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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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 13:22-30
August 21, 2016

There is a new, state-of-the-art, extremely hi-tech “doorbell” on the market. I’ve seen it advertised on television. Even before a visitor touches the button, the homeowner is alerted that someone is trying to gain access, and not by the traditional “ding dong.” An “app” on the resident’s cell phone engages, warning that someone is at the door, and actually streaming a video of the visitor. From wherever they might be in the world, the homeowner can then take the initiative and literally greet the guest…or scare off an intruder. Clearly, there is an element of convenience to this system, but, it is primarily a home security device. If the video shows a suspicious-looking stranger, the property owner, without personal risk, can tell them (in whatever way they might choose) YOU ARE NOT COMING IN!

Obviously, this hi-tech security system was not available in Jesus’s time, but there was a method to deter intruders. City walls with low, narrow gates made access by invading armies more difficult, leaving intruders vulnerable to defensive attacks by the residents as they tried to gain access. Even doors to homes were so low that the taller the person, the further they would have to bend down in order to enter. People with bad knees found coming and going a little painful. Home invaders were more easily driven off. In other words, “narrow doors” were the means of deterring unwelcome and unwanted guests.

And so, when we use our creative, religious imagination to explore today’s Gospel, it is helpful to see Jesus sitting next to a city gate or outside the door to a friend’s home. Someone asks: Lord, will only a few people be saved?

Searching for a way to answer that would give those eager to hear His response hope, without encouraging bad behavior, Jesus looks around and points to some very familiar things. See this door? Look how low it is. Try your best to keep your knees in good shape and your back strong…and then you won’t have any trouble getting in. Look over there at the gate to your city. What happens when a hostile band of men come riding in, carrying weapons? STRIVE…TRY YOUR BEST…to approach the Gates of Heaven in peace. Lay down all baggage and weapons you might be carrying around with you… so that you move easily through the narrow gate.
STRIVE…TRY YOUR BEST to look like you belong…and you shouldn’t have trouble getting in.

In his reflection on this Gospel passage, Pope Francis reminds us that: In our day, we pass in front of so many doors that invite us to come in, promising a happiness which, later, we realize lasts only an instant. Then there are those doors that we easily pass through, only to slam shut behind us, trapping us in dark rooms filled with things such as anger, revenge, prejudice, greed, and addiction. It seems like there is no escape. But there is.

Pope Francis tells us that: (Jesus) is the door. He is the entrance to salvation. He leads us to the Father, and the door that is Jesus never closes.

If someone were to ask the Holy Father: Pope Francis, will only a few people be saved? I imagine that he would search for a way to answer that would give hope to those eager to hear the response…without encouraging bad behavior. And that is what he does by pointing to Jesus…the back door to those dark rooms we find ourselves imprisoned in…The Way to the gate to the Eternal City…and The Door that never closes!

In the coming week, be especially aware of all of those doors that seem so inviting…the doors which swing open so easily, and then slam shut and lock. Know that each time you turn away and continue to follow the path of the Gospel, you strengthen your knees and your back and you heal those things that might impede entry to the place where all good people long to be. And take hope in the knowledge that God is fully aware of your arrival…long before you ring the bell…and eager to greet you with the words…Welcome Home! Come right in!

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 12:49-53
August 14, 2016

As the rest of the world looks on as nervous “observers,” we Americans are living between two battle cries: LET’S MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!…and…STRONGER TOGETHER! Both campaign slogans are clearly intended to arouse within voters’ minds images of a brighter future…a time of prosperity, peace, and security. It is for us to decide which candidate is most likely to make their slogan reality, and there is certainly discussion and debate at the family dinner table, the workplace, the corner bar…and even within the leadership of the two political parties. There is one thing on which everyone appears to be in agreement, and that is simply that we live in very dangerous times. Whoever becomes “the leader of the free world” will shoulder unimaginable challenges and responsibilities.

Eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation and you get a pretty good sense of the times into which Jeremiah was sent by God to deliver a message to “the leader of the Chosen People,” “the ancient free world.” King Zedekiah ruled at a time where there were the usual concerns over the economy, the effects of natural disasters and diseases, human rights abuse, and all of the other things that concern us today. In addition to all of that, there was a grave concern over national security. How committed were the allies? How serious was the threat of invasion? How prepared was Israel to defend The Promised Land? Sound familiar? The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Enter Jeremiah!

He is often referred to as “the weeping prophet.” The reason is simple. His message was harsh…not well received…and he was severely persecuted for his service on God’s behalf. In fact, Jeremiah was persecuted to the point that he wanted to resign. But he found that he couldn’t quit. I say I will not mention Him (God), I will no longer speak in His (God’s) Name. But then, it is as a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, and I cannot! Jeremiah 20:9

Feel the burn?

Jeremiah did, and he continued to preach the message entrusted to him, which can be reduced to one word: SUBMIT. Or, if you prefer: SURRENDER. It was unthinkable that the Chosen People should submit to a foreign power…and surrender the Promised Land. He was accused of treason and thrown into a pit to die. But God’s Word did not sink down onto the mud. In the end, it was raised up and prevailed.

Enter Jesus!

Like Jeremiah, a prophet mighty in Word and deed, Jesus was much more. Jesus was both the Messenger as well as the Message. Jesus was God’s Eternal Word made flesh, Who came to dwell among us with the same message from God…burning in His Heart…SUBMIT! SURRENDER! However, Jesus was not proposing submission to a foreign power, rather, to the will and power of Almighty God. For His efforts, Jesus was also doubted, ridiculed, and conspired against. There was no escape for the Lord. Rather than being thrown into a pit, He was driven to the crest of a hill and nailed to a Cross…the perfect model of submission and surrender to the will of God…laying down His life so that others might live. Jesus gave His life so that others might know the brightest of futures…a future of prosperity, security, and eternal peace.

If a presidential candidate were to propose to voters that America SUBMIT! SURRENDER! …they probably would not be thrown into a pit to die…nor would they be crucified. But they certainly would be mocked and ridiculed, and they very definitely would not be elected. Yet, that is what Jesus is asking each of us to do. If we SUBMIT! SURRENDER! to God’s will, we can “Make our spiritual lives great again.” If, together, as the people chosen by God to follow Jesus Christ, we SUBMIT! SURRENDER! to the power and will of Almighty God, then we will know a strength that defies all earthly powers. And, someday, we will enjoy the brightest of futures…one that will never end.

The question before us is, “How do I do that? How do I submit to the will of God?”

Here’s how: We open our hearts to the power, to the truth of the gospel. We ask ourselves, “Am I living with integrity? Am I faithful to my commitments? My responsibilities? We ask ourselves in challenging situations, “What would Jesus do?” We live as Jesus lived. We love.

Now, do you feel the burn?

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:32-48
August 7, 2016

The martyrdom of an elderly French priest in Normandy, France, during morning Mass on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, was all but ignored by our press. Totally obsessed with the day-to-day drama of the political conventions and the upcoming elections, the desecration of a Catholic Church simply wasn’t that newsworthy. The few details that were broadcast about the slaying of Fr. Jacques Hamel used words like “murder,” “assassination,” and “act of terror.” Although technically accurate, these words fail to capture the full significance of this shocking act of violence which occurred on the holy ground of St. Etienne-du-Rouvray Church during the most sacred of moments…The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Even as he entered into the Paschal Mystery through the Eucharist, offering up the most innocent of victims…the most perfect Sacrifice…the priest became a victim whose life was sacrificed. What an honor to be martyred during Mass…literally standing at the foot of The Cross. What an honor to have your life’s blood mingled with the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, even in France, where, undoubtedly, the story was widely reported, the spiritual significance of this horrifying act of violence quite likely escaped most people, who simply saw the terror but were ignorant of the sacrifice.

The question is, did the spiritual significance of his impending death escape Fr. Hamel?

At the moment that the two hate-filled and deranged teenagers stormed the Altar and forced him to the ground, did he comprehend that he was to be sacrificed with The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world? Was his last thought…Lord, I am not worthy…not worthy to place my life next to Your Divine Life on this altar? Did he appreciate that he was doing far more than remembering Calvary as he stood at the altar where he had prayed so often? Did he understand that, for him, that Tuesday morning Mass had become Good Friday?

Or…was he afraid?

Even those who were eyewitnesses to the horrific event cannot be certain what was in the mind of the sacrificial victim of Normandy. But we do know that he was a human being, and that fear is very much a part of being human. And that is exactly why our Readings on this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time are profoundly “newsworthy”…GOOD NEWSWORTHY!

The Gospel begins with the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples, and, through the Gospel, speaks to us…words He spoke to Fr. Hamel as he lay at the foot of the altar where, moments before, he was merely praying the Eucharist…not living and dying it…DO NOT BE AFRAID!

All three Readings enable us to better appreciate that while fear might be part of our human nature, we are much more than flesh and blood. We are spiritual beings, created in the image and likeness of our Eternal God, and that part of us is totally fear resistant. Whether death comes to us by the hand of a terrorist…or by a cancer cell…or a natural disaster…or a traffic accident…it is NOT the biological event that is “newsworthy.”
The spiritual significance of death escapes many people, who only see the end of something, and remain ignorant of the new beginning in Christ. Our Readings speak to the spiritual significance of passing over from this world to The Promised Land…”a better homeland…a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11).

In spite of a life committed to Christ and the Church, no one can say with certainty what the final thoughts of the martyr of Normandy were, but the Good News proclaimed this Sunday allows us to know the first thing he heard as he entered into eternity…BE NOT AFRAID!

And, if we take these Readings to heart…and prepare ourselves for our own moment of Passover…we won’t be.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:13-21
July 31, 2016

I remember a conversation I once had with a friend whose spending habits were beyond extravagant. He put an entirely new spin on the words “self-indulgent.” One day, after listening to him order the most expensive things on a menu, in a very pricey restaurant, I asked if he had set up an IRA…a “Roth”…had a savings account…basically, whether or not he had a retirement plan. He smiled and said: “Trickle down theory!”

TRICKLE DOWN THEORY!

My friend was an only child, an only grandchild to well-fixed grandparents, and an only nephew to a wealthy and childless aunt. So, he lived lavishly in the present, planning on maintaining the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed…into the future…with the inherited funds that would eventually “trickle down” to him.

My friend was an extreme example of the way most of us think when we are younger. Who will inherit the family cottage? I wonder who Gramma will leave her diamond necklace to? I hope old Uncle Ralph wills me his ’40 Ford.

But when we are older, we wrestle with a different concern, the sort of thing, as we heard in our First Reading, that keeps us awake at night. Who would take good care of the cottage? I love that place so much, I don’t want it to fall in disrepair after I’m gone. Who would appreciate my diamond necklace? My great-grandmother brought it from the old country. It’s been in our family for over a century. I don’t want it in a garage sale. None of the kids take care of their own cars…what am I gonna do with my vintage ’40 Ford?

It seems like our Readings this weekend speak to both situations. The young shouldn’t be overly confident about what might “trickle down” to them. Those nearing the end of their earthly lives, while wanting to be responsible with what they enjoyed in this life, should see the folly in trying to reach from beyond the grave in order to control material things…and focus on embracing the things that will never end.

But there is a much deeper lesson to be learned from the Readings. It deals with what is truly worth passing on…the thing of greatest value that we should make every effort to “trickle down” to the next generation…our faith in Jesus Christ!

From a spiritual standpoint, the young SHOULD LIVE LAVISHLY…in the present…using freely and without concern all of the graces which flow through the Holy Spirit in order to live a life of peace and joy. Lavishing themselves in the inexhaustible gifts that come from God, the young can better prepare themselves for an endless future in the Kingdom. Cultivating and becoming accustomed to a Christ-centered life style in our youth enables us to accept, appreciate, protect, and pass on all that trickles down to us from our ancestors in faith…OUR CHURCH…OUR SACRAMENTS…OUR HOPE IN THE PROMISE OF RESURRECTION AND ETERNAL JOY!

From a spiritual standpoint, as we age…WE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.

We should be concerned that the next generation will care lovingly for The Church which we pass on to them. We need to gather our families together in our parishes, even as we invite them to “the lake.” The young should come to appreciate that our Church is a place where we come together as a family of faith to celebrate, to feast, to make memories, and to learn about our family history. The young should be eager to inherit our Church and commit to maintaining it in the best of conditions so that they, in turn, can pass it on to the generation that follows.

We should stay awake at night, hoping and praying that our children and grandchildren will recognize the value of our Sacraments. Handed down to us through the centuries, the Sacraments are seven priceless jewels meant to be used, and used frequently. If they are put away for safekeeping, they serve no purpose, and are in danger of being lost and forgotten. It is only when we bring them out and enhance or accessorize our faith with them that the next generation sees the beauty and understands the enormous value of these great treasures. It is only when they see how we treasure our Sacraments that they become eager to inherit these gifts that come to us from Christ.

It is entirely understandable that as we age, we wrestle with the fear that whoever gets the keys to the ’40 Ford that we have taken great pains to restore and preserve…will care for it as we try to. Of infinitely greater concern, however, is that the next generation will care for their spiritual lives. The keys to the most valuable of vehicles are nothing compared to the keys to the Kingdom.

So then, it seems that our Readings this week encourage the young to be extravagant in drawing from the infinite source of grace that is at their disposal…while at the same time working to establish a reserve of faith, hope, and love that will enable them to live in eternal peace.

At the same time, God’s Word that trickles down on the older generations is a reminder that what has been passed on to us must be used in such a way that the next generation becomes eager to inherit what we pass on to them.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2016

When we Catholics pray, we begin with the Sign of the Cross. I wonder if many of us really stop to consider what we are doing. Is it possible that the little prayer that helps us enter into prayer has become almost a thoughtless gesture? For example, when batters “sign themselves” before the first pitch, are they really conscious of the fact that they are invoking the fullness of the Divine Mystery…The Blessed Trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or has this opening prayer taken on an air of superstition, not unlike crossing one’s fingers for luck?

Certainly, for many, “signing ourselves” with the Cross is done without thought and out of habit…following the que of the priest or the folks standing next to us. Something precious is lost when we don’t understand the power of that gesture.

Another prayer/gesture that I am concerned is fast becoming an endangered species is our way of welcoming the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass. I’m not confident that our younger Catholic Christians even know that the gesture of marking our forehead, lips, and heart is accompanied with the prayer: MAY THE LORD BE ON MY MIND, MY LIPS, AND IN MY HEART. So, on those occasions when, like Jesus, I have been asked to teach people how to pray, I often begin there…with the signing of our forehead, lips, and heart…asking God to be present to my entire being.

Far from a gesture of habit, this is an extremely important prayer that invokes the Holy Spirit. We are asking that we be fully attentive to the Real Presence of Christ in the Gospel. We are praying that we may fully understand and appreciate The Good News that we take in through our ears. If God is always on our minds, we are better able to orient ourselves in the direction of eternal life. If we are continually thinking about God, we can easily shrug off the dark influences of this life and concentrate on our future…because God is the Future of those who seek Him with a sincere heart.

When we mark our lips, we are, in a sense, making a commitment to take full advantage of every opportunity to pass on what has been given to us by what we say to others and how we live our lives. If God is always on our lips, then our last word will open the gates of the Kingdom to us. How comforting is that?

When we sign our hearts, we are, in a sense, offering hospitality to God’s Eternal Word…offering ourselves as living tabernacles. When we invite the Divine to live within us, on our last day, we can leave here with the sure and certain hope that God will repay the favor and invite us to dwell for all eternity in the company of the angels and saints. Far greater than anything but a mindless gesture done out of habit, we should greet the proclamation of the Gospel with an eager spirit…eager to become what we hear.

Jesus has taught us to approach our God as a good and loving Parent Who knows each of us intimately, and treasures us as unique and precious individuals. And so, we pray to Our Father Who art in heaven. But it is also important to know that same God can also be on our minds and lips and in our hearts…if we only ask!

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:38-42
July 16, 2016

In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a large influx of immigrants to the United States from India. When they arrived here, they entered the working class, lived frugally, and saved their wages. Then, when they had enough money set aside, they would buy failing businesses and build them back up. They were living the American dream.

The largest number in this wave of immigrants came from one particular part of India where they were members of a specific “social caste,” sharing the surname Patel. That name, Patel, is one of the most common in India, and in this country, ranks 174th out of the 500 most common last names.

For whatever reason, members of this family who came to America gravitated towards the hotel and motel business, making an enormous impact on the hospitality industry. Statistics show that approximately 1/4 or about 22,000 of the hotels/motels in the U.S. are Indian owned and operated with an estimated value nearing $128 billion, the vast majority owned by a member of the highly successful and extremely affluent Patel clan. In the hospitality industry, this trend is called “The Patel Hotel Phenomenon.”

I recently heard a young man interviewed who has co-authored a book with his sister about what it means to be a Patel. He described a forced family vacation, where the two teenage kids grumbled every mile of the cross-country road trip intended to help the family become better acquainted with their adopted home. In some remote part of the west, after a long day of traveling, everyone exhausted from being cooped up in a car all day, the family finally pulled into a hotel to spend the night. They walked into the lobby and recognized a person of Indian descent behind the counter who greeted them formally and politely. However, when the father registered and the proprietor saw the name Patel, he rushed around the counter and excitedly hugged and kissed everyone.

He waved them past the registration desk and ushered them directly into his family’s living quarters, calling out to his own family that Patels were visiting. The response was immediate. The Patel family who owned the motel welcomed the Patel travelers like long lost relatives. The best of everything in the house was brought out and shared graciously and with a sense of real joy. There was a holiday atmosphere and an evening long celebration. In the morning, the families parted like loved ones who knew it was unlikely that they would ever meet again. And, of course, the host Patels rejected the offer of repayment from the guest Patels. Nor was this an isolated incident…this is simply how Patels treat one another.

The experience of “being Patel” on the young travelers was profound.

There is a family spread around the whole of planet earth that is far larger than the Patels. This family does not share a surname…but shares something far more meaningful than a bloodline. This family consists of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream,” share faith, and be identified by the name “Christian.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to recognize, embrace, and celebrate a common identity that, by far, transcends country of origin, cultural heritage, or family name.

We are all children of a good and loving God, Who provides the most gracious and elaborate of hospitality to all humankind. We are all guests in this world, and our heavenly Host wants us all to enjoy our stay here…and to be respectful of the rights of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream.”

And, if the occasion arises for us to provide hospitality, we are expected to be lavish in our response…like Abraham. When we are privileged to have a guest in our homes, we should work tirelessly to accommodate their needs, like Martha…although probably with a little less complaining. When we are the host, we should be completely present and attentive to our visitor, as was Mary.

The Patel phenomenon is said to have had an impact on the hospitality industry in this country. Christianity is called to have a profound impact on the whole universe. The Christian phenomenon should have an impact on every aspect of life. But specifically, when we have the opportunity to play host, we should be images of God, manifesting in our attitudes and actions the phenomenon of Divine hospitality. Our guests should be made to feel like family…not just welcome… but completely “at home.”

Now, the obvious application of all of this is the appropriate Christian response to the enormous migration of people…all over the world. Immigrants, refugees, those seeking asylum are sisters and brothers and should be made to feel at home. But, today’s Readings also speak to a more local issue. As our parishes become more cooperative…blending and merging…closing and changing names…it’s critical that we remember that there are no strangers in our midst. We are all members of the same family of faith. There are no hosts…and no guests… in our churches. The Table of the Word and the Communion Table belong to each of the Baptized. We are at home wherever we go to celebrate Eucharist, and we are expected to make one another feel just that way.

After all, if the Patels can do it…why can’t we?

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