a response that says: you are loved by me like a parent for a child with such a tender, caring love, and even more you bring me great pleasure, joy, peace from being in relationship with you. If not, then why? Truthfully, to be in relationship with another should invoke such a response and cause such a response in return. And we know from our human experiences the great joy and peace that we experience when we are in such a relationship, right? This is just the tip of the iceberg for the joy and peace we will find in relationship with God. So, now consider this again in relation to God. It is God who made us – out of pure love, to be loved and to love. It is God, as we heard in the second reading, who, not because of anything we did to deserve it, but because of his mercy, kindness and generous love, saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. And it is God, who gives us his help – his grace – as the Second Reading continues, by training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. God gives us the tools, the example, and the help to be in relationship with him, in which we will find the joy and peace our hearts and minds long for. So here is the challenge for you: each night this week, as you fall asleep, ask yourself: did my words and actions today towards God and others invoke a heavenly voice saying: “You are my beloved son or daughter, parent or child, sibling, friend, co-worker, stranger or even enemy; with you I am well pleased.” Remember that periscope from a couple of weeks ago: we are called to be holy – not perfect. So, we may not always be perfect in our relationships, but we are called to strive to love as we are loved by God, to forgive as God forgives us, to show mercy as God is merciful toward us, and to promote joy and peace as God gives us joy and peace. My friends, we are given the tools, the example, and the help to experience the joy and peace that awaits us as beloved children of God, with whom our God is well pleased. This week, allow time to prayerfully reflect on and grow in this relationship. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 7:44 AM