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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Have We Outgrown Our Image of God?
September 21, 2014
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt. 20:1-16

Mid-life, I was given this piece of advice: Don’t let life fit you small! You’ve got to think about that one, don’t you? If I had been told that in my younger years, I might well have forgotten it. But it came to me at a time when I was showing the first signs of aging…or maybe maturity…and so the idea stuck with me and I spent a lot of time reflecting on just what that might mean. Certainly, it motivated me not to settle. It encouraged me to explore options, take chances, and to stretch myself. Among other insights…Don’t let life fit you small…led me to consider how unfortunate it is to try to “shrink God.”

In her book Glimpse of Grace, author Madeleine L’Engle writes: I sense a wish in some…to make God possible, to make (God) comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate (God) so that (God) is easy to believe in. Maybe it’s a sign that I am maturing spiritually, but even though it took a while, that thought started to make some sense to me as well. It seems that many times, in an effort to make it easier to believe in God, we tend to “make God fit small.” We settle for a God that we can more easily manage. Unfortunately, when God is “domesticated,” people get so comfortable that they stop exploring the Infinite and miss out on some mind-blowing, spirit-growing insights. Moreover, when we make God small, rather than make the Divine more believable, we actually are left with an image that is not always totally credible.

For example, if we settle for a “comprehensible” God, then this Sunday’s Gospel will prove totally incomprehensible. How can a just God permit the last to come to the head of the line? This certainly doesn’t gel with the traditional concept of justice. The thought would simultaneously send shudders up the spines of labor leaders and CFOs alike!

I wonder if, just possibly, with this little parable about the Kingdom, Jesus is trying to stretch us…help us mature spiritually…encourage us, where God is concerned, not to settle for what we are comfortable with but to search for more. Could Jesus be telling us not to let God fit us small…so that our lives do not fit small? Have we outgrown our image of God?

Marking Ourselves
September 14, 2014
The Exaltation of the Cross
JN 3:13-17

These days, young people appear to be spending a lot of money to suffer a fair amount of pain in order to impact their appearance in a rather permanent way…and not in a way that is likely to improve with age. “Body art,” “inked,” “stamped,” “tattooed”…the name is of little matter, but the impact is apparently a dramatic way of claiming and publicizing an identity. I am told by reliable sources that “The Cross,” in one form or another, is the third most popular image, among thousands to choose from.

Certainly, St. Paul took great pride in identifying with The Cross. At Galatians 6:14, he tells us: But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

However, St. Paul enjoyed special enlightenment from the Holy Spirit that few of us share. It is very difficult to understand or even begin to appreciate the full meaning of The Cross of Jesus Christ, or, for that matter, the significance in “marking ourselves” with this symbol of our faith. Nor should we be shamed by our ignorance. After all, Jesus’s suffering and death are often referred to as “The Paradox of the Cross.” In other words, it is a sacred mystery as to why the Son of an all-powerful God had to suffer and die.

While there should be no shame in our inability to grasp the full meaning of The Cross, it would be a shame, however, if we were not to at least strive for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the very means of our salvation; and that is especially true for this weekend when we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

If we can be certain of anything, it is that by taking up His Cross, Jesus has given us an example of perfect acceptance of God’s will, even in the face of suffering and death. We know as well that The Lord’s acceptance of His Cross was possible because of His unshakable trust in The Father’s love and mercy. We can also be certain that through His Holy Cross, Jesus has redeemed the world. So, in some way, The Cross is all about forgiveness.

It is also important to remember that through our baptisms, we are marked or stamped in a very permanent way with The Cross. What is freely given in Baptism is a share in Christ’s death, which also enables us to hope that we will share in Christ’s Resurrection and eternal glory. While there is definitely no pain in receiving this Sacrament of Initiation, it comes with the challenge to live out fully and publicly the identity we enjoy as a disciple of Jesus Christ; and a Christian way of living can often bring personal sacrifice, discomfort, and pain, as we’ve seen in the Middle East over these past few months…death…martyrdom!

People should “know we are Christians by our love” as well as by our efforts to empty ourselves of all that is contrary to God’s will even as Jesus totally emptied Himself on the Cross. Although the indelible mark of Baptism cannot be seen, others should recognize us as Christians through the quality of our lives, including the ways in which we face the challenges and suffering we encounter in this world.

Many young people feel the need to introduce themselves by marking their bodies. But, through Baptism, we Christians mark our inner selves with The Cross. And while that mark cannot be seen, its image should shine through our flesh and bones, and show itself clearly in the manner in which we live. Today, we are called to honor The Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. The best way to pay tribute to that unrepeatable act of acceptance, trust, love, and forgiveness is not to pay to be branded with it, but to follow the Way of the Cross. And if we do that…follow The Way of the Cross…eventually, we will discover where it leads!

The Keys to the Kingdom
September 7, 2014
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18:15-20

Two weeks ago on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, we read Matthew 16:13-20, and we heard Jesus change Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock,” and entrust the keys to the kingdom of heaven into the strong, calloused, and hardworking hands of this ordinary fisherman. With a profound display of trust, the Lord told Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The image of “the keys to the kingdom” has stuck with me over these past two weeks. In fact, as I was standing at the counter waiting to have duplicates made of the key to my new house, it occurred to me that it is only when we want to keep something hidden, concealed, private, or even protected that there is only one key, and we don’t pass that key out to others. I wanted to share copies of my house key. I made a list of all my family members and friends whom, for whatever reason, should have a key to my home. I was very concerned that I not leave anyone out.

When we consider that Jesus’s entire ministry was to proclaim the Kingdom and to invite everyone to enter, I wonder if possibly the Lord, after handing Peter “the key,” might not have then added, “Now go out and make duplicates and pass them out as fast as you can. Also, tell all those to whom you give ‘the key’ to duplicate it so that we can keep sharing access to My Father’s house.” We know that Jesus certainly wanted to make sure that no one was left out of the Kingdom.

The more I thought about this image of “the keys,” the more it made sense when I read this week’s Gospel passage. In this passage, Jesus is continuing to teach the disciples about the kingdom, and He gives them the same assurances that He offered Peter on the day He gave Peter a new name and “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He said this as he was proposing a method of conflict resolution to promote forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Could it be that one of “the keys” that provides access to the kingdom is forgiveness? And if that’s true, doesn’t it follow that anger, revenge, grudges, resentment, and all of the related shades of darkness might prevent us from gaining admission to the Kingdom?

It’s not always easy to find a key in a purse or coat pocket. Sometimes we look all over the house before we find our car keys right where we left them. But we have to keep looking if we want to get in the house or get going in the car! Other times, we find the key, but we struggle to get it into the lock. Sometimes we face off against one of those stubborn locks that refuse to release the bolt so that the door can swing open.

If, indeed, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation are keys to the kingdom, then we have to keep searching within our hearts for the grace to swing open the door and free ourselves from whatever grudge we hold, resentment we harbor, or desire for revenge that weighs down our spirits.

We don’t want to be left out of the Kingdom, left out in the cold, or stranded!

Your Table is Ready
August 31, 2014
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 16:21-27

The tragic circumstances surrounding the recent passing of comedian Robin Williams gives new meaning to some of his “one-liners” that caused audiences to erupt in laughter. For example, Williams once observed: “Death is nature’s way of telling you that your table is ready!” Actually, that is a very profound observation. Death, for many if not most, means a place at the heavenly banquet, in the company of the angels and saints, is all prepared. Unfortunately, because of emotional and physical issues, this man who brought so much entertainment and joy to others became too impatient to wait for the summons.

Taking a bit of liberty with “the joke” that is so deeply rooted in truth, I would like to suggest that: Baptism is Jesus’s way of telling you that your Tables are ready! Through Baptism, we are invited to the Sacred Banquet of Eucharist, first stopping at the Table of the Word in order to enhance our appetite for what is served up at the Communion Table…the Body and Blood of Christ! This Sunday’s Gospel encourages us to consider how we make our entrance!

When some people move through a room full of diners to the table that has been prepared for them, they do so with arrogance and a sense of entitlement. Confident that they are worthy of everyone’s attention and admiration, they make a grand entrance. Others, for whatever reason, are so self-conscious that they follow the maître de, hoping to pass through the room unnoticed. And then there are the people who “take it all in.” Making their way to their place, for them, is part of the entire experience of fine dining. They take in and savor the environment.

This might cause one to wonder if possibly the manner in which we make our way from the pew to the Communion Table is indicative of how we are moving through life waiting for nature to tell us our table is ready.

Before taking her place at the heavenly banquet, the great Vatican II theologian, Monika K. Hellwig, reflecting on this Gospel, wrote: It is a distorted human self-centeredness that pits personal safety and well-being before all else and therefore loses meaning and purpose, identity and community. This is the heritage and distortion of sin. This is a fancy way of cautioning us not to make a “grand entrance.” We should, however, be completely self-conscious of who we are…or better still…who and what we have become through Baptism.

Having shared in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are called to follow Him to our place at the heavenly banquet, the entire time “taking it all in” and savoring the environment; in other words, appreciating the entire experience of Eucharist. As we make our way to the Communion Table, we should be aware of our fellow diners…mindful of their needs. And we should not try to pass through the community unnoticed. Rather, we should draw attention to ourselves through our service to others.

Jesus prepared the eternal banquet. Jesus extends the invitation. Jesus leads us on our journey through time. And if we follow Him in a life of service to others, there is great meaning and purpose to what we say and do…even in our suffering!

It’s In The Name
August 24, 2014
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 16:13-20

I have a lot of good friends in the Filipino community here in Saginaw. But, I admit, I had trouble getting to know them because many seem to go by two or more names. Obviously, everyone has a legal name…a given name. But most also go by “nicknames” they have acquired over the years. Some, in fact, have several nicknames. It is a custom that my friends have brought with them from the Philippines. What makes the whole thing especially confusing is that when I ask: “Why do they call you ‘Bing’? … or… How did you get the name ‘Cherry’?” the response is typically: “I don’t know, my family has always just called me that!” Moreover, there is no obvious connection between the “nickname” and the individual, so that the nickname seems appropriate or well suited to the person.

Not so with Simon. Jesus gave the Big Fisherman the nickname “Simon” or “Rock” because he was so solid in his commitment to The Lord. Whatever qualities Simon exhibited were clearly what Jesus regarded as a solid foundation for “The Church.” Just possibly, however, Jesus had something slightly less complimentary in mind as well. I wonder if just possibly, even as Jesus was acknowledging Simon’s strengths, in the back of His mind, He was thinking to Himself…Yes! You are the Rock alright…hard headed…stubborn…slow to change and difficult to move.

Consider this: This week’s Gospel centers on Peter recognizing Jesus as “The Christ.” The thing is, “Christ” is NOT A NICKNAME. “The Christ” is the title given to the One whom God promised to send into the world to lead us out of darkness. Somehow, Simon Peter was able to connect Jesus of Nazareth to the title “The Christ.” But, repeatedly throughout the Gospels, we see that Peter did not fully understand why the title was fitting to the Person. That might well explain why this week’s Gospel ends with Jesus issuing a strict warning to tell no one that He was the Christ! Simply put, they did not understand what the title meant, or why it was perfectly suited to only one individual … Jesus of Nazareth. It would only be after Jesus died, rose, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten the minds of Peter and the Apostles and disciples that they would be able to correctly answer the questions: Why do you call Jesus “The Christ”? How did He get that name?

It took His suffering, His death, His Resurrection, His Ascension…and yes…His Holy Spirit…to get through Peter’s thick skull…just exactly why Jesus is The Christ!

So, here’s something to think about: Why do they call you Christian? How did you get that name? Is there a connection between the name Christian…and you? The answers to these questions should be obvious…or maybe…that name does not fit the person just yet!

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