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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30 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 22:34-40
October 25, 2020

A good friend sent me a text.

It read: I can’t help wondering if we’ll ever find normal again.

I suspect people all around the world are wondering the very same thing…if we’ll ever find normal again.

The next day, even as I was mulling over what I personally miss about “normal,” another friend sent this email:

It is precisely the “normal” that we are so desperate to return to which has brought us and the entire planet to this blighted point.

She continued: YES! We want our normal hugs and kisses, our closeness, our visits, our gatherings…

(I miss our Sign of Peace at Communion time.)

Those are part of the solution, not the problem. The trouble is...What followed was a list of the issues about our “NORMAL WAY OF LIVING” that she believes brought our world to this “blighted point.”

THE REAL TROUBLE IS…not everyone agrees with her.

Although almost everyone acknowledges that these are not “normal times” we are living through, my friend’s list of concerns and causes is politically charged. Every item is hotly debated at the federal, state, and local levels of government…at corporate headquarters…at our kitchen tables…and even among our Church leaders. Politicizing the concept of “normal” has not been especially helpful.

But, taking the conversation into the spiritual realm should definitely clarify things and eliminate the need for further discussion and debate…at least for good and faith-filled folks.

The First Reading clearly sets out as Law God’s vision of what is “normal.”

In God’s mind, it is “normal” to welcome and provide refuge to strangers.

According to Divine purpose, “normal” involves social programs that ensure that the basic needs of all people are met.

God’s Law…LAW, not SUGGESTION, mandates fair and honest business practices.

However, fully aware of our tendency to question, argue, and debate, Jesus simplifies it for us: In the eyes of God, “normal” means unconditional love for God and for one another. All other laws shelter under the umbrella of unconditional love.

Perfect love leaves no room for questions, arguments, exceptions to the rule, or debates. With God, “normal” is a state of perfect and unbroken love. That is The Law.

When will we ever find “normal” again? Not until Jesus returns in glory. Only then will those who dwell in this world be able to experience what our Creator, from the beginning, intended as “normal”…A NORMAL STATE WHERE THERE IS ONLY LOVE!

In the meantime, it is the obligation of all people of faith to work together in order to make things as NORMAL AS POSSIBLE…by welcoming strangers…caring for those in need…and demanding justice for all.

If we want to be as “normal as possible” while we wait for Jesus to return, we MUST love one another. It is beyond discussion and debate.

29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 22:15-21
October 18, 2020

On October 3, the day prior to the official feast day of Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis traveled the short distance from Rome to the hometown of the saint, whose name he chose when he became our shepherd. Although the trip was prearranged, not at all spontaneous, it was done with very little fanfare. Much of the Holy Father’s visit was spent in private prayer and reflection. After celebrating Mass in a nearly empty Church, several copies of his encyclical, which had yet to be made public, were placed on the altar close to the tomb of St. Francis. After quietly signing the document, he returned to the car that brought him, and simply traveled back to the Vatican. It apparently was a somber affair.

The Pope chose that holy place for the signing ceremony because his namesake’s life and teaching inspired the content of the 86-page document entitled:

BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL

(Fratelli tutti)

The title itself is borrowed from the writings, teachings, and brilliant example of the humble saint.

Although most Catholics are unlikely to read the eight chapters of the text, all humankind should at least be aware of its existence. The Holy Father refers to his encyclical as a “social document.” Some commentators find it political in tone. (Certainly, he will be criticized for interjecting himself into civil concerns.) Still, approaching the text with an open mind and heart, one cannot help but see it for what it truly is…spiritual thoughts inspired by the Gospel.

The somber tone of the signing ceremony was in keeping with the message. The opening chapter is called:

Dark Clouds over a Closed World

There is a very definite sense of urgency in the Holy Father’s description of the global impact of Covid-19, which has left people around the world feeling “closed off and isolated.” Relying heavily on passages from the Gospel familiar to all Christians, Francis begins to describe how the post-pandemic world can, and should, look.

Speaking to the healing process that has yet to begin, the Pope points out that whenever Jesus cured someone of a physical condition, He “healed” their relationship with the community as well. Francis urges us to consider that the corona virus is not the only global affliction humankind is struggling with today. There are also economic, environmental, and spiritual sicknesses that are ravaging our world and crippling our ability to be in healthy and life-giving relationships with those who look, act, or think differently. If these socioeconomic illnesses are not confronted: “things will only get worse.”

The symptoms of the socioeconomic pandemic include widening divisions within and between nations. People are having ever greater difficulty in finding common ground, even within families, neighborhoods, our Church, and most certainly among nations. If Covid affects the sense of taste…the socioeconomic pandemic has made it next to impossible for people with differing views and opinions to communicate. Rather than digging in, we need to start climbing out, meeting one another in the light…THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. On the surface, we will see each other for who we truly are:

BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!

Those who are inclined to be critical of Pope Francis, accusing him of wandering far afield from the spiritual realm, invading the political arena, where some believe he does not belong, might consider a deeper reflection on this Sunday’s First Reading. What God is telling us through Isaiah has been brilliantly explained by theologian Monika Hellwig.

Political power is given for the sake of the people, but the authority it carries is from God, and is conferred so that the divine purpose in the world might be realized. Political power is not personal property for those who wield it, but a mandate from God for the implementing of the divine purpose for the whole people. (Gladness Their Escort, The Liturgical Press 1987)

And the “divine purpose” is that humankind should live and communicate and cooperate as

BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!

This encyclical gives to God what belongs to God. It gives voice to “the Divine purpose;” in other words, GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S WAY!

At the same time, it offers those who govern something beyond tax dollars. It offers guidance as to how civil authority might better rule so that “the Divine purpose” is woven into the rule of law. People of faith owe it to those who hold political office to give guidance on how they might better ensure that God’s purpose is the law of the land.

Fratelli tutti concludes with a prayer. Let us pray.

A Prayer to the Creator

Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
Pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice, and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus, forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.

28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 22:1-14 OR 22:1-10
October 11, 2020

Brides around the world must certainly appreciate the frustration and bitter disappointment that the king, featured in this Sunday’s parable, experienced. Since March of 2020, long planned (and probably paid for) wedding celebrations have been postponed, dramatically altered, or cancelled altogether. The pandemic has made wedding celebrations hotspots for contagion. So, many couples engaged since Covid hit are stalled in their planning.

For that matter, a wedding invitation from a couple going forward with a public reception leaves many folks, especially those considered “high-risk,” scrambling to think of a credible excuse to include with their regrets.

Arguably, this parable revolves around the final line:

Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Which raises the question about the poor guy, who was most likely shocked to find himself inside the reception in the first place, then totally traumatized as he was tossed out shortly after arriving. Just what was he lacking as far as his apparel that caused him to suffer this brutal treatment?

Today, someone might well be denied entry to a wedding venue for not wearing a mask. But to be bound hand and foot and tossed into the darkness…well, that just screams “lawsuit!” But maybe that’s the key here…a mask!

The Father has prepared a banquet of infinite delights. The cost was heavy…paid willingly by The Son…Who offered His very life so that all might be accommodated. The invitations have gone out, delivered by The Holy Spirit.

Tragically, many ignore the invitation altogether, not even bothering to open it. Some might consider accepting, but then get caught up in other things…distracted…otherwise occupied…making any number of excuses. There are those who realize what an enormous honor it is to be invited. These make every effort to prepare so that they are worthy guests, bringing the gift of “lives well-lived.”

Finally, there are those who unexpectedly find themselves at the doors of the banquet hall. But to gain entry, they need to REMOVE THEIR MASKS. All those things that conceal THE FACE OF CHRIST must be cast off. The dress code is LOVE. Some comply…others, it seems, hold on tenaciously to those things the hide their true identities as children of God.

The Kingdom is a place of perfect peace. Once admitted, there is no need to defend or protect oneself. There is only joy.

So, the question of the week is: WHY WAIT?

There is no reason to delay your plans. Start preparing now…and the doors will be opened to you.

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 21:33-43
October 4, 2020

I know next to nothing about grapevines. So, when Sacred Scripture sets a lesson within a vineyard, I find myself straining to conjure up an image to support “The Word.” But it doesn’t take a “Gallo Brother” to appreciate the gravity of God’s message to Israel set out in our First Reading:

Produce good fruit or you will be leveled.

“The chief priests and elders of the people” to whom The Lord directed yet another “vineyard” parable, whether or not they knew anything at all about growing grapes, were certainly aware that the story carried a dire warning directed at them. Sadly, what we have here is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So threatened by The Jesus, they did kill The Son, Whom The Father had sent. And, eventually, The Temple was leveled.

But, The Word of The Lord is alive. It carries a message for every person in every day and age. Leaving the weight of this week’s Readings on the shoulders of Israel is to miss an opportunity to hear what God is saying to each of us here…and now! Maybe it helps to update the image.

As I said, I know next to nothing about grapevines. I do, however, know something about cherry tomatoes. At least I thought I did.

This past spring, I bought a very healthy little cherry tomato plant. I found a proper container and a trellis to support what I envisioned would become a vine loaded with fruit. I bought a bag of “pricey” potting soil, supposedly fortified with all the nutrients any plant would need. I located the pot in a sunny area near my front door so that I would remember to water the plant. And I did. I watered it faithfully, but…I did nothing else.

The vine grew in every direction. It grabbed onto everything but the trellis. It grew up the leg of a lawn chair and invaded a flower bed. It crawled up a nearby shrub. But it produced very few little yellow flowers…and so precious few cherry tomatoes. I’m guessing all of its strength went into exploring and attempting to dominate its surroundings.

Remarkably, this all happened without me noticing that things had gotten out of hand. Had I simply taken the time to guide it and give it proper direction by fastening it to the trellis, and had I done a bit of pruning what was sapping its energy and life, maybe I would be eating cherry tomatoes right now.

Baptism is the gift of new life in Christ. It brings with it the promise of abundant fruit. But, we can’t expect to accept this wonderful gift and simply enjoy the harvest. As we grow in faith, we need structure, guidance, support, and proper nourishment.

Our Church and our Sacraments provide both direction and nourishment. If we neglect our spiritual life and “grow out” on our own, in every direction but UP…our lives are in danger of becoming barren…fruitless. And Isaiah tells us the consequences of a low-yield harvest.

In our Second Reading this week, St. Paul offers us an excellent plan to ensure a fruitful spiritual life: prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. These are certainly fine ways of nurturing our relationship with God. It is important to remember, however, that Baptism also means that we are called into relationship with fellow believers.

Think of it this way:

There is a limit to what a single plant, even when properly cared for, can produce. Had I done all the right things with my little cherry tomato plant, the most I could have realistically expected would be few good salads. But a garden, like a vineyard, when properly cared for, has the potential for a bountiful harvest that can feed a whole community.

Hopefully, this “updated” image helps us hear and appreciate the message these Readings have for us today. Because of the pandemic, Bishops around the world have given dispensations to the faithful regarding Mass attendance. Many have maintained a prayer regime at home; others…not so much. Even those who have continued to communicate with God are still missing the interaction with one another. The structure and support of the Christian Community is essential to keep a faith-life growing in the right direction. Left on our own, we tend to move in the wrong direction, without even noticing it.

There is concern by Church leaders that once the pandemic is fully controlled, folks will not return to the guidance, protection, and fellowship of our parish communities. It is worth noting that, by ourselves, our capabilities are somewhat limited. Working together as a family of faith, we have the ability to produce an abundant harvest. That is what we owe The Son when He returns to collect what we have produced…an abundant harvest.

Let us pray, then, that those who have felt compelled to absent themselves during this health crisis, as well as those who have simply “grown in another direction,” for whatever reason…will return soon. Let us work together to give God what is right and just. And may all people experience the Peace of God…Amen!

In the Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales cautions:

“What a sad thing it is to see that most people never even bother to think about the reason for their existence, but live as if they believe themselves created only to…. pile up wealth or do frivolous things. Consider your own past life. Say, ‘Lord, what was I thinking of when I was not thinking of You? Whom did I love when I was not loving You? I should have fed upon the truth, but I glutted myself with vanity and served the world instead of serving the truth.’”

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