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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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

One of my oldest and dearest friends is celebrating her wedding anniversary today. As it happens, they planned something EXTRA special for the occasion, and it wasn’t a trip to Hawaii. They came here to Saginaw from Washington, D.C. for their anniversary weekend. Obviously, Saginaw is not a couple’s first thought when planning a romantic getaway. But my friends wanted to be part of the group that I helped organize to travel to the beatification Mass of Fr. Solanus Casey celebrated yesterday at Ford Field.

To join in the celebration of the advancement of the cause for canonization of a man who ministered right here in Michigan to people still alive today is certainly special…a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and they took advantage of it. But marking another year of Christian marriage is also very important and deserves a party as well. So, I called my friend’s husband to put our heads together to plan a surprise for her.

As we were scheming, he said: “She is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Now, I’ve known “the bride” for close to 50 years. I see how happy she has always been in her marriage. So, without a second thought, I fired right back: “And YOU are the best thing that ever happened to HER!”

How perfect that my friends will be sitting at Mass together on this final Sunday of Ordinary Time, listening to our First Reading from Proverbs. But, while the passage speaks in great detail about how a “worthy wife” brings joy to her husband, it tells us as well about the benefit of a good husband to his wife: He entrusts his heart to her. He entrusts his love to her. He entrusts his life to her.

And so, one might say: A good wife is the best thing that ever happens to her husband. And a good husband is the best thing that ever happens to his wife. What a perfect message for an anniversary celebration. But, that message can also be applied to yesterday’s celebration of the life of Blessed Solanus Casey.

God entrusts HIS Sacred Heart to us. God entrusts His unconditional love to us. God entrusts the Divine life to us. And a few special people, Fr. Solanus being one, respond like a “worthy” spouse, committing their entire life to the service of God.

A saint is a person in whom God places enormous value because they partner with God in furthering the Divine plan for the perfection of creation. Saints, like a loving spouse, use their God-given talents and abilities unselfishly, particularly mindful of those in greatest need. Saints do not keep locked within them the deposit of life and love which God entrusted to them. Rather, the holy men and women we identify as saints invest their very lives in others, so that God’s life and God’s love will flourish.

And, for their efforts, saints are honored here on earth as Blessed Solanus was yesterday. But infinitely more important…they are recognized and honored at the gates of the heavenly city. Saints are people who are wise enough to understand that Christ is the best thing that ever happened to us.

And the good news is…if we try our best to lead worthy lives…if we use what God has entrusted to us for good and not evil…if we work at being saintly…someday, we will hear God say: You’re the best thing that ever happened to me!

And so we end this liturgical year with this thought:

Christ IS the best thing that ever happened to us…and in turn…He asks that we be the best thing that ever happened to one another. AMEN!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 25:1-13
November 12, 2017

There is an international project named “BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT” that is making rapid advances in the development of wafer-sized space probes, which are a little thicker than a postage stamp. Known by scientists as starchips, or nanocrafts…(“nano” meaning tiny) these ultra-light vehicles are equipped with cameras and other equipment that will gather data from around the universe. The hope is that information will be transmitted back to Earth by the starchips that will enable humankind to discover potentially habitable planets.

Many scientists believe that there is a great urgency to the work of space exploration and travel because the “end times” for planet Earth are upon us. They foresee a mass “exodus” from our home planet to a “new world”, the next “promised land”… if human life is to continue. That is one thing that religion and science agree upon with certainty – Earth cannot last forever.

What does all of this have to do with our Sunday Readings?

“BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT” is a means to travel deeper into outer space. However, we might also use the concept as a vehicle to transport us deeper into Jesus’s teaching about the coming of the Kingdom. Granted, to older folks, words like “nanocrafts” and “starchips” seem like pure fantasy and figments of overactive imaginations. But the idea of space travel and planetary migration is part of the lived reality of our younger generation which has been raised in an age of hi-tech and high speed. They carry entire libraries in their pockets. The knowledge of the ages is contained in their cell phones, so it is no surprise to them that these mini-explorers will travel 1/5th the speed of light or 134 million miles per hour. That’s about 1000 times faster than any space vehicle to date.

The young don’t ask, “How can they do that?” Instead, they ask impatiently: “How soon can they get this done?”

These vehicles will be shot into space by laser beams that provide the wind that will be captured by tiny onboard sails that are only a few atoms thick. These flying postage stamps will “sail” on light that is beaming down to Earth. That light is the sea that will carry them to their destination, which will hopefully welcome humankind to our new home.

Encouraged by science and technology, and eager for a new beginning, our kids are looking deep into the universe for a “promised land.” And someday, they might just well arrive there. But, it is critical that they carry with them not just scientific knowledge, which itself is a gift from God, but WISDOM!

Our First Reading describes the beauty and importance of WISDOM. Without WISDOM, we run the risk of becoming spiritually nearsighted; we see only what is immediately in front of us. Science and technology become larger than they truly are. Without WISDOM, which reminds us that all human accomplishments are part of the Divine plan, we run the risk of depending entirely on ourselves and not God, Who is the Source of all knowledge…and hope.

There are lots and lots of things that are happening in our world that are sucking the hope for a happy future right out of our kids. Global warming, terrorism, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and dwindling natural resources. In order to make certain that they look beyond science to God as the Source of all hope, we need to talk their talk. We need to use images that are as much a part of their lived reality as “oil lamps” were to the people listening to Jesus speak. It is our duty to pass on more than knowledge. We have to pass on WISDOM as well. And WISDOM tells us that the ultimate destination of humankind is not another solar system, not another planet on the other side of the universe…but the Kingdom of God.

So, we might say to them that the Kingdom of God is like “BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT.” Tiny fragments of The Creator, so small that they are invisible to the most powerful of microscopes, have been placed by God into every human being called into life on Earth. But these flesh and blood bodies are like plant Earth. Our bodies are not intended to last forever. And when the earthly bodies die, the invisible part of us…that God has placed within each of us…is projected out of this reality toward a new world…a fresh beginning that will never end…a promised land of perfect and infinite peace.

The energy that these tiny God chips need to BREAK THROUGH is LOVE!

Love is like the oil that burned in the lamps that Jesus was talking about. LOVE is like that laser beam that will project starchips onto light beams that will carry them to new planets…new worlds. Love is the energy that will project the tiny piece of eternity within each of us onto the Light of Christ that will transport us to our final destination…not another planet or universe…but to another reality…the Kingdom of God.

In the opening line of our Second Reading, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: We do not want you to be unaware…about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope. We don’t want our kids to be unaware about the end times. We want them to look at life and death with the WISDOM that comes from God. We want them to face the threats and challenges of this world with Christian hope. So, we use their language and their images to encourage them to love God and others above all else because love is the energy that will carry them to eternal joy in the Kingdom of God. Love is the only way to BREAK THROUGH to the other side.

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 23:1-12
November 5, 2017

I was pleased to be invited to the family gathering marking the 60th wedding anniversary of former parishioners who have remained close friends long after I moved on to another assignment. But more than being happy to be included in the party, I was honored to be asked to preside at a Mass to begin the celebration.

Eucharist was the perfect way for this particular family to come together in honor of their patriarch and matriarch. All five of the adult children have raised their own families within a few miles of the homestead. Each is an active member of the parish in which their parents were married, where they were baptized, and brought their children for baptism. Many take an active role in parish life serving as lector, usher, catechist, and parish council members.

Years back, several of the grandsons were my altar servers, and for this special occasion, two now grown men with children of their own, once again, assisted me at the liturgy. It might well have been as much as 15 years ago that I personally encouraged one of the granddaughters, then a middle school student, to play a song in church during a special Thanksgiving Day mass. Eventually, she became one of the regular parish musicians. She played for the anniversary Mass, with her own daughter by her side, “helping.” Another granddaughter, prominent in the parish youth choir when I was pastor, led the singing.

The dinner that followed was a wonderful party, but for me anyway, the Mass was the highlight of the celebration. It was the perfect example of what the Church strives for whenever we do as Jesus commanded and gather around the Communion Table. There was FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation.

Frankly, I would not have expected anything less from this family…because that is what their matriarch and patriarch expected of them…and modeled for them…FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in our faith.

FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in The Body of Christ.

While the entire event was joy-filled, there was one moment that lingers in my mind and heart and will for a long, long time. After the final blessing, I followed the “servers” out of the church into the narthex. I turned around, looking back into the worship space, waiting to greet the folks as they made their way out of the pews.

As the Bible says: “the last shall be first.” So it was that one of the youngest granddaughters, seated in one of the last rows with her children (2 of the 19 great-grandchildren) was leading the entire family out. She held things up for a few minutes when she stopped at the Baptismal font to instruct her children on how to bless themselves. The four generations standing behind her were leaning past one another, or looking over folks’ shoulders to see what was the delay. As they watched this young mom repeat the lesson until her kids got it right (she is a classroom teacher after all) knowing smiles filled their faces. Her approach to catechizing her children was the perfect image of St. Paul’s opening line of this Week’s Second Reading: “We were gentle among you, as a …mother cares for her children.”

That moment explained exactly why Eucharist was the ONLY way…the PERFCT way…for this family to begin the celebration of their parent’s special wedding anniversary. It’s not just blood they share, but it is also the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that makes them “family.” That moment was also telling as to why our Church continues to give witness to the power of Eucharist to bring healing and peace to our wounded world. Mothers and fathers, grandparents and aunts and uncles have continued to PARTICIPATE in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith.

I would wager that Pope Francis would agree with me when I say that more important than Papal Encyclicals, rulings and directives of bishops, or even the best preached homilies by the holiest of pastors, the influence of family is critical to the faith life of a child. It follows as well that FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation in our faith by Catholic families is critical to the life of our parishes and our Church. Families are the instrument that The Holy Spirit uses to “lay it to heart,” a love of God and our Church. Families are the environment in which children learn to listen to what God is saying to them. Families are the first and primary catechists…and the patriarch and matriarch lead the way.

Certainly, the Readings for this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time should cause every preacher to reflect on whether they are living what they preach. But below the surface, there is a critical reminder of the importance of keeping Christ as the Center of family life.

My friends are not unique. There are many families like them. But we live in a day and age where there are forces…strong forces…growing stronger all the time…working to draw the next generations away from family and faith. As we bring this liturgical year to a close, it is important to remember that while we have One Father…One Teacher…our God uses helpers…and God’s most valued partners in the work of salvation are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…FAMILIES…who come together and worship with FULL, ACTIVE, and CONSCIOUS participation.

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 22:34-40
October 29, 2017

Our First Reading from the Book of Exodus is easily compared and contrasted with our Gospel. To start, both are about God’s Law.

However, Exodus is detailed and explicit. It even carries with it a penalty clause for disobedience. By contrast, Matthew’s report of yet another challenging encounter with religious leaders shows Jesus radically simplifying things. The Lord reduces the Commandments to two base requirements: Love God and love neighbor. The only real “detail” that The Lord inserts is that “the second is like the first.” In other words, the expectation is that we should see The Divine image in all of humanity and respond to every other human being as we should respond to our Creator, with respect and with love.

How much more simple can it get?

Think of it this way. For centuries, people in English-speaking countries enjoyed what is called a “participation dance.” Certainly, my generation learned it in early elementary school, when, on rainy days, the desks would be pushed to the walls and we would gather in a circle in the middle of the classroom. If memory serves, The Hokey Pokey was as much fun as touch football or dodgeball on the playground.

As we sang the song and went through the gestures, everyone (even Sister) was in a good mood. It raised our spirits on dreary days. There were no winners or losers, no competition or rivalry, and no injuries. It was something we did as individuals…together. I would imagine, for younger children, the silly little song and dance was actually a learning experience. It enhanced listening and memory skills. At the same time, the weather bound kids got some exercise in a way that everyone was on an equal playing field. There is no quarterback or pitcher in the Hokey Pokey. Everyone simply lays aside inhibitions and enters into the spirit of the dance. Somehow, the “participation dance” is more than fun, it is an experience of joy. Not surprising, years later, I found myself still doing the Hokey Pokey at wedding receptions.

So, too, with God’s simplified, two-pronged Law of Love. EVERYONE as INDIVIDUALS but TOGETHER push the demands of the material world to the sidelines. Joined together in a circle of faith, we “put our right arms in,” and as a community of faith, raise our hands in prayer and worship of our God. We “put our left arms in,” and, in charity, reach out to those in need. We “put our left legs in” to carry us in the direction God calls us. We “put our heads in” and discern how we can best use our God-given gifts and talents to help make the world a better place for everyone to live.

Vibrant Christian Communities have learned that the spiritual life is very much like a “participation dance.” There are no superstars; instead, everyone exercises what God has given them as individuals but together. Each man, woman, and child drops all inhibitions and enters into the dance that is a learning experience, that leads to a deeper understanding and relationship with God and with one another. There is a great spirit that comes about through the “participation dance”… The Holy Spirit…The Spirit of Love. And, when a community reaches that point of the dance where EVERYONE puts their “whole self in,” then The Lord’s Law of Love is perfected in this circle of believers. What a cause for joy!

If this image seems too simple or silly, remember the hymn we so often sing at Eucharist…The Lord of The Dance.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all,
wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all
in the Dance, said he.

So then, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?

Isn’t it: “Do the Hokey Pokey and turn your life around”?

After all…”That’s what it’s all about.”

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 22:15-21
October 22, 2017

In order to get a sense of what is going on in today’s Gospel, think about what’s going on in our country today.

For example, when it was announced that Andrew Jackson’s portrait would no longer appear on the face of the $20 bill and would be replaced with a picture of Harriet Tubman, the news was celebrated as a social victory by some Americans. Others were infuriated, declaring that they would not use the bill once minted. People’s reactions were motivated by a number of varied beliefs and opinions which fueled emotions. The point is that the image on the $20 bill became one of the battles in the multi-front cultural war that is raging in and dividing our nation today.

The sociopolitical climate of Judea during Jesus’s time was very similar. There were many factions within the Jewish people as they were struggling to maintain a national identity while occupied by Rome, which had forcibly incorporated the Promised Land and the Holy City of Jerusalem into the Empire. In today’s Gospel, it’s almost surprising that two factions that would be expected to be on opposite sides of an issue appear to have joined together in a conspiracy against Jesus. This is telling of how Jesus was in the eye of the cultural and political storm.

Apparently, neither the religious Pharisees nor the royal Herodians had the nerve to do the job themselves. They primed in advance underlings who, today, we would call “pundits,” sent to engage The Lord in a discussion when they were not truly interested in discovering what was right and true and good. What they were looking for was hard evidence to use against Jesus. Taxation being a hot button issue, they chose to put Him on the spot, asking whether a faithful Jew should give financial support to Rome.

It’s key to an understanding of this passage, however, to know that more offensive to religious Jews than the obligation to pay taxes was the only acceptable means of doing so. The tax bill could only be paid with Roman coinage. An image of Caesar, who was considered a god by the Romans, was on one side of the coin, and the image of another pagan god was on the flipside. For a religious Jew, there were not two sides to the same coin. Both sides contained a pagan image which was contrary to the Hebraic Law. So then, just as some Americans would prefer to forego including $20 bills in their folding money if the currency had a picture of Harriet Tubman, Jewish people felt that it would be sinful for them to touch these pagan images…which they would have to do in order to pay the tax. This was not just a matter of politics; this was about blasphemy.

So, the well-trained pundits felt that they had Jesus painted into a corner with their question about taxes. If He were to suggest that it was unlawful to pay taxes with the offensive coinage, He would be in trouble with Rome. Had He suggested that taxes are an obligation citizens cannot avoid, He would have been encouraging people to break religious law by using the pagan coin, leaving Him open to charges of blasphemy.

Ironically, the hard evidence of blasphemy was in the pockets of the people looking to accuse Jesus. The Lord asked THEM to produce the coin…and THEY DID. The accusers were guilty of the very offense they were trying to accuse Jesus of.

Of course, we know something they were ignorant about. These “pundits” and the people who sent them were so blinded by the cultural storm that was raging in their country that they did not recognize The Messiah. A far more grievous offense against God than possession of the forbidden, two-faced coin was the two faces with which they stood before the Son of God. Of course, Jesus saw right through the false sincerity with which they asked the trick question.

The most obvious lesson to be learned from this encounter is the reality that people of faith need to live in this world and deal with things such as taxes, civil laws and authorities, politics, and cultural conflicts. God understands this.

But at the same time, Christians are called to strive to live ABOVE the material world. Even as we deal with the issues of our day and age, our focus should always be to the future when the Kingdom of God has arrived in its fullness.

That is the point of the second part of Jesus’s masterful response to the trick question. And so, we turn to our Second Reading where St. Paul tells us just what it is that is due and owing to God…work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So how does a good Christian enter into the multi-front cultural war that is raging in our nation today? We must stay faithful to God’s will and God’s way set forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our motivation for all we say and do must be love…not victory…but love. And, no matter how desperate things become, we should never lose hope that, at the appointed time, Jesus will return in all of His glory…and the cultural wars of the ages will come to an end…and ALL WILL BE ALL!

In other words, far more important than the image on our coins is the face we show to the world. When people see faith, hope, and love on our faces…they see Christ…and only in Christ will there be peace!

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