Fr. Kelly

Our Sunday Journal is a brief reflection on the scripture readings of the day by Father Kelly, a senior priest in the Diocese of Saginaw.

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25 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 9:30-37
September 23, 2018

Last Sunday’s Gospel was about establishing Jesus’s identity as “The Christ.” But Peter’s response to Jesus’s question…Who do people say that I am?…spoken as the voice of all the Lord’s closest followers, made it clear that Jesus had a lot more work to do.

What God intended to reveal through the Incarnation…God’s Eternal Word Made Flesh…was complete in Jesus of Nazareth. There was nothing more for God to say. The “work in progress” was discipleship.

The Apostles and disciples recognized The Lord as The Messiah, but did not fully understand what “Messiahship” meant, and so they could not know what “discipleship” meant. That was a serious problem considering the fact that He intended His work to continue through them (and us). The Lord zeroed in on the issue when He said: You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

In this week’s Gospel, there appears to be little progress.

How let down Jesus must have been when He caught them in the all too human act of competing with one another for recognition. Genuine, authentic Discipleship means doing the right thing, because it is the right thing, and without concern for recognition or reward. There is no Academy Award or Nobel Prize for serving God by serving others. There is only the gratification that comes from serving in Jesus’s name.

The Three Readings this week seem a bit disjointed. At first glance, they don’t seem to work well together. But, if we read them with the minds and hearts of innocent children…who are eager to learn…we begin to see how things can be when people strive to live in peace.

When we think like adult humans, we are often selfishly ambitious…aspiring for “greatness” as individuals, or as nations. That makes peace less attainable. However, when we learn to think as God thinks…ambitious for “greatness for all,” then the reasons for conflict slowly drop away. When we put ourselves at the service of others without looking for accolades, our reward is a sense of accomplishment as well as a sense of peace. And peace is contagious.

This is not easy stuff. It’s a strain to “think as God thinks.” But it is even more difficult to live as God lives…in perfect peace. We are “works in progress.” But, when we do our best to Live Jesus…should we happen to wonder: Who do people say that I am? The response is simple…You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

24 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 8:27-35
September 16, 2018

The scene opens with a prosperous-looking young man wearing fancy sunglasses and driving a shiny convertible sports car along an ocean highway…wind blowing through his hair and a great big toothy smile on his face. Switch to the same young man, riding a bicycle down a quaint little street in Paris. Next, we find him in an art gallery, contemplating a painting. Finally, we see him in an upscale restaurant, surrounded by a group of laughing friends, clearly the center of attention and enjoying every minute. The man is “Terry.”

As the video plays, the narrator explains that “Terry” got a new car, went on a vacation to Paris, bought an incredibly expensive piece of modern art…and then the kicker…the only problem is: this is Terry. And it’s then that the scene changes to a pink bedroom, where we see sitting cross-legged on her bed doing homework, a young girl. It’s one of several TV commercials that a cyber security firm is airing; cautioning that “millions of young children have already had their identity stolen.” The firm offers to protect our kids from bad people on the so-called “dark web.”

I don’t have any idea of how important it is to engage this kind of service to protect the identity of our children. What I do know with absolute certainty is this: it is imperative for us to start at an early age forming them as Roman Catholics if there is any hope of protecting their identity as followers of Jesus Christ!

The Gospel for this Catechetical Sunday is all about identity. Jesus questions Peter about the popular conception of who He is. Peter acknowledges that there is confusion among most people regarding Jesus’s identity. Peter, on the other hand, correctly identifies Jesus as “The Christ,” but the Lord cautions Peter to keep this confidential. Why keep His identity secret?

This is something that Scripture scholars reflect on, discuss, and even debate. One very likely possibility is that Jesus knew that the “popular conception” of what it means to be “The Christ” was wrong. People’s expectations of Him were many and varied, and, in some cases, contradictory to His purpose and plan. Peter, for example, correctly identified Jesus as “The Christ” but did not understand what that meant. It is possible that even the Apostles needed to grow into an appreciation of the role of “The Christ.” After all, it is a stretch to think that “The Christ” should suffer and die in order to fulfill His mission in this world.

Likewise, it is a stretch to embrace all that is expected of us as faithful disciples. All three Readings this weekend explain what it takes to be properly identified with “The Christ.” It is a challenge that requires a lifetime to get even close to right. Throughout our lives, we must continue to learn and mature into an understanding of what is required of a person in order to be recognized as a Christian. It’s a steep learning curve, and the process, when possible, should begin in the cradle.

It is a sacred duty to continue to pass on the faith to the next generation. Our parishes help families satisfy the obligation to continue to grow in the faith and to pass it on to our children. Families can best protect their identity by taking advantage of every opportunity offered by the local Church. And so, this Sunday, we join Catholics around the world by protecting our identity as followers of The Christ by re-committing to continue to learn and grow in our faith…and to live what we learn.

22 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
September 2, 2018

In the political arena, the expression: Speak Truth to Power has become quite popular. It seems to describe the need to challenge authority when leaders are misguided, or in error. I wonder how often this approach is tolerated in the corporate world?

The term Speak Truth to Power is not new. It was the title of a publication issued by the Quakers in 1955. Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence expressed the belief that humankind can live in peace if we suppress hatred with love. While the expression is from the 20th century, the concept is as old as The Bible. Consider the opening line of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race.

“The Word” that John is talking about is Jesus Christ…God’s Eternal Word made Flesh. And “The Word” is Truth. Remember? Jesus called Himself “The Truth.”

Soon after creation, however, came the opposite of truth. Lies, falsehoods, deceit, and hypocrisy took root in The Garden with those fateful words hissed by a snake: You will not surely die! God knows well that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.

That first lie took root in the garden and thrived, spreading aggressively throughout human history. Tragically, we have reached the point where one of our political leaders has told us: truth isn’t truth, a statement that is especially dangerous in that it comes alarmingly close to a denial of Christ…Who IS Truth!

And so our Readings for this 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time are not only timely and relevant, but especially important. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus, as He did on many occasions, Speak Truth to Power. Calling out religious leaders for their hypocrisy, the Lord strikes a blow against lies. No one likes to be called a liar…especially those guilty of lying.

Possibly, the take-away from these three Readings is that through Jesus Christ, Power IS Speaking Truth to the Powerless. The Power of The Almighty, recognizing how vulnerable human beings are to lies, through Jesus Christ, has spoken The Truth into our minds and our hearts. When we humbly welcome and live The Truth…when we Live Jesus…then love overpowers hatred, envy, ambition, greed, and deceit, and we can live in peace…The Peace of Christ!

Power has Spoken Truth…and it is for us to listen to and then live The Truth.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:60-69
August 26, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T

And so begins the song recorded by “Detroiter,” Aretha Franklin, back in 1967, that went on to become the anthem for the civil rights movement in this country. It was also a big part of the “background music” for my college years. Every now and again, over the past half-century, I search out that song, play it, and enjoy the memories it brings back to me. I do have to admit, however, that last week, with the passing of the woman who made that song so popular, it was played so often in the many tributes to The Queen of Soul that I got a little tired of hearing it.

This is the fifth and final Sunday of our work with John 6: The Bread of Life Discourse. As we made our way through what might be thought of as The Lord’s introduction to The Eucharist, the music and the message have been pretty much the same. I am the Living Bread…Eat My Flesh and Drink my Blood…and you will never die.

Hopefully, no one has tired of this life-giving theme. The fact is, Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith and the basis for all Christian hope. It really is the focal point of our relationship with Jesus Christ…and should be the Center of every Catholic Christian’s life, if we truly want to remain in Christ.

When we gather around The Table of the Word and The Communion Table, we are certainly doing as Jesus commanded in memory of Him. However, Eucharist is far more than remembering something from the past. Eucharist IS “life in Christ.” True that “we remember,” but we also commit to live Jesus here and now…and to prepare for that future day when Christ will return in glory.

During these past weeks, our First and Second Readings have supported Jesus’s teaching on Eucharist by directing our attentions to varying aspects of this inexhaustible mystery. The common denominator of all three Readings this week seems to be:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

In our First Reading, Joshua challenges Israel about the LACK OF RESPECT the people are showing for the inheritance of faith passed onto them by their ancestors. Drifting away from the special relationship to which God called them, they were wandering back to their pagan ways. They were at a crisis point, on the verge of forgetting that they had been chosen by God to live The Covenant..to live as children of God.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, addresses concerns over another kind of sacred covenant: marriage. Fidelity to this covenant relationship demands mutual respect to the point of putting the other’s interests ahead of our own. When respect between husband and wife falters, the relationship spirals into a crisis.

This is where we find Jesus and the disciples, at the conclusion of The Bread of Life Discourse. They are at a critical point in their relationship. As Jesus unfolds His plan to continue to be present to us through the Eucharist, His followers begin to murmur, grumble, and debate among themselves. They find it impossible to understand just exactly what this New Covenant relationship to which He is inviting them means. They are faced with a very critical choice. But it is simply too much for many of them and they lose respect for The Lord. They walk away.

There are times in our personal faith lives…or in the history of the Church for that matter…when we disciples reach a critical point in our relationship with Christ. Someone or something challenges what we believe…what we value…what we respect. It is then we are forced to make the decision: Do I continue to honor and respect the Covent God has made with us through Eucharist?

Or do I walk away?

It is at this critical point when we ask ourselves…

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

Last Wednesday, August 15, we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary. A “dogma” of our faith, we Catholics believe that at the end of the course of her earthly life, Mary was taken up into heaven body and soul.

The Gospel proclaimed at Mass that day was Luke 1:39-56; the inspiration for the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, “The Visitation.” The passage describes the reunion of Mary and Elizabeth, two women indispensable to God’s plan for salvation, and concludes with a powerful profession of faith made by The Blessed Mother. Her beautiful words, memorialized as the prayer many of us conclude our day with: The Magnificat, declares her complete surrender to God’s plan for her. Her unequivocal trust in God’s mercy and love enabled her to accept the invitation delivered by the Angel of The Lord without resistance. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit, becoming the living Ark of the Covenant…a flesh and blood Tabernacle…The Mother of God.

In the face of today’s Gospel, it is important to take a look back to the lesson which last week’s Feast Day offers. As we continue to make our way through John 6 (The Bread of Life Discourse), we need the example of wisdom, faith, and unshakable trust which we see throughout the life of The Blessed Virgin, as a counter-balance to the reaction of “the crowds” to Jesus’s declaration: I am The Living Bread that came down from heaven.

Remember, this is the very same crowd that hunted Jesus…pursued Him…hanging on His every word…eager for His healing touch. This was the same crowd of people who stood and listened to Him teach and preach to the point that they were exhausted and famished. This is the same crowd that Jesus invited to get comfortable and “recline in the tall grass,” and then, miraculously, multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread so that they could all eat their fill. And eat they certainly did. They ate until they were satisfied…and then they became dissatisfied.

The mood shifted rapidly from contentment to hesitation. (Wow! Hold on a second…what did He just say?) Then they began to grumble, murmur, and argue amongst themselves. The resistance to The Lord’s message of hope intensified. Eventually, they began to walk away.

Why?

For the very same reasons that people are backing away from The Good News today. Christian discipleship involves the kind of total commitment to God’s will and God’s way that we see in the life of Mary. How many folks do you know who are willing to make that kind of commitment? Are you?

Think of it this way: Disciples don’t just eat the food and then walk away. We can’t remain lounging around in the comfort of the tall grass. Once we are fed, we are sent out to continue to proclaim…as Mary did…our complete surrender to God’s plan for us. And God does have something important for each and every one of us to accomplish in the coming week. At the end of the course of your earthly life, will you be able to tell the Just Judge “There might have been times when I murmured and grumbled…but I never walked away”!

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