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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Pentecost Sunday
JN 15:26-27; 16:12-15
May 20, 2018

I was invited to share a meal, after sharing Eucharist, with the Sisters of St. Clare in their monastery on Shattuck Road. It was Pentecost Sunday, and the sisters had taken special care in setting the table to celebrate the Feast Day. But it wasn’t until I sat down at my place that I noticed how extra special the table had been prepared. At each place, there was the usual knife, fork, and spoon. But there was something very unusual about the flatware. The base of each utensil was engraved with one of the Gifts, or Fruits, of the Holy Spirit. A friend had given this tableware to the Sisters as a gift, and they only brought it out on special occasions.

Whoever had arranged the place settings did so without taking notice of who was sitting in a particular spot. She left it to the Holy Spirit to determine who was in most need of a particular gift or was challenged to use the gifts they had been given “to bear fruit.” After taking a moment to consider what was placed before us and how we use these gifts, we spent a little time sharing. We passed a fork or spoon across the table to someone who felt they had a particular need for that gift, and we recognized the work of one another in using a gift in a fruitful way, by passing around a spoon. It was fun, but it was also serious.

I can’t recall what was on the silverware at my place when I sat down, or what was passed on to me, or what I passed on with a compliment to one of the Sisters. What I do recall is thinking that I needed the entire set of flatware…all of the gifts. I also recall that the little exercise was, for me anyway, as much an “examination of conscience” as a Pentecost celebration.

Through our Baptisms and Confirmations, we are infused with the same gifts which the Apostles and disciples were given on that first Pentecost: WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING, KNOWLEDGE, FORTITUDE, KNOWLEDGE, PIETY, and FEAR OF THE LORD.

This is a good time to ask ourselves if we use what has been given to us to bring about “the Fruit of The Holy Spirit” — LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, SELF-CONTROL, MODESTY, CHASTITY!

The Ascension of the Lord
MK 16:15-20
May 13, 2018

We’ll start with a little geography lesson.

Bethany was, and to this very day, is a little village that is located on the crest of the Mount of Olives. It is separated by a valley from the city of Jerusalem a little more than a mile walk from the city gate. Presently, it is within the boundaries of the Palestinian territory referred to as “the West Bank” and is known by the Arabic name “al-Eizariya,” which means “place of Lazarus.” The modern day village is well named because on the outskirts of the village, there is a deep cave, reputed to be the tomb from which Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead. Lazarus lived in Bethany with his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus was a frequent house guest of this family. Finally, Jesus chose this location to ascend back to heaven.

Now for a Scripture lesson.

In Bethany, Jesus resolved a domestic dispute between Martha and Mary, by explaining to Martha that her sister was wise to sit at His feet and listen and learn from Him. Later, He relieved the grieving sisters by calling their dead brother out from the burial cave, where he had been entombed for four days. During this dramatic encounter, The Lord also relieved the doubts and fears of all God’s people. Jesus said to Martha: I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Finally, Jesus chose this location before ascending back to heaven to renew His promise to send The Holy Spirit into the world to empower believers to bear witness to all that He had done and taught.

Now for a lesson in Christian anthropology.

For human beings, death is inevitable. But, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we come to know and better understand that, somehow, our personal identity continues after the biological event we call death. Finally, from the events in this little village, we are challenged to go out into the world, reaching out in a loving way to nonbelievers, and sharing all we have learned through our visits to two little villages…Bethlehem and Bethany.

We are witnesses to all that took place during the years in which Jesus walked the earth. We have sat at His feet and learned from Him. Through our Baptisms, we have received the Holy Spirit, Whom The Lord promised to send. We are now called to help shape the future, according to The Law of Love, so that humankind can live in the Peace of Christ while we await Jesus’s return in Glory.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 15:9-17
May 6, 2018

The Easter Season is coming to a close. The school year and my career as a substitute teacher are rapidly coming to an end as well. I can’t help but wonder if The Risen Christ, knowing He would soon return to heaven, felt as I feel. There is so much left to teach these 9th graders about God, and so little time left to do it. Moreover, as the time grows short, so does their attention span. Good weather isn’t helping the situation either. Their minds are looking forward to summer vacation, and not to The Coming of Kingdom. When it gets especially challenging to motivate them, I remind myself that “that they are just kids.”

So, on Ascension Day, as The Lord was fading from time and returning to Eternity, was He concerned that He was leaving behind a band of ill prepared…immature…disciples, who still had so very much to learn? Maybe!
But it’s doubtful that He was as concerned about them, as I am about my students.

After all, Jesus knew that He was not leaving His followers orphaned. He knew that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would receive all they needed in order to continue the work which He had begun.

So, as my students move on with their educations and their lives, I take comfort in knowing that Pentecost was not a one time event in history. The Holy Spirit continues to shower humankind with those Gifts that enable us to live as Jesus calls us to live…in love. Maybe some things simply can’t be taught and can only be learned by experiencing them. And this is the lesson to learn from our Readings on this final Sunday of the Easter Season.

We live in the Spirit, we live in love…and when we live in love..we live in God Who is Love!

If my students have learned this much, then I will not feel that I have failed them…and so I won’t….fail them that is.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 15:1-8
April 29, 2018

It is being widely reported that the cost for a bottle (or box) of cheap wine is about to rise faster than the price of a gallon of gas. The reason is the weather. Hail storms and freezing temperature during the 2017 growing season resulted in an extremely poor harvest of grapes worldwide. Italy, the largest producer of wine, suffered a 21% reduction causing the cost for a bottle of ordinary table wine to skyrocket by 74%. Things are no better south of the equator. South Africa, also a major wine producer, has suffered drought conditions. And across the ocean, California grapes also went thirsty (a single grape needs 1/3 of a gallon of water to mature) last year due to drought. Wildfires added to the crisis. Although grapevines do not burn easily, and in some cases, vineyards actually served as nature’s “firewalls,” helping to impede the progress of the fires, still, there is something called “smoke taint” that threatens the quality of the wine made from exposed grapes. The good news is that grapevines are resilient, lasting between 50 and 100 years, if they survive total destruction. They simply need to be pruned!

Unless you are a frequent consumer of cheap wine, on its face, this information might be of little interest to you, until you consider the fact that EVERYTHING affects EVERYTHING else. Somehow, this crisis in the world’s vineyards will impact the cost of glass, cardboard, labeling, transportation, labor, etc., etc., etc.

More importantly, Jesus uses the image of a grape vineyard in the Gospel for this 5th Sunday of the Easter Season that enables us to shift from cheap wine to cheap grace.

“Cheap Grace” was an expression introduced into God Talk (theological discussions) by German Protestant minister and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Before suffering a martyr’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. There, he defines cheap grace as the attitude: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” In other words: cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer continued: Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Not all theologians agree with this thinking…but it is certainly something to think about!

Jesus seems to be inviting us to imagine our spiritual lives as a vineyard, planted and growing under the constant assault of bad weather, pestilence, and even forest fires that might not destroy us but leave our spirits “smoke tainted.” So, as long as we remain attached to THE ROOT…we will survive. Still, if we are to produce quality fruit, we need to be pruned. That part of us that has suffered damage due to the hostile environment we live and grow in has to be cut away. And pruning takes work.

When the just and merciful judge takes a sip of our lives, will He taste cheap wine? Will we offer God something fouled and “smoke tainted”…like vinegar, or will God delight in what we offer and place us among those considered to be “vintage” Christian lives?

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