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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19 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 14:22-23
August 9, 2020

There is an old adage that has been reframed in many different ways. No one seems to know who was the first to put the obvious into words. It has definitely “resurfaced,” so to speak, over the past few months, appearing on every form of social media. And it seems to be a very appropriate portal through which to enter this Sunday’s Gospel.

An entire sea of water cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside a ship!

We know exactly what was going on with the other passengers in the boat. They were already unnerved by the heavy weather. The most experienced of sailors becomes a little less relaxed and a little more alert when wind and waves start to “toss the boat about.” At a minimum, the challenges of nature caused them to be more watchful…more attentive to their surroundings. And what they observed was the supernatural…Jesus walking on water. Already in a state of agitation, their eyes as well as their faith failed them. They did not recognize the Lord and they were terrified.

We know what got into the others…FEAR…but with The Lord’s calming words…

IT IS I…

they appear to have overcome their fears.

Not so with Peter, however. He literally sank. So, the question of the day seems to be: Just exactly what got into Peter?

Throughout the New Testament, Peter’s eagerness to react to a situation before thinking it through proved to be problematic. With all due respect, he seemed to be a bit of a “show off.” Although it is not clear just exactly what motivated him… pride, arrogance, excess self-confidence, the need to prove himself…or possibly just the eagerness to please Jesus, Peter’s spontaneity frequently proved his undoing. This is not the only time his impulsivity left him with that “sinking feeling.”

So just what was it that got into Peter that night that caused him to sink?

Doubt!

Although a simple fisherman from Galilee, Peter was certainly a complicated character. And he was someone that everyone can identify with. We all struggle with a mixture of feelings and emotions. Our success or failure in facing the challenges which life brings is often determined by our motivation. What causes us to act, or react, in a certain way often determines whether we sink or swim.

All three Readings work together to teach us how to stay calm and afloat, even in the wildest of storms. On this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, during a year that has proven to be anything but “ordinary,” the obvious has been put into Words…The Words of The Lord. The message is clear and uncomplicated. God is always with us.

During those times when we feel most vulnerable, it is especially important to recognize God’s presence. The most deafening of storms will not drown out the Lord’s gentle whisper:

IT IS I…DO NOT BE AFRAID!

So, in light of today’s Readings, it might be good for us to once again reframe that old adage.

An entire sea of water cannot sink a ship…but doubt can!

In the coming week, keep your eyes on Christ…and keep walking towards the calm waters that await those who hear and respond to Jesus’s simple invitation…

COME!

18 Sunday In Ordinary Time
MT 14:13-21
August 2, 2020

Our First Reading this week is taken from Isaiah 55. Often referred to as “The Prince of Prophets,” God spoke to Israel through him during a very critical and stressful period of that nation’s history. His message is arguably as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. The Catholic Bishops offer an introduction of Isaiah’s ministry with the following:

For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded into insignificance. He constantly called his people back to a reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues. This vision also led him to insist on the ethical behavior that was required of human beings who wished to live in the presence of such a holy God.

Isaiah was overwhelmed by the reality of God’s holiness. Moreover, he was acutely aware of the human condition such as it is…flawed and frail…leaving us unworthy to be in the presence of The Almighty. The dramatic events leading up to God sending Isaiah out to prophesy offer a powerful declaration of his sense of unworthiness, as well as his willingness to serve. Isaiah responds to God’s invitation to be a messenger with the following:

“Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

“Here I am,” I said, “send me!”(Isaiah 6:5)

The Eucharist…The Body and Blood of Christ…when received by the faithful with sincerity of heart…is not unlike a burning ember. When the host touches our lips, wickedness is removed and sin purged. Then, we are sent forth to share what has been given to us…THE GOOD NEWS!

And the message entrusted to us…THE GOSPEL…echoes the words God placed on the purified lips of Isaiah.

God’s majesty is so overwhelming that military and political power fade into insignificance. During stress-filled and frightening times, we need to rely on God’s promises and abandon our vain attempts to find security in our own plans and intrigues. We are called to lives reflecting ethical behavior if we aspire to live in the presence of our holy God.

Today, the world is as hungry for GOOD NEWS as was the starving crowd reclining on the grassy hillside in Galilee so long ago. Jesus’s instructions to His disciples back then hold true for Christians today. There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.

Purified by the Eucharist, it is our mission to nourish those hungering for truth, and the truth is simply this: >God’s majesty is so overwhelming that military and political power fade into insignificance. During stress-filled and frightening times, we need to rely on God’s promises and abandon our vain attempts to find security in our own plans and intrigues. We are called to lives reflecting ethical behavior if we aspire to live in the presence of our holy God.

17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:44-52 OR 13:44-46
July 26, 2020

A race has begun, quite possibly the most important competition in human history.

The competitors in this momentous event are medical researchers, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies competing to discover an effective vaccine that will prevent people from contracting COVID-19. Quite honestly, I have been praying daily for a winner…any winner. I am so eager to have this race end that I don’t care who gets the prize. A victory in this historic race will be a victory for all humankind…AT LEAST IT SHOULD BE…and the sooner, the better. Because with every day that passes, more lives are lost, so I am praying hard for someone…anyone…to cross the finish line.

But as eager as I am…as the entire world is…for a vaccine that will allow us to resume life as we knew it pre-Covid, imagine how the participants feel. They are frantic! Motivated by trillions of dollars in potential profit, the corporate competitors have most likely suspended, or at least assigned a lower priority to other research projects, concentrating all resources on THE BIG PRIZE.

Corporations probably regard Covid-19 as much an opportunity as a monumental tragedy. With money the major motivator to corporate interests, we can only hope and pray that they will be socially responsible if and when they cross the finish line. There are quite likely researchers out there who have put their entire lives on hold, working feverishly to be “the first.” Visions of the Nobel Peace Prize and a place in history as the renowned scientist who saved the world inspire them. No cost is too great to be “the one.”

But without a doubt, there are dedicated and selfless women and men whose only desire is to find a way to end the fear and the suffering. These competitors ignore their personal sacrifices. They are willing to pay the price to rid the world of this devastating disease, no matter what it might cost them personally. Even if they don’t intend to, these competitors reflect The Face of Christ.

Reread this week’s three little parables from this perspective:

Humankind is the “hidden treasure.” All the wisdom and goodness and joy with which God created us has been buried deep, under centuries of sin. And we kept piling more and more greed, envy, and hatred on top of what was intended to shine until it seemed all that wisdom and goodness could no longer to be retrieved.

Then Jesus freely limited His Divinity and embraced our stricken humanity so that He could raise us up, clean us off, and restore us to what our Creator intended us to be. Looking into our hearts with eyes of perfect mercy and compassion, The Lord sees the priceless pearl that is hidden within our flesh and bones. By His suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has purchased us. The Lord did not count the cost, but eagerly paid it so that we might belong to Him.

And finally, as we cross the finish line of our earthly lives, leaving time to enter eternity, our all-just and all-merciful judge will be there to examine us, discarding all that has no value and embracing all the good we have done.
The Kingdom of God?

Isn’t it really all about what motivates us to do the things we do? When we act out of greed or ambition or pride…well, we are less than what God created us to be. But when we sacrifice ourselves, without counting the cost, for the good of others, then we are the image of Christ.

And when we show The Face of Christ to the world, we are not far from The Kingdom.

16 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-43 OR 13:24-30
July 19, 2020

The panic shopping that marked the early days of the pandemic cleared out the “baked goods” aisle. Once there was not so much as a hot dog bun left on the shelves, people started to hoard bags of flour and packages of yeast. In many homes, Grandma’s bread recipe was the family cookbook. The incredible smell of fresh baked bread was once again experienced in American homes. Even now that our food supply is somewhat normalized, yeast is still hard to find. Having tasted fresh baked bread, families are no longer satisfied with “store bought.”

As a consequence, the last of the three short parables set out in today’s Gospel might be a bit more approachable than usual, at least by those who have recently experienced the satisfaction of baking bread “from scratch.” Clearly, the process requires some effort, a bit of skill, as well as a good deal of patience. But the rewards shared with and enjoyed by the entire family continue until the last slice is eaten.

Although the three little stories don’t reveal what heaven is actually like, through them, Jesus offers instructions on how to get there. So, home bakers have somewhat of an advantage as they reflect on “the process” of calling tiny granules of yeast back to life, and then mixing them with flour until the whole batch is leavened. The transformation of a few ordinary ingredients is a “wonder to behold.” Every successful loaf deserves the name “Wonder Bread.”

These challenging times have offered an opportunity to recover many memories and to relearn many forgotten skills…bread baking being only one of them…the most important being CONVERSION!

Much like baking bread, CONVERSION is a process that requires effort as well as patience, but really, not all that much skill. Our First Reading describes the limitless power, unconditional love, and unfailing mercy of our God. All of these “Divine ingredients” are packaged…in GRACE.

GRACE is never in short supply and is freely given. When we make the slightest effort to mix grace into the years of our lives, the process of CONVERSION begins. Once the “Divine ingredients” leavens our lives, The Holy Spirit comes to our assistance to provide what might very well be lacking in our skill set. In our Second Reading, St. Paul makes it quite clear that The Spirit stands by, eager to perfect the process, delivering a perfect CONVERSION…truly a “wonder to behold.”

Still, as every good home baker knows, it’s not so simple as mixing and forgetting. There are things to be done to ensure that nothing interferes with the process. The same holds true with CONVERSION. We can’t simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do all the work. We have to be vigilant that nothing interferes with the process that has begun when we introduce the “Divine ingredients”…GRACE…into our lives.

There is no denying the fact that we live in very challenging times…actually very frightening times. Our Readings work together to bolster our hope that we will survive. They also offer helpful advice on how we can not only survive, but grow and flourish. These times call us to recover the memories of all the ways in which our good, loving, and forgiving God is active in our lives. The challenges we face inspire us to re-learn a process that many have forgotten…CONVERSION.

Finally, our Scripture passages invite us to dispel the feelings of tension and stress that have become way too pervasive with the aroma of holiness that fills the hearts of those who have mixed GRACE into their lives.

And know this: Once you have experienced life in Christ…nothing else will measure up…nothing else will satisfy you.

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