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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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

Last Wednesday, August 15, we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary. A “dogma” of our faith, we Catholics believe that at the end of the course of her earthly life, Mary was taken up into heaven body and soul.

The Gospel proclaimed at Mass that day was Luke 1:39-56; the inspiration for the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, “The Visitation.” The passage describes the reunion of Mary and Elizabeth, two women indispensable to God’s plan for salvation, and concludes with a powerful profession of faith made by The Blessed Mother. Her beautiful words, memorialized as the prayer many of us conclude our day with: The Magnificat, declares her complete surrender to God’s plan for her. Her unequivocal trust in God’s mercy and love enabled her to accept the invitation delivered by the Angel of The Lord without resistance. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit, becoming the living Ark of the Covenant…a flesh and blood Tabernacle…The Mother of God.

In the face of today’s Gospel, it is important to take a look back to the lesson which last week’s Feast Day offers. As we continue to make our way through John 6 (The Bread of Life Discourse), we need the example of wisdom, faith, and unshakable trust which we see throughout the life of The Blessed Virgin, as a counter-balance to the reaction of “the crowds” to Jesus’s declaration: I am The Living Bread that came down from heaven.

Remember, this is the very same crowd that hunted Jesus…pursued Him…hanging on His every word…eager for His healing touch. This was the same crowd of people who stood and listened to Him teach and preach to the point that they were exhausted and famished. This is the same crowd that Jesus invited to get comfortable and “recline in the tall grass,” and then, miraculously, multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread so that they could all eat their fill. And eat they certainly did. They ate until they were satisfied…and then they became dissatisfied.

The mood shifted rapidly from contentment to hesitation. (Wow! Hold on a second…what did He just say?) Then they began to grumble, murmur, and argue amongst themselves. The resistance to The Lord’s message of hope intensified. Eventually, they began to walk away.

Why?

For the very same reasons that people are backing away from The Good News today. Christian discipleship involves the kind of total commitment to God’s will and God’s way that we see in the life of Mary. How many folks do you know who are willing to make that kind of commitment? Are you?

Think of it this way: Disciples don’t just eat the food and then walk away. We can’t remain lounging around in the comfort of the tall grass. Once we are fed, we are sent out to continue to proclaim…as Mary did…our complete surrender to God’s plan for us. And God does have something important for each and every one of us to accomplish in the coming week. At the end of the course of your earthly life, will you be able to tell the Just Judge “There might have been times when I murmured and grumbled…but I never walked away”!

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:41-51
August 12, 2018

The table is turned…the dinner table, that is.

Among my earliest memories are the agonizing hours (at least it seemed like hours) spent sitting in front of a plate piled high (at least it seemed piled high) with things I hated! My mother had an entire litany of reasons why I couldn’t leave my chair until my plate was clean. You need it to grow! It’s full of vitamin C! It’s good for your bones! It cost a lot of money! Like all mothers, she was concerned that I be properly nourished. And in response, I “murmured.”

Now, I make a point of visiting “assisted living” at mealtime, concerned that she is being properly nourished. Failure to thrive in elderly persons (also referred to as faltering weight) is defined by The Institute of Medicine as weight loss of more than 5%, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity, often associated with dehydration, depression, immune dysfunction, and low cholesterol. At 93, she is vulnerable and I am concerned. So, I sit there and coax her to “take one more bite of chicken…at least try the broccoli…don’t you want the pudding…it looks really good!” And in response, she “murmurs.”

Our First Reading this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time tells the story of God providing nourishment to Elijah the Prophet so that he could withstand the 40-day journey to the mountain of God. But God did more than simply place the food within easy reach. Concerned that Elijah would fail to thrive…falter…be too weak to reach his destination, God sent an angel to encourage him. Get up and eat! I wonder if Elijah murmured, “I’m too tired!

While it is true that Our Heavenly Father, the perfect Good Parent, is concerned about our physical well-being, of infinitely greater concern is that we be properly spiritually nourished and that we flourish…thrive…be all that we were created to be. Continuing our reflection on the Bread of Life Discourse, we see God’s concern for our spiritual growth and development. In order that we not falter, like the first parents, and satisfy our hunger with poison fruit, God sent Jesus to be The Bread of Life and The Cup of our Salvation.

We are invited to The Table of The Word and The Communion Table, where we find waiting for us, in abundance, what we need to grow strong. And it takes enormous strength to make the journey through time and into eternity. The banquet set out for us at each Eucharist is what we need, not only to satisfy our hungry hearts, but to keep our spirits healthy. Eucharist is both food and medicine and while a total gift…free to us for the taking…the cost was the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

So, let’s encourage one another…especially those who mutter…those “too tired” to be here…GET UP AND EAT!

Be nourished! Thrive! Grow! Be healed and refreshed as you continue your journey towards the heavenly banquet!

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:24-35
August 5, 2018

It’s often said that Evangelical Christians use the Bible as a “rule book,” while Catholic Christians look to the Bible as a prayer book (about 30% of the Mass is Scripture proclaimed.) The Jewish people, on the other hand, see The Old Testament of the Bible, The Book of Exodus in particular, as “the history of their nation.” There is truth to all three approaches.

As we continue to explore “The Bread of Life Discourse,” reported at John 6, in search of a deeper meaning of and appreciation for The Eucharist, our First Reading on this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time is from the Book of Exodus. All people of the Bible should be able to appreciate the “Exodus Story” as history. If it is true that “history repeats itself,” then the story of this mass migration of an entire nation deserves special attention in these first decades of the 21st century.

The world is experiencing the greatest population shift since World War ll. The United Nations estimates that 65.3 billion people have been uprooted from their homes because of war, terror, violence, and natural disaster. This historic movement of people brings with it traumatic change to both the migrating peoples as well as to the host nations. And with change very often comes grumbling, the kind of grumbling that we hear about in our Old Testament Reading. Liberated from severe oppression and forced labor in Egypt, the freed slaves began to “grumble” at the first sign of adversity.

Suddenly, their lives under the harsh taskmasters in Egypt seemed the better alternative to the uncertainty of their future as they wandered in the desert looking for the Promised Land. Their grumbling, it would seem, was the symptom of an underlying condition more threatening to their spiritual lives than either slavery or vulnerability in the desert was to their physical well-being. They had lost confidence in their leaders as well as their trust in God.

It’s hard to conceive how this formerly enslaved and oppressed nation, both witnesses to and beneficiaries of the infinite power of our liberating God, could so quickly look back to Egypt with longing. But, when you give it some thought, isn’t this the all too common reaction to change…once change appears to offer some challenge, danger, or threat…real or imagined…don’t we want to “go back to where we came from?” When change starts to “stretch us,” don’t we grumble?

We see this happening today with those fleeing from the likes of brutal dictators, civil war, religious extremists, drought, and famine. As they search for a “promised land,” they often grumble (sometimes with good reason) at the circumstances they find in the very place they are seeking refuge.

Moreover, the nations of refuge often raise a voice of protest, grumbling at the invasion of refugees and the enormous changes that involves. We are being “stretched” and there is a whole lot of grumbling!

History is likely to identify these later years of the second decade of this century as a time of rising nationalism, tribalism, isolationism, and protectionism. These are the exact paranoid and self-serving feelings that brought disaster to Egypt. Certainly, the Exodus story describes practices and policies the “host nation” implemented to control the resident aliens. The change from welcoming host to cruel taskmaster ultimately brought plague, disaster, and ruin to Egypt. For their part, the desire for immediate gratification and the satisfaction of their material needs brought renewed misery to the recently liberated Israel. These trends should be alarming to Christians because they can be contrary to God’s will and God’s ways.

Jesus came into the world to redirect our focus towards God and away from ourselves and our selfish needs and desires as the entire human race migrates. We are all citizens of a pilgrim nation in search of the Promised Land…The Kingdom of God.

Jesus has left us with the Eucharist as a “rule book” that teaches us to make the journey in peace and harmony, caring for one another, especially those in greatest need.

Jesus has given us the Eucharist so that, rather than grumble, we can pray as we move closer to The Promised Land.

And, just as God fed a migrating nation fleeing slavery and searching for home, Jesus feeds us with Eucharist, to nourish us while we are on the move.

We cannot deny that Eucharist calls for change…change that stretches us in the most profound way. But, if we grumble…think about just Who it is we are grumbling against!

17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:1-15
July 29, 2018

The woman reporting the international news gave the warning that often issues these days when we are trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we can protect our children. The more “sensitive” folks take note, however, when they hear: “Warning: We are about to air images you may find disturbing.”

I usually don’t count myself among the “sensitive,” but she was absolutely right. The images were beyond “disturbing.” They were heartbreaking. As was the narrative, delivered with grim voice by the reporter on the scene as the horrific video of an infant, barely recognizable as being human, was recorded. The reporter described the circumstances leading up to the ultimate starvation death of the infant in one of the many war-torn, impoverished third world countries…I can’t even recall which…there are so many places where this could have occurred.

I was struck by the irony of warning children against watching something inappropriate on television when they “see it all” on their iPads or smart phones, even as other children are literally starving to death. I wondered how many people found the horrific image of a starving infant too much for their “sensitivities” and reached for the remote, dismissing the tragedy from their minds as quickly and easily as changing channels. I personally watched the entire report. It was hard. And the memory lingers and I’ve replayed the image in my mind over and over again. It’s a difficult picture to shake off. But, in my mind, the grim voice of the reporter is now replaced by the challenging voice of The Lord: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Now I need to switch channels. I had another experience I want to share.

Late one evening last week, just before I turned out the lights, I received the following urgent text from a friend of mine who is the pastoral administrator of a parish. I know it’s rather late (it was VERY late) and I am not sure you are even up. (Technically I wasn’t) I have been trying to get cover for tomorrow’s Mass since early evening when I found out I needed a priest for tomorrow (weekday morning Mass)… just got the latest response from someone who is also not available. I should just figure 3 strikes and you’re out, but I am trying one last time (In other words, I was 4th fiddle!)

When I replied that I would be there, she sent a brief “sigh of relief” with the words “THANK YOU” in capital letters. I arrived the next morning, and she was waiting for me in the sacristy, and again expressed her gratitude. (I didn’t say anything about being 4th fiddle!) In truth, I am always thrilled to preside at Eucharist. The Church teaches, and I firmly believe, that Eucharist is the “source and summit of our Faith.” We are at our very best when we come together around the Table of the Word and The Communion Table. We are doing as Jesus commanded. All of this is absolutely true. Still, my friend is a solid theologian, a gifted teacher, and a very fine preacher. So I asked: Why did you get so upset? You could have done a Word Service. To which she replied: It was in the bulletin that we were having Mass and that is what the people expected.

Again, I get it! As a lay adult, I was a daily Communicant. As a pastor, I made a point of providing morning Mass each weekday. But, at least right now, the numbers of priests have declined and it isn’t always possible. HOWEVER, THE FAITHFUL WILL NOT STARVE. Jesus also assured us that: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. And, when two or more gather at the Table of the Word in a Church…or at the kitchen table of their home… there is nourishment to be had…especially when there is a gifted teacher or fine preacher there to “break open the Word” and pass it to hungry hearts.

So, while I fully understand the urgency my friend felt, once again, I heard Jesus’s voice saying: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Hit the remote again…and go back to the first…tragic story.

This Sunday, and for each Sunday in August, we step out of the Gospel of Mark and hear passages from John, often referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” At this point in the Liturgical year, we are called to reflect in a special way on the gift of the Eucharist. Our work begins with the great feeding miracle reported in each of the four Gospels with varying detail. While John does not include the direction: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT, nevertheless, all four descriptions of this miraculous event explain that the disciples were the instruments of distribution. Jesus did not personally hand a loaf or a fish to the starving people. The disciples did the work.

So, as I “rewind” the two experiences of this past week in the light of our Gospel, I wonder if we are being reminded that Eucharist is more than Communion. True, that when we Break the Living Bread and pass the Cup of our Salvation, we are doing as Jesus commanded, but, from the Table of the Word, we also hear The Lord command His disciples: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT! These are not contradictory instructions.

Maybe it boils down to this: If we do more than celebrate Eucharist…if we do our best to LIVE IT…then just possibly, no infant would starve to death…and none of the faithful would go hungry even if it happened that there was no Mass one morning.

16 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 6:30-34
July 22, 2018

Ekapol Chanthawong isn’t a name that rolls easily off our western tongues. Fortunately, his friends just call him “Ek.” But, whether or not you even know or are able to pronounce his name doesn’t detract a bit from his global fame. I would venture to guess that he is one of the best known persons in the world today.

Ek is the 23-year-old assistant soccer coach who led 12 boys on an outing in their native Thailand. As you must have heard, because it was breaking news for days, the outing ended in the team being trapped in a cave. At first totally lost, finally discovered but trapped by rising waters, and further threatened by tropical storms, there was literally an international effort to rescue the boys and their coach.

When the whereabouts of the kids was finally established, people were surprised and even angered that Ek would have led these young boys, whose lives were entrusted to his care, into such a dangerous situation. The hostility towards him intensified when it was learned that there was a sign posted at the mouth of the cave, warning explorers against the potential dangers. The opening line from our First Reading from Jeremiah the Prophet comes to mind: Woe to the shepherds who mislead the flock…you have not cared for them…but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.

We do not know as of yet why this happened in the first place. We do know that after many days of imprisonment in a cave gradually filling with water, at first in total darkness, the boys were finally liberated and have even been discharged from the hospital. We also know how Ek cared for his lambs once they were lost. He gathered them in prayer. That’s how they spent their first night in the dark cave…praying!

Ek, having once pursued the training to become a Buddhist monk, taught the boys to meditate. In that way, he was able to bring a sense of peace, calm, acceptance, and patience to his flock, so that they could endure the hardship with hope. He gave up his own share of the food they had taken into the cave so that the boys could have just a little more nourishment, while he went hungry. The youngest on the team told his parents that when he was cold, Ek wrapped him in an embrace. As a consequence of his self-sacrifice, when rescuers finally made contact, they found Ek to be the weakest of the 14. He insisted on being the last to be freed from the cave, and later, the last to regain sufficient strength to be discharged from the hospital.

It occurs to me that when he realized that they were lost, trapped, in grave danger, and he reached out in the darkness to gather those kids around himself, Ek must have been feeling the very same emotions that Jesus felt when He looked out on the crowd. In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus’s heart was moved with pity for them…and He began to teach them many things.

Since the first parents were led into a dark cave by the evil one, all humankind has been trapped…entombed, so to speak, in a sinful world; brutality, violence, and division rising faster than flood waters. But we are not alone. Jesus is with us. The Lord is here with us, in the midst of all that threatens us, teaching us how to survive while we wait to be liberated.

He has taught us to reflect and meditate on God’s Eternal Word, so that, as we wait to be freed from the prison of time and enter into Eternal Light, we can find a sense of peace, calm, acceptance, and patience. Jesus has given us the Gospel…the Good News…the perfect guide to survival, so that we can endure any hardship with hope. He has taught us how to pray…urging us to call God…Our Father…confident that He will continue to search for all who are lost and will raise up the righteous.

The Lord feeds us. Through the Eucharist, He doesn’t simply give us His share…He IS our food…He IS what nourishes us in a way that our survival is made certain. And when the desperation of our situation overwhelms us, He wraps us in the Holy Spirit.

The entire time I followed the unfolding events in Thailand, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the plight of those lost lambs…and our human condition. Just as through enormous human effort those kids were called out of darkness into light…through all powerful Divine effort, the righteous will be saved.

In the meantime, we are comforted, protected, encouraged, and fed by The Good Shepherd.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
MK 6:7-13
July 15, 2018

Jesus began to send them out two by two.

I have no idea whether or not they ever met face to face. However, in the last century, there were two Jesuit theologians who accepted the Lord’s invitation to go out into the world and face off against darkness and evil. Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984) and Walter J. Burghardt, SJ (1914-2008) may not have worked side by side, but they were contemporaries who were “shoulder to shoulder” in the work of discipleship.

Like Amos the prophet, they both heard and heeded God’s call to Go prophesy to my people. Through their respective preaching, writings, and prayers, they both made God’s will and God’s ways known to the world, addressing 20th century issues in 20th century language. And like God’s message delivered through Amos the prophet thousands of years ago, their writings are not “dated material.” In fact, their messages might be more relevant…more critical today than when the Holy Spirit first placed extraordinary wisdom on their minds and in their hearts…and moved it to their tongues and to their typewriters. (They both did their most brilliant work before PCs).

PREACHING
In a talk he was giving sometime prior to 1965, Rahner is quoted as saying: From a historical point of view, our age, the twentieth century, is more difficult to live in than ages past. But this is our age; it is an age of momentous change, and also a time for new orientation for Christian living.

Over 50 years have passed since Rahner made those remarks, and during that time, humanity has experienced a virtual tsunami of change…in every aspect of our lives. The word “momentous” is totally inadequate to capture the breadth and width of change in science, technology, medicine, transportation, politics, and social structures we have experienced and endured. There has even been great change in our Catholic Church.

But, in spite of all of that change, God’s eternal plan for us described so beautifully in our Second Reading has remained completely unchanged…in every detail. However, God’s plan remains under attack from dark and evil forces. And so, we are called to develop a “new orientation” for Christian living that will be effective in “driving out the many demons” that are rattling around in the world. This is our age! This is our opportunity to go out “two by two”…in other words…in the company of other disciples, to square off against every form of darkness and evil and to help heal a wounded world.

WRITING
In a book called Speak the Word with Boldness, published back in 1993, his intended audience being preachers of the Gospel, Fr. Burghardt wrote: Must we be silent while power structures rape the earth that sustains us, destroy legally 1.6 million developing humans each year, keep every fifth child in abject poverty, hold 37 million Americans without healthcare, balance the scales of Lady Justice in favor of the moneyed, yes, even gas or hang criminals for vengeance’ sake? Shall we be silent when rugged individualism threatens not only our country but our church?

The numbers might well have changed since 1993, becoming increasingly dire, but the issues remain the same. And so, we are called to develop a “new orientation” for Christian living that will be effective in “driving out the many demons” that are rattling around in the world now…today…in 2108. This is our age! This is our opportunity to go out “two by two,” in other words, in the company of other disciples, and work to make God’s plan for all humankind a reality.

PRAYER
And so we pray today…on this 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time…2018…an age more difficult, more challenging for followers of Jesus Christ to live in than other times in Salvation history…for a new orientation to the ways in which we hear and live out the Gospel.

Dear Lord, grace us to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly. Force us freely to feel your presence—in our gathering together, in the Word proclaimed, in the bread transformed into your body, in the Host within our hearts. Then send us forth to proclaim news that is excitingly good, to cast out of ourselves and our people the idols we have erected in your stead, to witness to your risen reality because we have experienced you…alive!
(Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, Speak the Word with Boldness, 1993)

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