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-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:19-31
September 25, 2016

I worked in downtown Detroit, Michigan, for over 20 years. Twice a day, year after year, I drove past a little green patch in the middle of Jefferson Avenue without paying any attention to the monument that stands there. Within view of the imposing sculpture of “The Spirit of Detroit” and the equally impressive and enormous “fist” of Joe Louis, the statue of Armenian cleric Gomidas Vartabed stands as a silent memorial to what is referred to as the Armenian Genocide.

Overshadowed by the tributes to civic pride, a sports hero, and completely surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the busy city, I venture to say that on any given day, few, if any, of the tens of thousands of people that pass by the statue even notice that it is there. What is more sobering is the fact that few, if any, of those passersby have any idea that between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Christian Armenians, living within the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, were systematically murdered. Another 1 million refugees fled their home and country, never to return.

Like many Detroiters, I passed by the monument without noticing it and was totally ignorant of the terrible crime against humanity that it memorializes. Simply put: This didn’t involve me! Not having personal ties to that part of the world, and not being taught about this atrocity in any history class, I remained ignorant of this grievous sin. Then, I happened on a brief report on the memorial services the Armenian community in Michigan organized to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the systematic effort to eliminate an entire population. There is obviously nothing I can do at this point…except remember.

But remembering is about the past, which we cannot change. Still, when we remember, we learn, and when we learn from our past mistakes, we can do something to avoid making those same mistakes.

Certainly, we remember that during World War II, 6 million Jews were murdered in German concentration camps, many more becoming refugees never to return to their homes. But, what we might not know is that, today, on this 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, as we hear and reflect on Luke 16:19-31, many Christians in the Middle East risk their lives to do what we are doing…celebrating Eucharist. Other Christians are gathering to break The Bread and to share The Cup, to find comfort and hope in the Gospel in refugee camps or in foreign countries to which they have fled. Untold others have been martyred for our faith.

The systematic effort to eliminate Christians from the Middle East has resulted in genocide comparable to the Holocaust of World War II. But, many of us, like the rich man dressed in purple garments, simply go about our business oblivious of the sacrifices so many of our sisters and brothers are making for the faith we share. Living in a nation where our freedom to worship is a guaranteed freedom, we have fallen victim to the attitude that the Prophet Amos warns against in our First Reading. (Amos 6:1, 4-7) We have become “complacent.”

In fact, we have become so very complacent that, on Sunday mornings, rather than taking advantage of the great freedom to worship as we choose, many of us remain lying upon beds…stretched comfortable on couches…rather than doing what people are risking their very lives to do…share in the Eucharist.

The parable that Jesus used to challenge the Pharisees is not an attack on wealth, it is an echo of Amos’s warning against complacency. We can’t change the sins of the past, but we can at least learn from them. We might not be personally, or even as a nation, capable of stopping the mass murders that are going on at this very moment in the Middle East, Africa, India, and in many other parts of the world, but we can at least be aware of what is happening.

This week’s Readings caution us that when we allow anything to overshadow our commitment to Christ and to others, we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a sober reminder to us that when we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life that we ignore the sufferings of others…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings are a stark reminder that when we become so self-indulgent and self-absorbed that we are not made ill by things like religious persecution, bigotry, and genocide…we are in grave spiritual danger.

This week’s Readings call us to acknowledge that all human suffering does involve us, because all humanity is unified in Christ!

We can’t change the past, but we have a duty to remember and to learn from it. Unlike the rich man, who was so preoccupied with himself that he didn’t notice the beggar at his gate, we might not be in a position to change things…but we cannot be complacent. We must make a point of at least being aware of the sacrifice so many make to enjoy the banquet at which we feast without a second thought.

We must at least be aware or we become part of the sin!

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:1-13
September 18, 2016

Timing couldn’t have been better.

Last week, I heard the news that Wells Fargo Bank fired 5,300 employees who had falsified sales records by generating millions of bogus accounts in order to appear to be more productive than they actually were. Now, as part of the unemployed, and because of their dishonesty most likely unemployable, at least in the banking industry, they are totally unproductive.

Moving on with my morning, I turned off the TV and opened up the Gospel to begin my reflection on the Readings for this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I literally laughed out loud when I saw that the Gospel was Luke 16: Jesus’s parable about the dishonest steward.

The Lord describes the incompetence of a man in the management of his master’s affairs. Realizing that he’s getting the sack for squandering his master’s property would most likely make him unemployable, he decided to do a little “networking.” In an effort to ingratiate himself with people who might give him a helping hand when he needed it, he did just what the 5,300 Wells Fargo employees did…falsified the records. In this case, he wrote off debt that was rightly due and owing to the master.

The reaction of the master to this further breach of duty is what makes this parable especially challenging. Rather than being outraged by the additional loss he suffered at the hands of the dishonest steward, the master seems almost amused. Even more difficult to understand, the master appears to admire the ingenuity of the villain. I seriously doubt that the board of directors of Wells Fargo Bank were amused by the “ingenuity” of the 5,300, especially after the government fined the Bank $185 million because of the dishonesty of the employees. So, what is this parable meant to teach us? What is this story all about? Certainly not that cooking the books is a clever and even admirable way to dig yourself out of a heap of trouble. Dishonesty of this sort is no laughing matter.

The Church makes it a little easier for us to grasp what the Lord is saying by pairing this bad guy with Amos the Prophet. Our First Reading comes from the writings of “The Voice of Social Justice, “a/k/a AMOS! Rather than being mildly amused by slick business dealings, Amos warns us about the wrath of God that will pour down on the dishonest…especially those who take advantage of the poor. It is simply unimaginable that Jesus would be reversing God’s message delivered by Amos. Clearly, the parable is not to encourage shady business practices. So what then?

The answer might well be set within our Second Reading (2 Tim 1-8). Jesus is the Mediator, Who stands between God and us. What that means is that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Divine Mystery (God) and the perfection of human nature blended.

Because the Lord was fully human, just like us, in all things BUT SIN, the Lord experienced all of the emotions, feelings, needs, desires, and even temptations which we encounter in this world. The Lord always rejected what was contrary to the will and ways of The Father. We don’t. As a consequence, we, as individuals, and as the whole of humanity, have run up a staggering debt, which we could never even begin to repay. And so Jesus “cooked the books.”

By His complete and unconditional commitment to the will of The Father, even to the point of experiencing death on a cross, Jesus paid our debt for us. That is what St. Paul means when he tells us: Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. And this perfect act of self-giving, rather than offending The Father, was most pleasing to God Who wills everyone to be saved!

Paul concludes this week’s passage with these words: It is my wish, then, that in every place, (people) should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument. One way that we can be certain that our “hands are holy” is by using them to be productive; picking up a pen and canceling the debts that we feel others owe to us.

That is the wish of The Lord…that we juggle the books in favor of our sisters and brothers.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 15:1-32
September 11, 2016

Last Sunday, September 4, on the 19th anniversary of her death, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa a saint of the Catholic Church. Although such things as “sainthood” would typically escape the notice of the secular press, her international notoriety made the criticism of this holy woman and her work especially newsworthy. NBC World News, for example, posted the headline: Mother Teresa’s Canonization Marred by Controversy. The article then gave voice to all who found fault with our newest saint. Actually this isn’t “new” news. After her death, some of her writings were published. Her critics used her personal reflections and spiritual pondering to fashion arguments that Mother Teresa’s faith and trust in God were not as solid as her public image portrayed. Although I never had the honor of meeting her, I assume that she was her own harshest critic, followed closely by our Church, which thoroughly scrutinized her entire life before declaring her sainthood.

But our Readings this week do not deal with saints, but rather, with sinners.

As we move into the next season of the calendar year, we enter as well into the final phase of the liturgical year. We’ve already given consideration to the cost of discipleship. It’s pricey! It demands a total and unconditional commitment to and complete trust in God. Many (even on occasion people like St. Mother Teresa) if not most of us fall short…way short. So, for the next few weeks, we are called to reflect on what happens when we miss the mark, fall short, or wander from the path to which God, through Jesus Christ, directs us.

In 1987, National Catholic Register (a Catholic publication that does not shy away from transparency and constructive criticism of our Church) published an article by philosopher and author Peter Kreeft, entitled: What is a Saint? As he goes about listing the seemingly contradictory qualities and characteristics of saints, whom he refers to as “little Christs,” Kreeft opines that “saints are not the opposite of sinners.” He writes: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners. Thus, “holy” does not mean “sinless” but “set apart,” called out of the world to the destiny of eternal ecstasy with God.

So, I guess I was wrong!

If it’s true that: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners…then, in a way, this week’s Readings are about saints and holiness. The last of three parables that Jesus uses to explain the difference between saints and sinners is the story of the Prodigal Son. This selfish, inconsiderate, disrespectful, self-indulgent, blasphemous, immoral, and careless young man was saved because he was able to say those three little words: I was wrong!

When the Pharisees and scribes heard this little story of redemption, like those who “marred Mother Teresa’s canonization with criticism,” they probably scoffed, “The kid hit rock bottom! Why wouldn’t he come running home? The father was a sucker.”

The first two shorter and simpler parables are the perfect response.

Jesus tells us that God is the kind of parent Who doesn’t simply wait at home, hoping that the sinful son will come to his senses. God goes out searching. God doesn’t rest until we speak those three powerful little words: I was wrong! And when we do, God rejoices.

I was wrong!

The three little words that saves a sinner…and makes a saint!

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:25-33
September 4, 2016

Last Sunday afternoon, within the span of about 90 minutes, I was contacted by four different friends. Two were driving back from East Lansing, one was in route home from Ann Arbor (Go Blue!) and the fourth was sitting at home pondering the fact that the next day his pride and joy would begin her college career locally. Three of my friends were experiencing for the first time the mixed emotions a parent feels when sending their child off to college. The fourth was a veteran, having made the trip with a van full of “essentials” several times before. This time it was the youngest. It was clear from his tone of voice that it hadn’t become any easier. Actually, knowing that he was returning home to an empty nest left him even more vulnerable to the dark side of the mixed emotions.

It’s hard letting go!

And yet, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be encouraging friction and division even within immediate families. Can He really be calling us to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”? Certainly, that is the surface meaning of what He is saying. But, unless we dig deeper, we stand the risk of using the Gospel of peace and love to promote and justify the kind of violence and terror that is plaguing our world.

It might be helpful to ponder how the Lord ends the list of people “to be hated” and then look to our First Reading for a deeper meaning. “If anyone comes to me without hating…even (their) own life, (they) cannot be my disciple.” Another confusing statement. Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, what is there about ourselves that we could possibly hate?

The Book of Wisdom spells it out in clear and simple terms. We can “hate” our limitations. We can “hate” those things about us that are the consequence of the original sin. That first bad choice left us broken, limited, and far less than The Creator intended us to be. Few of us will ever be able to totally overcome these limitations while in our earthly bodies. However, we can compensate for our spiritual disabilities by consciously planning and then building a life on the foundation of the Gospel. But, it is an expensive project.

The cost of discipleship is an unconditional commitment to Jesus Christ…even at the expense of our loved ones…even if it means ignoring our own desires and needs. It is hard letting go!

My friends, who sent their college freshmen off to the next phase of their lives, face some pretty stiff costs. They are making the necessary sacrifices because they know that it is worth the expense to help make their children’s future more successful. How much more important is it to invest in our spiritual lives, where the goal is eternal life? Who counts the cost when salvation is at risk?

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