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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Holy Spirit Sets a True Course
Feast of Christ the King
November 23, 2014
Matt 25:31-36

Mid-term elections are behind us…finally! As our nation watches a tragically unproductive session of Congress come to a close, it seems fair to say that the majority of Americans are road-weary from the gridlock that has characterized our government in recent years. We are certainly looking forward to a fresh start, but is there really any reason to hope things will change? The only element of our society that seems to benefit from this constant clash of philosophies, ideologies, and even personalities is the press. In fact, even the press has divided itself into camps. Rather than simply reporting facts, journalists are inflaming passions with biased reports from both sides of the aisle. It’s sad!

What is sad as well…and possibly even sinful…is that our Church seems to be experiencing the same deep divisions. You certainly get that impression from the secular press reporting on the October meeting of Bishops. The media seems to almost delight in broadcasting the diverse opinions expressed during the first meeting of the synod committed to the challenges Christian families are struggling with during this 21st century. Particular glee colored the reports of a comment attributed to an American Cardinal who is purported to have likened the Church under Pope Francis to “a ship without a rudder.”

This Sunday, like the past two, we step out of Ordinary Time to celebrate something special. On November 2, All Souls Day, we recalled how our Church is a union that cannot be divided even by death. Those who have gone before us benefit from and depend upon our prayers, and, in return, intercede for us. Last Sunday was the anniversary of the dedication of the “Mother Church,” St. John Lateran in Rome. That Feast offers an opportunity to consider our long, unbroken history. We are built on the strongest of foundations with Christ as our Cornerstone. Tracing our lineage back to this first place dedicated to public Christian worship is strong evidence of our unity and endurance.

This week, we mark the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Today, we image The Lord as a sovereign. Christ rules over all creation in a benevolent and loving way. It is Christ’s hand on the tiller, steadying and guiding the ship. And even as Christ charts our course through salvation history, it’s the Holy Spirit who fills our sails and propels us toward our final destination.

This Sunday’s Gospel offers a vivid description of the course that The Lord has charted for us as the Church moves through time toward eternity. The Holy Spirit carries us directly into the seas of need. As we pass through among the poor, the marginalized, the desperate…we should not simply observe what surrounds us, but through the Holy Spirit, we are called to reach out! We are called to take our hand OFF the wheel, confident that Christ our King, our Captain, our Shepherd, is guiding us into the waters where we need to be at any given point in salvation history…in order to be productive. The Holy Spirit sets a true course, and our duty is not to control the direction, but to serve those whom we encounter on our journey.

And so, as we bring this liturgical year to a close, our Readings make a clear distinction between the Church and state. In spite of the differing opinions, philosophies, ideologies, and personalities we bring to the Communion Table, we are unified by our shared belief in Jesus Christ…King of the Universe, who rules with compassion, mercy, and unconditional love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will endure whatever forces attempt to divide us. If there is an aisle that separates us, it is that some seek to control…while others commit only to serve…especially those in greatest need. For their efforts, they will be greatly rewarded!

Next Sunday, The Church can move into the season of Advent and begin a new liturgical year filled with hope…because it is Christ, our loving and gentle King, who is in control!

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 16, 2014
MT 25:14-30

I’m slowly replacing the incandescent light bulbs in my house with LED bulbs. I am doing it “slowly” because they’re expensive. But it’s a good investment. I read the package and determined that the LED I was putting into my reading lamp has a longer life expectancy than I do. Even better, the cost of burning an LED (light emitting diode) is significantly less than the old fashioned light bulb that the electric company used to give away free of charge. So, I can keep more lights on longer and pay much less. During the long winter nights this is a very good thing for many different reasons. Light is very important. Light means life, security, safety, and even joy.

While LEDs offer a bright, clean and cool light source and are a welcomed advance in technology, they are nothing more than the flicker of a firefly when compared to the LIGHT OF FAITH. Pope Francis points out that “The light of faith is unique, because it is capable of illuminating EVERY aspect of human existence.” The Holy Father goes on to point out that: “A light this powerful cannot come from us but from a more primordial source: in a word, it comes from God.”

Pope Francis explains that the LIGHT OF FAITH is so powerful that it illuminates the past so that we can see all that God has revealed, especially in Christ. At the same time, faith makes it easier for us to see the right path…here and now…the path that leads through time and into eternal joy. The Light of Faith even makes it possible to get a glimpse into the future that awaits those who do their best to live in the Light of Christ. There is nothing more important than the LIGHT OF FAITH. The Light of Faith allows us to walk safely through this dangerous world, secure in the hope that we will enjoy ETERNAL LIGHT and LIFE.

Light is indeed important, and so are we! In this Sunday’s Second Reading, St. Paul describes us as “children of the light…children of the day.” This is a way of saying that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and so, when God calls us into being, there is a spark of the Divine within our earthly self, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Baptism, bursts into a brilliant beam of glory.

Our Gospel reminds us that God INVESTS this Light in us so that we can share it with the entire world. In a way, we are God’s LEDs. We burn bright and clear…with a life expectancy that is without end. We are the light that enables others who would otherwise exist in darkness…to see what God has done for us in the past, and to walk safely and securely on an illuminated path toward the City of Eternal Light that glows brightly in the distance. We are truly LEDs…LIGHT EMITTING DISCIPLES!

But “Faith is a light, and once the flame of faith dies, all other lights begin to dim.” We cannot allow that to happen. And it won’t! Because, with the help of God’s grace that flows into us freely though our Sacraments…the LIGHT OF FAITH will be continually energized…powered…strengthened…and we can continue to defeat darkness.

I think our school kids say it best when they sing their wonderful little song:
“This little light of mine…l’m gonna let it shine! This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine! This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine…let it shine…let it shine!” Amen!
(All quotations from Pope Francis are taken from Lumen Fidei, June 2013).

Domestic Church
Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
November 9, 2014
JN 6:37-40

Last Sunday, I celebrated All Soul’s Day Mass with a small, rural community in a neighboring diocese. Their pastor was sick. I had two noteworthy experiences as a visiting priest. First, in spite of the fact that I did not know one person, even before Mass began, I became acutely aware that the people of the parish were still “in shock” over the fact that their beloved parish has merged with the faith community in the next town. Things changed and they are suffering. Even though I did not know the names of the people sharing their feelings and frustrations, their stories were very familiar because I have been hearing the very same things from folks I do know from people all around the Diocese of Saginaw. These are challenging times as we “reorganize” ourselves so that we can be of better service to one another and to Christ!

The second noteworthy experience came at the end of Mass. By the time I offered the closing prayer, heard the announcements read, and offered the final blessing…I felt as if I DID KNOW these people I had never even seen before that morning. I had prayed with them and there is nothing more intimate humankind can do than to pray together. Moreover, the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our faith, is unmatched in its power to draw us into a deep and intimate relationship with Christ…and also with one another. And even though I did not know people’s names or addresses, as I stood at the Communion Table and the Ambo, looking out over this wonderful family of faith, leading them in our prayer, it was if I became instantly acquainted…and well acquainted at that. The young, eager faces, the lined faces of the elders, the arthritic hands and stooped shoulders, the varsity jackets…all of it made me feel like I was praying with people in a parish where I had served for many years. But the experience of familiarity was rooted in much more than these material, worldly things.

As I drove away, knowing it was unlikely that I would ever again preside in that church, or meet any of those parishioners, it occurred to me that, with God’s help, we will hopefully meet at a different Table…as we gather for the heavenly banquet. After all, through the Eucharist we shared, we have become traveling companions. And if we do our best to live what we celebrate, someday, we will have a joyful and eternal reunion at our ultimate destination…The Kingdom of God!

This Sunday, like last Sunday, we again step out of Ordinary Time to mark the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The original building was a family home – actually a palace – belonging to a wealthy Roman family. In 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the “official religion” of the Roman Empire, and the grandiose building was dedicated as the first official place of Christian worship. As such, through the centuries, it has retained the title of “Our Mother Church.” Though destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, what was once a family home still stands as a reminder of our humble beginnings…IN THE HOMES OF EARLY CHRISTIANS…most not so grandiose. This great Basilica in Rome, which most Catholics will never visit, is a symbol of our unity through the Eucharist, wherever we might gather to celebrate. The dedication of this place of Christian worship commands a special feast, even setting aside the Readings for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, so that we can hear John 2:13-22 proclaimed.

In the Gospel chosen for this feast, we see Jesus furious over the desecration of the Temple. Certainly, the Feast and the Readings motivate us to consider and appreciate more deeply our own parish churches, but this might be a good opportunity to reflect as well on our own homes and families. Christians’ homes are truly “the domestic Church.” As a Christian family gathers around their dining room table, they should share much more than a meal. They share life! And if their family life does not include a strong faith component…then it is not being lived to its full potential.

When families neglect to gather in prayer, they miss the opportunity for the deepest kind of intimacy among themselves and with Christ. When, for whatever reason, families do not leave their domestic church together to travel to their parish church…wherever that might be, to join together in Eucharist, they miss the opportunity of continuing to build on what our ancestors in faith have handed down to us…our faith in Jesus Christ.

Concern for the Family
All Souls
November 2, 2014
JN 6:37-40

The story goes that before Creation day, God called a meeting of all of the angels in heaven. Once assembled, God announced the intention of creating a being in the Divine image and likeness, gifting these creatures with free will. The angels reacted instantly, and in a very unsupportive way. They pointed out, and rightly so, that one of the Divine attributes was PERFECT JUSTICE! They assumed, and again rightly so, that these creatures would eventually abuse or misuse the gift of free will, and since God is perfectly just, there would be no choice but to destroy the offenders. God certainly could not argue the point.

So, God withdrew to a private place to study the issue. Having come to a conclusive decision, God again assembled the angels and announced the intention of moving forward with the plan. Acknowledging the inevitable abuse or misuse of free will, and the fact that PERFECT JUSTICE would necessitate severe responses to such abuse or misuse, God revealed that the Divine Personality included PERFECT MERCY! God tempered justice with mercy to avoid the dire consequences of gifting creatures with free will. And so God created humankind in the Divine image and likeness, gifting us with free will.

We Roman Catholics have known for quite some time now that the Bishops would be assembled at the Vatican this fall to examine a variety of issues concerning family life. Clearly, the modern family is under siege and is suffering great losses. It is fitting that the Church should turn her attention to the crisis issues with which families are struggling, in hopes of bringing some sort of relief. We were called to pray that the Bishops be inspired by the Holy Spirit so that they might shepherd our Church according to God’s plan.

Due to the complexity of the issues on which the Bishops have focused, the secular press has found the meetings to be most newsworthy. Pope Francis has encouraged transparency in these discussions, so there is no reason for us to feel uneasy with the attention. What could be troublesome, however, is the scope and nature of the reporting. Journalists are framing the issues as socio-political. While the ultimate outcome will have an impact on our culture, the issues are, in truth, entirely theological and spiritual. This has nothing to do with establishing a general consensus. What our Church is about…is straining to hear directions from God as to how we are to live in this era of salvation history.

Front and center is the gift of free will. As they go about their work, the Bishops need to consider what constitutes an abuse or misuse. Moreover, they are faced with the task of determining what justice requires and what mercy demands as humankind employs free will in an increasingly confusing era.

We individual Catholics were asked to weigh in on these very sensitive issues. If we took the invitation seriously and spent any time at all completing the questionnaire that was circulated throughout the universal Church, we have a slightly better appreciation of how difficult the task is that our leaders are faced with. The Bishops were not sent to Rome to do their own will…or the will of the majority…or a determined minority, but rather the will of God. And this is the will of God…that we should not lose anyone…but that we should raise them up into the waiting arms of our Savior.

So, over the next year, we should intensify our prayers in hopes that our Church dispatches the will of God, confident that hope does not disappoint.

Vocation Preparation
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 20-2014
MT 22:34-40

Three of my closer friends have kids who are getting married next year. Actually, I know all six sets of parents, and through them, am fairly well acquainted with the three brides and three grooms. They have honored me by asking that I preside at their wedding liturgies and witness their marriage covenants.

I have always felt that it is a good thing to do “marriage prep” in groups because the truth is a Christian Marriage is not simply about the couple or even their families and friends. A Christian marriage is about the entire Catholic Christian community. Through this new union, our Church experiences new life and growth. When the engaged couples come together to prepare for the Sacrament, the group dynamic offers them an experience of faith community and reminds them that the enormous step they are taking is much bigger than just the two of them…it involves the entire family of faith!

The majority of the six young people I will be working with over the next few months are products of Catholic schools. Moreover, all six are very spiritual. I think probably that is something that has drawn them together in loving relationships with one another…their already loving relationship with The Lord. So, this should really be easy sledding for me since they are already fully aware that the commitment they will be making is not simply to one another…but to God as well, and that the entire Church will benefit if they always strive to live out their marriage vows.

Actually, because these three couples distinguish themselves in the way in which they are living out their Baptisms, I see my work in helping them prepare for Christian marriage to be especially challenging. I need to find ways of helping them to build as a couple on the strong foundations that were laid in their parents’ homes. I need to inspire them to do great things in and through their marriages. I need to somehow put them in touch with the enormous power that, through their marriages, they will enjoy…a power that they could use to make this world a better place for everyone to live. Actually, I have been stressing a little bit over how I can best use this opportunity to benefit not only them…but The Body of Christ…our Church.

As I mull over what I will say to them next week, it occurs to me that these six are a full half of our very beginning. What did Jesus say to the 12 the first time they were all gathered together as Apostles, messengers He picked so that He could send them out with The Good News? Maybe the Readings this Sunday hold the key.

I wonder if His starting point might not have been our First Reading (Exodus 22:20-26). There, we are reminded that the world is a very harsh and dangerous place. We have it within us, however, to tame our hostile environment if only we can bring ourselves to treat one another with charity and love…even strangers.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul recounts how he went into a pagan land as a stranger…an alien…a foreigner with a foreign message: The Good News. The people began to believe the unbelievable…the news that Jesus rose from the dead and will return to usher in God’s Kingdom in its fullness…not simply because Paul was a good teacher…and preacher…but because he imitated Christ. St. Paul did his best to be an imitator of Christ. Because he lived Jesus, others came to imitate Jesus as well. Christians who strive to LIVE what we profess to believe have the power to change the world.

It would seem that in working with the 12 to prepare them for their vocations as messengers, Jesus needed to find ways of helping them to build on the strong foundation that was laid as they sat at His feet listening to Him…or as they stood on the fringe of a crowd watching Him cure and heal…or as they cowered in a boat while He calmed a raging storm. Jesus’s challenge was to inspire the 12 to do great things in His Name. The Lord worked with the 12 so that they would recognize the great power the Holy Spirit had placed within them; power to effectuate change. And it is entirely reasonable to believe that at the very core of each of His “vocation preparation sessions” with the 12 was His response to yet another trick question from misguided individuals…you shall love the Lord Your God with all your hearts, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This week’s Readings seem to come together to emphasize that regardless of what vocation we are preparing for…or living out…if we are to be faithful to Christ, it’s all about love. Love is the foundation on which the Kingdom of God is built. Love is both the inspiration as well as the power to continue the work Jesus began. Love enables us to do great things. The whole Law and the Prophets depend on love!

This is what I will share with my six young friends preparing for the Sacrament of married love. If you’ve got the love…you’ve got the power!

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
Matt 22:1-14

In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a war novel entitled “Catch 22.” Because of its popularity, it was made into a movie that was released in 1970. By 1971, the title of the book and subsequent film adaptation was so commonly and frequently used that it made its way into Webster’s Dictionary. Among several rather complicated definitions of the expression is this: A hidden difficulty or means of entrapment. Synonyms for “Catch 22” include words such as “booby trap,” “gotcha,” and “landmine.”

In Matt 22, we see Jewish religious leaders trying hard to push Jesus into the very center of a deadly “Catch 22.” Either way, had He answered their seemingly simple question with a very simple “yes” or “no,” He would have found Himself guilty of a capital offense punishable by death.

If Jesus had said: “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to this foreign power because the coin with which the tax has to be paid declares that the Emperor is a god, and to acknowledge that to be true is blasphemy”…then the Romans would have accused Him of treason and sedition. On the other hand, had He responded: “Yes, citizens have an obligation to pay taxes to support the common good”…then the Jewish religious leaders would have accused Him of blasphemy by acknowledging the Emperor as a god. On the spot, they would most likely have done what they ultimately did on Good Friday…incite the crowd, which might well have stoned Jesus. There was a definite hidden difficulty here and a classic example of “Catch 22”…their win-win would be a lose-lose for Jesus, or so they thought.

If a Catch 22 is anything which the effect is the opposite of what is intended, it was the Pharisees who got caught in their own trap. The landmine they buried in the question they posed to Jesus blew up in their faces. Their treachery and hypocrisy, which they did their best to conceal, was made visible. Moreover, through this exchange, Jesus’s unparalleled wisdom came to light. Jesus tells us: “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mk 4:22) That’s what happened here.

The confrontation concludes with The Lord’s often quoted reply: “Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This invites a good deal of reflection on our duty as citizens. There is no denying that we reside in overlapping kingdoms…The Kingdom of God and the orders of civil authority. And we know as well that civil authority imposes and enforces duties and obligations on the part of citizenry, to which obedience is expected.

Even in a democracy such as we are blessed to live under here in the USA, there are times when God’s Law and civil authority not only overlap but clash. In the complex times in which we live, this seems to be happening much more frequently and in the most unexpected areas of our lives. We Christians must be conscious of these conflict situations and raise our voices to ensure just civil laws that are in keeping with God’s will and God’s ways.

But it might be good to zoom in on this whole idea of “Catch 22″ and apply it to something smaller than the conflicts that arise between Church and state. Ask yourself: How often do I owe God something, but at the same time, convince myself that for whatever reason, I am legitimately entitled to withhold payment? Almost daily, we make choices in which there are hidden difficulties that threaten to entrap us. When this occurs, it’s oftentimes a struggle to break free of the habit, addiction, attitude or false belief that was hidden within what seemed like a simple choice: Yes or No? All too often, we make a choice, the effect of which is the direct opposite of what we SHOULD intend…almost oblivious to the dire consequences. We need to learn to walk cautiously through life because there are booby traps and landmines every step of the way…and when they blow, our spiritual health and happiness are at risk. GOTCHA! is not a word you want to hear.

Through the Lord dealing with a Catch 22 situation, the fact that Jesus is indeed The Way, The Truth, and The Life comes to light! If we do our very best to LIVE JESUS, at the end of our dangerous journey through this world, He will be the One to speak that word: GOTCHA!Gotcha!

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