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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Gotcha!
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
Matt 22:1-14

In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a war novel entitled “Catch 22.” Because of its popularity, it was made into a movie that was released in 1970. By 1971, the title of the book and subsequent film adaptation was so commonly and frequently used that it made its way into Webster’s Dictionary. Among several rather complicated definitions of the expression is this: A hidden difficulty or means of entrapment. Synonyms for “Catch 22” include words such as “booby trap,” “gotcha,” and “landmine.”

In Matt 22, we see Jewish religious leaders trying hard to push Jesus into the very center of a deadly “Catch 22.” Either way, had He answered their seemingly simple question with a very simple “yes” or “no,” He would have found Himself guilty of a capital offense punishable by death.

If Jesus had said: “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to this foreign power because the coin with which the tax has to be paid declares that the Emperor is a god, and to acknowledge that to be true is blasphemy”…then the Romans would have accused Him of treason and sedition. On the other hand, had He responded: “Yes, citizens have an obligation to pay taxes to support the common good”…then the Jewish religious leaders would have accused Him of blasphemy by acknowledging the Emperor as a god. On the spot, they would most likely have done what they ultimately did on Good Friday…incite the crowd, which might well have stoned Jesus. There was a definite hidden difficulty here and a classic example of “Catch 22”…their win-win would be a lose-lose for Jesus, or so they thought.

If a Catch 22 is anything which the effect is the opposite of what is intended, it was the Pharisees who got caught in their own trap. The landmine they buried in the question they posed to Jesus blew up in their faces. Their treachery and hypocrisy, which they did their best to conceal, was made visible. Moreover, through this exchange, Jesus’s unparalleled wisdom came to light. Jesus tells us: “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mk 4:22) That’s what happened here.

The confrontation concludes with The Lord’s often quoted reply: “Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This invites a good deal of reflection on our duty as citizens. There is no denying that we reside in overlapping kingdoms…The Kingdom of God and the orders of civil authority. And we know as well that civil authority imposes and enforces duties and obligations on the part of citizenry, to which obedience is expected.

Even in a democracy such as we are blessed to live under here in the USA, there are times when God’s Law and civil authority not only overlap but clash. In the complex times in which we live, this seems to be happening much more frequently and in the most unexpected areas of our lives. We Christians must be conscious of these conflict situations and raise our voices to ensure just civil laws that are in keeping with God’s will and God’s ways.

But it might be good to zoom in on this whole idea of “Catch 22″ and apply it to something smaller than the conflicts that arise between Church and state. Ask yourself: How often do I owe God something, but at the same time, convince myself that for whatever reason, I am legitimately entitled to withhold payment? Almost daily, we make choices in which there are hidden difficulties that threaten to entrap us. When this occurs, it’s oftentimes a struggle to break free of the habit, addiction, attitude or false belief that was hidden within what seemed like a simple choice: Yes or No? All too often, we make a choice, the effect of which is the direct opposite of what we SHOULD intend…almost oblivious to the dire consequences. We need to learn to walk cautiously through life because there are booby traps and landmines every step of the way…and when they blow, our spiritual health and happiness are at risk. GOTCHA! is not a word you want to hear.

Through the Lord dealing with a Catch 22 situation, the fact that Jesus is indeed The Way, The Truth, and The Life comes to light! If we do our very best to LIVE JESUS, at the end of our dangerous journey through this world, He will be the One to speak that word: GOTCHA!Gotcha!

Invitations
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 12, 2014
MT 22:1-14

Invitations are a little like snowflakes, no two exactly alike. They come in a variety of ways, shapes, and forms; formal and engraved, casual and funny, handwritten or verbal…texted, via Facebook, or communicated by a third party. They are also a little like snowflakes because they make us “feel” something. While a snowflake causes a sense of “cold,” an invitation might leave us with a feeling of “warmth in our heart” as in: Ahhh! They included me in their celebration….how nice! The opposite effect is also common: Another graduation party! I’m going to have to take out a second mortgage! You get the picture.

The last thing about an invitation…at least a SERIOUS invitation…is that it has the power to make us think, and often, think hard. SERIOUS invitations extended by people who, for whatever reason, are important to us, can’t simply be tossed in the trash and forgotten. We tend to weigh the consequences of how we respond. Even if we have no intention of attending…the invitation hits the mark and hangs there. Whether or not we RSVP, we continue to be aware of the upcoming event. The day of…we sense that it is going on. After it’s over…we wonder how it went. And, if we happen to come face to face with the host we declined or ignored…we make ready our excuse to the inevitable: We missed you last week…it was a wonderful evening…hope nothing was wrong.

As for those events we decide to attend, there is also a response. Invitations motivate us to respond with the purchase of a new dress or shoes, a haircut, by shopping for a gift or a card…and, of course, by carving out the time in a busy schedule. Simply put, invitations demand a commitment, some more costly and time consuming than others. And that is what we take into consideration when we come face to face with an invite!

Jesus knew this!

Even way back then, without the U.S. Postal Service or the internet, people were inviting, being invited, committing to or ducking invitations. Invitations had the same power 2,000 years ago as they do today. And so, Jesus drew upon the whole range of emotions that come with the simple words: You are cordially invited…

But, the Lord was not trying to teach a lesson in etiquette. He was using an ordinary human reaction to a request for commitment and preparation to teach us about something extremely important. Knowing how we tend to react when “invited,” Jesus was trying to drive home how eager God is that each of us ACCEPT, COMMIT, and PREPARE for Eternal life! The thing is…there is no “next time” when it comes to Eternal life! Think about it and think HARD. Really weigh the consequences of your decision. Should you decline, the “regrets” are infinite. There is no second chance…there is no “next time.”

So, maybe the questions of the week should be:

Have you sent in the RSVP?
Now, what do you need to do to get ready?

We Have Hope
October 5, 2014
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 21:33-43

The world is shocked, horrified, revolted and incensed by the violent murders of members of the press corps…and even more sickening…aid workers who traveled to the region on missions of charity. ISIS, labeled radical Islamists by some, might be better identified as radical evil. And if it is even possible to quantify evil, isn’t what we see unfolding in Syria and Iraq on par with the evil that Jesus describes in the parable set out at Matt. 21:33-43?

The plain meaning and purpose of this parable seems to be an effort on the part of The Lord to prepare His followers for what would happen to Him on Good Friday, and what might well be their fate if they continue to follow Him. (A fate, by the way, that Christians around the world, not just in the Middle East, continue to suffer even today.) But if we dig deeper, there seems to be a lesson, as well, about God’s persistence in offering us every opportunity to do the right thing. With that, there also seems to be the suggestion that some people are persistent in their rejection of God’s will and God’s ways.

If we lay this passage beside recent headlines, it reinforces the truth that even as God is unchanging, so are some humans. If this is the case, it seems extremely unlikely that we will live in peace, free from the threat of war, terror, and violence…until Christ returns in glory. This might seem like a hopeless situation, which, of course, is the first victory that terrorists are eager to claim. Evil targets hope…a cornerstone of our Christian faith.

And so this weekend, it is important that we pay special attention to our Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:6-9). The passage begins with words that are particularly relevant in these dark and dangerous times: “have no anxiety at all…the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Notice that St. Paul does not specifically mention our bodies. We can’t be naive. We need to be vigilant about our homeland security, and, as a great nation, we need to do what we can to protect those defenseless victims of radical evil who do not enjoy the relative safety with which we Americans are blessed.

What Paul seems to be telling us is that within our in spiritual arsenal, readily accessible to us in times of danger, is the most important weapon…hope! Whatever it might be that terrifies us, whatever form radical evil might take, if we keep our focus on Christ, Who is Truth…perfectly just and unconditional love…our hope will not be shaken and our hope will sustain us. Only when we lose hope in Christ is the battle lost.

How do we best deal with the radical evil that surrounds us? Just “keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen”…in Christ Jesus. And be assured that no matter how persistent radical evil might be in its efforts to destroy peace in our world…God will protect the peace of Christ that He has placed in our minds and in our hearts.

Finally, remember that October is the month of the Rosary. This is a perfect time to make a committed effort to pray the rosary…as a family…asking God for as much peace as we might know in this world…while we wait for the Prince of Peace!

The Big Talker and the Grumbler
September 28, 2014
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 21:28-32

Scripture scholars and theologians, in order to dig deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation (God’s Eternal Word made flesh in Jesus)…and for that matter, non-believers hoping to cast a shadow of doubt on what we hold to be true, have looked to various passages in the Gospel to argue that Jesus had siblings. Whether or not Mary gave birth to other children, in this Sunday’s Gospel, we certainly see that Jesus had an understanding of the dynamics of family life. The parable of the man with two children, polar opposites from one another, has to ring true with anyone who has the joy of being a parent. For that matter, anyone who has supervisory responsibilities over others runs across “big talkers” who accomplish little and “grumblers” who, in the end, come through.

There is a lot to unpack in this simple parable. But if we stick with the image of a parent dealing at the same time with a “big talker” and a “grumbler,” we are likely to come away with a deeper understanding of what God is like and how God works.

Parents usually know what’s going on. They know that the “big talker” is all words and no actions, contributing nothing to the good of the household. They also know that the “grumbler” will get the job done. Good and loving parents recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their respective children and try hard to forgive their weaknesses, even as they hope to show their child a better way. Good and loving parents also have effective filters which enable them to ignore a certain amount of grumbling, confident that the end result will be satisfactory. As a result, human parents are often accused of being unfair, particularly by the “grumbler.” The fact is, they probably are. Parental justice is usually tempered by love and mercy. When mercy trumps justice, someone usually walks away feeling cheated. Now, if this is how human parents operate, consider how God’s infinite love and mercy make Divine justice all that much more difficult for us to understand and accept.

The surface message of Jesus’s parable seems to be that true disciples get the work done without grumbling, regardless of what the next guy is saying, but not doing.

All this leads me to wonder whether there is some sibling rivalry going on within each of us? Could a “big talker” be sharing a room with a “grumbler’ in most of our minds and hearts? If that’s the case, it might be worth a moment to take this lesson a step further and read and reflect on Matt 7:16, 20-21 where we read: “By their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

2 Corinthians 9:7 might also be helpful in improving ourselves, as we try to bring this Gospel to life: “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”

Have We Outgrown Our Image of God?
September 21, 2014
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt. 20:1-16

Mid-life, I was given this piece of advice: Don’t let life fit you small! You’ve got to think about that one, don’t you? If I had been told that in my younger years, I might well have forgotten it. But it came to me at a time when I was showing the first signs of aging…or maybe maturity…and so the idea stuck with me and I spent a lot of time reflecting on just what that might mean. Certainly, it motivated me not to settle. It encouraged me to explore options, take chances, and to stretch myself. Among other insights…Don’t let life fit you small…led me to consider how unfortunate it is to try to “shrink God.”

In her book Glimpse of Grace, author Madeleine L’Engle writes: I sense a wish in some…to make God possible, to make (God) comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate (God) so that (God) is easy to believe in. Maybe it’s a sign that I am maturing spiritually, but even though it took a while, that thought started to make some sense to me as well. It seems that many times, in an effort to make it easier to believe in God, we tend to “make God fit small.” We settle for a God that we can more easily manage. Unfortunately, when God is “domesticated,” people get so comfortable that they stop exploring the Infinite and miss out on some mind-blowing, spirit-growing insights. Moreover, when we make God small, rather than make the Divine more believable, we actually are left with an image that is not always totally credible.

For example, if we settle for a “comprehensible” God, then this Sunday’s Gospel will prove totally incomprehensible. How can a just God permit the last to come to the head of the line? This certainly doesn’t gel with the traditional concept of justice. The thought would simultaneously send shudders up the spines of labor leaders and CFOs alike!

I wonder if, just possibly, with this little parable about the Kingdom, Jesus is trying to stretch us…help us mature spiritually…encourage us, where God is concerned, not to settle for what we are comfortable with but to search for more. Could Jesus be telling us not to let God fit us small…so that our lives do not fit small? Have we outgrown our image of God?

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