We are created to live in love

Feast of the Holy Family (C)

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier.

I am grateful to my friend, Fr. Joel Fortier, for sharing this homily on the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the readers of The Good Disciple. Fr. Joel’s life-long focus on Love has helped countless families and married couples to recognize the Sacred Presence in their own Holy Families.

Christ, who is before time, thru whom all things came to be, is part of the relationship we call Love…God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ, who is from divine relationship, was born in time as Jesus the Christ. The incarnate Word of God, who came from Relationship, was born into relationship…we call family, so that by living in relationship ourselves we might come to share in the Divine relationship we call God, Love.

We are created to live in love, in God, in relationship. It is the image in which we are created. It is our divine DNA.

And so we celebrate today the relationship that Jesus was born into, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph—real people with real names—like us! We are born into Family as well, for better or worse. Often, family is the crucible of life where life is forged by the fire of love. It is and can be our agony and our ecstasy!

But, no matter how we experience family, it is the school of life, the domestic church. Hopefully because of our faith in a God who is love, we can learn how to live in right relationship and love, to be functional human beings. That is the function of life; to live in right relationship, to live in God; to be Justice and Mercy.

That is what the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus, teaches us. And he does so by living in relationship himself. Today’s gospel [Lk 2:41-52] tells us that after he was lost and found in the temple, Jesus returned home with Joseph and Mary; was obedient to them (listened to them), and grew in age, wisdom and grace. Jesus learned from his loving, faith-filled parents about who he was, who he was to be, and what his function in life was to be: to forge a new covenant, a new relationship of love in his own Body and Blood.

It is through this relationship today, this new covenant, which we enjoin upon ourselves in the Eucharist, that we are forged by the fire of divine love into the life of the Holy Family; the People of God. It is the most fitting way to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

It is our Baptismal call and vocation to live in the love that Jesus experienced with Mary and Joseph, where he himself grew and learned of grace and the wisdom of God. We are born into a family as well.

And so St. Paul, who was a realist, tells us, “bear with one another and forgive one another.” He tells us to put on love as a covering for all things and learn of the Mercy and Wisdom of God. By such ways, in relationship, do we grow in age, wisdom and grace, as Jesus did.

Our relationships are sacred channels of grace and peace. We honor and respect our relationships with our mother and father, and each other, according to the new covenant of love that fulfills the old commandment to honor our father and mother, and to love one another as Christ loves us.

We experience Family in many different ways, and so this day we honor and celebrate what it means to be family, to live in love as God loves us, really to live in God, who is relationship, the First Family, reflected and modeled by the Holy Family.

May we so live in a way that reflects and honors that same Divine relationship in whose image we were created. We do so by honoring all our relationships as sacred, Sacramental channels of grace to us! Then St. Paul says, “the peace of Christ will control our hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body.” [Colossians 3:15].

We are one Body, the Body of Christ. That is what Family can teach us. We only need to listen, to obey, as Jesus did.

Happy Feast Day O People of God! May you recognize the sacredness, beauty, and goodness of your own family!

For contemplation: Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. [Col 3:15a, 16a]

Today’s readings can be found here.

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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.”

Fearless wonderment and awe at Christmastime and beyond

Christmas 

I had a dream about angels falling like snowflakes. Outside my window fluffy snowflakes twirled lazily, in no rush to hit the ground, in that lovely way snow sometimes does. As I gazed at the sight, individual flakes began to increase in size. I was mesmerized. First one, then another. Each took on a ghostly form, white and translucent. In my dream I saw wings, lots of wings, and light. I don’t remember if any of the angels touched the ground but I was compelled to move closer to the window and then to the door, which I opened. I reached out my hand and one came to me. I must have exclaimed something because my husband called from across the room, asking what I was doing. “Don’t you see them?” I said, “There are angels!” His brow rose in concern, but when I showed him my hands his expression changed. I could tell he saw what I saw. And, at that moment, an angel landed on his hand.

I have to confess that I don’t spend much time thinking about the existence of angels, but I know many people who do. There is an entire area of systematic theology devoted to the doctrine of angels, appropriately called Angelology. In Scripture, angels are spirit messengers, guardians, and divine agents, and of course throughout the Advent season, we have heard various scriptural accounts of angelic activity. The Christmas liturgies each include references to angels surrounding the birth of Jesus. Angels are active and present as mediators throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and as messengers in the New Testament.

But my purpose in sharing my dream here, and on Christmas day no less, is not to open up a discussion of angels, or to affirm or dispute their presence or activity in the world, or to even interpret the meaning of my dream. Rather, I want to encourage a measured sense of fearless wonderment and awe for the things that give us hope, but which we can’t fully understand. Things like the countless ways God communicates in us, with us, and through us. And, like the birth, life, and mission of Jesus, the Word, whom the writer of Hebrews identifies as the “imprint of God’s very being” [Heb 1:1-6 ].

The reflections for the four Sundays of Advent found here on The Good Disciple blog began with the decision to nurture the tender shoot emerging from our hardened hearts, to open an interior space into which the Word of God could enter, to recognize our own belovedness, and finally to give our fiat to God’s movement in our lives and in the lives of others. With the passing of each week we have worked to prepare a dwelling place which is fresh, unobstructed, expectant, and ready to receive the infant Jesus.

It is my hope that as good disciples, we will continue to nurture this place in our hearts where the spirit of God dwells, inspires, comforts, and encourages us to do God’s will.

May we all experience the Wonderment and Awe of Christmas every day, and the Joy of knowing our God whose loving presence is revealed to us constantly, in countless ways, if we only will open our eyes and see it.

Merry Christmas!

When the end is the beginning

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

I love this time of the year. Of course I mean autumn. Yes, the growing season’s grand finale rarely disappoints, especially here in the Northeastern part of the United States where the relatively subdued trees and shrubs of summer break out in a neon-jacked riot of color. Autumn represents the colossal success of nature—a job well done. As if to say, “There, you see? This is what I’ve been working on all year.”

Autumn is a time to reflect on what we’ve been working on all year, too. In the waning and waxing hours between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, it is good to pause and think deeply about our personal growth, both intellectual and spiritual. We can ponder our little epiphanies, our joys, our sorrows, our victories and our failures, and the endings and beginnings which represent all of the above. Autumn is also a time to look forward, to make plans for the coming winter, and to renew our annual vow that this year we will keep things simple and really enjoy Christmas.

There’s another reason I love this time of year. Ecclesially (churchy business) speaking, we are drawing to the end of current year’s liturgical calendar. My fellow liturgy nerds, can I have an Amen? This weekend is the second to the last week of Year B—the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—and next Sunday we reach the pinnacle of Ordinary Time with the Feast of Christ the King.

I loved Year B, spending time in the desert with Mark’s gospel, reflecting on Jesus’ identity and mission, why he died, what his passion meant then and what it means for us today. But I also love the gospel of Luke, which we will read in Year C (beginning January 10, 2016). I am excited to delve into the gospel writer’s emphasis on the hope, inclusivity and liberation of all people as revealed through Jesus’ life and message.

Every liturgical year starts with Advent and Christmas. In two weeks we will experience the advent (pun intended) of Year C. This is a season of anticipation, of preparation and patient waiting, of readiness and expectation of the events which have been promised. Christians prepare their hearts not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to anticipate his second coming, which is the subject of weekend’s gospel [Mk 13:24-32].

The season of Advent goes by quickly. And if you aren’t attentive, the four weeks dissolve into one another. Before you know it, it’s Christmas day, or more likely, it’s the day after Christmas, and you sit there in your messy home, deflated, exhausted, and wondering what the heck just happened. How did you allow the artificial chaos of the holiday season to interfere with your plans to celebrate a real Christmas?

Endings and beginnings—the turning of seasons, a new Gospel, and a promise to do things differently this Christmas—tie into this weekend’s gospel. Yet, unlike the second coming foretold by Jesus we know exactly when the liturgical year ends and when the celebration of Jesus’ birth will be.

Jesus says “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” [Mk 13:28a]. Mark wants his community to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ forewarning of the Temple’s destruction [13:1-2], an idea that was incomprehensible to the disciples, given the Temple’s prominence. Mark wants his community to hear Jesus’ instruction to attend to the signs [13:8], and to be ready for the coming persecution because they themselves lived in a time of rising chaos. Mark encourages his readers to pay attention, to be steady, focused and fearless, and to attend to Jesus’ teaching because when the time comes—like the emerging buds on the fig tree—it will be too late for pruning and tending. To follow Jesus—to be a disciple—is a journey of service, of humility and sacrifice for the sake of others. Mark provides hope for his readers; he assures them that their sacrifice will lead to redemption, just like Jesus’ did.

Our lives provide never-ending opportunities to be people of hope, and to perfect the message of which our life speaks, as if to say, “There, you see? This is what I’ve been working on all year!” Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. wrote, “At the end of the church year, therefore, as at the end of our life, our vision ought to be of new heavens and a new earth, of new bodies and souls as innocent and good as the Spirit of God who indwells.” [1] In the next few weeks we will be presented with an opportunity to recraft our vision for the coming year and begin again.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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[1] Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., Biblical Meditations for Ordinary Time-Weeks 23-34, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, NJ 1984. p 386