The Kingdom of God and the Cost of Discipleship

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”Rev. 19:9

“Foxes have dens and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”Matthew 8:20, and Luke 9:58

Christ is the image, the Logos, mind and heart of God and as such manifests for us the plan of God for all creation. Christ’s manifestation…incarnation…is to establish the rule and reign of the Kingdom of God in our experience, in our time, in our place; to open us to and for us a way to enter the Kingdom of God; to be married in covenant love to one another in God. That is why the Kingdom of God is described as a Wedding Banquet. [Rev. 19: 6-9].

The Kingdom of God is not a time or place. It is beyond time and space. It is “relatio”, a relationship, a state of Being…Presence, a matter of the heart. Time and space are subsumed and held in it…held in Love.

When we are in love, we are in relationship and we experience God as Trinity, the ground of our being, the template of all creation; to Be is to Be In Relationship.

The Kingdom of God transcends all of creation and yet everything subsists in it. It is a place of Presence, Peace, and Love. It is entered into wherever and whenever there is love, reconciliation, healing, and compassion…as well as the celebration and sharing of life in joy and love…as in a grand marriage celebration.

Presence is what makes life and the sharing of life, sacramental. We bear a Presence, The Presence of God…Christ…to one another in and for our world…for others, even our enemies and especially the poor and those in need of mercy, which includes all of us.

That is how and why Jesus could say, “the kingdom of God is within you…in your midst!” [Luke 17:21].

Because it is not limited to or geographical place, Jesus could say, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” [Luke 9:58].

To follow Jesus requires that kind of freedom and detachment, in the Kingdom we are not limited or tied down by geography, time, or space. It is a way and disposition of the heart. When Jesus told Thomas, “Where I am going, you know the way…” To which Thomas replied “we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way.” Jesus told him effectively, Thomas, I’m not talking about geography; I’m talking about a way of Being, of Presence, a way of the heart… “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [John 14:4-7].

No one enters the Kingdom, into the heart of God, where there are many dwelling places and room for us all, except thru that “Way”…the Way of the Cross, Mercy, Peace, and Reconciliation…a way of the heart, the way of selfless sacrificial Love.

We are People of the Way…followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was before time, in time, and now beyond time and has brought all of us along with Him into the Heart, Presence, and Kingdom of God.

In order to follow Christ we must learn to “let go” of our ego, our false self, to let go of time and space, of all things, to be detached, to die a lot of little deaths before the final “letting go” of death itself; to take up our cross daily, dying to our false selves so that we may discover who we truly are alive in Christ and Christ in us. As St. Francis learned and said with St. Paul, “In possessing nothing, I possess all things!” [2 Corinthians 6:10].

Christ is our life! We are in Christ a new creation; we share in the glory of the resurrection and Christ’s own life in God. We are not our bodies, or our minds, or the personas which we have created for ourselves. We inhabit a body, we have a mind, we have a personality, and yet we are so much more. We are incarnate body persons who bear a Presence. Our soul, our true self is hidden with Christ in God [Colossians 3:1-4].

That is the cost of discipleship, of following Jesus, to follow and learn from him, who is the Way, Truth, and Life. In being so detached we find and enter through the narrow gate into the Presence and Kingdom of God which is beyond time and space; Eternal Presence, Eternal Peace, the Eternal Now which is within you…in your midst wherever and whenever there is Love in the midst of all things and people encountered in time and space.

Imminent Presence is the window through which we enter the transcendent eternal Presence of God. The Kingdom is here and now, within and without, wherever and whenever we connect, heal, reconcile, and live in love with one another and God. As that happens the Kingdom and Will of God is manifest… done on earth as it is in heaven!

Now is the acceptable time, this is the day of salvation, this is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it! We live in the Presence, in the Eternal Now, in God, in Love! Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Let us follow Christ with Joy into the Presence and heart of God now and forever! Amen.

______________________________

Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL, the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, wherever and whenever possible.”

ART: Visual reflections ©Vonda Drees. https://vondadrees.wordpress.com/

The Innerness of All Things

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

The Innerness of All Things, by Ranier Maria Rilke

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days—
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
to the ship as a coastline, to the shore as a ship.

—The Innerness of All Things. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours II, 22.

On the first Sunday following Pentecost, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity—the union of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as defined by the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinitarian language, in an effort to describe the nature of God, expresses the means of human salvation: it is the Creator’s self-surrender through Jesus which infuses all of God’s creation with the power of the Holy Spirit.

According to the gospel of John, while Jesus was gathered with his disciples the night before he died he spoke of this progressive action of divine giving and receiving, and told them to anticipate the Spirit’s taking and declaring the Father’s truth, by way of Jesus, to them.

“Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” [JN 16:12-15]

The mystery of the Triune God’s self-giving love is irrevocably tied to our reception of the truth, our salvation.

Yet for centuries efforts to describe the Trinity, the three divine persons-in-one, have resulted in analogies such as two men and a dove, a shamrock, a pretzel, a braid, and a three-part harmony, to name a few examples, or explained away with confounding and alienating paternal language that feels more like spiritual somersaults.

Our comprehension of the Trinity must emerge from the Christian experience of salvation; it cannot be forced into a concrete geometric object or intellectual exercise.

And so, our eyes glaze over. Every week we profess our Trinitarian belief, but I’m pretty sure most of us don’t really get it.

One of the problems is that we can’t resist dividing the Trinity into three parts. It’s natural. In order to understand something, we deconstruct it for a closer examination. But we aren’t sure how to mentally reassemble Trinity in a way that truly makes sense to us, so many Christians choose to favor one of the three persons over the whole, thereby depriving themselves of the fullness of Trinitarian spirituality.

“Jesus is my homeboy.” “I only pray to God the Father.” “I feel most connected to the Holy Spirit.”

This is really important: Trinitarian doctrine is not Tritheisim, it cannot be divided. We believe in one God, not three. And as Cardinal Walter Kasper says in his book, The God of Jesus Christ, “Trinity is the Christian form of monotheism.” The Trinity is the inseparable action of the Creator, Redeemer, and Advocate.

This is why I was inspired to lead with Ranier Maria Rilke’s poem, The Innerness of All Things. Although the poet does not mention God or the Trinity, he seems to grasp God’s immanent and wordless infusion in human activity and the flourishing of all creation.

“You are the deep innerness of all things, the last word that can never be spoken.”

This is the one Triune God who creates and emerges and is revealed and can be known in countless and surprising ways. This is our divine Source who dwells at the center of all things, sanctifying, redeeming, inspiring and drawing all of creation towards the divine Three-in-One.

Where Trinitarian language tends to confuse, perhaps the concept of the Triune God actively dwelling in the innerness of all things can provide some clarity.

Happy Feast of the Holy Trinity!

____________________________

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been called “the greatest German poet of the twentieth century” (The Economist).

Rilke’s poem, The Innerness of All Things, can be found on page 243 of A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, by Anita Barrows, and Joanna Macy.  (1st edition. New York: HarperOne, 2009.)

You can find “A Year with Rilke” here, or through your favorite bookseller.

 

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is life!

christ-dancing_heimo-christian-haikala2

A guest post written by Fr. Joel Fortier. 

When we connect to each other in love we connect into a larger reality we call God…Christ, the ground of our being, our common ground, our God connection in the Spirit. It is The divine Presence, the mystery of Christ in us, and the Presence in which we live and move and have our being, which is within and without us! Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you almighty God, Father/Mother of all life.

That is the direction of all life, assimilation into Christ, into God.

When we live in love we live in God, and God in us. It is the human connection; in fact, it is what it means to be human, to share Divine life, to live in the Spirit. Spirit and matter are one. It just keeps changing forms. Change is inevitable. It happens whether we like it or not.

So we must learn to live with it, to unite ourselves to the will and purpose of God, which is always to live in love, to die to our smaller selves in order to rise and discover our true, larger self that we are part of, in God.

When I live in love I live in God, and God in me.

The fulfillment of our lives is in coming to recognize, discover, and embrace our true and larger self. It is a matter of ultimately coming to God; of welcoming God, allowing ourselves to be caught up in the breath and love of God for us and all creation; to go with God in the Spirit, to be in the flow and river of divine love and mercy which is always creating, guiding, and directing the universe in a symphony of unending dying and rising, of coming to new forms of living and loving, always moving out of ourselves into a larger reality.

What a wonderful adventure life is! The call of discipleship, our vocation in life, is to go with it! To follow Christ, to go where he has gone, into the heart of God!

It is the loves of my life that have helped me realize this. I am eternally grateful to God for the people and opportunities God has brought into my life. They are the means and sacraments to me of Christ’s presence in my life; the joy of my life.

Life and Eucharist is a matter of sharing, it is in the sharing, in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharistic, and the bread of our lives, that we come to know, experience, and recognize Christ…and so give thanks. “Were not our hearts glowing within us!”

Life is a banquet!

Life is lived always in relationship or it isn’t lived at all! Life is intensely personal, but it is never private. It is always a shared experience, a sharing first of what God has given us, God’s own life. God has loved us into being! And we reflect the image of God in which we were created when we share, when we live in love.

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is Life! Life is an adventure into the heart of God! Our love has infinite divine dimensions!

Let us go with Christ into the Heart of God. Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you Almighty God! Amen.

___________________________________

Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

The unspeakable nearness of God

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (B)

Poor Moses never gets to enter the Promised Land. But the wishy-washy, always famished, fickle, forgetful Israelites and foreigners traveling with him do. After all that Moses did to bring these people out of Egypt—including saving their butts from divine fury on multiple occasions—he is now too old and too close to death to continue.

Moses, devoted leader that he was, took the job God called him to do with some reluctance and made no bones about letting God know it. For forty years, he endured the peoples’ appalling lack of gratitude and awareness of the magnitude of what had been done for them, expressed by their hurtful claims of being better off in Egypt.

In one memorable rant, Moses seems close to submitting his resignation. He complains to God for saddling him with this burdensome bunch. He lashes out over his feelings of inadequacy and resentment over being made “a foster father” for the stubborn brood. “Was it I who conceived all this people?” he says. “Or was it I who gave them birth, that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant, to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?” [Numbers 11:11-15]. In the same breath, Moses acknowledges God as Creator, Father, and Promise Keeper. Moses’ relationship with God was like this, he could speak his mind plainly because his awareness of God included trust in God’s Infinite love and fidelity. He knew God would not reject or abandon him.

Much later, on the eve of the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan, Moses gives a lengthy commencement speech in which he reminds the people that God’s love and faithfulness were present in all that they had experienced together—the exodus, the Sinai covenant, and the wilderness wanderings.

He presents a series of rhetorical questions to which there is only one answer. No, never before has anything this great happened, never have a people experienced the action of God on their behalf in such a way. Moses entreats the people to fix God in their hearts and to keep God’s statutes and commandments [Deut 4:32-34, 39-40]. Moses posed the rhetorical questions to the Israelites as if to say “Do you finally realize what this means?

Sometimes out of the blue, a rush of gratitude wells up in me for the simple gift of being, for life’s infinite possibilities, for beauty, for the sweetness of human tenderness, for variety and abundance, and for the self-awareness that permits me to recognize God’s exquisite nearness in all of these things. This is not unusual. I am putting into words the experience of countless others throughout time, inadequate as those words might be.

The writers of Sacred Scripture did their best, but the sense of the divine evades containment. Further, our minds rarely allow us to linger in that space long enough to try. And so, like the Israelites we cross the Jordan knowing there never will be a frame great enough to encompass this experience of God.

What is God’s nearness like? How does it feel, what colors, shapes, textures and images arise? To what relationships can it be compared?

Clear your mind of traditional artistic interpretation, distance yourself from Renaissance portraiture. Our God is not an old man in the sky. No image is adequate. The practice is like a parable in which we identify something that is “like” what we seek to understand, but at the same time that something is also not like it at all.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul names God Abba, a term of endearment meaning Daddy. As children of God we enjoy a closeness that surpasses anything previously imagined [Romans 8:14-17]. Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, found in the final verse of Matthew’s gospel, come with the comforting promise of life-long companionship: “And, behold, I am with you, always, until the end of the age” [Matthew 28:16-20].

Images of Divine Source, Creator, Promise Keeper, Abba, Friend are incomplete, but each nudges us closer to the truth. Our God is a God of incomprehensible proximity. When we take this awareness into the world, we can begin to see it expressed in various ways all around us. Suddenly we “see.”

Our awareness of God cannot be limited to sunny days and good times. Sometimes, when tragedy strikes, we feel abandoned. We cry out, “Where are you?” Others say, “How does your all-powerful, all-loving God permit this unbearable suffering?” Where the Hell is God?

The question of God and suffering is, to my mind, one of the primary causes of disbelief, and a topic for future discussion. But for now, I’d like to take a tentative step into this complicated and dangerous territory of faith to say: Our God is not a remote God. I don’t buy into the finite theology that says God “allows” bad things to happen because we are fragile beings and have free will to choose good over evil. It is true, we are fragile and we do have free will. But what kind of god would step back and actively allow the unspeakably profound human-driven evils and injustices currently happening in our world?

Assertions of God’s victorious nature and the promise of eternal rewards dismiss the ongoing reality that suffering and evil deeds, many fueled by a warped definition of God’s will, continues.

We cannot simply move from the end of one disaster or atrocity to the next. Victims cannot be expected to forget their history, or bear them alone. I recently overheard someone say of black Americans, “They should move on. Get over the slavery thing!” I have heard others say they avoid Holocaust museums because they don’t want to get depressed. Crimes against humanity must never be dis-remembered. To forget the suffering of the past is to forget the Cross. Shall we say “Oh, Jesus is resurrected, Alleluia”, and forget the crucifixion?

Where is God in all this? God is intimately, incomprehensibly present in our suffering and is the motivator of those who take up the cross to work for justice with a creative, abundant and life-giving response.

God is here, in the midst of it, unfathomably close. Do we realize what this means?

Today’s readings can be found here.

And the infant church was born.

Pentecost Sunday (B)

“Breathe gently on her face.” This was the advice my sister gave me many years ago when I could not comfort my inconsolable newborn daughter. I did what my sister suggested and was as startled by my baby’s response as she apparently was by my breath. Her crying stopped, and she inhaled, deeply. I might have imagined it, but I recall being rewarded with a squishy little newborn smile. Amazing. The feeling of my breath calmed her. Infants will cry for any and every reason, and even after having every need fulfilled, they. just. cry. Experts say crying is related to the developing central nervous system, but as far as I was concerned my baby girl’s distress was more about her new life outside my womb. From the very start, I carried her in a sling wrapped tightly against my chest, but now it seemed that my breath calmed her as much as the warmth my body and the sound of my heart. I later learned that blowing on an infant’s face is used in many settings. For example, it is one of the techniques used in “water babies” swimming classes to teach infants how to hold their breath underwater. I’m sure there is a physiological reason for this response, but I believe my ability to calm my newborn daughter in this way had less to do with science and more to do with her recognition of me through my breath.

Biblically speaking, the breath and its cosmic cousin, wind, are highly significant symbols. And no day expresses the power of both more than the feast of Pentecost, the day on which Christians celebrate the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples. The Christian Liturgy for Pentecost includes two distinct accounts: one is dramatic and fiery, and the other is quiet and instructive. The first, from the Acts of the Apostles, occurs on the festival of Shavuot (also known as the Feast of Weeks). Shavuot commemorates Yahweh’s giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. The second account comes from the Gospel of John and describes the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples “on the evening of the first day of the week” following his resurrection.

Both texts tell us the disciples were all together in one place. In the first account, the disciples stayed behind in Jerusalem just as they had been instructed to do after witnessing Jesus’ ascension [Acts 1:6-12]. In John’s Gospel, the disciples were hiding in fear for their lives after having witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion just a few days before [John 20:19-23]. We can presume in both instances the disciples were praying. However, in Acts, the appearance of the Holy Spirit is described metaphorically. For example, the disciples experience a noise like a driving wind that filled the house and, what appeared to the disciples to be tongues of fire parting and resting on every person. In John’s Gospel, there is no metaphor. Jesus simply appears. He stands in their midst and says, “Peace be with you,” and after showing them his wounds, Jesus breathes on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The symbols of noise, wind, fire and breath would not have escaped the attention of the disciples. Fire is a Judaic symbol for the Torah, the written law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Also, Rabbinical interpretation of the Moses event describes Yahweh’s voice as looking like a “fiery substance” which then split into seventy languages.[1] Further, a noise like a driving wind recalls the great theophany which announced Yahweh’s appearance to Moses [Exodus 19:16-19]. These shared symbols indicate similarities between the disciples’ Pentecost experience and the Moses event and point to the manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit in a new time and place.

Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in John’s gospel, although quieter, has the same powerful effect. Jesus breathes on them. And with his breath and accompanying words, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus renews, reassures, and empowers his disciples to go out in the world, to do what he had done, and to be what he had been. Even more significantly, he gives them new life in the Spirit. Now recall the second creation story in Genesis where God blows the breath of life (Ruah) into the nostrils of the man [Gen 2:7]. For the disciples, the community for whom Luke wrote, and all Christians, Jesus’ act of breathing mirrors the creation: He gives new life.

In both accounts, the disciples respond with joy and readiness. Acts describes the disciples’ realization they have both the ability and the wisdom to preach the Good News in a manner that transcends language barriers. They go out and “speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” [Acts 2:4]. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ gift of the Spirit sends the disciples, now empowered, out in the world to fulfill the mission for which he chose them. With this, the infant Church was born.

While I was reflecting on these readings, I began to think about spiritual maturity. The early days of faith formation are a kind of infancy during which seekers need to be fed, consoled, taught and reassured. The memory of breathing on my baby’s face led me to wonder what it would be like to have Jesus breathe on mine. I can say with confidence there would be no more tears!

Like those before us, the way in which we respond to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and our ongoing discipleship has everything to do with spiritual maturity. Are we willing to be sent out? Do we recognize the breath of the one who sends us?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

________________

[1] Rabbi Moshe Weissman, author of “The Midrash Says”

Receiving Love, a guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

In a recent post on the topic of radical and inclusive love, entitled “Who has a problem with inclusiveness?”, I introduced my friend, Fr. Joel Fortier, whose experience of the overwhelming abundance of God’s love has been the driving force behind his 46 years as a priest. Earlier this week Fr. Joel sent me his reflection on the nature of receiving love and has generously given me permission to publish it on thegooddisciple.me. The timing of Fr. Joel’s email could not have been better; it just so happens that I am reading Elizabeth A. Johnson’s book “Quest for the Living God” in which Karl Rahner’s treatise on the incomprehensible Holy Mystery of God is explored. As mind-bending as theological studies can be, there is just one thing we really need to get our head around. And that is that God gives love in dizzying abundance. Our response is to receive, and to give, to receive, and to give. Fr. Joel’s reflection is a beautiful expression of this truth:

Copyright 2012 Brad G Smith Photos

Copyright 2012 Brad G Smith Photos

“There is a kind of love we can call “Receiving Love”. It is a little bit different than “Giving Love”. It is the kind of love of God that is wide open to receiving God’s love. It is a wonderful, expectant, exuberant, almost intoxicating love where we experience, and are filled to overflowing of God’s love for us. It is a wonderful joyous reciprocal love of God, which arises out of being so abundantly loved by God. It is an unending overflowing love which makes us not only joyous but profoundly grateful and generously loving.

So often we are focused on “getting”, or “needing” love that we are not open to the abundance of God’s overflowing love already for us and within us. We don’t feel it or know it because we are focused on praying, wishing, hoping, out of our parvity and pain, or what we think is a scarcity of love.

Rather “Receiving Love” is focused on and arises out of a radical openness to God’s love which is already there and constantly available. It is an openness of faith and trust such as Mary had in her acceptance of the favor and grace of God that became incarnate and pregnant in her when she said “Yes” to love; she gave birth to Love!

Such openness of faith and trust is exhilarating and releases in us the love of God that is already there waiting to be tapped. It is as the description Jesus gives us of his life and Spirit, “It shall become a wellspring and fountain of life and love that wells up from within a person as springs and fountains of living water!” The kind of love out of which sprang the Magnificat! And the kind of love we will be drawn into at the hour of our death for all eternity.

An image of it would be to imagine, as in a dream, of the Lord appearing to you, taking your hand and asking if he could fill you up with love and take away all your hurts and pain, and wounds from the lack of love in your life, and you saying “Yes!”, and the Lord doing it, filling you up! And then your love wells up back to the Lord, your divine lover.

Because that is exactly what is already happening and is the reality of our lives. We just have to be WIDE open to and accepting of it, saying yes to it! That is “Receiving Love”; love of the One who loves you. Being in Love with Love..Love following upon Love..a waterwheel of love, a giving and taking of the One Love; what we call the Holy Trinity, the dynamic progression of love into which we are drawn, share, and participate.

It is the posture that is presumed and necessary for us to hear, receive, and understand God’s Word: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us…” And the words of Jesus, “I have called you friends…it was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you…to go and bear fruit.” And…”What you have received as a gift, give as a gift.”

And so “Receiving Love” becomes “Giving Love” because it flows from the One divine source of love which is already within us, always Present to us, always with us, always beyond us, God, Emmanuel, the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Such is Receiving Love, drink of it deeply today! Let it fill you up and take away all that is not of you or of God, become Love! Be One with and in Love!”

_____________________________

Born in1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

Who has a problem with inclusiveness? (Hint: It’s not God)

6th Sunday of Easter (B)

Religious institutions and people of faith often have trouble accepting that God’s lavish expression of love is for everyone. Some believe it is their solemn duty to enforce standards on those they consider, say, not yet ready for full and active participation.

Is it helpful, or even our right, to remind those we deem to be sinners of Jesus’ command to “sin no more” while we half-heartedly obey his command to love one another? What? We are good people! We love our neighbors! All are welcome in our faith communities! It’s just that some are more welcome than others.

We see in the Acts of the Apostles how the early church grew in great numbers despite established religious boundaries and parameters. It became apparent to Peter and the others that the Holy Spirit moved where it willed and that human constructs of cleanliness, worth, nationality, gender or rank were meaningless to God. Consequentially, the young Christian movement reinterpreted itself as universal, or catholic (small c). Peter observed, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” [Acts 10:34b-35]

In the late 1960s, a book entitled “Tough Love” suggested a method of discipline that gave permission to treat others harshly as a means of helping them to conform. The theory goes something like this: If we deprive a person of affection, cease material support, and shun them they will soon realize they have been wrong and return to the fold as a conforming citizen. Although the method has been effective in some cases, it has also been known to be harmful. Many faith communities practice a form of tough love on those standing on the outside who wish to come in. This is not the way Jesus loves us, and it’s not the way the Father loves him. Furthermore, this is not what it means to remain—to be included—in his love. And that’s the point.

Jesus said: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” [John 15:9]

And, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” [John 15:12]

And, “This I command you: love one another.” [John 15:17]

Jesus doesn’t add any exemptions to his instruction. He doesn’t say, “This I command you: love one another, except when they are A, B, or C, in which case you may withhold your love until they comply.” Radical and inclusive love is difficult for a lot of people. Our world is troubled because many of us don’t know how to love others outside of our immediate circle. More fundamentally, we are unwilling to expose ourselves first to the radical love that God showers upon us.

My dear friend, Fr. Joel Fortier, exemplifies what it means to love one another and remain in Jesus’ love. His whole life and ministry are all about facilitating loving human relationships, and I and countless others have experienced God’s love through him. He once told me, “Early in my priesthood, a friend asked me what my priesthood meant to me, and out of my mouth came without any hesitation or forethought, “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”” This statement has become the core of his pastoral plan. It is being love, encountering love and knowing his own belovedness that leads Fr. Joel to act. “It happens with sharing my time and presence in Word, Eucharist, thought, and action. In works of compassion, listening, and material physical help.” It is in the mutual indwelling of God that Fr. Joel finds and shares God’s initiative and grace with others. Being able to do so, he says, “is the joy and the ecstasy of life!”

When we become aware of our “being first loved” by God, just as Jesus was, we can take the first step to loving one another with a radical and inclusive love. Peter gradually came to understood this through his experience of knowing Jesus and was able to recognize it in the emerging Christian community.

A funny thing happens when someone experiences the expression of God’s lavish initiative through radical and inclusive love. He or she then becomes more capable than ever before to share that love with others. It increases, and it flows into every crevice of human interaction. It’s unstoppable.

With this understanding, who could be left out?

Today’s readings can be found here.