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.

Receive an email Would you like to sign up to receive our Sunday Journal?
Click here.

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!

In Your Presence
August 17, 2014
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 15, 21-28

I want to talk about crumbs, leftovers, those little particles that tend to be brushed aside…or even intentionally discarded because they are seen as having no value. You know what I mean. Things like that last, bothersome spoonful of casserole that you look at and think: “What am I going to do with this? I can’t eat another bite but there’s not enough to save.” So you flip on the garbage disposal and wash the problem down the drain without giving it another thought. That is the image that the pagan woman we meet in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 15:21-28) used when asking for Jesus’s help. She begged for the scraps…crumbs…the leftovers not worth saving.

In my efforts to enter into this story, my first reaction was to marvel at her appreciation for the sacred. The reverence which she showed Jesus should have inspired the actual witnesses to the meeting, and should continue to inspire us today. We have become pretty “casual” in our lifestyle, to the point that the sense of the sacred is at risk. That is not a good thing, in fact, that is a very dangerous situation…losing a sense of the sacred. Consider the recently re-introduced practice of “purifying” all of the sacred vessels after Communion, in many parishes, even before the Mass is ended. Through this symbolic gesture, the Church is reminding us that Christ’s Body and Blood is truly present to us in the Eucharist and is so sacred that NO FRAGMENT of the Lord’s Body, and NO DROP of The Precious Blood should be lost or disrespected. Even the smallest particle of the Eucharist IS THE BODY OF CHRIST!

Sometimes we fail to recall, however, that the Lord is also present to us during the Eucharist, through the liturgical action at the Table of the Word…the Ambo. Many centuries ago, from a cave in Bethlehem, where he translated the Bible, St. Jerome explained it this way: For me, the Gospel IS the Body of Christ. Christ’s Body and Blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching.” (Emphasis added)

So then, when we allow our minds to wander during the proclamation of God’s Word, it’s as if we are dismissing Jesus. When we aren’t fully present to The Readings, we miss an opportunity to have Christ be fully present to us. It’s as if we are brushing Him and His teachings aside like annoying crumbs.

On the other hand, when we take the opportunity to begin our day with the Scripture passages set out in Morning Prayer, we are nourishing and strengthening our spirits so that we are better able to face the challenges of the day ahead of us.

In spite of all that God has revealed to us through Christ…many do not seem to know what the pagan woman fully understood. She knew that even the briefest of contact, the smallest fragment, the scraps left over, hold the fullness of Christ’s healing power. What others might brush aside, she desperately sought.

The reverence of this pagan reminds us today, that it is as fitting and right to give the same attention and reverence to the Table of the Word as we give to the Communion Table. Moreover, even as we take pains to purify the sacred vessels, it is important for us turn to the Ambo with pure hearts, because when we hear God’s Word proclaimed, it is as if we become sacred vessels. When we hold The Living Word in our minds and hearts we are living chalices from which others can be nourished.

The Voice
August 10, 2014
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 14:22-33

A friend once told me that a good story is worth telling over and over and over. I suppose that is why we have the Gospels. The story of salvation, the Good News, has been repeated over and over and over again, for generations, because there is nothing more worthy of telling or hearing. So then, I feel like I can share, yet once more, a story I’ve told countless times, about a photograph of my nephew that I took about 35 years ago.

Joe was a few months shy of his first birthday, when I happened to be visiting with my camera. He was almost ready to be put down for the night. My sister had him snug in pale blue, flees pajamas, the kind that have feet…and cuffs…and zip up the front. He was ready for a cold winter night. Crawling around on the living room floor, he made his way over to the sofa, and used it to support himself as he stood up. It was his “new trick” and he turned around to see if anyway was looking at him, obviously proud of himself. It was at this point that I thought: “I got to get a picture of this!”

Well my sister rewarded his efforts with the appropriate praise and then she crouched down on the floor…just a few feet away from him and said: “Okay Joey…now come to me! You can do it! Walk over to Mommy!”

You could see it in his eyes….a mixture of eagerness, daring, desire and fear. When, all of a sudden, he let go of the edge of the sofa, turned and started to walk towards the first voice he recognized, the voice he knew was filled with love, the voice he loved to hear. It was my sister’s voice that enabled her baby to let go of what he was clinging to for support and walk towards her. He threw out his arms, probably to balance himself, or maybe to ready himself to embrace her. He had a look of sheer delight on his face. It was then that he took his first step. CLICK! I was standing behind her and I got the picture. What I didn’t photograph was his first big fall. He got distracted by something, took his eyes off of her…and BOOM!

While I love the picture, I don’t need it to remember the moment. It’s etched into my heart. And, I think of that “first step” and that “first fall” every time I hear this weekend’s Gospel. (Matt. 14:22-33) My little nephew’s experience of moving towards love…as well as his “fall” changed him forever. After those first steps, he realized what he was capable of. He quickly recovered from the fall, and once he was duly comforted, and tears dried, he crawled right back to the sofa, turned and tired again.

Peter was able to jump into a raging sea because of “The Voice.” He recognized the love with which the simple little word “COME!” was spoken. The love was so powerful, Peter couldn’t resist. The love drew him out of the boat and enabled him to defy the laws of nature. True, he became distracted and he sank. But the experience changed him forever. It taught him how difficult it is, if not impossible, to sustain the momentum that enables us to do things which…literally defy nature. “

When we follow “The Voice” we are able to defy the stormy forces of anger, hatred, discrimination and revenge. “The Voice” draws us out of our own personal safety zones and enables us to walk over the all too human feelings of materialism, greed, and self-interest….so that we can reach out for those things that are eternal, treasure those things that have lasting value, and share what we do enjoy with those who have less…those in great need.

It’s certainly true that there are times when we get distracted and someone or something shifts our attention and we sink! But, having had the spirit lifting experience of walking above the things of this world, and moving towards “The Voice” we know that we can rise to the surface and with God’s help, start again. So…”IF THIS WEEK YOU HEAR THE VOICE….HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS!” Take your first step and don’t be afraid of your first fall.

Look Around
August 3, 2014
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matt 14:13-21

Last week I was traveling on a rural highway, relatively free of traffic, enjoying that beautiful, golden glow that comes with these summer sunsets we’ve been blessed with. I happened to glance over to the south and recognized a perfectly manicured golf course. Within seconds, I noticed two golf carts, perched side by side on the little rise leading up to, what I assumed must be the 18th hole. There were four, very colorfully dressed men, standing around, leaning against their putters; clearly waiting to finish up their round of golf. Because of the hour, I guessed they were the last foursome on the links. It was a very ordinary summer scene that was abruptly cut off by a narrow but thick and tall stand of trees that marked the boundary of the course.

Before I turned my attention back to the road, I saw what was on the other side of the tree line. Side by side with the golf course, was an enormous field with a healthy crop growing in it. And, there were people in this scene as well, using up the last of the day light. These people were also colorfully dressed, with red and blue head scarves and straw hats. These people however, we’re not leisurely waiting to bring a few house of relaxation to a close. They were bent over weeding and hoeing this field, where they had most likely been hard at work since the first light of day. The contract between the two scenes was shocking and thought provoking.

As I drove on, I wondered whether they were aware of one another. The screen of trees made it impossible to see from the golf course to the field…but still…the golfers had to drive past the field and the workers in order to get to the greens. Did they even notice? Or we’re they so excited about the hours of fun ahead of them, that they drove past without seeing.

I also wondered whether the farm workers were aware of the fact that such a short distance away, there were people enjoying the summer evening, rather than bent over, exhausted but anxious to use the last of the light to finish their work. Could they hear laughter coming through the trees or smell hot dogs grilling at the club house? Did it make their work even more tedious being aware of what was so close to them, but at the same time so very far away?

The lines from this week’s Gospel (Matt 14:13-21) that seem to blast off the page…at least for me…are: “GIVE THEM SOME FOOD.” This is Jesus’ rapid fire response to the disciples urging Him to “DIMISS THEM! SEND THEM AWAY! GET RID OF THEM! THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO FOR THEM!

At least the disciples noticed. They recognized the need, but seemed to be so overwhelmed by it that they just wanted it to go away. They didn’t want to take it on as their issue…their problem. They wanted to send the hungry off for someone else to deal with. It’s not so easy to wave away the needy however. There aren’t tall, thick stands of trees blocking our view from what surrounds us. There are no borders secure enough, that we aren’t forced to look at the hungry, needy people who are on the wrong side of poverty. They are certainly aware of and looking to the privileged for help. And the Lord is as well…with the challenging words: “You give them something to eat!”

St. John Paul II, when contrasting the privileged with the poor once summarized Christian social doctrine as follows: “The goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. As far as the Church is concerned, the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis for motivation and action.” (From Go in Peace)

In other words, we have to look through the forest…and see the people on the other side of the trees. Those who are in need have a right to look to those who have plenty …for something to eat. The privileged cannot in good conscience, simply put out and then turn and walk towards the club house. We cannot ignore the poor. We cannot simply send them away. We need to give them something to eat.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
July 27, 2014
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:44-52

This 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, offers us the last in a series of parables which Jesus uses to give us a sense of The Reign, or the Kingdom of God. In fact, He frequently used the ordinary, the familiar, the common place, to help better acquaint us with the Extraordinary, The Sacred Mystery, The Transcendent God. In this way, The Lord helps us to see that God is with us in the “here and now” and yet there is far more that awaits us when we at last break free, from time and begin to exist in eternity.

If you have made any effort whatsoever, over these past weeks, to reflect on The Lord’s parables about The Reign…The Kingdom… of God, then hopefully you have come to appreciate that it is impossible for our finite minds to fully comprehend what this is all about. Nevertheless, in spite of our limitations, there are SOMETHINGS we can grasp about The Reign, or the Kingdom of God; which might explain the series of parables. It’s as if Jesus kept grasping for examples or images…so that we could grasp the reality that when time ends, God’s will and ways will reign supreme. Yet, even now we can strive to live in this world, as we will exist in eternity.

Another way to say this, is that God’s Reign is here and now…because Christ is here…in “the now”, fully present to the universe through the power of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, not everyone is wise enough to see this is the truth. Many turn a blind eye to Christ’s Way. And so the existence that God yearns for us all to enjoy, escapes us in its fullness. This is evidenced by the reality that we continue to experience as “ordinary”….things such as war, violence, discrimination and poverty. When Jesus returns in glory, all that will be reversed, and only then will we fully comprehend what God has ready for those who love the Lord.

Now it seems to me anyway, that the thing about parables is that while they offer an image of something that’s challenging to imagine, they also invite us to dig deeper. I wonder if just possibly, through this week’s little string of parables, (Matt 13:44-52) Jesus is not only telling us about the incomparable value of The Reign, or the Kingdom of God, but just possibly, might also be offering us an image of God.

Could God be like the treasure hunter, Who finds in each of us, something so precious, that He pays the ultimate price…His only Son, so that He might possess us exclusively? Could there be a pearl hidden within each of us, so alluring that even God can’t resist? Does God caste a net of love and mercy over our lives, and having captured the whole of us, sort through and discard what is waste, but savor what is good and wholesome? I wonder!

I also wonder, why…if God sees so much value in each of us…we don’t see it in ourselves…or in one another?

It’s an ordinary thing to wonder…it’s extraordinary however to search for the answer! Why not do some treasure hunting this week! Don’t be ordinary during Ordinary Time…search for buried treasure…because…without using a parable…Jesus tells us: “seek and you will find!”

Sunday Journal Archive