Saturday, September 1, 2018
Last Sunday afternoon, I attended an event hosted by the Diocese on Living as Missionary Disciples. The speaker reminded us that our primary purpose as Christians is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. For another day I will share more about what I learned – however, I am excited to say that what we’re doing in this parish is pretty remarkable to promote living as missionary disciples. Anyhow, as I sat through the presentation and reflected on it over the following days, I kept coming back to the first principle of living as missionary disciple: the need for a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ or at least an openness to such an encounter. And I’m convinced that this is the starting point, truly the foundation, for our response to the crisis facing our church today, as well as the crisis we experience in our families and our own personal lives. In the midst of the chaos, the anger, the frustration, the hurt, the disappointment, the embarrassment that we may feel in the wake of this recent crisis, my friends, there is HOPE. It is Jesus Christ who knows us and loves us personally and intimately. It is Jesus Christ who wants nothing more than for us to know God‘s great love, and the peace and joy that comes from being in this relationship. It is Jesus Christ who so much wants us to know and experience this love that he was willing to suffer and die for us. It is in this encounter with the person of Jesus Christ that brings us meaning and purpose, joy and peace, and yes hope in the midst of crisis. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Recall the exchange between Jesus and Peter in last week’s Gospel: as Jesus’ disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him, Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." Or the wonderful words of Saint Augustine of Hippo that Father John reference last week: “because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” And pulling from today’s second reading: God willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls - Jesus Christ. And one last quote that I heard beautifully last Sunday at the workshop on evangelization - It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that is it not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship, him to find our peace in him, as not to. This encounter is more than simply following set of rules. Rules are good and important - and today’s first reading reminds us that God gives us rules out of love to help us. And Christ instituted the Church to further help us. But as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, the rules are not the end, but a means to the end - that end being this incredible love relationship with God. And that is why Jesus‘ words spoken two thousand years ago, echoing words spoken many, many years before that, get to the heart of the crisis facing our Church, our families, and our personal lives. “Well did Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written: this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me...“ As one of the Alpha testimonials shared last weekend: we must move Christ from our head to our heart – only then will we know what is right and true. See, when we experience and live in this loving and intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, we want nothing more and nothing less! So it is good that we are here to experience our living God in this faith community, and the Sacred Scripture that was just read, and in the Eucharist we are soon to share. And then, echoing the words of today’s second reading, we can leave our gathering today strengthened to be doers of the word and not hearers only, because as the author continues: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. If you are full of emotions and uncertainty about the crisis facing our Church, you are not alone. I believe that it is nothing less than Satan in the Church working to destroy its greatest threat: the Body of Christ, and things may get worse before they get better. I do pray that there will be justice for our shepherds of the church you have failed us, as well as reconciliation and peace for the victims and their families. And, in the meantime, I believe we can find hope, even peace, now in Jesus Christ. With that last point in mind, this week I invite you to do one additional thing to encounter Christ new or differently. Having celebrated Mass today, this coming week: Go to daily mass. Pray Lectio Divina - you can find it on our parish website. Go to adoration this Thursday - even for just a couple minutes. Go to confession and experience the grace and peace of the sacrament of reconciliation. Practice the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, comfort the homeless, visit the imprisoned and the sick, and pray for the dead. Remember what we just sung together: The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. My friends, take great comfort and strength and your personal encounter with our living God Jesus Christ today at this Mass and every day this week. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:57 AM
Saturday, August 11, 2018
[4:00 PM – With us this afternoon is the Bishop Watterson’s men’s soccer team. I am grateful and appreciative of Head Coach Ed Mikula – a parishioner and strong Christian man – who works hard to keep faith in Catholic sports and who also sees sports as a means to build disciples – if they can train and compete on the field at the level that they do, then they can certain fearlessly and confidently share God’s love with others. Good luck in your season and God’s blessing on your lives as Christian men.] With this weekend’s readings, we continue our Lectionary detour, if you will. With Mark being the shortest of the three synoptic Gospels, we have this opportunity to pull from the Gospel of John to help fill-out the Sundays of Ordinary Time in Year B. And that’s where we have been for the past couple weeks and where we will be for the next couple of weeks. Specifically, we are reading Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. It began with the Gospel’s author telling of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men, we moved then to Jesus’ discourse with his disciples and Jewish leaders about wisdom and truth and life, and then it will conclude with the topic of what we know now as the Eucharist. Father John has done wonderfully in walking us through this discourse over the past couple weeks. And just last weekend, he stressed Jesus’ point of caution of the futility of most earthly endeavors - a trap I too easily get consumed by! And then he left us with a great cliffhanger to ponder for this Sunday’s Gospel: because Jesus loves us, Father John stated, Jesus wants us to give our hearts to the right thing, and then he said next week you will learn more clearly what that right thing is. Father John had me hooked and I was eager to ponder that over the week and then hear what the right thing was, until I remembered that I was scheduled to preach this weekend and so I became the one murmuring just like we read of the Jews in today’s Gospel! Just kidding. While the cliffhanger that Father John left us with last weekend may not be quite that of the vote tally in the 12th District special election, Father John did leave us with a timeless question to ponder this week. And Jesus does give us that answer in today’s Gospel. Jesus wants us to give our hearts to God. And here is why: First, Jesus states in today’s Gospel that we cannot come to God unless the Father draws us to Him. The good news is that the Father does draw us to Him. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to come to Him. And how do we know that? Because he made us, he made us his image and likeness, he made is good, and He sent his Son to lead us to him. Which brings me to the second take away from today’s Gospel. Jesus promises us that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Jesus states that he is the bread of life and whoever eats this bread will live forever. It is by what Jesus taught and even more powerfully by what he did that we may know life. And, we believe that it is in and with and through Jesus that we may know and experience intimately and fully life now and eternally. This, my brothers and sisters, is what Jesus wants us to give our hearts to! I will pass the baton back to Father John to carry us, over the next couple of weeks, through the rest of this discourse by Jesus and to address (arguably) some of the most difficult words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels - how’s that for a cliffhanger! In the meantime, staying with today’s readings, there are several important insights about how we can give our hearts to the right thing, again using Father John’s words. First, we must be open to knowledge and truth. We can sense from Jesus his frustration and even a sadness toward those hearing his words but who are still closed to his message. I love his persistence despite those murmuring at his message and even attacking him personally, and as we will hear in the weeks to come that it was not only Jewish leaders who were murmuring but even his own disciples. But Jesus in his great love for us preservers – how wonderful is that for us! Further, Saint Paul in today's second reading challenges us to be imitators of God as beloved children and to live in love as Christ loved us. Following Christ’s example, truly this is what it means to give our hearts to God. See, God is calling us to do incredible things: to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives. And as Paul reminds us, we have been given this great gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit – to help us to know where to give our heart; but too often it is something we grieve (using Paul’s words), or dread or even reject. So Paul rightly urges us to remove all bitterness and fury and anger and shouting and all malice from our heart and our mind and in turn to be kind to one another and compassionate, so that we can then be free to give our hearts to God. And it’s for this reason that I am so on fire with the work happening in our parish to build disciples. Whether it’s our Alpha program (and will hear more about that in the coming weeks), or That Man Is You supporting authentic Christian men in our parish, or the wonderful ministry of Walking With Purpose, which is building a strong community of passionate Catholic women who know God‘s love and are sharing that love with others, and through so many others activities and ministries in our parish, we are being equipped and empowered to set our hearts the right thing! And this leads me to my final point. In today’s First Reading, God provided Elijah with the food he needed to be able to have the strength to continue on his journey and his mission. And as we have heard in prior weeks, God gave to Elisha and to the Israelites in their moments of need the food that they needed - not only physical food but spiritual food - to give them the strength and the reassurance that they needed to continue. And how true is that for us now. God will provide for us in our moments of need. To be clear, it may not be what we want but it is what we need. Our God who desires nothing more than to draw us to him, Our God who is the bread of life that leads to eternal life will give us what we need to give our hearts to the right thing – to Him. He gives us the courage, the wisdom, the strength, the fortitude - or whatever it is that we need most, at this moment, at this time – in the midst of uncertainty, loss, pain, fear, doubt – God will give us what we need so that we, in turn, may give our hearts to the right thing. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:10 AM
Saturday, July 7, 2018
With the issue of immigration heavy on our hearts and minds (recent polls indicate that it is the most important issue today), I want to offer a quick overview of the church’s teaching on the matter, which I hope leads well into today’s readings. While our bishops have written much on current immigration trends, as well as policies and laws, here are two short paragraphs from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops worth repeating: The Catholic Catechism instructs the faithful that good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him." (2241) The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens." (2241) With this two-pronged - “both/and“ approach - to immigration in mind, I invite your continued reading, discernment, and discussion on the issue; and your prayers for our civic and religious leaders, that they may be guided by these principles; and for your continued prayers for all who are impacted by this issue - here in our country and throughout the world. Which brings me today’s Readings. I especially like this Gospel passage, which is found in all three synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke. I like this passage for two reasons. First, in today’s gospel, we hear that Jesus experienced rejection (or at least a less than warm welcome) from those in his home town – in fact in Luke’s version of the story, Jesus is almost run off a cliff! In contrast, you have been incredibly kind and generous to me, a son of this parish. For this, I am sincerely grateful. Your support and encouragement for my ministry here at OLP has been overwhelming-regardless of and despite what you might say to me after Mass on the issue of immigration, which I do welcome! Anyhow, THANK YOU! The second reason I like this gospel passage so much is because we see the focus, passion, and persistence of Jesus despite the apparent rejection by those from his hometown. We read that even though he is rejected by family and friends, he continued to do the good work of healing those receptive to him. In addition to Jesus’ wonderful example of perseverance in today’s Gospel, we have the example of the Prophet Ezekiel in today’s first reading. As we just heard, the Lord sent Ezekiel to his own people, but a people who had rebelled against God, a people who were hard of face and obstinate of heart - certainly not a warm and welcoming group to Ezekiel, who nonetheless went to them at God’s command to bring them back into relationship with God. Going to today’s second reading, there is much debate about what Paul’s “thorn” might be - a sickness or a physical disability, it might be a temptation or other struggle in his personal life, or it might have been a person who posed a threat or challenge to Paul. Regardless, it makes sense what Paul is suggesting in his letter to the Corinthians: that with crisis or difficulty comes focus. For Paul, his thorn tempered the joy he experienced from private revelations he received from God, which might have otherwise distracted him from his ministry. For us, in a similar way, it might be an illness or loss of a job, or loss of a loved one that unexpectedly provides humility, clarity, and focus to what is right, true and important, as well as the ability, like Paul, to endure weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints. Truly, in these moments when we are weak, we are strong. As Catholics, we are called to share the good news. Yes, that means sharing the incredible love our God has for us. And to do so with persistence, even in the face of hostility, even in the face of hardship. And yes, it also means sharing how we live this love relationship in the midst of and responding to the hot button issues of our times, like life, marriage, sexuality and immigration. This is the grounding we receive from Alpha (yes, a shameless plug for our Alpha program) and the inspiration we find in today’s readings! Going back to immigration, we can benefit from the teachings of our bishops to understand the issue and how we can respond. The challenge for us modern Catholics is that we cannot live just in this space, but we must go back to our homes, places of work, public spaces, and online and engage with the world. And to engage not just with emotions, feelings and popular sentiment, but with facts, civility, and charity, and as today’s readings inspire us to do, with persistence, courage, humility, and to do so even in the face of hostility and hardship. And we must also, as we sang in today’s responsorial Psalm, always fix our eyes on the Lord, pleading for his mercy. And this my friends is the good news! Just as the Spirit of the Lord entered Ezekiel and set him on his feet, and just as our God filled St. Paul with grace, so will the Lord for us! God will give us, and has already given us, his grace to act and speak with humility, courage and wisdom to share the Good News. And quite possibly, he may give us a thorn in our side to keep us ever grounded in the reality of our life and our mission. Your response will be yours alone. Regardless of whether you enter both feet into the public debate on immigration (or other hot-button issue), actively observe on the sidelines, or take more contemplative response of prayer and discernment, know that the Lord is with you. May God bless you as you go and announce the good news of God’s great love!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:47 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Today my father, Riley‘s Grandpa, is celebrating his birthday. My mom and dad are with us tonight. It’s a reminder to me of the multiple generations that make up the Watterson family, as well as the multiple generations of support that has brought Riley and you to this point in your education and in your lives. So I want to think the grandparents, the parents, the godparents, and friends and family that have supported these students on their journey to graduation. Thank you! I also want to thank the faculty and staff of Watterson for their instruction, their support, their discipline, their love, their example, their compassion for these students – you truly are wonderful. Thank you! It was 30 years ago that I was sitting at my graduation from Bishop Watterson. It was also my senior year in which we had a very tragic death of a junior student. While I did not know the student well, his death had a powerful impact on the entire student body, including myself. I recall at the funeral vigil that it was Deacon Iannarino (at the time he was not yet a deacon) who played on his guitar the song version of our First Reading. And these words have always been close to me ever since, as a reminder that God has a plan and purpose for us, although at times a great mystery. Nonetheless, I commend to you these words as a source of comfort, even hope, in the midst of the many highs and lows that you will experience after leaving Watterson, and as a reminder that your life has meaning and purpose and our loving God does have a plan for you. It was also in my senior year that I had another interesting event happen in my life. It was a Saturday night in May and I was set to go on a blind date which never happened – I got stood-up! Looking for something to do, I met up with 100 or so of my friends and classmates and we were off to have a conversation with a peer from St. Charles. Long story short, I was the only one arrested that night and ended up being charged with disorderly conduct. (There is of course a longer story that I will not bore you with now.) At the time, I was embarrassed and really devastated - I know my parents were too – and we were all thinking that was the end of the world, and certainly feeling like this event would define me and my years at Watterson and maybe even my future. Well I ended up moving on from that experience and fortunately not being limited by it. I share this story with you because you will have experiences in your life – and maybe already have – that will define you. In fact, you probably are leaving Watterson with some label or perception or rumor or misconception or event that has in some way defined you by yourself or by your family, classmates, friends or even strangers. Unfortunately, that is the society in which we live – it is a culture, as Bishop Campbell recently reminded us, that often defines our worth in terms of productive value and usefulness, by pleasure and entertainment, rather than by our inherent dignity. And in fact, that is exactly what Jesus experiences in today’s Gospel. In the passage just proclaimed, we hear that Jesus is very clear in his understanding of who he is and what he is called to do. And if we go on to read Luke’s Gospel, we will hear how people also had a very clear image of who they thought Jesus was and should be and they took great offense to him – so much so that they tried to chase him off a cliff. So I want to remind you who you are: you are made in the image and likeness of God; you made good – very good; you are made out of love, to love and be loved. And, most of you have heard these words from Bishop Campbell at the end of your Confirmation, however, they are worth repeating: never forget the great dignity and value you possess as a son or daughter of God – this is the source of your true happiness and peace! And, I will add, that because of this, you have nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing holding you back, nothing to fear – be confident and brave. Let me conclude with one more story. Like you, I ended my time at Watterson ready to move on to new challenges, new opportunities, new excitement – I hope that is the case for you. I went on and had a great first semester at college and then returned home for the winter break. While home, I was invited to the winter dance at Watterson. I said yes that I would like to go, but would need to call her back after I confirm. I remind you that this is before cell phones and caller ID. So I found her number in the school directory and called to say yes I can go, to which she responded: “thanks for inviting me to the dance, I would love to go with you.” I quickly realized that I called back a different person – it was quite embarrassing. The point of the story is while you may never come back for a dance after you graduate from Watterson, I hope that you always see Watterson as a home for you. I pray that it has been a place where you have grown intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. And I hope it is also will always be a place where you feel welcomed to return – know that you will always be a part of this community, this loving and wonderful Watterson family. I would also extend that invitation to your parish church community. I pray that it too will always be a home for you - a place where you can find peace, comfort, and community; a place where you can go and receive the sacraments and be nourished and restored in your relationship with God. And, it is today’s second reading that reminds us of just how much God wants to be in relationship with us: God proves his love for us (St. Paul tells us) that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. And as Paul reminds us, it is this incredible love that God has for you and me that will bring us peace and will NOT leave us disappointed! There will be times when you stray from the Church (as I did), but like our loving God, the Church remains arms wide-open to welcome you back. So, I pray that you always feel welcomed in the Church – your home parish, the parish where you will go to college, or wherever life leads you – and that you will find there what your heart and mind longs for the most: to live in the relationship you were made to be in and to experience truth, beauty, peace, and joy - now and eternally. I am excited to watch you graduate on Saturday and even more excited to follow each of you do great things in the future. May you always know, whatever you do and wherever you go, God’s great love for you! May God bless you!
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 7:21 AM
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Last week, I was meeting with a parishioner and a friend of hers; and the parishioner introduced me as “the deacon at her parish” and then she went on to share in painfully-embarrassing detail how I poured sweat my first homily – great first impression, hun? She was telling the truth, and admittedly, there were many more homilies that I had to muscle my way through. To be clear, it was never about the message – I have always believed in the words I have spoken at this ambo – whether it was the Gospel words I proclaimed or the homily message I delivered. It has been more of a challenge to boldly proclaim the message – that’s not how I tend to be wired and certainly not how I was raised (not a slight to my parents (Happy Mother’s Day mom, I love you), they taught and modeled the faith well; however, we – my generation – were not trained or empowered to evangelize). So, I always love to study the early Church and pray over how the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus were transformed from hiding in the upper room to boldly proclaiming Christ and being His witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Certainly, we owe a large part of that transformation to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next week. It is the Holy Spirit that lives in us and transforms us, just as it did the Apostles – 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. I also believe that the Ascension event, which we celebrate this weekend/today, had a powerful impact on Jesus’ disciples – even though it can be overshadowed by the Resurrection and Pentecost. As we believe and will profess in just a couple of minutes: Christ ascended into heaven. This is the reason for joy! And here is why: The Ascension must have been a powerful event for the Apostles, just as it should for us now. Our celebration of the Ascension reminds us that: FIRST, Jesus proceeds us and leads us to our goal: eternal life in Heaven, SECOND, that the body matters, and THIRD, because of these two truths, we have nothing to fear. First, the Apostles were with Jesus for years and saw incredible things and they certainly heard Jesus countless times tell them that he is going to His Father in Heaven, but it may have taken His Ascension for them to comprehend this truth and that like Christ we are called to Eternal Life with our Father in Heaven. We/I can get so focused on the things of earth – many good and holy things, and many less so! So, having the focus on the goal of eternal life in our relationships, in our work, in everything we do, is good and necessary. The second truth of the Ascension is that the body matters. We believe that Jesus Ascended to Heaven – body and soul – and because of this our body, the same human body shared by the Incarnate God, has value and dignity. After our earthly death, which is the separation of the body and the soul, the body becomes corrupt while the soul, which is immortal, goes to meet the judgment of God and awaits its reunion with the body when it will rise transformed at the time of the return of the Lord. Our prayer then is that we may know – body and soul – eternal life, peace and joy! And it is also for this reason that we are called to give great attention to the body living and dead – promoting and defending the dignity and value in every person: from natural conception to natural death; and showing care and respect to the bodies of the dead. Finally, the third point on the Ascension: because our goal is eternity and our bodies matter, we have nothing to fear. Well, you may say that if this is true (if our goal is Heaven and our bodies matter), then I am going to hide my basement and avoid any risk or threat. However, we are called to do just the opposite. Unlike in the parable in which the steward buries in the ground the coin entrusted to him by his master, we are called to risk failure, risk harm, risk losing everything. We are called by Jesus in today’s Gospel to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” And, we are called to do so boldly and confidently knowing of Jesus’ promise: “in my name [you] will drive out demons, [you]will speak new languages. [you]will pick up serpents with their hands, and if [you]drink any deadly thing, it will not harm [you]. [You]will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Each of us, through our own vocation and state of life (as St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading) and with humility and gentleness, with patience, in unity and in love, and with the gift of grace, we are called to do incredible things in the name of Jesus Christ. As I have “matured” in my diaconal ministry, our parish’s Alpha program has helped me to better understand that we are called to be in relationship – an incredible love relationship – with God and that we are also called to share this good news with others. We are blessed to have our Catholic Church - with the Sacraments, its doctrine, our community – to guide us and support us in this mission work. It is also through Alpha that I have come to better understand and be empowered by the events of the Ascension: 1) that our goal is eternal life, 2) that our bodies matter, and 3) we have nothing to fear as we do the will of God. Our Alpha leadership team met earlier this week and we set a goal for 42 participants for our next Alpha session this Fall. While months away, I want to invite you to consider participating in Alpha – you will be transformed! I can promise you that. And, if you have already been through Alpha, consider being a host or helper. A meal, movie and conversation; 2 hours, one night a week of 10 weeks – not a big commitment and the return will be enormous and lasting. We will be talking more about Alpha, for now please be open to joining Alpha. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:46 AM
Saturday, April 7, 2018
Last Saturday we received one person into the Church here at Our Lady of Peace. Greg Campbell is his name. If you have the chance to meet Greg, take the opportunity to do so. Not only are his wife Helen and him great people, but his Father John shared at the Easter Vigil: Greg's desire for the Eucharist has been strong and inspiring. And, he made quite an impression on me too! One thing that Greg shared with me (and I asked for his permission to share with you) was that the power of the devil, and evil, and darkness was so strongly pressuring him, really fighting him, in the weeks and days before the Easter vigil. He even shared in the minutes before the Vigil service was to start how much he felt the weight of the devil on him at that very moment - pressuring and fighting him to reject God, to reject God's great love and mercy, and to not trust in God's plan, God's will for him. And how true this is in our own lives now! I know I've certainly experienced doubt, a lack of trust, the devil-motivated desire to reject God's will and God's plan for me - and that's just today! And this is been true throughout history as we read the Old Testament and even the New Testament about the early church. And having a Star Wars obsessed home, I can say that if the Star Wars story line has any predictive value in this battle between good and evil, this battle will persist for years to come. And this makes sense: as long as we have free will - this wonderful gift God gives us to freely opt-in or opt-out of love with God (which is arguably is equal to the gift of allowing his son to suffer and die on the cross for us) - as long as there is free will and the devil is constantly provoking us, then there will always be this tension between good and evil in our lives. And even further, as long as there is gratification and pleasure - albeit superficial and quickly fleeting, then sin and evil and darkness will exist and even at times prevail. Right? We know this in our own lives. But my friends, there is still reason for hope and even joy. And today's readings ground us in this Good News! We read in the Gospel: Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: “peace be with you.” He said that twice to them-and then again a week later as he returned to them. Father John will echo these words of Jesus in just a couple of minutes at the Sign of Peace. The words he will pray first relate back to an earlier section of John's Gospel during the Last Supper, as Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for what is to come and offer encouragement with a promise. Jesus says: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. What a wonderful promise! Fr. John will then echo Jesus’ greeting to his Apostles in today’s Gospel with this blessing to us: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” What was promised by Jesus at the Last Supper has been for filled by his Resurrection and it is something that we can readily experience here and now. Jesus Christ is before us now, in our midst: in the Words we read together, in the Eucharist we share, and in this community gathered together in His name. It is in Christ’s presence that we experience his peace. This peace is what the fearful apostles must have experienced in the risen Lord as he appeared to them and moved them into action in today's Gospel. It is the same peace that must have allowed the community of believers to put aside all that they previously thought was self-important and “to be of one heart and mind,” as we recall in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. And it is this same peace that God wants to flood into our hearts and minds today and free us from all sin and evil and darkness in our life. For another day, but worth mentioning briefly now, is that today’s second reading gives us the “how” we can enter into and sustain this peace. It is first by believing in and entering into a relationship with God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and then following God's commandments. And, again, more on this for another day. For today however, I want you to personally know God's peace and the great joy and freedom that comes to us when we accept this gift of peace in our lives. And I also want you to know that you are called to share with others this incredible gift God has for us. Going back to the Gospel, Jesus says to his Apostles: as the Father has sent me so I send you. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to go and share this Good News of God's love, God's mercy, and God's peace with others. So here's my challenge for you: I know you know someone in your life who is not at peace, who does not know God’s peace. It may be a train-wreck or maybe someone who is just restless or feeling empty, but certainly not at peace. Maybe it's a spouse, maybe it's a parent, a child or grandchild, maybe it's a coworker or neighbor, or maybe a stranger who you see every day. It maybe someone who has left the Church for whatever reason, or someone who does not know the Church or even God. Maybe it is someone like the Apostles in today’s Gospel who is full of fear and doubt. Or maybe it is someone like the Apostle Thomas, who has fled the protection and support of family and friends at his/her time of greatest need. First and foremost, pray for that person. Pray that they may be open to the Holy Spirit already in their lives, that they may be open to this incredible gift God wants to share with them. Next consider inviting them to Mass here at Our Lady of Peace. Consider also inviting them to one of our incredible faith formation opportunities: Walking with Purpose, That Man Is You, our parish’s Lady Social (if room is available), our Alpha retreat on April 28 or a full Alpha session next Fall – and that is just to name a few opportunities. Consider inviting someone to explore joining the Church next Easter Vigil. Or just start with an invitation to coffee and donuts after this Mass to enjoy the fellowship of this loving community. Here's my goal: to have more than one person join the Catholic Church a year from now here at Our Lady of Peace. I'd love to have a large group of non-Catholics coming into the church a year from now and having you as their sponsors! I'd love to also have our faith formation opportunities packed with people, even a waiting list. The same for our service activities like our St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights. I'd love to have our parish school at capacity with a waiting list - and the same for our PSR program. I would love to have each weekend Mass packed – even standing room only. This can and will happen when we are at peace – in God's peace. And when people see that we are at peace, then they will seek that peace too and want to be a part of it in this community. I pray that you may know this peace now and eternally and that you may be willing to share this peace with others. I pray that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus today, tomorrow and for eternity. (Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians) May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 8:34 AM
Saturday, February 10, 2018
I was having coffee with a close friend several weeks ago and we got into this great discussion. We were discussing whether it's easier to become a Christian and sustain that faith in wealth or in poverty, however you might measure that. We talked about the great boom in Christianity in Africa and Asia, where there arguably the greatest poverty in our world, as well as the fortitude of our Christian brothers and sisters in these same parts of the world, as well as the Middle East, where there is great persecution of Christians. We did not come to any definitive answer to the question, but it was a good conversation. Today's gospel presents a similar question for me: was it easier or harder for the leper to approach Jesus? Was it easier for the leper to approach Jesus, having really nothing to lose? He was already unclean physically and spiritually just as we heard prescribed in today's first reading from the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, was it actually harder for the leper to approach, given the same situation of persecution, isolation, oppression, and then compounded by feelings of despair and rejection he most certainly was without hope and in despair. I can just imagine that he could be without any desire let alone the energy or courage to approach Jesus. But as we read in today's Gospel, we do know that he found the desire, energy, and courage and took the risk to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and ask to be healed. Jesus responded with great compassion, right? And then as we read further in today's gospel, the leper was transformed: not only physically healed and spiritually renewed, but also empowered and energized to go and share the good news of God's love, God's healing, God's mercy – so much so did he share this good news “that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” As I reflect on this story, I wonder why, in my relative wealth, knowledge, security, and freedom, do I still struggle with my faith, I doubt, and fail to trust fully in God's plan for me. I wonder if I would have more faith or less faith if I had less wealth or security or freedom? This is the question posed in the Book of Job and it will be a reoccurring them in Mark’s Gospel as we will read throughout the coming year of those who are foreigners, outcasts, and the persecuted and who still approach Jesus was great hope and faith and trust that they will be healed. Well here is what I do know and I believe: I believe that God made us he made us in his image and likeness, he made us good, he made us out of love to love and be loved. I know and believe that God entered into our humanity to show us his love and teach us how to love, especially by showing such great acts of mercy and compassion as we read in today's gospel. And it is the same God who willing takes incredible risks and suffers greatly out of love for us even dying on the cross for the leper, for you and for me! I also know and believe that God gave us his Spirit, who as we will stand together in just a couple of minutes and profess: is the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, out of love, for love. Our Eighth graders were confirmed with this gift of the Spirit last week; and our second graders experienced this gift of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (yesterday/today), as they prepare for their First Communion. And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist that we will receive today at this celebration that strengthens us and nourishes us to be and remain in this love relationship with God. [And it is the Holy Spirit who has helped sustain the marriages of those we celebrate today – those who celebrate a jubilee anniversary this calendar year; and as you will read in bulletin, many were married here – how wonderful.] And I believe it is the Holy Spirit who was working in the leper giving him the courage, the energy, the hope, the faith to approach Jesus and to ask him to heal him. It was also then the Holy Spirit that then empowered the healed-leper to go and proclaim the good news of his healing everywhere he could. It is that same spirit working in each one of us bringing us here, to bringing us back into relationship with God, despite whatever may keep us from trusting him fully, despite whatever may be keeping us from believing in him completely, despite whatever it may be keeping us from hoping in him. It is the Holy Spirit who help us to – as we just sung: turn to the Lord in our time of trouble and to be filled with the joy of salvation! AND it is the same Holy Spirit that gives us the grace – the gift - to be able to share the good news with others when we do experience God’s love. With all this in mind, I love what Saint Paul has to say to us in today’s second reading. He is reminding us that God gives us laws, they are important and serve as a kind of the guard rail in our lives. But simply following rules doesn't make us holy, it doesn't make us get to heaven. It is about our behavior especially our behavior towards God and others. Paul urges us to follow his example, which is really an imitation of Christ, so we must stay focused and not be distracted as we continue on our faith journey. And this means trusting in God, trusting his will and plan for us – and being open to the Holy Spirit to help us do this! So wherever you are in your faith journey, these readings remind us that: here is Jesus waiting for us, waiting to heal us, to restore us in relationship with him. Here is Jesus ready and willing to offer us the greatest joy, the greatest peace, the greatest happiness that we could ever imagine. Here is our God ready to give us, through his Holy Spirit, the help we need – the desire, the courage, the energy to approach Jesus. It for this reason we can have hope - hope despite our hardship or challenge – that we can approach Jesus and find peace and joy. Today's readings remind us and give us a reason to take a risk - just as the leper took a risk, we too must take a risk to move outside of our comfort zone, to move outside of our own challenges and hardships, to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and to ask for his healing so that we might experience the joy and peace that awaits us now and eternally. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:06 AM
Saturday, January 13, 2018
I had the joy and honor to pray with our eighth graders on Friday as they are preparing for their Confirmation next month. As Father John was hearing confessions, I was praying with them before the Blessed Sacrament (at St. Charles high school). As you may know or can imagine, it's tough to be a young adult in today's society. And so I ask for your prayers for them as they prepare for Confirmation. I pray that they may be open to the Holy Spirit everyday to receive the power and wisdom and courage or whatever else they may need to be the Catholic man and woman they are called to be. As I was in prayer, I was also reminded by how much they are bombarded by so many mixed messages about their meaning, purpose, value and worth in life – AND how their Catholic faith can be such a wonderful source of encouragement, hope, and direction. And, even more, how today’s readings offer for them and each of us great guidance. Despite all of the progress we have made in science and health and so many other areas of our life, we arguable are living in a culture of sin and death that is not too different from the one Saint Paul is writing to in today's second reading. This reading is one of these readings where we can easily get lost because of the translation of Saint Paul’s words in to these long and complex sentences and it just doesn't seem to be easily understood. However, what Paul is saying is so beautiful and so timely for us - just not our eighth graders but every one of us. As we read today’s Second reading, St. Paul reminds us that the body is not for immorality, despite what society tells us – in other words, the body is not for our self-gratification and pleasure, but it is for the Lord! Our bodies are made to serve the Lord and we do that by our acts of charity, by our acts of kindness, by our acts of selfLESSness, by our acts of service, by our total self giving of ourselves to the needs of others. Saint Paul then goes on to remind us that there is a profound dignity to our bodies - that we are made in the image and likeness of God, made good, made to love, made by God's love to know love and to be loved. And because of this, we can say, as Saint Paul does, that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore we are to glorify God in our body – and I will add to also protect and defend the body from natural conception to natural death. And now for a shameless plug for Monday evening’s pro-life prayer service. We will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament starting at 7 pm, pray evening prayer together, and have quite time before the Lord. We just ended the season of Christmas – truly a season of life – let us carry this joy for life into our everyday lives by the dignity we uphold for our own bodies and the bodies of others, especially the most vulnerable. That will be my prayer on Monday. Going back to today's readings, they offer truly beautiful insights for us into who we are – our dignity and meaning, as St. Paul reminds us – and then what we are called to do. As Catholics we have a calling, really the responsibility and the challenge to share and teach God's love with others, which leads me to today’s Gospel and First Reading. Like our eighth graders, we are bombarded by so many different things and are pulled in some many different directions that it seems almost impossible that we could experience fully God’s love for us, let alone share that with others. In contrast, I think of Samuel in today's first reading. He is basically at birth given by his parents to be a servant of God and so from his very beginning he is on this path even though he doesn't know it at the time; and so he is in this prayfull place and there's no other distractions, presumably. And even the Apostles in today's gospel seem so quick to drop everything else and follow Jesus as if they had nothing else going on in their lives - no mortgages or tuition payments, or worry about retirement, or illness, or whatever else we have pressing on our hearts and our minds this very moment. So it doesn't seem fair or realistic to be able to compare ourselves to those we read in today's readings right? But really they are no different than we are - humans struggling with so many difficult decisions and choices and pressures and responsibilities. Like us, they were seeking truth, seeking life, seeking God. And like us, they may not know exactly where to go or what to do. And like us, they needed God’s mercy and his grace and his help to find him, to know him, and to love him. And like us, it is God who takes the initiative to invite them into his company, he does not wait for us to get his attention, instead he is there before us, waiting for us to say yes, waiting for us to say: “here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.” So how do we grow closer to God – to his love, his peace, his joy now and eternally? Like Samuel we can go to someone wiser and more mature and to help us, to guide us, to direct us, just as he had in Eli. Or like the Apostles, we can turn to friends and get their encouragement and support, as some did in John the Baptist. And certainly it is the company that we keep and seek – just like the Apostles - that will help us to continue in a life closer to God. And like the Apostles and Samuel, if we set our heart and mind first and foremost to God’s love then we will grow closer to the thing that we long for the most: God’s love. Finally, let me offer two more things we can do. Going back to my time with our eighth graders on Friday, first, we can pray: slowing down, clearing out all distractions – if just for a couple of minutes – to say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God wants nothing more than for us to know his love and hear his words – we just have to listen! And then second is to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and asking for God's help, God's grace, for God's mercy, God's wisdom in our lives. What we need, he will provide us. With God fully in our lives, we will certainly want to share that love with others! But first, we must be willing and able to hear God’s words and receive his help. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 9:55 AM