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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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).

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.

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.

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)

14 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 6:1-6
July 8, 2018

Last Sunday, our Readings were like a brilliant finale to a 4th of July fireworks display. Even as the dark night sky is filled with color and light and sound, the story of a miracle interrupted by a miracle filled the darkness in the lives of people struggling with sickness and even death.

As we hear this story of multiple healings, it’s difficult to know where to focus our attention. Should we simply enjoy the wonder and awe of the lady who stopped hemorrhaging by simply touching the hem of Jesus’s robe? Or should we shift our gaze to a 12-year-old girl who was brought back to life? There’s so much going on here, it’s hard to know where to look. It seems almost impossible to take it all in. It might help to look back to what triggered this grand display of healing.

Skyrockets don’t light themselves. The fuse needs to be lit. Maybe the lesson from last week is that Jesus’s healing doesn’t ignite itself, either. Wasn’t it the faith of the two whose lives were shrouded in darkness that sparked an incredibly beautiful display of Jesus’s healing power?

Consider the last line in this Sunday’s Epistle: For when I am weak, then I am strong. Is St. Paul telling us that it is our weakness that ignites Jesus’s healing powers?

Well, there is no doubt that Jesus embodied compassion. Throughout the Gospels, we repeatedly see The Lord taking notice of and responding to those in desperate need. But His visit to His hometown appears to clue us in to what turned His compassion into healing…what lit the fuse that exploded into a brilliant miracle…FAITH!

The Lord was unable to penetrate the darkness that engulfed His own hometown because of the obstinance of the hearts of The people who lived there…the people among whom He was raised.

We needed both last week’s Gospel…the grand display of healing…as well as the description of Jesus’s unfortunate visit to Nazareth, in order to appreciate that our weakness triggers Jesus’s unlimited compassion, but it is our faith that ignites His healing powers.

13 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 5:21-43 OR 5:21-24, 35B-43
July 1,2018

When I was in middle school, my parents invested in a set of World Book Encyclopedias, including an enormous dictionary. They felt that the best way for me to learn was through self-help. So, from that point forward, whenever I asked them something, rather than simply feed me an answer, they encouraged me to, “Look it up!” But they didn’t leave it there. They turned the tables with questions directed at me. “What does it mean? What did you learn? How can you use this knowledge?” (I imagine, today, parents using this tactic would simply say: “Google it!”)

I recall an occasion when I took the initiative and “looked up” a word that I didn’t understand but that I kept hearing on TV, in hospital shows and in war movies as well. “Triage” was the word. If you Google it today, this is what you will learn:

TRIAGE: a sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.
b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care.

Having learned what “triage” meant, I used this newly acquired knowledge in my image of Jesus and His healing ministry. I envisioned the large crowds that engulfed Him. I could almost hear the roar of voices calling out in hopes of attracting The Lord’s attention…desperate for a cure…healing…relief from suffering. And, it occurred to me that the Apostles and disciples had the responsibility to “triage.”

It only made sense to me that there had to be a system to sort out supplicants “according to the urgency of their need for care.” Pretty smart for a kid, even if I say so myself. But my image broke down when I first heard today’s Gospel. Why would Jesus take the time to stop and deal with a woman who was losing blood, when there was a young girl about to lose her very life? To me, this didn’t seem like a good system of prioritizing. There needs to be triage, doesn’t there?

And so we turn to the Readings for this 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time. When we reflect on them…What does it mean? What did you learn? How can you use this knowledge?

Possibly a more mature understanding of Jesus’s use of His healing powers begins with God the Father. God never intended for there to be sickness, suffering, or even death. We brought that upon ourselves. Knowing we are greatly afflicted, God does not categorize us according to “urgency for care.” Each of us, in one way or another, is in need of healing. Each of us, to one degree or another, suffers from the loss of grace…even as the woman’s life was trickling away due to the loss of blood. All of us are dying. With each passing day, we get closer to the end of our lives. There is, however, Good News in this stark reality. God sent Jesus to heal us. God sent Jesus to stop the bleeding and to raise us up to a new life in the Spirit.

Best of all…God does not triage. All we have to do is ask…and we move right to the head of the “urgent care line.”

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?

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