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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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:21-35
September 17, 2017

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
Whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price,
No amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
Those who fear God will find them.

(Sirach 6:14-16)

There are a great many references in Sacred Scripture to the extremely important human relationship we almost casually refer to as “friendship.” There are reminders, such as the passage above, to the blessings of a good and faithful friend. On the other hand, there are also warnings about the dangers to be had from false friendships. It’s easy to see what inspired St. Thomas Aquinas to write: There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.

I remember the day when the above passage from Sirach was included in Morning Prayer. It touched me in an unusual way. Rather than rejoicing in the enormous treasury of good and faithful friends with which I am blessed, I began to examine my conscience and reflect on the times that I have been undeserving of all the goodness and joy these “true friends” bring into my life.

If one is honest with oneself, it doesn’t take long to remember times when we have done or failed to do something for a “good and faithful friend.” When my reflection was complete, as a self-imposed penance, I forwarded the Sirach passage to a number of folks who are, indeed, my “true friends.” I didn’t add any thought or explanation or greeting, just the Bible passage.

To my great surprise, almost everyone responded in kind. Not with another Scripture passage, but with an expression of gratitude, followed by something akin to an apology for not living up to the accolade. Those replies made me even more confident that these people are…TRUE FRIENDS!

The fact of the matter is, no one is a perfect friend. I can say this with certainty, because we all suffer from the vestiges of original sin. Our inherited guilt leaves us too self-centered to be totally selfless. And so, to one degree or another, we are always letting others down and putting our own interests first, easily excusing or justifying our transgressions. But, at the same time, and because of our inherent “self-centeredness,” we set the bar very high for others.

This is where forgiveness comes into play. Forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics. It should be a state of awareness, wherein we are continually coming to terms with human frailties…our own, and those with whom we are in a relationship, whatever the nature of the relationship might be. At Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus is clearly encouraging us to overpower our selfish nature with the superior power of forgiveness. The teaching is supported by a parable that reinforces the reality that there are often severe repercussions in withholding forgiveness of a TRUE FRIEND. And, in those cases where a relationship is not “true, nor a sturdy shelter, draining rather than a treasure, life-threatening rather than a spiritual and emotional medicine,” our First Reading is especially helpful. Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hangs on to them. Remember your last days…hate not your neighbor. To quote an expression that has become most popular: Let it go! Let the relationship go as well as the anger, resentment, and desire for revenge. Forgive and forget!

The Good News in all of this is that, in spite of our own failures, we have the truest and most loving of friends. Our relationship with the Lord was described in a poem written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven, an Irish immigrant to Canada. Set to music at a later date, it still has the power to soften the hardest of hearts.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit.
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Do the friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
And you will find a solace there!

If you happen to have trouble “forgiving”…“Take it to the Lord in prayer!”

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:15-20
September 10, 2017

The Gospel passage for this 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time is a little like the Grand Canyon; there is so much to take in that you don’t know where to look. At the moment, however, headline news together with the first two Readings seems to direct our attention towards the themes of WARNINGS and POWER!

The growing nuclear arsenal of North Korea and the four hurricanes are major topics of concern these days. All of the threats and warnings from other nations seem to have done nothing to quiet the ambitions of this rogue nation to become a nuclear power. Many residents in coastal areas have the same feeling. In spite of the tragic experiences from hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, there were Texans who stubbornly ignored the warnings, preferring to stay in their homes and face the power of nature. There are always some who ignore warnings and even mandatory orders to evacuate, insisting on weathering the storm.

All three of our Readings, in one way or another, are WARNINGS!

The prophet is charged with the duty to warn against behavior that is offensive to God. Appeasement is not an option. The spiritual life is no place for negotiations. Turning a blind eye to offenses against God’s Law seems more of a risk than that taken by the offender.

This seems unfair, doesn’t it? Warning someone to change their ways also seems as impossible as trying to negotiate an end to nuclear escalation…or to talk a hurricane into changing directions and heading back to sea.

Consider how our Church has been the target of a great deal of criticism for the warnings we continue to voice about the sanctity of human life. Pope Francis was challenged for the warnings he has set out in his encyclical Laudato Si, urging greater care for our planet. The American Bishops have been in the crosshairs of public opinion when they send out messages of warning on social justice issues such as our country’s immigration policies, labor laws, and universal health care. How many parents have tried to warn their children about some spiritual transgression, only to be rebuffed, ridiculed, or even shut out of their children’s lives?

It really is an inconvenient truth that efforts to exercise the absolute obligation to WARN are risky business, very often futile, and the cause of great suffering. But we must consider ourselves warned…warned not to remain silent.

In our Gospel, Jesus lays out an approach to this sort of thing. He encourages persistence. If one fails in the first effort, try something different. If that doesn’t work, take another approach. Should that prove unsuccessful, escalate efforts.

It is impossible to convince a hurricane to change course, and sometimes it is impossible to call someone to conversion. When that is the reality, then Jesus counsels not to risk being drawn deeper into the storm; but “to evacuate.” There are times when there simply is no choice but to leave things behind and to move on to a place of safety and shelter.

That’s the warning part of our Readings. There is also the matter of POWER!

In the Second Reading, St. Paul explains what motivates someone to raise a prophetic voice, warning against things that are in opposition to God’s will and God’s way. It is all about love…love of God and love of neighbor. Love is the reason for the obligation, the power that drives our efforts, the reward when our efforts are successful, and the balm that heals our wounds when it looks like our best efforts have failed.

I warned you that this week is the “Grand Canyon” of Readings. Where do you begin? Possibly by focusing on just one area in your life where your voice…your word of warning, spoken in love…might make a difference. Take a risk. Be persistent. Don’t give up if your first efforts seem to have been futile. Look for a different approach. And if you reach the point that you honestly believe that there can be no resolution, take shelter in God’s love.

And never lose sight of the fact that you are more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction, or any force of nature when you speak and act out of love. Love is God and God is love. There is no greater power! And that power is at your complete disposal. Take a risk and use it.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:21-27
September 3, 2017

Early last winter, I was contacted by a priest friend asking if I could preside at the Sunday Masses at his parish, both Memorial Day as well as Labor Day weekends. As I entered both dates in my calendar, I recall thinking to myself: That guy really plans ahead! But before I knew it, I was calling his community to prayer.

Before the final blessing, I told the folks that I hoped they would have a great summer and that I would be back to pray with them Labor Day weekend. And then I got a laugh when I asked the extremely talented Music Minister if she happened to know the song by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons that was popular in my youth: “See you in September.” She did! And much to all of our delight, she sang the refrain. (If you are under 50, check it out on YouTube.)

Maybe it was the song, or the warm sunny day, or the picnic I was heading to…or a combination of all three, but as I was walking to my car after Mass that Memorial Day weekend, I was especially aware of the fact that I had THE WHOLE SUMMER AHEAD OF ME!

Well, here we are on Labor Day weekend, and I have joined the chorus of voices asking: What happened to summer?

This was the year I was going to spend two UNINTERRUPTED weeks at my family’s cottage. (I haven’t spent one single night there.) This was the summer I was going to plant an herb garden in my yard. (I didn’t even bother to buy geraniums in pots.) This was the summer I was going to get all kinds of projects done around the house. (I still haven’t cleaned last fall’s leaves out of the garage.) So what did I do with my time? I can’t really say, but a new season is about to begin and our Readings all seem to speak to how we can use time wisely.

Jesus Himself had a very short “season” in this world and a whole lot to accomplish. As far as Peter and the rest of the Apostles and disciples were concerned, it was an “endless summer.” It was exciting following Jesus as He taught and preached, healed and fed, forgave and rehabilitated. They felt like the Season of Jesus would never end. But the Lord had one primary mission to accomplish, and He understood that it could not be delayed or postponed. Those other things that made the Apostles and disciples proud to be part of the Lord’s work were profoundly important. Nevertheless, miracle-making was not what The Father sent the Son to do. And there was nothing that Peter, or anyone else, could say or do to keep Jesus from fulfilling His mission. He was entirely focused on God’s plan for Him…offering His Body as a living sacrifice…the perfect and unrepeatable Sacrifice…Holy and pleasing in God’s sight.

So we end this summer with the all-important question: How will the season of my earthly life end? Will I leave behind a long list of: “I was going to!” “I always intended to!” “Gosh, I wish I had!” And we begin this new season with a fresh opportunity to transform ourselves. We enter into the autumn of 2017 equipped with the wisdom of these Readings, urging us to discern what God is asking of us and then striving to fulfill that mission.

There is always going to be that little voice within us…or that friend, trying to persuade us to use our time in a different way. But the wise person will turn a deaf ear on every effort to distract and continue to focus on what God is asking. It really is important to plan ahead…way, way ahead…looking not just to the end of a season…but to the end of our lives.

So…sing along with me: See you in eternity…or lose you…to a summer love!

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:13-20
August 27, 2017

A few months ago, I helped a close friend, one of the senior priests of the Diocese, (even more senior than myself) “car shop.” It’s not that I have any particular skill in the “art of the deal,” but I am blessed to have yet another close friend who owns a car dealership. I explained to my “priest friend” that he could rely on my “car friend” not to steer him in the wrong direction. Eventually, a selection was made and off he drove. But it didn’t go as smoothly as you might think. Because of advanced age, limited finances, and the trauma any major change brings with it, my “priest friend” was a reluctant buyer. Even that intoxicating new car smell didn’t seem to calm his nerves about this major transaction.

Several weeks later, he happened to drop by my house while I was in the midst of a fevered hunt for my own car keys, which somehow go missing at least once a week. My frustration was obvious to him. Even after we sat down for a little visit, he could tell I was distracted. My eyes kept wandering around the room in hopes of finding those darn keys! Finally, he rolled his eyes, and in a tone of obvious delight, he said: “Well, if you would come out of the dark ages and get yourself a new car like mine, you wouldn’t even need keys. Car keys are a thing of the past!”

After he left, I finally tracked down my keys, and as I looked at them with obvious relief, I also felt a bit of nostalgia. I remembered the feelings of maturity, pride, and even freedom I felt the first time my dad handed me the keys to his car so that I could go somewhere on my own. I thought about the deep gratitude that welled up in me on the day I graduated from college and my parents handed me the keys to a brand new, shiny, red VW Beetle. Over the years, I’ve been handed the keys to a number of new cars, new homes, and even new parishes. And each time keys pass from someone else’s hand to mine, they bring with them a mixture of complicated emotions, foremost being a sense of responsibility.

Call me old fashioned, but I think we might be losing something important by replacing keys with things like codes, face and voice recognition, and microchips. I can foresee the day when a child touring the Vatican will ask: “What is St. Peter holding in his hands, Mommy?” And when she replies, “That’s a key, honey,” the child will ask another question: “What’s a key?”

If all of this seems a bit silly, then consider for a moment how so many younger people these days seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, the significance of Baptism. For some reason, many younger folks tend to regard this first of the three Sacraments of Initiation as “old fashioned.” Others seem to be like the proverbial reluctant buyer. Age often explains spiritual reluctance: “I’m not there yet in my life. When I get older and have more time…then maybe.”

All too frequently, new parents are saying: “We’re not going to make the decision for the baby. When he gets old enough, he can choose for himself.”

There are also financial reasons why younger folks hesitate to take the plunge into the Living Waters. They might not be aware of the benefits of Baptism, but somehow, they understand the cost. And they feel it’s a little too steep for them to sign on the dotted line.

It’s not a matter of dollars and cents. The cost of discipleship involves the commitment of time and energy. Many suffer from sticker shock when they learn that being part of the Body of Christ involves more than participating in the Sacramental life of the Church. Christianity carries with it the responsibility for others as well. Following Christ means continuing His mission and ministry. The Baptized are called to heal, to feed the hungry, to forgive sinners, to speak out against injustice, to protect the vulnerable (including the environment), to bring comfort and peace to the suffering, and to share the Good News!

Finally, by its very nature, discipleship is a group activity. It’s more than friends helping friends. It is the way of Christians to embrace all people as sisters and brothers. This involves a dramatic change from the way of the world which places the needs and wants of the individual above all else. That kind of change can be traumatic, especially for the self-centered.

It all boils down to this:

It wasn’t just St. Peter who was handed “the keys.” In a way, each person who is called to new life in the Spirit through Baptism is given “the keys” to the Kingdom. And every time we pass the font, we should remember what that means. Every time we dip our hands in the Living Water and bless ourselves, we should be overwhelmed with a wide range of complicated emotions…a sense of spiritual maturity…a sense of liberation, having been freed from sin and death…a sense of pride that we have been chosen to walk with Christ…and a sense of profound gratitude for this priceless gift, the gift of keys which will gain us entry into eternal life. The intoxicating smell of Chrism should never fade but continue to remind us of who we are and what is expected of us.

Baptism is the key that enables us to come out of the dark ages so that we might live in the Light of Christ. Christ is The Key!

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