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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Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
LK 1:57-66, 80
June 24, 2018

Last week, I visited my old friend, Marie Wrocklage. She was “at home with hospice” and might well be “at home with the Lord” before you have an opportunity to read this reflection.

In 2016, at the age of 96, Marie was awarded the Bishop Murphy Award for her continued service within the Diocese of Saginaw. I intentionally say “continued service” because, at the time, she was still involved in religious education. Marie was recognized as the first parent-catechist in her parish community, and her ministry has spanned three generations. During our final visit, she taught me one final lesson. At least she reminded me of something that no minister or religious educator should lose sight of.

With a twinkle in her beautiful blue eyes, she told me how delighted she was to have received a phone call from one of her former students. This woman, living on the other side of the country, heard about Marie’s final illness and called to express her appreciation for all that she had learned about Christ and our Church from Marie. She explained that she was now involved in faith formation in her own parish. At some point in her description of her own efforts to pass on the faith, the younger woman said something that echoed a line from our First Reading. I thought that I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength… (Isaiah 49:1-6).

Marie quickly replied: If they remember just one, single thing you taught them, it was worth your effort.

This weekend, the Church steps briefly out of the Season of Ordinary Time in order to celebrate the birth of an extraordinary life. John the Baptist is recognized and honored by Jesus, Himself, at Matt. 11:8. “Amen I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”

John’s greatness stems from his work in heralding the coming of the Messiah, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling people to repent. He was relentless in his efforts to the point of shouting out his message from a jail cell shortly before his execution. He used the last minutes of his earthly life to teach…or at least to remind people of something that no human being should lose sight of…GOD IS FAITHFUL TO US AND WE IN TURN MUST STRIVE ALWAYS TO BE FAITHFUL TO GOD…and repent those occasions when we fall short. What is amazing is that as important as John’s work was, Jesus elevates the efforts of everyone who echoes his message.

How wise it is for The Church to shine the spotlight on John. It gives us an opportunity to recall and celebrate all those in our own lives who have taught us just one single thing about Christ and our Church. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, catechists…everyone described by St. Paul in our Second Reading, as those to whom the word of salvation has been sent. Christ Himself elevates the lives of all those, who, like John the Baptist and Marie Wrocklage, use their strength to bring light to the nations. Their reward is with the Lord.

As I was completing my thoughts for this reflection, I received the news that Marie had died. We take comfort in knowing that the thousands of seeds that she planted in the minds and hearts of three generations of Catholic children will grow and bear fruit. She was a “light to the nations” and now may Eternal Light Shine upon her.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 4:26-34
June 17, 2018

Jesus taught in parables…we know that. Today’s Gospel passage concludes with the words: without parables, He did not speak to them.

Any teacher will tell you that there are thoughts or ideas or concepts…OR TRUTHS that are so enormous that the best thing we limited human beings can do is “imagine” what it is we are trying to understand or learn. So, a good teacher will search for little stories that are like seeds. A good teacher will plant these seeds into the imaginations of their students, in hopes that the seeds will begin to grow into understanding and knowledge.

On the other hand, a good farmer will tell you that you can’t just plant a seed and then walk away. If there is any hope for a fruitful harvest, you have to tend to the field. You can’t just plant and wait. There needs to be committed follow-up if one hopes for an abundant harvest. That’s exactly what we have going on here.

Jesus used little stories to plant seeds of faith into the imaginations of a crowd of people. Once that work was done, His attention returned to a field where the seeds had already broken through the surface and begun to grow, but had not yet produced a crop. After addressing the crowd, He focused on the disciples. The passage concludes: but to His own disciples, He explained everything in private. We see how The Lord continued to work with His followers, nurturing and supporting what was planted before, in hopes of a bountiful harvest.

That’s what we are about this morning. The seeds of faith have already been planted within you and have germinated and begun to grow. But, they need to be cared for. And so, like the disciples, the Lord calls you here to this private place so that you can be fed with the Eucharist and that from the Table of the Word, everything can be explained to you. So, it seems like we need a little story…a parable.

Imagine this!

The owner of an orchard wanted to grow a hardier variety of apples. He was looking for a tree that would withstand the harshest of Michigan winters. But, at the same time, he wanted a bigger, sweeter, crispier, and juicier apple. And so, over the course of several years, he studied the different varieties of trees already growing in his orchard. He was able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the different trees. Then, one year, he took a healthy branch from a tree that produced a really large apple and grafted it onto the strongest of the hardy trees. The next year, he took a healthy branch from a tree that always produced really sweet fruit and grafted it to that strong, hardy tree that was now producing large apples. He continued that process until he had a tree that produced everything that he had hoped for. And then he took the seeds from that fruit in order to begin a new orchard.

My story might not be good science, but it is a fairly good image to plant in our minds as we reflect on our three Readings for this 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The seed of faith is planted within us at our Baptisms. However, we can’t just stand by and do nothing, leaving faith to grow on its own. There needs to be a committed effort to nurture and nourish it. In hopes that the gift of faith will continue to grow throughout our lives, finally producing eternal fruit, it’s critical that there be committed follow-up.

Jesus calls us here to the privacy of this holy place. Through the Eucharist, we come to a deeper understanding of the things that are ultimately beyond our understanding…although here, we can catch a glimpse of these things using our imaginations. And as we imagine The Reign of God, we should carefully examine ourselves to see what we need in order to produce excellent fruit.

Over the summer, as we move through the Sundays of Ordinary Time, it would profit us as individuals as well as a family of faith to study ourselves closely, to see what it is we need to withstand the harsh conditions of this world, and, at the same time, produce an increasingly excellent fruit.

So, it would seem that the question of the week is simply this: What do I need to graft onto myself…so that I can be stronger in faith and produce something ever more pleasing to God?

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 3:20-35
June 10, 2018

Last Sunday, the Church celebrated The Feast of Corpus Christi with Readings that brought the concepts of change and presence to mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Whose real presence we experience in the Eucharist. And since we become what we eat, the Sacrament changes us, and we, in turn, make Christ present in the world, as we are better able to live the Gospel through the graces we enjoy when we come to the table for Holy Communion.

The Readings for this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to emphasize the same concepts, although in reverse order, and to a different end. The passage from Genesis demonstrates that evil is present in the created world. Dark forces stimulated in the first parents an appetite for something that was lethal, and, therefore, forbidden. They ate anyway, and they were changed. The original sin brought about more than a change of residence. Not only were the first parents evicted from the Garden, but their relationship with The Creator and with one another changed. What they consumed on that fateful day became part of them, incorporated into their spiritual DNA, and has been passed on through the generations, present in every human being to this very day. The original sin infected human nature with the tendency towards division.

Jesus certainly has something profound to say about division! If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

Fifty years ago…about two months before his assassination on June 6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy also had something to say about division. What we need in the United States is not division…not hatred…but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country.

Politics aside, who can argue with that statement? Certainly no person of faith. Definitely no Christian. Any sincere call for unity, peace, justice, compassion, and love echoes the message of the Gospel. To challenge an effort to unite humanity is to challenge Jesus Christ! And that kind of challenge is nothing short of Original Sin!

Fortunately, our Second Reading speaks to the transformative power of grace. Grace enables us to overcome our inherited guilt and divisive tendencies. Grace enables us to “do the will of God” and to live in harmony and peace. Grace makes Christ present when darkness clouds our judgment. Grace heals that about our human nature which threatens to divide, and enables us to see one another for who we really are…sisters and brothers…all children of God, Who loves us equally.

So we gather for Eucharist, seeking the grace that makes Christ really present through us…so that we can change the world.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
MK 14:12-16, 22-26
June 3, 2018

Change and presence are the very core of every Eucharist.

For many generations, we Catholic Christians have traditionally used Corpus Chrsiti to display this change and presence…taking to the streets of our cities, towns and villages in solemn procession. Enthroned in a monstrance, we carry the Blessed Sacrament into the world proclaiming the truth that Christ is truly with us, even as Jesus was present to the people of Judea so many centuries ago. These public displays are proclamations of our belief that The Lord is with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

At every Eucharist, not just on Corpus Christi, those of who gather to do as Jesus disciples did, experience change. And with the final blessing we are sent out into the cities and towns and villages where we live to make Christ present in a world in desperate need of peace, justice and love. In other words, we become what we eat…and then having undergone this spiritual change brought about by the Real Presence of Christ within our body…we carry The Lord within us like living monstrances into a doubting world.

We MUST gather each and every week, so that we can shift our focus from the things of this world, which drain us…even de-humanize us, and continue to undergo the change that makes us more Christ like. That is what Eucharist can do for us…it can make us more Christ like…as we become what we eat. And as we change, we make Christ more present to the world.

So…chances are good, that in whatever parish you celebrate The Solemnity of Corpus Christi …there will not be a procession. But without a doubt..,there will be a change in the bread and wine…and through it…a change in you. And if you in turn…”take it to the streets”…without a doubt,,,somehow, some way…there will be a change in our world.

You are The Body of Christ! Make Christ present to a world desperate for change.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
MT 28:16-20
May 27,2018

It is estimated that at least three billion people watched “the Royal wedding” last weekend. That means that through the miracle of satellite communications, close to half of the world’s population was in attendance. Only a very few were required to wear silly hats, ridiculously uncomfortable shoes, or fancy suits. Personally, I did not “attend.”

I did, however, after the fact, locate and watch with great interest the homily delivered by Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry. I regard weddings as an opportunity to preach The Good News to a gathering of folks, many, if not most of whom are irregular church-goers or even nonbelievers. I was anxious to see how this preacher would take advantage of this opportunity to bring about conversions as he broke open The Word of God, to almost half of humankind. Since it was “Pentecost weekend,” I was excited that people around the world would be hearing The Good News broadcast to them in their own language as their local news translated whatever Bishop Curry had to offer. The occasion offered a real possibility for a 21st Century Pentecost.

The first thing that I took special note of was that he began with The Sign of The Cross. While this gesture is typical to Roman Catholics, it is the Baptismal formula by which all Christians begin their faith life here on earth. When we sign ourselves, we are expressing our hope that after death, in Eternal Light, we will be given a share in this indivisible union of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What I did not see is how many people in the congregation took the cue and signed themselves.

Certainly, the non-Christians would not have. While other world religions acknowledge the existence of The Creator, they are not aware of the Divine quality of “Three-ness”…the belief that God is an invisible Trinity of Persons. From the very beginning, however, this revealed truth has been part of the deposit of faith that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles. Drawing from the Gospel accounts, the Blessed Trinity was part of the preaching, teaching, and prayer life of the early Church. St. Paul employed the concept of Triune God in his greeting to the Corinthian Community, one that we still use at Mass to this very day: The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

Admittedly, however, while it is a cornerstone of our faith and it is familiar to all Christians, our belief that God IS Three is something we celebrate, but cannot easily explain. In fact, Christian Marriage offers the perfect opportunity to explore this sacred mystery.

It is easy to summarize Bishop Curry’s homily at “the Royal Wedding.” He spoke about the power of love.

Believers and nonbelievers alike can appreciate that love has the power to draw two people together in an intimate sharing of every aspect of their lives. People entering into marriage, whether civil or Sacramental, seek a bond that is far more than a legal arrangement. The power of love causes human beings to seek a union, grounded in the hope that the marriage partners can be “all things” to and for one another.

And so last weekend, as The Church celebrated The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, over half of humanity celebrated the “Royal Wedding.” What a perfect occasion to better understand the Blessed Trinity! Through the power of infinite and unconditional love, God has revealed the Divine Self to humankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that God can be “all things” to and for each and every one of us.

What we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday is the power of love, perfect and expressed to us through the communion of the Divine Persons…an intimate sharing of eternal life which those who strive to live in love will someday become part of.

May God Bless you…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.

Pentecost Sunday
JN 15:26-27; 16:12-15
May 20, 2018

I was invited to share a meal, after sharing Eucharist, with the Sisters of St. Clare in their monastery on Shattuck Road. It was Pentecost Sunday, and the sisters had taken special care in setting the table to celebrate the Feast Day. But it wasn’t until I sat down at my place that I noticed how extra special the table had been prepared. At each place, there was the usual knife, fork, and spoon. But there was something very unusual about the flatware. The base of each utensil was engraved with one of the Gifts, or Fruits, of the Holy Spirit. A friend had given this tableware to the Sisters as a gift, and they only brought it out on special occasions.

Whoever had arranged the place settings did so without taking notice of who was sitting in a particular spot. She left it to the Holy Spirit to determine who was in most need of a particular gift or was challenged to use the gifts they had been given “to bear fruit.” After taking a moment to consider what was placed before us and how we use these gifts, we spent a little time sharing. We passed a fork or spoon across the table to someone who felt they had a particular need for that gift, and we recognized the work of one another in using a gift in a fruitful way, by passing around a spoon. It was fun, but it was also serious.

I can’t recall what was on the silverware at my place when I sat down, or what was passed on to me, or what I passed on with a compliment to one of the Sisters. What I do recall is thinking that I needed the entire set of flatware…all of the gifts. I also recall that the little exercise was, for me anyway, as much an “examination of conscience” as a Pentecost celebration.

Through our Baptisms and Confirmations, we are infused with the same gifts which the Apostles and disciples were given on that first Pentecost: WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING, KNOWLEDGE, FORTITUDE, KNOWLEDGE, PIETY, and FEAR OF THE LORD.

This is a good time to ask ourselves if we use what has been given to us to bring about “the Fruit of The Holy Spirit” — LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, SELF-CONTROL, MODESTY, CHASTITY!

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