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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Essential to the Building of this Country
MK 10:2-16
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2015

I recently had the great honor of presiding at the wedding ceremony of a young couple who are close friends of mine. The bride was raised within the rich, Middle Eastern culture, and the groom is Mexican. Their respective heritages are very important to them, as well as to their families. All were hopeful that the nuptial traditions they are familiar with could somehow be integrated into a Roman Catholic Liturgy.

The Sacrament of Christian Marriage celebrated in the Eastern Church is unchanged since its inception centuries ago. Filled with symbolic gestures, the centerpiece of the wedding liturgy is what is referred to as “the crowning ceremony.” Having first been blessed, two “crowns” are held over the heads of the bride and groom, while ancient nuptial prayers are offered up. The crowns have several meanings. First, that God bestows His blessing upon the couple. The coronation also speaks to the fact that with the marriage, a new kingdom is being established; the couple submitting to Divine authority in the domain in which they will live and rule. Finally, Christians have always spoken of the “crown of martyrdom.” The crowns bring to mind the symbolic dying to oneself, so that the new couple will begin to live for one another. Before the ceremony closes with another beautiful prayer, the two crowns are “switched” three times, indicating that the couple has become full partners in their marriage. Very often, a person is buried with their “wedding crown” as an outward sign that they kept the lifelong commitment.

The Hispanic tradition of the Lasso, also referred to as “The Rope” or “The Rosary,” is an important part of many Mexican weddings, both religious and secular. The Lasso, which is basically a circle, is twisted into a figure 8, the sign for infinity, and then placed over the couple’s heads, resting on their shoulders. This demonstrates their intention to bind their lives and their spirits together for all of eternity. When integrated into the Sacrament of Christian Marriage, beautiful prayers and blessings are offered during the placement of the Lasso. Among other things, those gathered ask God to give the couple the strength to overcome selfishness and self-interest with the spirit of generosity; to quash feelings of mistrust with sound moral strength; to resolve misunderstandings with patience and gentleness; and to face the inevitable sufferings of this life with faith and abiding love.

We found a way to include these two traditions within the celebration of the Sacrament of Christian Marriage as outlined in the Roman Rite, and after the exchange of vows, the couple light a “unity candle,” which was inspired by contemporary wedding planners, but has made its way into the celebration of our Sacrament. Each of these three rituals is beautiful and a delight to watch. But, the true and lasting beauty and delight comes from watching the symbol gain strength and meaning as the married couple lives out the covenant they made with God and one another on their wedding day.

The tragically inflated divorce rate in this country and throughout the world serves to devalue the symbolic meaning of rituals like the crowns and the Lasso…and even the unity candle…and threatens the very fiber of the Christian family unit. And so, last week, Pope Francis traveled from the Vatican in order to be present for the World Meeting of Families. Earlier in his visit to the U.S., the Holy Father addressed a joint meeting of Congress. During his speech, Pope Francis received what appeared to be the unanimous approval of the chamber when he said: How essential the family has been to the building of this country and how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.

Still, it is one thing to acknowledge such a serious problem, but another to come up with a solution. What can we do but continue to pray for a reversal of the trend? Let us pray that young married couples take seriously the rituals that they use to celebrate their union, and understand that the warning that the priest intones after the vows and the rings have been exchanged comes directly from Christ. What God has joined together…no one must separate!

Maybe it would be helpful to change the name of our law from “No-Fault Divorce” to something that will accurately identify the cause of the division…and before “the Lasso” is cut, and the video and albums burned, insist that the couple remember what was in their hearts when they lit their unity candle.

Marriage is more than a beautiful ceremony…it is a beautiful way of life…”essential to the building of this country” and…essential to the building of the Kingdom of God! And so we continue to pray!

What Do I Need?
MK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 27, 2015

A few years ago, I helped plan the 60th anniversary of a friend’s entry into her religious community. Of course, for her, the high point of the evening was Mass. Still, we wanted to have fun because Sr. Marianita loved to have fun. Keeping in mind that it was her 60th, we looked back to the ‘60’s and took some liberties with The Beatles song: All you need is love! After the final blessing, the entire gathering did their best to sound like John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I don’t think we would make it on America’s Got Talent, but we certainly bellowed out with great gusto the verses…All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love! Love is all you need!

That song was entirely appropriate to the occasion…even in church! After all, what would possess a young girl to leave her home and family…forego the probability of marriage and children…take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience…live a regimented life in close quarters with other women, working long hours for no personal gain or profit, and drastically limiting her freedom of movement? The song answered the question perfectly…Love is all you need…to commit your entire adult life to the service of God and to the service of others.

It takes an extraordinary amount of love to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ. While not everyone is called to the extreme and demanding commitment that is required by religious life, all of the Baptized should aspire to the kind of self-abandonment that Jesus describes in this Sunday’s Gospel.

It is nothing short of horrifying to think of mutilating or blinding oneself in order to avoid sin. Yet, our history is full of examples of Christians who gave up more than a foot, or hand, or eye for the sake of God. Mothers and fathers might find it easier to grasp the concept of this total self-giving. Parents are called daily…multiple times…to put themselves and their own personal interests and desires second to their children. A good parent would give their very life to spare their child. Love is that powerful.

Approaching the issue in a different way, we might recall how Jesus responded to the question: Rabbi…what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus’s response was basically this: All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love! Love is all you need!

A Servant of Others as Well
MK 9:30-37
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2015

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say I am?” This week’s Gospel is woven around another question directed by the Lord to His closest followers: “What were you arguing about?” Apparently, His question shut down further discussion because they “remained silent,” too embarrassed to admit that they were debating which one of them was the most important. Jesus, through gesture more than words, had a follow-up question for His red-faced friends: “Who do you think you are?” (You can imagine His tone.)

The second week in July 2015, America: The National Catholic Review (basically the Church’s version of Newsweek Magazine) published a cover photo showing a group of men who were not “red faced” but vested in a brilliant shade of red. The picture was of a procession of bishops at the beatification Mass of Archbishop Oscar Romero celebrated in San Salvador on May 23. The cover story illustrated by the photograph was: “Pastors, not Princes: The Role of the bishop under Pope Francis.” The author of the article, Diego Fares, reported on The Holy Father’s recent address to the General Assembly of Italian Bishops.

While the secular press lifted “sound bites” from Francis’s address and described the new direction in which the Pope is trying to steer our Church, the fact of the matter is, for Christians, there is absolutely nothing innovative about the remarks. The Holy Father was simply restating what Jesus taught “the Twelve” when He closed the front door to Peter’s house in Capernaum, and said: Listen up! This is how it is…“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all,” a lesson which, by the way, Jesus repeated at His Last Supper through the washing of the feet.

When the Italian Bishops heard Pope Francis echo the Lord’s call for humility and service, there were probably some faces that turned the same shade as the vestments on the cover of America magazine. Some, like the disciples Jesus confronted, were embarrassed…shamed by the realization that, on occasion, their service took a back seat to their pride and ambition. Others might have become hot under the Roman collar, so to speak…angered at the suggestion that they “have it wrong.” It’s hard to accept criticism, no matter who is criticizing or how it is directed at us. But, hopefully, the vast majority of the Italian bishops sat listening as attentively as the 12 behind the closed doors of Peter’s home.

And, hopefully, the Roman Catholic faithful around the world will hear this Sunday’s Gospel and realize that the teaching and admonition is not just for bishops and other Church leaders. All who are baptized in Christ are called to walk humbly before God. So then, on that day when a true Christian stands before The Just Judge and is asked (in a loving tone) “Who do you think you are?” …the answer is entirely predictable: I am Your humble servant, Lord…and the humble servant of others as well!

Your True Identity
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2015
MK 8:27-35

Once, while traveling through a large city, I stopped at an ATM machine to get some cash. I was in a hurry because I could see the bus that I needed to catch lumbering down the street. When the money was in hand, I didn’t take special precautions, but simply unbuttoned the flap over the breast pocket inside my over coat, slipped in the cash, and re-buttoned the flap, as well as my overcoat. It seemed secure enough to me; in fact, that was the pocket where I kept my passport. I made a mad dash across the street and stepped onto the bus, surprised that there was actually someone behind me, since the doors were already starting to close as I stepped on. The bus jolted to a start just as I grabbed onto a pole to steady myself. The person who boarded behind me did the same. As the bus got under way, he was jostled against me. He smiled an apology. He got off the bus at the very next stop. When I arrived at my destination, and unbuttoned my overcoat to access the cash, I discovered the flap of the breast pocket open and all of my money was gone. However, to my great relief, my passport was still there. The man had taken my money, but thank God, for whatever reason, had left me with my identity. I could prove who I was and I would be able to re-enter the U.S. without struggling to answer the questions underlying today’s Gospel. Who do you say that you are? How can you prove it?

As Mark reports it, Jesus tried to keep His identity “secret.” Clearly, God sent His only Son into this world with the full range of Divine power. These powers were not kept secret but were used freely and openly. Possibly, Jesus decided that it would be best not to identify Himself as the Messiah, but rather, to let people come to that conclusion based on what they heard and by what they saw. It was through His actions and deeds, rather than some sort of “official credential” that the Lord proved His identity as The Son of God.

Those who recognized Him followed, and, eventually, Jesus invited them to assume His identity! There was no need to steal it…rather, Jesus encouraged the disciples to become Him…to be totally and completely identified with Him…and to go out into the world and introduce Him to strangers. The only thing that He asked in exchange…was that they give up their own “passport.”

Through Baptism, we enjoy the same privilege. We are entitled to travel through this world assuming the identity of Jesus Christ. But there is danger in our journey. Identity theft is rampant. Things such as our own personal desires, ambitions, greed, and selfishness are skilled at reaching into our lives, leaving material things but taking our true identity…the identity that was given to us by the Holy Spirit.

If we don’t take careful precautions against these thieves, some day, when we find ourselves at the border between time and eternity, we might well have trouble answering those questions: Who do you say that you are? How can you prove it?

Be Open
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 6, 2015
MK 7:31-37

I am at that point in life where I enjoy “senior discounts.” But with the perks there are also some down sides. For example, when I go into a restaurant to enjoy the “Early Bird Special,” I find that I need to be selective about the seating. I need a table that is not too close to the cash register, the kitchen, the juke box, or even another table with a lot of other people. I also need to sit directly across from the person with whom I am dining. If there are more than two at the table, I find myself repeatedly saying to the people on my right and left: “Excuse me? What did you say,” and, as the meal draws on, just plain “Huh?” With age, hearing is starting to fail me. Ambient sounds, noise, and even conversation from adjoining tables block or interfere with conversations I am involved in. Fortunately for me, I was blessed with hearing at birth, so at least at this point, my speech is unaffected by the calendar. All of this has given me a new appreciation for this Sunday’s Gospel.

Mark’s report of the healing of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37) leaves out a lot of detail, which, in a way, is an invitation for us to color in the lines. This also encourages and even enables us to search for the deeper meaning behind this double miracle.

It appears that this man was born deaf. As a result, his ability to speak was severely compromised. It was with great difficulty, and to only a very few, that he would have been able to express himself. His thoughts, worries, concerns, needs, desires, and longings were all trapped behind a tongue that did not know how to form intelligible words. It was only those who cared deeply for him that would take the time to understand him…and in turn…enable him to understand what they wanted to tell him. A very significant element of this story then seems to be the importance of our relationships with others. The man’s friends cared enough for him that they sought out Jesus and begged Him to cure the man. The man trusted his friends to the point that he went off by himself with Jesus. Somehow, in spite of his disability, the man understood that he could place his trust in the Lord!

For His part, Jesus addressed all of the man’s needs. The Lord gave the man the sense of hearing, and, in an instant, gave him the gift of language. From the numerous healings that Jesus did during His earthly ministry, this one is among the very few reported in the Gospels. In spite of the lack of detail, it stands out and is remembered even to the point that the healing gesture is included in the Baptism of infants. The two-fold gesture of touching the man’s ears and tongue is repeated as the priests prays that The Holy Spirit open the ears of the child…to hear the Good News…and empower the child’s tongue to proclaim the goodness of the Lord!

So then, if you “color in between the lines,” what you might well be left with is a portrait of yourself…a disciple of Jesus Christ. Through Baptism, we are placed into a special relationship with Christ. What a great perk! But along with the “perks” comes responsibility to others. The Holy Spirit opened your ears so that The Word of the Lord can overpower all of the blaring noise of this world, and penetrate deeply into our minds and our hearts. The language of the Gospel…The Good News…has been placed on our tongue…and now, you are charged with the responsibility of taking the time and making the effort to communicate this Good News with those still deafened to God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that The Lord made an effort to keep His identity secret…but He made no secret of that fact that to be His flower, one must do for others what the friends of the deaf man did. Think of it this way. You have been given the license to use the word “EPHPHATHA!” Be opened!

So the question of the week is simply this: Do you care enough to do that? Are you strong enough in your faith and fearless enough to take someone who is deaf to the Gospel…and speak that word with the same force and effect that Jesus spoke it?

EPHPHATHA! It’s a strange word…that now belongs to you…will you use it?

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