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