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.”

Ruined for life.

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

If you want to see Jesus, look for people who commit themselves to serving the poor.

You can see Jesus in the young adults who commit to one or more years with faith-based organizations such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. You will see Jesus in the many men and women who discern a vocation as lay missioners—a choice which leads them far from home and family—in order to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and to create a more peaceful and just world. Maryknoll Lay Missioners is one such organization through which lay persons can live out this calling. You will recognize Jesus in those who even after their time of service has passed make career and life choices that continue to reflect those Gospel values of service, justice, and living in right relationship not only with other humans, but with all of God’s creation.

From the time we are children the world tells us we own our lives, and we go to great lengths to save them. As adults we toil away, lining our nests and filling our storehouses. And when someone from our own family or neighborhood chooses a life of service and simplicity, we find it odd, incomprehensible, even. Our admiration of their “goodness” might be mixed with fear for their safety and, let’s be honest, some suspicion that they are postponing getting a “real job.” It challenges our own beliefs about life and makes us uncomfortable. But isn’t this self-giving, this willingness to lay down one’s life, to let go, and to be the servant precisely what Jesus meant when he said “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”? [John 12:25]

Former Jesuit volunteers will say they are “ruined for life,” meaning there is no return to life as they once knew it. Their eyes have been opened. And once opened, they remain open. They cannot ignore the needs of the world. They have died to themselves, but what comes forth is far greater. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground…” [John 12:24a]

In the nearly five decades since Fr. Jack Morris, SJ started the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, more than “12,000 Jesuit volunteers have served tens of thousands of individuals and families at hundreds of sites around the world” including 38 locations here in the United States. I only wish the number was greater. Is it a luxury for a recent college graduate to be able to volunteer one or two years rather than seek employment? Yes, unfortunately it is. Most students have loans to pay off and don’t have the freedom for full-time volunteerism before entering the workforce. While it is not unheard of for someone to leave a lucrative career for a life of service, it is generally difficult to reverse the career track once it has been started. Still, some adults look for ways to serve in their retirement. I recently heard about a couple who, after the marriage of their youngest child, sold everything they owned and now live as lay missioners overseas. Wow.

Obviously, a sacrifice on this level is not for everyone, nor is it expected. Still, aren’t we are just like the Greeks who asked Phillip “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” But do we understand that to “see” Jesus is to enter into the reality of his life? “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” [John 12:24] In taking on the role of servant in whatever capacity our lives permit, we might be lucky enough to experience the same disastrous outcome as the Jesuit volunteers.

Ruin yourself for life; perhaps someone will see Jesus in you.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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For more on the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, visit http://www.jesuitvolunteers.org. And to learn about Maryknoll Lay Missioners, visit http://www.mklm.org.

Why choose the dark, when we know the light?

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

One of the tasks on my husband’s to-do list prior to moving into our new home was to install dimmer switches throughout the house. This was a relatively large project for a lovely old place like ours which was originally built with multiple gaslights in every room. At some point in the home’s history the gaslights and chandeliers were replaced with electric fixtures and wall switches. Dimmers are awesome. Being able to control the light saves electricity and allows us to create a warm ambiance depending on the chosen level of brightness. (Also, I am told that people of a certain age believe they look a lot better when the lights are low.) But that’s not all, a dimmer does double duty by obscuring flaws such as chipped paint and cracked plaster—at least in the nighttime. Sadly, the gig is up by morning when the sun shines through the windows offering congratulations on our good taste in furnishings, and nagging reminding us of our neglect by announcing the location of every needed repair.

This light (pun intended) example is not very different from the way many of us live our lives, is it? Don’t we use a dimmer of sorts in our day-to-day dealings, living in the light when we are in right relationship, living in the shadows when we are not? We are skilled in deflecting responsibility and rather than change our ways we convince ourselves that a choice we continue to make is harmless, when in fact our actions create damaging ripples we aren’t aware of. Or we tolerate ideologies that we know are wrong and immoral, but the personal sacrifice that accompanies taking a stand is what really makes us uncomfortable. Even in the face of global consequences many of us refuse to take action because we “didn’t do it.” Not my trash. Not my fault. Not my problem. We furnish our darkness with denial.

“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” [John 3:19-21]

The question is, why do we choose the dark, when we know the light? Our lives can be transformed; it can happen in an instant if we are willing to allow the light in. Still the darkness beckons our return. Sad.

How about creating a to-do list that includes a new lighting plan for life? As an evangelizing people, we might ask ourselves, “If everything in my life (in my family, in our society, in this organization) was forever cast in the light of Jesus, what would it look like?” What kinds of changes would you need to make to remain in the light?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

A Soul’s Legacy

The Otto Raus familyEarly in my marriage, when my husband was in law school, I decided to trace my family history. Stories about stout-hearted immigrant ancestors who scraped together the fare for passage, and willingly left their families and everything they knew for what they hoped was a better life used to break my heart. But those stories also inspired me. These were sturdy and brave souls; braced for whatever awaited them on the distant shore. I felt compelled to know them better because I shared some of those traits.

At that time there were no online immigration records. Research involved letter writing, contacting distant relatives for copies of pictures, marriage licenses, birth certificates, and the hand written details inside the old family bible. It included working with translators who could communicate with village churches in the old country, and countless Saturdays spent in the New York Public Library combing through rolls of microfilm for census records, city directories, and vital records. It involved studying maps and taking road trips. It was a treasure hunt that led me to an amazing discovery.

My research began with my four grandparents, which turned into sixteen extended families. On and on it went. Through the process of collecting and weaving bits of data into family stories I actually developed a relationship with my ancestors. I felt I knew them somehow, and I did. Incredibly, I was able to piece together vignettes of life through historical records: addresses and occupations, the age and number of children, whether they rented or owned, if they lived in a flat, over a store, with other relatives or took in boarders, and whether they had received their sacraments. All of these things plus what was happening locally and globally helped me “know” them. For most, life was difficult. Many were poor. I located news clippings and obituaries for children hit by a streetcar, or runaway horse, or who succumbed to an illness that is no longer a threat. I learned about their neighbors and what part of town they lived in, and if they were active members of their church or community. In addition to facts, my research generated questions that had no answers, like how they spent their day, if they did acts of charity, who were the silent saints among them, and who might have been affected by a simple kindness, or a friendship between neighbors that changed a life for the better.

I discovered a profound level of human connection that revealed our divine union with God. I realized what I was doing was in fact honoring the lives of those who had passed, and ultimately honoring God, of whose great plan they were a part. Were it not for this divine union we would not exist. I honor them with my prayers in a special way on All Souls Day. Remember, the legacy we create begins with living in right relationship; it dwells deeply in the life of every single person with whom we share a moment, a kindness, or a generous act, as well as in the things we do to ensure a future for those souls who are with us and those yet to be born.

Happy All Souls Day.

The World is a Mess

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I have a friend whose outlook on the state of the world has been reduced to conspiracy theories and an impending Armageddon. She shocked me the other day with words to this affect: “This city is home to a bunch of grubbers and people who are used to having everything done for them. When (the end) breaks loose and they lose everything and come knocking at my door, I won’t open it. Because I planned ahead and I’m taking care of myself.”

This is so sad. In addition to her teeny tiny unhappy world that she believes is about to implode, she has no faith and no vision. No faith in the generosity and goodness of others; no vision for a better world.

Granted, the daily hell we hear and read about and experience is unbearable. No need to spell out the escalating atrocities. People, nations, and leaders do unspeakable things to other people, nations, and leaders. It has to stop. “I beg you, stop. I ask you with all my heart,” Pope Francis said as part of his message to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the Angelus noon prayer on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

Let me tell you a different story. Three students making their way to a distant city, driving (perhaps a little too fast) on an unpaved road in a rural area of a South American country experienced a blowout and found their car spinning out of control until it slammed into a cinder block home. Amidst the shattered glass and gravel, the stunned students pulled themselves out of the wreckage. The two-room house, home to a poor couple with 11 children, was rubble. Miraculously no one was in the house at the time of the impact, but the damage was severe. Also miraculous, thanks in part to seat belts and airbags the three students’ injuries were limited to whiplash, cuts and bruises.

What happened next, as told to me by one of the students, provides a context and instruction to those of us who suffer losses and face our daily rubble, especially when the damage prevents us from seeing beyond the hurt to restoration. “After a few hours passed and the sun set, the family invited us to sit with them in the house (literally on bricks that had fallen) to eat dinner with them. They brought us eggs and potatoes and put blankets over our shoulders. I can’t really think of anything more incredible than this – we destroyed their home, and they invited us to eat with them.”

Jesus says “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. What might have been a human tragedy can be re-framed as a miracle of human kindness. These are the whispers that tell us God is with us. These are the acts that renew our faith and give us courage. Jesus is here.  This is what living in right relationship with the World looks like.This is what it means to be an evangelizing people.

The World is not a mess.

Today’s readings can be found here.