Entrust your life to Love

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

“Fear is useless…what is needed is trust.” —Mark 5:36

Trust Love. It never fails. When we are powerless, let go and trust love, trust your heart, and trust God—our higher power who saves, gives and restores life, who heals, liberates, and makes all things new and right. Love casts out fear.

“Do not be afraid little ones, I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33

Give all your cares and concerns, all things and people to Love. Trust Love. “I entrust you to love.” Love saves, connects, and leads us safely on the path of God, in the ways of Christ, who is the Way, Truth, and Life. Trust love. Entrust people and your life to love and you will be free and in Peace, a Peace that surpasses understanding and which the world can never give. You will then have entrusted your life into God’s hands.

Let Love, let God lead you.

Life is a Trust Walk.

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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, wherever and whenever possible.”

A perfect and generous love

Friday of the Third Week of Lent (C)

My heartfelt thanks go to Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, blogger at There Will Be Bread, for inviting me to write the following reflection for her readers, and for the community of faith at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park, NY.  This post and a wealth of deep spirituality and theological pondering, evidence of Fran’s  perfect and generous love, can be found here, on There will Be Bread. I encourage you to visit.

It happens every year about this time, give or take a couple of weeks. Of course, I am talking about the midpoint of Lent, but I’m also talking about the change of seasons. Lent, like spring, is a time of conversion, of reawakening, of planting new seeds, of grace-filled turnings, returnings, and reconciliations.

Around the fourth week of our Lenten practice, new spiritual growth emerges like tender buds urged on by shortened nights. We carefully push back the winter mulch and beckon the sun’s warming rays.

This morning as I walked my dog, a neighbor who I pass every day remarked: “you look happy this morning.” He was right; I know I had joy written all over my face. The birds seemed to chant, Come out! Come out! Squirrels giddily complied, springing crazily from tree to tree, dropping to the ground, and diving in and out of unraked leaves. I spied a family of eight wild turkeys jauntily making their way up a neighbor’s drive. Upon my return I searched the back of my garden for surprises, something I do every morning now. Two days ago I noticed a few snowdrops pushing through the mulch; today I saw hundreds waving their happy little heads in the breeze.

On days like this, when love fills me to the top, I recall the words of Thomas Merton:

“If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of (God’s) life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.” [1]

Like Merton, I am aware (or, at least, I always try to be aware) that it is God’s love that I feel when the sun warms my skin, and it is through God’s love that I hear the chirping of springtime birds, and it is God’s love that motivates and urges and surprises me year after year with the arrival of brave little flowers and tender buds.

Today’s first reading bursts with lush and verdant imagery. The Prophet Hosea’s final exhortation to the Israelites to repent and return to the Lord is given with an expectation of the Lord’s joyful response. Of course! Of course, the Lord would respond with a promise of new life!

I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;

He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.

His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.

Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain;

They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
[Hos 14:6-8]

The whole of Sacred Scripture is the story of God’s desire for our homecoming, and the paths we take in life represent our response. Every Lenten practice provides opportunities to assess and course correct so that we might continue to draw closer to accepting God’s invitation. On Ash Wednesday, we heard these words from the prophet Joel, “Return to Me with all your heart.” [Joel 2:12]. Today’s Responsorial Psalm includes an emotional expression of God’s longing for reconciliation. “If only my people would hear me, and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”

What God offers us is so abundant, so rich, so fruitful, so ridiculously good. Why is it so difficult for us to accept it? What is it that causes us to separate ourselves from the Love of God? Today’s gospel helps us answer that question.

One of the Scribes who valued Jesus’ teaching approached him, asking “Which is the first of all the commandments?” [Mk 12:28b]. While Christian awareness of the commandments is limited to ten, there are 613 commandments in the Torah, so this was an important question to ask. Jesus told the Scribe that Love is first: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” [MK 12:30-31].

Love of God and Love of neighbor. This greatest commandment is the summation of all other commandments, and as the Scribe indicated to Jesus, more than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Everything Jesus taught is an expression of this greatest commandment. Yet, the history of the world reveals our consistent inability to obey.

Our fundamental problem and its resolution are one and the same: God’s gift of free will. We have taken the gift but have lost touch with the giver. God urges us to love, yet we use our freedom to ignore God’s will. Again, words of Merton speak to me:

“If these seeds would take root in my liberty, and if (God’s) will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that (God) is, and my harvest would be (God’s) glory and my own joy.” [2]

If my every action is a reflection of my love for God, my response to God’s love will infuse my thoughts and words, my relationships, and the work of my hands. I will become love.

This kind of love means I will use my freedom and hold nothing back; I am to love completely, perfectly, generously, and without pause because the love of God inspires me to do so.

Come out! Come out!

The readings for today can be found here. 

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With just a little over two weeks to go before the Triduum, let’s also express our love of God and neighbor with prayer. Let us pray for those individuals whose Christian journey has just begun; for the elect who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil; for the hungry, the lost, the lonely, the hurt, the disillusioned; for the homecoming of all of our brothers and sisters who have been distanced from our faith communities. And let us love God and neighbor by praying most fervently for those to whom our love seems the most difficult to give.

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[1] Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. Reprint edition. New Directions, New York. 2007. p 16-17

[2] Merton, New Seeds. p 17

To be loved

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

I am delighted to offer the readers of The Good Disciple the following reflection on love, written by my dear friend, Fr. Joel Fortier. Earlier this year, Fr. Joel wrote on the topic of Receiving Love; it has since become one of this blog’s most popular reflections. I have not doubt To Be Loved will follow suit. Please share your comments, and share the post. It’s that good.

It is a wonderful thing to really feel loved…to be loved…when the love of someone you love reaches you; breaks thru the crust and shell of what keeps us from feeling and knowing we are loved, and you feel it! It is the most wonderful thing in the world…it is powerful! When you can say with certitude, I am loved! Love changes everything. Love is not a feeling, the feeling of being loved comes from actually being loved and it IS the most powerful feeling and force in the world. There is nothing like it! It is pure gift! It gives you strength and power, the very ruah…breath…and Spirit of God rushes into you. It transforms and liberates. It gives you the power to love! Love opens us to love, and when we love, courage is released in us; we discover that we can love, we discover the power of love, it sets us free from our fears and inhibitions; it heals and strengthens us.

Drink of it deeply, it is like a waterfall, a torrent of love coming into us, open wide your mouth, your heart, to receive it, let love fill you up, quench your thirst, and become a fountain of living water within you! That is what the Holy Spirit does, love releases love within us. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” Mercy is released into the world. To be loved is to existentially know God; to know and experience the power of God. To love and live in love, is to live IN God…to experience the power of God to love even when you don’t “feel” like it. That’s when love becomes a decision, not just a feeling, which is what Christ did for us. It destroys death and reveals the power of the cross and resurrection at work in us; the power of love. And so Christ says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Love gives us the power to do that with joy, it enables and empowers us to love as Christ loves. “Love one another as I have loved you,” is his commandment, and he says, “I tell you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full and complete!” [Jn 15:11]

“Salvation…Love…consists not in that we have loved God, but that God has loved us.” [1 Jn 4,10] We ARE loved, that is the joy of the gospel, thank God for those who bear good news and make it credible for us by their lives and actions; by their love! They will know we are Christian by our love after all! Our orthodoxy is only as believable as our orthopraxy!

I thank God for the people in my life who love me, they are angels of God, messengers who bring Good News, the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus in the flesh for me. The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you. It is the fire that burns in the Sacred Heart, the fire Christ came to ignite on earth, for us and for all people. Let it be ignited in us and spread throughout the world!

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” —Romans 10:15.

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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.”

No Miracles, Please

remember barsabbas pastel

[When I wrote and scheduled the following post prior to leaving for school two weeks ago, I intended it to be a gentle comment on divine action. Then Dylann Roof happened. And because he wanted to start a race war, he killed nine black men and women who had welcomed him, their killer, to study the bible with them. The subsequent words of forgiveness spoken to Roof by some of the victims’ family members shows in the most heartbreaking, inspiring, and incomprehensible (for most), way that a different kind of miracle is possible. Hating the hater only brings about more hate. These families have shown us another way.]

What I love about the following poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, aside from everything, is his preference for an organic, and generative manifestation of God’s love in the ordinary over a display of divine power in the form of a miracle. It’s true, the fruit of our spiritual ripeness—shown through acts of love for God, neighbor, and all of God’s creation—is capable of generating new and vibrant growth well beyond our own sphere of influence. I know my part is to choose to be a carrier of the law to love God and neighbor, to actively be Christ, and see Christ in each person I meet, to be Eucharist. It’s not easy. Nobody ever said it would be easy. Still, I try.

No Miracles, Please
by Ranier Maria Rilke

I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
ripens
what you are.

No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
become clearer
from generation to generation.

—No Miracles, Please. Ranier Maria Rilke, From The Book of Hours II, 15

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.