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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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:9-14
October 23, 2016

One of the lingering images from this past summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is not about a victory, but what some might consider to be a tragic defeat. During a qualifying heat for the women’s 5,000 meters, a little more than mid- way through the race, an American runner bumped into a competitor from New Zealand. Both fell hard. The New Zealander appeared to be overcome with emotion and in great pain. She laid on the track, aware that in a split second her Olympic dreams were ruined. Then, as people all around the world watched, she was roused by a hand on her shoulder. It was the American woman, who leaned down and shouted over the roar of the crowd: Get up! We have to finish this! The fallen runner latter reported thinking: “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this.”

Then, forgoing an opportunity to immediately rebound from the fall and make an effort to “catch up” with the other runners, the American bent down and helped the other woman to her feet. The two then supported one another; until they were able to resume the race.

As it turned out, the American had in fact suffered the more serious injury. But she persevered; continuing on the course in spite of excruciating pain; supported by words of encouragement from the woman who only seconds before, she had encouraged to stand up and get back in the race.

Eventually the New Zealander sprinted ahead; but the American did not give up. When she finally hobbled to the finish line, the other woman was there to greet her. Remarkably, both finished the race. They not only competed well…they were excellent competitors teaching the whole world a lesson about compassion, commitment, persistence, gratitude, humility and yes…even love! They finished the race because of one another. And while neither received a gold medal, both wore the “crown of righteousness” out of the stadium.

Our Second Reading this Sunday is frequently proclaimed at funeral Masses. Here, we find St. Paul, quite likely familiar with the sporting events so popular in the Greeco-Roman world, coming to the end of his earthly life. His imagery transports us back to the Colosseum, where cheering crowds urged runners on to the finish line.

St. Paul is using the image of Olympic games to give us a sense of what it means to be a disciple. Like all Sacred Scripture, his words are dramatic and powerful. In fact, over the past several weeks, each of our Sunday Readings have laid out for us a dramatic and powerful description of what is expected of a follower of Jesus Christ.

The training for discipleship is rigorous. Moreover, the race isn’t measured in meters or mile, but in lifetimes. Catastrophic falls and collisions are to be expected. To finish the race, one must be totally committed and persistent… “keeping the faith” in the face of every adversity. To compete well, a disciple must be forgiving of those who crash into us, and knock us down. Likewise, on those occasions when we are the cause of the fall, we must be repentant. Disciples are not oblivious of the needs and safety and welfare of others. Rather, and even if it means interrupting our own plans, disciples stop and care for one another; especially when a sister or brother needs to be raised up. In other words, to cross the finish line to the cheering of the angels and saints, and to be awarded the crown of righteousness, a follower of Jesus Christ is loving. Certainly this is what we have learned from our Readings over the past several weeks. And, during the summer games in Rio, we saw these words in action.

There is something additional about discipleship that is made very clear in this Sunday’s Gospel. True followers of Jesus Christ, NEVER award themselves the gold medal. Quite the contrary. Disciples acknowledge their faults and failures and trust in the mercy of the Just Judge to raise them up and heal them.

And when we see someone fall into sin…we do not judge them, rather we are called to put a hand on their shoulder, speak words of encouragement and help to raise them up…supporting them as they resume the race towards the finish line…no matter how badly they might be hobbling.

As for ourselves…when we fall into sin…because of our own poor choices or because some bad influence has crashed into us and knocked us down…be assured that the Holy Spirit is there to whisper words of encouragement to us…until we say…. I have to finish this! This is Salvation. I have to cross the finish line.”

Now be still for a moment…and you might just hear off in the distance…the roar of the angels and saints…encouraging all who are competing for Christ!

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:1-8
October 16, 2016

A small, rural parish decided to undertake a much needed restoration of their historic church. So, in addition to his pastoral duties, the priest, together with parish leaders began a series of meetings interviewing and retaining architects, engineers, contractors, designers and decorators. It was time consuming and exhausting. What demanded the lion’s share of his time, attention, and concern however, was the finances. Budget meetings, fund raising plans and campaigns seemed to be never ending. As one group dreamed about how beautiful their church would be, another group struggled with the need to pay for the project.

Eventually someone approached the pastor, explaining that part of their work responsibilities included completing and filing grant applications. Apparently there is an art to asking big corporations and charitable organizations for money. There is even a “giving season” that means tracking and meeting deadlines for the filing of the lengthy paper work. Each application requires a detailed description of how any gift of money will be used. The pastor, fully aware that he had no time left to tackle this effort, not to mention his lack of experience in the area; was very appreciative that someone else was willing to take on this responsibility; which was clearly a “long shot.”

The pastor soon discovered that he didn’t get off so easy, constantly being drawn into the process. Although appreciative to the person heading up the campaign, he was getting a little frustrated by the numerous requests for information for yet another grant application. Casting around for free money turned out to require as much of his time in meetings, discussions, fact finding and document gathering as every other aspect of the project. But the “volunteer” kept after him, confident that someone would take the bait and award a grant.

What he did come to see with time however, was that the exercise of completing the grant applications had an unanticipated benefit. It seemed that each time he meet with the eager volunteer, to complete yet another long list of questions; things surfaced that no one had previously considered: a potential problem, a better way of doing something, an area that had been overlooked, a less costly method. In other words, as annoying as the tedious process of applying for free money could be; it offered the benefit of re-examining and improving the plan.

Then, one day as he sat down to sort through a particularly large stack of mail that had accumulated on his desk, the pastor took a second look at an envelope that he assumed was an advertisement. Rather than discard it; he thankfully opened it. A very brief transmittal letter from a corporate charity, enclosed a very large check! The persistence of the good hearted volunteer had paid off. Not only did the parish benefit from the “free money” but the entire project was made better by virtue of the application process that involved re-evaluating the project with each and every application. Asking for money helped the parish to see their needs in a new light every time they approached a new, potential donor.

What we call “intercessory prayer” is like that!

Of course when we ask God for something, no matter how great or small, critical and urgent, or minor…God already knows exactly what we need. This is no detail that we can add that will in anyway enlighten or inform our “all knowing God.” But, much like a grant application, the process of prayer brings with it an opportunity for us to consider and re-consider our wants and our needs as we present them to God in hopes that God will satisfy our desires.

The prayer process itself, enables us to recognize potential problems with “our plans” and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to a better way of doing something. If we are truly discerning in our pray, and patiently wait for God’s response, we might actually discover on our own, an area that we had overlooked. For example: prayer is an occasion to consider cost. Is there a less costly method; or if I actually get what I am asking for, will there be a hidden cost to me that I am not willing or capable of paying?

Have you ever asked someone: Are you listening to yourself? Do you actually hear what you’re saying? Persistence in prayer gives us a chance to do that. By praying repeatedly, we might actually listen to ourselves…what we are actually asking of God…and come to see how silly, or selfish, or materialistic we are. Better still, persistence in prayer means that we are repeatedly engaging God in conversation. If, over and over, we talk to God, even if the topic is always the same, there might come an occasion when we give God a chance to get a word in edge wise. Persistent prayer gives God the opening to TELL US…what we really need…what is truly good for us…what is life giving and genuine.

St. Ignatius of Loyola put this all into one, sage little thought: PRAY AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON GOD…WORK AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON YOU! Today’s Readings add only this…BE PERSISTENT ABOUT IT!

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:11-19
October 9, 2016

The 2016 Noble Prize in medicine was announced on Monday morning. It was awarded to Japanese researcher, Yoshnori Ohsumi for his work in “autophagy.” Most folks have never heard of that word and have no idea of what it means. It comes from the Greek word auto-“self” and phagein-“to eat.” In the simplest of terms, the cell…the smallest part of all living things, recycles.

Within the cell, there is a process whereby parts that have worn out and are no longer useful, are surrounded by healthy parts, which encircle and transform what is broken and potentially dangerous. This is very important because what’s broken takes up space needed to keep the cell operating properly. This useless material causes life threatening neurodegenerative diseases. Autophagy breaks down what is no longer functioning as it should, becoming dangerous, and converts it into new, fresh, life giving cellular material.

The work of Yoshnori Ohsumi is being heralded as a medical break through because somehow, what he has discovered within the lowest level of life, might be used to cure life threatening diseases. Certainly the honor being paid him for his work is well deserved. It is very doubtful however, that many will give thanks and praise to The Creator, by Whose work the living cell “re-cycles.” As his accomplishments are acknowledged and celebrated, few will recall with gratitude, that it was Almighty God, Who called Yoshnori Ohsumi into life, gifting him with the intelligence, vision, and commitment necessary to make the discoveries that will benefit humankind.

Whether or not there’s any connection between leprosy and this cellular recycling process remains for medical researchers to discover. There is however, a definite connection between autophagy and our spiritual lives. The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016, and the story of the 10 lepers Jesus encountered on the outskirts of a dusty little village about 2000 years ago, are linked by the truth that we often fail to give thanks to God for the many gifts which the Almighty continual showers us with.

First, it’s important to remember that the lepers stood at a distance from Him (Jesus) as well as from their families, neighbors and friends. Even back then, long before Noble Prizes in medicine were awarded, people recognized the highly contagious nature of the disease.

It is also noteworthy, that when they saw Him approach, they raised their voice. All 10 were desperate for the same thing: healing. And so, they spoke as one. Jesus did have pity on them and “cleansed them.” But even though they raised their voice to ask for healing, only one voice returned to give thanks and praise.

Because of his reaction to being cleansed the Samaritan sets himself apart from the group. And, Jesus’s reaction to this foreigner encourages us to consider that there was something more at work here, over and above Jesus’s power to cure. The key might be in The Lord’s response to the man’s gratitude. YOUR faith has saved you. This is more than a healing miracle, this is a story of conversion.

By acknowledging and expressing thanksgiving and praise to The Lord, the un-named Samaratin man has left us with a brilliant display of faith. And for his work, he won a “peace prize” of sort. He was awarded The Peace of Christ!

Through the Eucharist, God offers that same prize to all the baptized. Consider that the Greek word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” So, when we Christians gather around the healing Word of The Lord and then feast of His Body and Blood, we are doing exactly what the 10th leper did. In the Eucharist, we are giving God thanks and praise, and for our work we are awarded the ultimate peace prize…THE PEACE OF CHRIST!

It might be helpful to consider the Eucharist as a spiritual process whereby the things that take up space and keep us from living as we were created to live…in the image and likeness of our Creator …are transformed into new, fresh, and life giving grace. But the process IS NOT “autophagy.” The process is Holy Communion…“Christophagy.”
We become what we eat.

Through the Eucharist, we set ourselves apart from those who fail to recognize that all good things come from God. By gathering together and raising our voice in thanks and praise, we are not only doing what is right and just, but we are also increasing our faith. In turn, faith triggers a process of conversion whereby things like greed, selfishness, and envy are recycled into good things.

One last thing…we are contagious! So in the coming week, take every opportunity to infect others with the belief that all good things are from God, Who is deserving of thanks and praise!

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:5-10
October 2, 2016

A key issue in the presidential debate conducted this past week was how to deal with international, as well as domestic, terrorism. That is certainly foremost on my mind.

Almost daily, we hear about an act of horrific violence, which brings to life the images set out in our First Reading. Often using the Holy Name to support the darkest of visions that ARE written down…on websites…terrorists are radicalizing young people and encouraging them to acts which bring ruin, misery, destruction, strife, and clamorous discord; everything that the Prophet Habakkuk describes.

Unfortunately, both presidential candidates seemed at a loss for a plan that does not include more of the same: violence…ruin…misery…destruction…strife and clamorous discord. Even more tragic is the fact that many people see more air strikes, more boots on the ground, more restrictions on our civil liberties, more intense interrogation methods as the only way to deal with this evil that is rapidly metastasizing. It would be naive to suggest that when evil people have stirred into an intense flame feelings of hatred in the hearts of so many, that more violence is inescapable. Still, the response to today’s Psalm cannot be ignored.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.

If we permit the bad guys to harden our hearts, then terrorism truly does win.

On this 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we do hear The Voice of God encouraging good people not to be rash, but to face life’s challenges with integrity. It is anything but cowardly to respond to evil with self-control. God’s grace enables us to resist the temptation to respond to violence with more violence. It takes great courage to deflect murderous hatred with intense love. But that is the most powerful of weapons that God has placed in our arsenal…LOVE! Even if world leaders are at a loss as to how to put an end to terrorism, God is not. If we do not permit our hearts to become hard, but open them to The Voice of The Almighty, then the gift of faith which rests within each and every one of us will be stirred into an intense heat that will do what bombs and guns cannot. It is faith in the power of God which will bring about a true and lasting peace.

“So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.” (2 Tim 1:6-8). Do not be ashamed of your faith. Faith is God’s greatest gift to us and the most powerful of weapons. Faith is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Faith can overpower violence, put an end to hatred and division, heal the wounds that are caused by strife, and change clamorous discord into meaningful dialogue.

The next time we hear those alarming words: BREAKING NEWS! causing us to brace for the next round of video of carnage and destruction that arouse the urge to react rashly and without integrity…before we completely lose self-control, remember God’s assurance: THE JUST ONE, BECAUSE OF FAITH, SHALL LIVE.

The candidates might not have the solution, but God does.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:19-31
September 25, 2016

I worked in downtown Detroit, Michigan, for over 20 years. Twice a day, year after year, I drove past a little green patch in the middle of Jefferson Avenue without paying any attention to the monument that stands there. Within view of the imposing sculpture of “The Spirit of Detroit” and the equally impressive and enormous “fist” of Joe Louis, the statue of Armenian cleric Gomidas Vartabed stands as a silent memorial to what is referred to as the Armenian Genocide.

Overshadowed by the tributes to civic pride, a sports hero, and completely surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the busy city, I venture to say that on any given day, few, if any, of the tens of thousands of people that pass by the statue even notice that it is there. What is more sobering is the fact that few, if any, of those passersby have any idea that between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Christian Armenians, living within the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, were systematically murdered. Another 1 million refugees fled their home and country, never to return.

Like many Detroiters, I passed by the monument without noticing it and was totally ignorant of the terrible crime against humanity that it memorializes. Simply put: This didn’t involve me! Not having personal ties to that part of the world, and not being taught about this atrocity in any history class, I remained ignorant of this grievous sin. Then, I happened on a brief report on the memorial services the Armenian community in Michigan organized to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the systematic effort to eliminate an entire population. There is obviously nothing I can do at this point…except remember.

But remembering is about the past, which we cannot change. Still, when we remember, we learn, and when we learn from our past mistakes, we can do something to avoid making those same mistakes.

Certainly, we remember that during World War II, 6 million Jews were murdered in German concentration camps, many more becoming refugees never to return to their homes. But, what we might not know is that, today, on this 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, as we hear and reflect on Luke 16:19-31, many Christians in the Middle East risk their lives to do what we are doing…celebrating Eucharist. Other Christians are gathering to break The Bread and to share The Cup, to find comfort and hope in the Gospel in refugee camps or in foreign countries to which they have fled. Untold others have been martyred for our faith.

The systematic effort to eliminate Christians from the Middle East has resulted in genocide comparable to the Holocaust of World War II. But, many of us, like the rich man dressed in purple garments, simply go about our business oblivious of the sacrifices so many of our sisters and brothers are making for the faith we share. Living in a nation where our freedom to worship is a guaranteed freedom, we have fallen victim to the attitude that the Prophet Amos warns against in our First Reading. (Amos 6:1, 4-7) We have become “complacent.”

In fact, we have become so very complacent that, on Sunday mornings, rather than taking advantage of the great freedom to worship as we choose, many of us remain lying upon beds…stretched comfortable on couches…rather than doing what people are risking their very lives to do…share in the Eucharist.

The parable that Jesus used to challenge the Pharisees is not an attack on wealth, it is an echo of Amos’s warning against complacency. We can’t change the sins of the past, but we can at least learn from them. We might not be personally, or even as a nation, capable of stopping the mass murders that are going on at this very moment in the Middle East, Africa, India, and in many other parts of the world, but we can at least be aware of what is happening.

This week’s Readings caution us that when we allow anything to overshadow our commitment to Christ and to others, we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a sober reminder to us that when we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life that we ignore the sufferings of others…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a stark reminder that when we become so self-indulgent and self-absorbed that we are not made ill by things like religious persecution, bigotry, and genocide…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings call us to acknowledge that all human suffering does involve us, because all humanity is unified in Christ!

We can’t change the past, but we have a duty to remember and to learn from it. Unlike the rich man, who was so preoccupied with himself that he didn’t notice the beggar at his gate, we might not be in a position to change things…but we cannot be complacent. We must make a point of at least being aware of the sacrifice so many make to enjoy the banquet at which we feast without a second thought.

We must at least be aware or we become part of the sin!

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