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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The Company We Keep
July 20, 2014
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:24-30

My Dad, early on in my life all through high school and well into my university years, found numerous occasions to use this pearl of wisdom; typically introduced with the question: “Who are you going out with tonight?” And then it came: “Remember! People judge you by the company you keep.”

Today, I might respectfully respond: “They really shouldn’t Dad; it’s only God’s right to judge.” Still, Dad was right. We are often judged by the people we are seen with. Even Jesus was ridiculed for his friends; after all they were tax collectors and sinners.

Today Dad’s pearl of wisdom might rightly be expanded to say: “People judge you by the reality TV shows you watch, the video games you play, what you post on social media.” Quite honestly, it isn’t by accident that the company we keep, or the things we spend our time, energy and money on, are the standards by which others come to evaluate us. The truth is all of these things influence who we are and what we make of our earthly lives. The soil in which we plant ourselves, where we turn for nourishment and what we use to support and guide us, are the very things that form us. We can certainly argue that others have no right to judge us, but we will lose the argument if we are foolish enough to think that the people and things we spend our time with have no effect on who we are and what we are all about. Dad was right! My Dad was a “holy father!”

Speaking of holy fathers, Pope Francis, in a recent address entitled “In the Joy of the Holy Spirit” offered his own pearl of wisdom to Catholic families. The Holy Father said: “Families are the domestic church where Jesus grows; He grows in the love of spouses, He grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it.”

And then there is the parable that Jesus offers us in this week’s Gospel (Matt 13:24-43). Neither my Dad’s exact words, or those of Pope Francis, but Jesus makes a point that really needs no clarification. We need to be very careful about who and what we allow into our lives; especially our family life. In a very short time, the healthiest of gardens can be easily overpowered and strangled by weeds. And the same holds true for the healthiest of families; and the most vibrant of spiritual lives. Moreover, this is the season when weeds thrive. Maybe it might be advisable to examine both to see if it’s time to put some effort into pulling out those things that might cause us to be judged to be less than what we are: children of God. Happy gardening!

The Sower of the Seed
July 13, 2014
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 13:1-23

The very first “Sunday Homily” I preached was in St Patrick’s church in Palms, Michigan. It was the summer before my Ordination and Bishop Untener wanted me to have a rural, as well as an urban experience of parish ministry before making the determination as to whether or not I was “ready” for my first assignment. For the latter, I was sent to St John the Baptist in Carrollton. At the time, both parishes were pastored by nuns. Among their many other gifts, both were exceptionally fine preachers. They both stressed to me how vital it is to good liturgy to break open the Word proclaimed, and distribute it among the people in a way that nourishes and lifts up their spirits. Fully understanding the gravity of what I was about to do, I stepped forward to the Table of the Word (Ambo). Knees knocking and hands shaking, I began to proclaim Matt. 13:1-23.

Because of the summer heat, the front doors to the church were wide open. At some point, I looked up from the Sacred Text, and caught a view of the rolling, “knee high” corn field thriving in the July sun. Surrounded by an impressive stand of old hardwood trees, the field, directly across the country road from the church, was nothing less than magnificent. During that brief glimpse of natural beauty, it was as if the field spoke to me. Look at me! I’m what Jesus was talking about. Think about all the hard work that it took to make me look like this. Think of how many people will be nourished if I continue to grow and thrive and produce a good harvest this fall. Think about the waste and the loss if I am not cared for. It was a very powerful experience.

I had another powerful experience that Sunday morning. St. Patrick’s at the time, was a relatively small faith community, but the people filled the church for Sunday Mass. The elders, the younger people and families…all looking to the Table of the Word and the Communion Table to be “fed” so that they would have the strength to begin a new week. As they came forward to receive Communion, I noticed how sun tanned most of the people were. When they lifted up their hands for the Eucharist, I couldn’t help but notice the evidence of hard work! The men in particular all seemed to have massive strong hands. But even the teenagers took the Body of Christ on to hands that were clearly used to working in fields like the one across the road. And with that I was graced with another “AHHH!” moment!

Clearly, we the fields in which the Word of God is sewn, and cultivated in hopes that it will grow and offer a bountiful harvest at the end of our earthly season. But, I wonder if maybe Jesus is telling us as well, that we are also the farmers called upon to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of others. I wonder if Jesus is encouraging us to go out into the world and propagate what is entrusted to us from the two Tables. Could He be encouraging us to work hard in spreading the Word of God, the Seeds of Faith, even if it doesn’t always seem to germinate, or survive or thrive… because when it happens to fall onto a rich life eager for Christ, the results will be worth all of our efforts?

It’s true that a good homily is essential to good liturgy. But the duty to preach the Good News doesn’t rest exclusively with the ordained, or pastoral leaders. All of the Baptized should continue to preach the Gospel, out in the fields of their day to day lives; aware that it will not always be well received but that when it does take root the potential good is beyond calculations. It is indeed hard work. However, the faces of committed disciples, made strong for their efforts, glow…like the sun tanned faces of the folks out at St. Patrick’s.

Fr. Kelly’s Introduction
July 6, 2014
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 11:25-30

If you are reading this, chances are fairly good that you know me personally, or at least are aware of the fact that as of July 1, 2014, I hold the status of “senior priest” within the Diocese of Saginaw. What this means is that I am not assigned to a particular parish, and at this time, do not have regularly scheduled duties. When my decision to leave my post as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas was first made public, one of my best friends stopped me and asked: Why are you running from God? Without giving it a second thought….actually without thinking….I immediately replied: I’m not! I’m running to God!

You see, I was raised in a home where faith was the center of our family life. Somehow, throughout college and into a very busy professional career, I was able to maintain, what seemed to me anyway, to be a healthy spirituality. Still, “the things of the world” became more and more demanding. My time and attention were continually being over-taxed, and I became acutely aware of the fact that “the things of the Spirit” were getting less and less of my attention. Over time, the result of this priority shift was fatigue, in every sense of the word. Thankfully, my upbringing was so solid that I knew to turn to Christ, when I needed rest!

The Eucharist has always been a spiritual oasis for me. With time, I decided to pitch my tent, and reside there permanently. I accepted the invitation of the Holy Spirit, and in July of 1994 took on the yoke of ordained ministry. I cannot say that the work was easy, but without a doubt it was extremely rewarding and each day as a Catholic priest, I learned more about Christ, from you…The Body of Christ.

Senior priest status does not mean I am laying aside the work. It simply means that I am turning away even more from “the things of the world” so I can commit more fully to “the things of the Spirit.” By excusing myself from the busyness of parish life, I hope to enjoy the freedom to rest and relax in Christ.

I am sharing this personal information because maybe some “retiree” reading this reflection may come to see that the wisdom of age and experience is very useful in the service of the Lord! Christian service is a labor of love, that brings with it an opportunity to learn more about Christ than is to be found in any book or sermon. We meet Christ in a special, up close and personal way, when we serve those in need. Maybe some younger person, years from normal retirement age and on the verge of fatigue, might read this and remember Jesus’ words: ….you are anxious and worried about many things…there is need of only one thing! An hour of rest in the oasis of the Eucharist does wonders for the mind, the body and the spirit. Possibly a parent will read this and come to see how important it is to keep Christ at the center of family life because no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.

This weekend, our nation celebrates our freedom. Our Readings teach us that true freedom can only be found in our God. So…this holiday weekend….Run to God…and you will find rest for yourselves!

The Authority of Integrity
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul
Matthew 16:13-19

When I was a young minister I once tried telling a gentleman who was up in years how I thought he should behave. “What makes you think that I care for your opinion about what’s good or bad for me to do,” he asked, none to gently. “He’s got a good point,” a small voice whispered to my presumptuous self.

Reflecting later on how poorly I had handled that pastoral situation, it dawned on me that a legal mandate makes a painfully weak foundation on which to base religious authority. Only a life lived in faith gives an authority that all acknowledge. Nothing else really matters. That is what Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples have come to mean to me.

When Peter, speaking for the disciples, acknowledged Jesus as the Christ or Messiah, he was saying that he saw his life and teaching as providing the path to God’s great future for the world. Not only did he realize it intellectually and emotionally, he had committed himself to living Jesus’ way.

Jesus’ response to Peter and the disciples told them that in committing themselves to his, and thus the Father’s Way, they truly reflected what God was revealing in him. Jesus wasn’t giving them a new legal power. He was pointing out the real authority that their lives now had in the world.

This realization opens up the meaning of authority in the Church. Every one of us who lives the Way of Jesus has the authority Jesus found in the disciples. Bishops and priests represent our authority but it’s the same authority that resides in us all. By our lives we speak the Creator’s promise to our world. That’s who we are; that’s what we do.

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