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