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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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:13-21
July 31, 2016

I remember a conversation I once had with a friend whose spending habits were beyond extravagant. He put an entirely new spin on the words “self-indulgent.” One day, after listening to him order the most expensive things on a menu, in a very pricey restaurant, I asked if he had set up an IRA…a “Roth”…had a savings account…basically, whether or not he had a retirement plan. He smiled and said: “Trickle down theory!”


My friend was an only child, an only grandchild to well-fixed grandparents, and an only nephew to a wealthy and childless aunt. So, he lived lavishly in the present, planning on maintaining the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed…into the future…with the inherited funds that would eventually “trickle down” to him.

My friend was an extreme example of the way most of us think when we are younger. Who will inherit the family cottage? I wonder who Gramma will leave her diamond necklace to? I hope old Uncle Ralph wills me his ’40 Ford.

But when we are older, we wrestle with a different concern, the sort of thing, as we heard in our First Reading, that keeps us awake at night. Who would take good care of the cottage? I love that place so much, I don’t want it to fall in disrepair after I’m gone. Who would appreciate my diamond necklace? My great-grandmother brought it from the old country. It’s been in our family for over a century. I don’t want it in a garage sale. None of the kids take care of their own cars…what am I gonna do with my vintage ’40 Ford?

It seems like our Readings this weekend speak to both situations. The young shouldn’t be overly confident about what might “trickle down” to them. Those nearing the end of their earthly lives, while wanting to be responsible with what they enjoyed in this life, should see the folly in trying to reach from beyond the grave in order to control material things…and focus on embracing the things that will never end.

But there is a much deeper lesson to be learned from the Readings. It deals with what is truly worth passing on…the thing of greatest value that we should make every effort to “trickle down” to the next generation…our faith in Jesus Christ!

From a spiritual standpoint, the young SHOULD LIVE LAVISHLY…in the present…using freely and without concern all of the graces which flow through the Holy Spirit in order to live a life of peace and joy. Lavishing themselves in the inexhaustible gifts that come from God, the young can better prepare themselves for an endless future in the Kingdom. Cultivating and becoming accustomed to a Christ-centered life style in our youth enables us to accept, appreciate, protect, and pass on all that trickles down to us from our ancestors in faith…OUR CHURCH…OUR SACRAMENTS…OUR HOPE IN THE PROMISE OF RESURRECTION AND ETERNAL JOY!

From a spiritual standpoint, as we age…WE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.

We should be concerned that the next generation will care lovingly for The Church which we pass on to them. We need to gather our families together in our parishes, even as we invite them to “the lake.” The young should come to appreciate that our Church is a place where we come together as a family of faith to celebrate, to feast, to make memories, and to learn about our family history. The young should be eager to inherit our Church and commit to maintaining it in the best of conditions so that they, in turn, can pass it on to the generation that follows.

We should stay awake at night, hoping and praying that our children and grandchildren will recognize the value of our Sacraments. Handed down to us through the centuries, the Sacraments are seven priceless jewels meant to be used, and used frequently. If they are put away for safekeeping, they serve no purpose, and are in danger of being lost and forgotten. It is only when we bring them out and enhance or accessorize our faith with them that the next generation sees the beauty and understands the enormous value of these great treasures. It is only when they see how we treasure our Sacraments that they become eager to inherit these gifts that come to us from Christ.

It is entirely understandable that as we age, we wrestle with the fear that whoever gets the keys to the ’40 Ford that we have taken great pains to restore and preserve…will care for it as we try to. Of infinitely greater concern, however, is that the next generation will care for their spiritual lives. The keys to the most valuable of vehicles are nothing compared to the keys to the Kingdom.

So then, it seems that our Readings this week encourage the young to be extravagant in drawing from the infinite source of grace that is at their disposal…while at the same time working to establish a reserve of faith, hope, and love that will enable them to live in eternal peace.

At the same time, God’s Word that trickles down on the older generations is a reminder that what has been passed on to us must be used in such a way that the next generation becomes eager to inherit what we pass on to them.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2016

When we Catholics pray, we begin with the Sign of the Cross. I wonder if many of us really stop to consider what we are doing. Is it possible that the little prayer that helps us enter into prayer has become almost a thoughtless gesture? For example, when batters “sign themselves” before the first pitch, are they really conscious of the fact that they are invoking the fullness of the Divine Mystery…The Blessed Trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or has this opening prayer taken on an air of superstition, not unlike crossing one’s fingers for luck?

Certainly, for many, “signing ourselves” with the Cross is done without thought and out of habit…following the que of the priest or the folks standing next to us. Something precious is lost when we don’t understand the power of that gesture.

Another prayer/gesture that I am concerned is fast becoming an endangered species is our way of welcoming the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass. I’m not confident that our younger Catholic Christians even know that the gesture of marking our forehead, lips, and heart is accompanied with the prayer: MAY THE LORD BE ON MY MIND, MY LIPS, AND IN MY HEART. So, on those occasions when, like Jesus, I have been asked to teach people how to pray, I often begin there…with the signing of our forehead, lips, and heart…asking God to be present to my entire being.

Far from a gesture of habit, this is an extremely important prayer that invokes the Holy Spirit. We are asking that we be fully attentive to the Real Presence of Christ in the Gospel. We are praying that we may fully understand and appreciate The Good News that we take in through our ears. If God is always on our minds, we are better able to orient ourselves in the direction of eternal life. If we are continually thinking about God, we can easily shrug off the dark influences of this life and concentrate on our future…because God is the Future of those who seek Him with a sincere heart.

When we mark our lips, we are, in a sense, making a commitment to take full advantage of every opportunity to pass on what has been given to us by what we say to others and how we live our lives. If God is always on our lips, then our last word will open the gates of the Kingdom to us. How comforting is that?

When we sign our hearts, we are, in a sense, offering hospitality to God’s Eternal Word…offering ourselves as living tabernacles. When we invite the Divine to live within us, on our last day, we can leave here with the sure and certain hope that God will repay the favor and invite us to dwell for all eternity in the company of the angels and saints. Far greater than anything but a mindless gesture done out of habit, we should greet the proclamation of the Gospel with an eager spirit…eager to become what we hear.

Jesus has taught us to approach our God as a good and loving Parent Who knows each of us intimately, and treasures us as unique and precious individuals. And so, we pray to Our Father Who art in heaven. But it is also important to know that same God can also be on our minds and lips and in our hearts…if we only ask!

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:38-42
July 16, 2016

In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a large influx of immigrants to the United States from India. When they arrived here, they entered the working class, lived frugally, and saved their wages. Then, when they had enough money set aside, they would buy failing businesses and build them back up. They were living the American dream.

The largest number in this wave of immigrants came from one particular part of India where they were members of a specific “social caste,” sharing the surname Patel. That name, Patel, is one of the most common in India, and in this country, ranks 174th out of the 500 most common last names.

For whatever reason, members of this family who came to America gravitated towards the hotel and motel business, making an enormous impact on the hospitality industry. Statistics show that approximately 1/4 or about 22,000 of the hotels/motels in the U.S. are Indian owned and operated with an estimated value nearing $128 billion, the vast majority owned by a member of the highly successful and extremely affluent Patel clan. In the hospitality industry, this trend is called “The Patel Hotel Phenomenon.”

I recently heard a young man interviewed who has co-authored a book with his sister about what it means to be a Patel. He described a forced family vacation, where the two teenage kids grumbled every mile of the cross-country road trip intended to help the family become better acquainted with their adopted home. In some remote part of the west, after a long day of traveling, everyone exhausted from being cooped up in a car all day, the family finally pulled into a hotel to spend the night. They walked into the lobby and recognized a person of Indian descent behind the counter who greeted them formally and politely. However, when the father registered and the proprietor saw the name Patel, he rushed around the counter and excitedly hugged and kissed everyone.

He waved them past the registration desk and ushered them directly into his family’s living quarters, calling out to his own family that Patels were visiting. The response was immediate. The Patel family who owned the motel welcomed the Patel travelers like long lost relatives. The best of everything in the house was brought out and shared graciously and with a sense of real joy. There was a holiday atmosphere and an evening long celebration. In the morning, the families parted like loved ones who knew it was unlikely that they would ever meet again. And, of course, the host Patels rejected the offer of repayment from the guest Patels. Nor was this an isolated incident…this is simply how Patels treat one another.

The experience of “being Patel” on the young travelers was profound.

There is a family spread around the whole of planet earth that is far larger than the Patels. This family does not share a surname…but shares something far more meaningful than a bloodline. This family consists of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream,” share faith, and be identified by the name “Christian.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to recognize, embrace, and celebrate a common identity that, by far, transcends country of origin, cultural heritage, or family name.

We are all children of a good and loving God, Who provides the most gracious and elaborate of hospitality to all humankind. We are all guests in this world, and our heavenly Host wants us all to enjoy our stay here…and to be respectful of the rights of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream.”

And, if the occasion arises for us to provide hospitality, we are expected to be lavish in our response…like Abraham. When we are privileged to have a guest in our homes, we should work tirelessly to accommodate their needs, like Martha…although probably with a little less complaining. When we are the host, we should be completely present and attentive to our visitor, as was Mary.

The Patel phenomenon is said to have had an impact on the hospitality industry in this country. Christianity is called to have a profound impact on the whole universe. The Christian phenomenon should have an impact on every aspect of life. But specifically, when we have the opportunity to play host, we should be images of God, manifesting in our attitudes and actions the phenomenon of Divine hospitality. Our guests should be made to feel like family…not just welcome… but completely “at home.”

Now, the obvious application of all of this is the appropriate Christian response to the enormous migration of people…all over the world. Immigrants, refugees, those seeking asylum are sisters and brothers and should be made to feel at home. But, today’s Readings also speak to a more local issue. As our parishes become more cooperative…blending and merging…closing and changing names…it’s critical that we remember that there are no strangers in our midst. We are all members of the same family of faith. There are no hosts…and no guests… in our churches. The Table of the Word and the Communion Table belong to each of the Baptized. We are at home wherever we go to celebrate Eucharist, and we are expected to make one another feel just that way.

After all, if the Patels can do it…why can’t we?

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:25-37
July 10, 2016

Before our own stock market responded with a significant downward slide to the outcome of the vote, I don’t recall the news giving much attention to “Brexit.” After the British elected to leave the European Union, however, it became clear that the fallout from the decision was a matter of global concern. And so we are learning more and more about what brought about this national movement with international consequences.

The battle cry of those promoting Great Britain’s separation from the EU is: “Let’s make Britain great again.” The debate centers on how to best prioritize national values. The separatists argue that Britain has to go its own way in order to protect its identity…its culture…its place in the world as an international power and voice…its independence. The key seems to be the promise of economic prosperity. However, the immigration issue also plays a prominent part in this clash of visions. Pro-Brexit advocates are calling for closed borders in view of the significant migration of people who are searching for safety, security, and a peaceful life.

All of this seems very political and very much about economics. But is it possible that it is all about spirituality?

Throughout the Old Testament, right up to this very day, the Jewish people have been debating how to make Israel great again! Our First Reading finds the people wandering in the desert in sight of the Promised Land, but still bearing the scars from the slave chains that shackled them to Egypt. Eager for safety, security, and a peaceful way of life, they debate how to prioritize what they value as a nation. With a tone of frustration, Moses seems to be saying: “It’s not rocket science, people! If you want to be a great nation, make God’s will and God’s way your first and only priority!”

A little further into this passage, Moses explains:

    If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes, and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

He goes on to caution, however, that to give priority to anything else will lead to certain disaster.

And so, we come to today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar passages in the whole of Sacred Scripture, known even to those without a faith life. Eager for a debate, a “scholar of the law,” in other words, someone who should know better…engaged Jesus, asking questions, the answers to which are not in the least mysterious or remote. Jesus, possibly with a more patient tone than Moses, replies with the little parable about a foreigner…an immigrant…a traveler…who puts all other concerns aside in order to care for someone in great need. He gives the victim of violence first priority, putting his time, interests, money and all else second to the urgent need for mercy. That ended the debate.

For the third Sunday in a row, our Readings challenge us to consider what should have priority in our lives. As we reflect on the passages proclaimed in light of the issues of our day, it might be fruitful to raise another “battle cry”… let’s make the Catholic Church great again! Or even…let’s make our parish great again!

How do we do this? It’s not rocket science.

Let’s protect our identity as the Body of Christ…by continuing to reflect the face of Christ to the world. Let’s protect our Catholic Culture that is energized by the Holy Spirit by following The Way the Spirit leads us…The Way to the Promised Land. Let’s ensure our place in the world by speaking out with a powerful voice on behalf of those in greatest need…even if they are foreigners or immigrants…seeing them as fellow travelers. Let’s ensure our independence through our total DEPENDENCE on God’s goodness, mercy, and love. Let’s work on bringing all people and nations together…as caring and supportive neighbors, and reject those things separating us from one another, because, ultimately, such things separate us from God. And let’s always remember that through Christ, all things are reconciled…those on earth…as well as those in heaven…and for this we should rejoice and be glad!

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:1-12, 17-20
July 3, 2016

Last week, I encountered a big traffic jam…just a few blocks from my home.

When traffic started to slow, my first thought was “orange barrels.” They’re all over the place this time of year, so naturally, I assumed that roadwork was the cause of the stop-and-go. But, as I moved forward towards my street, there were no orange barrels in sight…no flagmen, no heavy equipment or workers to be seen.

So, I began to think that there had been a bad accident. I turned the radio off, lowered the air conditioner, and opened the driver’s side window so I would be better able to hear approaching emergency vehicles. But again…nothing! Well, about five minutes and just a few hundred feet later, I was able to determine the cause of the delay…GARAGE SALE!

Cars parked, almost bumper to bumper, on both sides of the road…some pulling out while others struggled to maneuver into a ridiculously tight space…people jay-walking in every direction…that was the cause of the traffic jam!

Several homes in a row had tables filled with whatnot, long racks of clothes, ladders and bikes and playpens and old lawn mowers, all pouring out of the garages and filling the driveways almost to the curb. As I crept past each house, trying not to hit anyone rushing to get a bargain, I couldn’t help but wonder how all of this “stuff” on display had fit into one home. And then I got to thinking about how the houses would soon be filled with “new stuff.” And then there were the people hauling freshly purchased and slightly used “stuff” to their cars to take to their homes…which are probably already filled with other “stuff.”

Our First Reading this Sunday, (Isaiah 66:10-14), is a very poetic description of the prosperity that Jerusalem was experiencing. The wealth that the people were blessed with was a source of comfort and joy. Still, over and over again in the Old Testament, we see how prosperity was the undoing of the people. The heavy burden of “stuff” weighed them down…in a sense, re-enslaved this former slave nation that left Egypt for freedom in the Promised Land with little more than the clothes on their backs.

We live in a very prosperous nation, prosperous to the point that it’s hard for us to consider the reality that untold millions in other parts of our world live in tents, makeshift shakes, and other temporary shelters. Countless families don’t have real homes let alone garages. They have no surplus or discarded “stuff” to sell. Americans, wise enough to stop and reflect, come to an appreciation of how blessed we are.

But our Readings should cause us to pause and consider how easily the blessing of material prosperity can become what it became for Israel…a burden that weighs us down…a kind of enslavement that prevents us from moving freely toward the Kingdom…a source of pride that could well bring about our undoing.

The lesson here is not a call to be charitable, although that is certainly implicit in every line of the Gospel. Neither does it appear to be a condemnation of wealth; rather, it seems to be cautionary in tone.

There is a definite sense of urgency in the Gospel warning us that time is short. We can’t afford to use energy on lugging any unnecessary “stuff” with us as we make our way towards the Promised Land. The source of our comfort, pride, and joy should not be in the “stuff” we are blessed to use…but rather in our faith…our faith in the saving power of The Cross.

The message on this 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time seems to reinforce what we learned last Sunday when Jesus challenged would-be disciples to get their priorities in order, putting God above all else. Certainly, faithful discipleship demands that we put the Gospel above “stuff.”

What a perfect message to hear on this Independence Day weekend. True freedom comes from being independent on material things and completely dependent on The Cross.

Whether or not you have actual travel plans this weekend…travel light…travel free…travel in the Peace of Christ!

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