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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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-43
July 23, 2017

If you drive past my house during the spring and summer, one glance will alert you to the fact that I am no gardener. I could easily use my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age as an excuse for what many would call “neglect.” But the reality is that even when I was younger, pulling weeds was just not my thing. Moreover, I’m not good at it. When I try to “clean things up,” I end up killing the good stuff…and clearing space for the bad stuff to thrive.

Having driven past my house myself and noticed that my yard needs a little TLC, a good buddy sent over “the kid” that keeps my friend’s yard looking like Dow Gardens. This young man has the proverbial touch. Not only a hard worker, who keeps at it until the job is done, he also has the skill to pick out the weeds, leaving the garden plants and giving them an opportunity to grow stronger and blossom. After he leaves, I really try hard to keep things looking nice. And although my knees, my back, and certainly my advanced age prevent me from doing what “the kid” can do…he inspires me to do what I can at least try to do! God Bless my buddy and “the kid!”

It seems that I hear…or hear of…a lot of preaching these days that tends to highlight certain words from our First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. I’m talking about words like: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! And while it is certainly the case that God is perfectly just…and all that goes with that…there are other words in that First Reading that we frail, weak-kneed, sometimes spineless human beings need to focus on. Care! Lenient! Clemency! Kind! Repentance! Hope!

The first and longer of the three little parables that are this Sunday’s Gospel brings my back yard, as well as my spiritual life, to mind. But when I read and reflect on it, remembering those words that so often enjoy the spotlight by demanding preachers: Condemned! Might! Perfection! Rebuke! Power! Just! I get a little nervous. Who can honestly say that they haven’t had a bad thought or feeling, or an appetite that is contrary to God’s will? Most of the time, we don’t even know where they came from. These “weeds,” like dandelions, thistles, and crabgrass, just appear and then start to take over. And once they get ahold of us, we sometimes feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to begin. It’s then that we start with the excuses and let the weeds grow.

Just about the time I panic over the state of my “spiritual garden,” I think about our Second Reading (Romans 8:26-2). Like “the kid,” the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and tends to them with Care! The Spirit knows how our lives could look if this or that thought or feeling could be uprooted. With a Kind and gentle hand, The Spirit begins to clear away the bad things so that goodness, charity, and love have room to thrive. And when the work is done, The Spirit “sprays” (with an ecologically-friendly product) our “spiritual garden” with Repentance – a powerful preventative that stops the bad stuff from coming back – or at least slows it down.

When “the kid” pulls into my yard and sees how bad things have once again become, he NEVER condemns or rebukes me. “The kid” is Lenient! He quietly goes to work cleaning things up again. So, too, with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit tempers God’s perfect justice with Clemency, quietly going about the work of removing what is bad and nourishing what is good; and leaving behind an enormous feeling of Hope! After this spiritual gardening, one can’t help but want to keep things looking nice. Sure, our knees are still sore, and our back is still weak, and the ever-present reality that the seeds of spiritual dandelions, crabgrass, and thistles continue to invade. But a visit from The Holy Spirit inspires us to do what we can…to try harder…until that day when The Master Gardener perfects us.

So, how does your yard look this summer? Need a little “TLC?”

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:1-23
July 16, 2017

Trying to write with a broken pencil is pointless!

This was one of a number of little riddles that a friend recently forwarded to me via e mail. Frankly, it’s the only one I remember…and one of the few in the lengthy litany that I really didn’t have to think too long on before I found the humor.

Actually, when I first opened the message, I was in a rush and almost hit “delete.” But, having read and “solved” the first, I moved forward…groaning at how silly some of them seemed, but challenged by a few that, at first glance, stumped me. I actually felt a bit of excitement when I solved one of the more obscure…cleverly hidden, and was encouraged to continue reading. For the most part, I smiled, giggled to myself, or laughed out loud as I made my way down through the list of little brain teasers. I was glad that I had taken the time to read through them. The exercise slowed me down, relaxed me, and lightened my mood. I actually sent on a “Thank You!” note to my friend.

Jesus often taught in parables. Matthew reports this particular farm parable, but the majority of the Gospel on this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time is The Lord’s explanation to His disciples of why The Lord chose to address “such a large crowd” in this manner. It’s easy to imagine the scene, and even to place oneself there in the enormous and diverse crowd, observing the various reactions to His “spirit teasers.”

Some passersby, happening on the spectacle, might well have hurried away without even stopping. Being too busy to spend even a moment listening to The Word of God spoken by The Living Word of God, they suffered a tragic loss of opportunity!

Sprinkled throughout the crowd, there were probably a few scribes, Pharisees, leaders from the Temple in Jerusalem and area synagogues…maybe even a few Roman soldiers standing by to keep the peace…surrounding The Prince of Peace! These were the kinds of people the Lord described as “the wise and learned.” Can’t you just see them scoffing at the simplicity of Jesus’s teaching? Can’t you almost hear them GROAN? Their arrogance left them blind to the beauty of Jesus’s teaching and deaf to the empowering and life-changing lessons He brought. GROOOOAAAANNNNS…especially from “the wise and learned,” tend to be contagious. Influenced by this haughtiness, many who might otherwise have stayed to listen ended up elbowing their way out of the crowd to resume their day…unchanged.

In spite of their skepticism or inability to unlock the parable, some people, for whatever reason, hung in there. Their commitment was greatly rewarded with an AAAHH! moment. At some point, they got it! They understood. They were able to apply the message to their own lives. They discovered answers they were searching for. A sense of peace replaced a troubled mind. Feelings of hope pushed despair to the background. They were excited! They wanted more.

Finally, there were people in the crowd like you! You wouldn’t be reading this reflection if you weren’t the rich soil in which The Gospel is able to root deeply, be nourished in, and produce an abundant harvest. The Good News lightens your spirits, even as my friend’s email lightened my mood. People of faith find rest, refreshment, and wisdom in the Word of The Lord!

Still, these days, the GROOOOAAAANNNNS of the arrogant seem to be getting louder and more determined than ever to influence those eager to hear the Good News…anxious to see what God has ready for those who love Him. When we gather in our parish churches, we see the empty places. People are “too busy,” ”too preoccupied,” “too distracted,” ”too influenced” by people and things to commit to stopping to hear what God is saying to them through the Gospel. Things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit.

There can be dangerous fallout contaminating the rich soil if we don’t resist. And so it’s especially important to unpack the Second Reading (Romans 8:18-23). While we live in the flesh, there are people and things that try to persuade us that our beliefs are “false Good News” and that our faith life is “futile!” In a very real way, our Church, The Body of Christ, is experiencing a period of great suffering. This is nothing new. Things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit.

But the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. With these hopeful assurances, the First Reading becomes less of a riddle. While it might seem to us that God’s Words are being ignored, or worse, the reality is in God’s time, it will achieve the end for which God sent it. In other words, things really aren’t that different than the day when Jesus used a small fishing boat as His pulpit. God is in control.

As for you… the rich soil…continue to listen and see what God has ready for those who love the Lord. And remember, trying to live a Christian life without the Living Word of God is as pointless as trying to write with a broken pencil. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 11:25-30
July 9, 2017

The experts tell us that: Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on the knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. It’s a whole lot of work carrying around an additional 40 pounds everywhere you go. It amounts to slave labor, taking a major toll on every part of the body, when one is forced to move 400 pounds throughout the day.

And then there are the things that weigh heavy on the mind, which are, in many ways, more debilitating than obesity — things such as debt, ambition, envy, greed, anger, the desire for revenge…the list goes on and on…and can be as debilitating and destructive as 100 extra pounds of body fat. If airlines were to charge for emotional baggage, a lot of flights would be canceled. Few could afford to fly.

St. Paul to the rescue!

In our Second Reading (Romans 8:9, 11-13) we are reminded that there is a “better part of us”…our spiritual self…that can’t gain weight. When we are in touch with our true selves, all worries and concerns, even the real ones that require our attention, become lighter and much more manageable. The better part of us, that part that God created with the ability to outlast time, is not flesh, “On the contrary; we are in the Spirit if only the Spirit of God dwells in us.” When we recall that we leave all of our cares and concerns behind “in time” when the better part of us moves into eternity; then somehow, we manage to enjoy greater control over the things that burden us.

Certainly, good physical and mental health are important. After all, God has seen fit to package the better part of us “in the flesh.” We should take care to be good stewards of our minds and our bodies. But, when we give priority to the better part of us…our spiritual lives…somehow, some way…everything else seems to become lighter and easier to carry.

Supported by the First Reading, this little Gospel passage (Matt.11:25-30) should inspire us to relieve the pressure we place on our bodies and our minds by laying aside those things that have a stranglehold on us, weigh us down, and prevent our spirits from soaring! Moreover, Jesus assures us that it isn’t complicated; it’s a simple matter. It doesn’t require the expertise of a dietitian or a personal trainer or a psychologist.

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has proven that even though the better part of us is packaged in flesh and bones, our earthly bodies cannot weigh down our spirits…so long as the Spirit of Christ dwells within us.

As we move deeper into Ordinary Time, exploring the Mysteries of Faith, help to take the pressure off your bones by including Eucharist in your food plan, and calm your frayed nerves by God’s Word proclaimed. Walk lighter…live lighter!

Walk in the Light of Christ. Live Jesus! It’s that simple!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:37-42
July 2, 2017

Early on, students in composition classes learn about a literary technique called “the back story.” The concept isn’t new. Aristotle explained to his students in ancient Greece that when telling a story, it is good to include the significant facts and details that lead up to the main story. “The back story” helps to make the main story more credible. Recently, this tool of storytellers seems to have been borrowed by journalists who promise a convincing “back story” that will remove any suspicion that their main story is fake news.

The Good News for this 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Independence Day Weekend) seems to beg for “the back story.” The opening line leaves us asking ourselves: WHAT?

It certainly isn’t as if we don’t already know the “back story” to this Gospel. Every time we profess our faith through the Creed, we state a significant fact….a critical detail…that enables a deeper understanding of the “main story” of salvation…the Gospel. We say:

I believe in God….Creator of heaven and earth.

While creatures ourselves, humankind is unique within the created realm because we alone are able to know and love God. This is possible because God, The Source of all life and love, called us into existence as both earthly as well as spiritual beings. The problem is that, many times, we are so rooted in our earthly selves through relationships with others, attachment to material goods, pride in our accomplishments, and ambition for even more…and more and more…that the main story becomes all about the things of this world, and the back story of who we truly are and what we were created to be becomes more and more distant. As we lose touch with our spiritual side, we also lose touch with God. That might well be what Jesus is telling us when He says: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is calling us to restore God to the Creator’s rightful place in our lives. Essentially, what we have here is a challenge to move God from the back and place Him first in all things. Moreover, The Lord offers assurance of great rewards for those who declare their independence from the earthly attachments which can enslave us, and pledge our total dependence on our Creator, Whose will it is that we live for all eternity in the freedom of The Holy Spirit.

The American theologian, Monika Hellwig, when commenting on these Readings, concluded with this thought: When we think what is asked of us is sheer death, we may find that it is a breakthrough to new life!

There is nothing fake about this news…It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 10:26-33
June 25, 2017

On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, we woke to the shocking news that over 20 U.S. Congressmen, staff members, and lobbyists were attacked by a gunman during their early morning practice on a neighborhood ball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia. Even as the story was unfolding, there was more breaking news. A shooter in San Francisco claimed five victims. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and fear.

The “UPS” story got pushed to the background as our nation’s leaders rushed to the microphone to express their horror over the assault on our government. Each expressed deep regret that we have somehow become so steeped in “vitriolic rhetoric” (a number of speakers used the word “vitriolic,” meaning “filled with bitter criticism or malice”) that unstable people are moved to acts of extreme violence.

Our nation’s leaders faced the cameras, issued press releases, or “tweeted” assurances to the American people that this tragedy could become an opportunity to recapture the spirit of unity that has held our nation together, and a glimmer of hope returned. Under the circumstances, the words of these politicians seemed genuine and sincere. Most people listening certainly wanted these commitments to dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace to be true.

Our hope was strengthened as we learned that the opposition team, practicing on a ball diamond in a neighborhood on the other side of our nation’s capital, having been alerted to the shooting, gathered in prayer for the victims. Then came news that it was agreed by both parties that the charity ballgame would still be played the following evening. Our spirits began to rally. As the day came to a close, the suggestion began to circulate that rather continuing the century-long tradition of the Red Team playing the Blue Team, the teams be mingled as a sign that all of the speeches and statements and “tweets” of the day were genuine. How great would that have been!

But it didn’t happen.

The Red Team played the Blue Team. More speeches were made during the game. The trophy was awarded to the Congressman still in critical condition. And the next day, returning to their offices on Capitol Hill, the words of Jeremiah the Prophet once again began to echo throughout the Chambers. Denounce! Watch for any misstep! Perhaps he will be trapped, then we can prevail! In other words: Business as usual!

The immediate return to “vitriolic rhetoric” should come as no surprise. St. Paul explains in our Second Reading (Romans 5:12-15) that bitterness and malice…sin and death…entered the world through the first parents and have infected all humankind from that day forward. Talk about hopelessness!

But, Paul goes on to offer us much more than a ray of light or glimmer of hope. Through God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ, the possibility of perfect dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, true and lasting peace, and unconditional love becomes reality. We know that the fullness of the Good News awaits Christ’s return in glory and the establishment of the eternal Reign of God. But, in the meantime, we are called to push back against darkness, hopelessness, and fear by giving witness to the Gospel.

Today, we resume Ordinary Time. Hopefully, having spent the past months pondering the depth and meaning of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, we return to this liturgical season truly changed. If not, we might not be up to the task of this Sunday’s Gospel.

In Matthew’s 10:26-33, The Lord challenges us to acknowledge our faith. But, the acknowledgement we are called to demands more than a TV interview, a press release, or a “tweet.” Acknowledging that a tragedy has occurred because of our failure to live as God created us and suggesting that things should change is simply not enough.

The acknowledgement Jesus speaks of comes from the heart, which inspires the mind. Only then can the lips speak with sincerity. It is easy to frame words that are pleasing to the ear. But they have no real meaning or lasting value unless they are sincere and genuine. Words that do not originate in the heart are little more than noise.

Later in Romans, St. Paul tells us: For one believes with one’s heart and so is justified, and one confesses with one’s lips and so is saved. But to have the power to save…to change…to bring about dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace in our nation, our world, our families, our Church…our acknowledgement must originate in our hearts where The Holy Spirit dwells.

As we make our way through the coming months of Ordinary Time, may the Lord be always on your mind, and on your lips…and in your heart – always in your heart!

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