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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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 5:13-16
February 5, 2023

“The National Prayer Breakfast” is a decades old tradition. Held in Washington D.C. on the first Thursday of February, the event brings our nation’s leaders together in prayer. That is certainly consistent with our motto: In God We Trust!

The perception might well be that this is an opportunity for our national leaders to come together for “morning prayer” and a shared meal. For people of faith, it is both comforting and encouraging to think that politics can be put to the side, and our leaders, together, humble themselves before our God.

This year, there has been a significant change. It was recently announced that the longstanding host, a Christian “movement” (not to be confused with a structured organization) called the “International Foundation” has stepped aside as the organizer/promoter. Congress has taken on the responsibility for the gathering.

The fact is, over the years, the affair has grown in both size and duration. The National Prayer Breakfast is no longer a few hours of fellowship, faith sharing, and reflection among elected officials. It has become the centerpiece of several days of what is most easily described as “Christian networking,” attracting literally thousands of people.

As one might expect, the press became interested in the event. One young journalist went so far as to become “imbed” within the “International Foundation.” He eventually wrote two books about his experiences as an “insider.” His books became the inspiration for a fairly recent documentary, which was very much focused on the purpose of the “The National Prayer Breakfast.” The motive of the “movement” that previously hosted the gatherings over the course of several days was called into question.

After reading the books, viewing the documentary, or listening to any of the reports of investigative journalists, the lingering concern for many becomes: IS THIS AN EXAMPLE OF THE GOSPEL INFLUENCING THE DIRECTION OF POLITICS…OR IS THIS THE SELF-SERVING USE AND INTERPRETATION OF “THE GOOD NEWS” IN AN EFFORT TO JUSTIFY AND SUPPORT A PARTICULAR POLITICAL AGENDA?

When pondering the true motivation of any “Gospel-fueled” movement or organization not recognized as “mainstream Christianity,” it seems helpful to recall Jesus’s instructions to His inner circle: There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.

BUT…it is also important to recall how The Lord’s instructions ended: Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. (Mark 9:39-40)

Which brings us to this weekend’s Readings.

First, some background about the passage from Isaiah.

What is proclaimed comes towards the conclusion of the prophet’s writings and finds Israel recently returned from captive slavery in a foreign country. In the struggle to reestablish itself as “The Chosen People,” emphasis was placed on strict observance of rituals, worship, and sacrifices. In spite of these efforts, things were not what had been hoped for while a captive nation. So a national fast (rather than a prayer breakfast) was under discussion.

Enter Isaiah, voicing God’s reaction to the proposal.

Basically, Isaiah is telling the people that nothing will change until THEY CHANGE! Moreover, this change will not come about by fasting. The change that God desires is social reform.

Specifically, there must be an end to divisive behavior and violence. Unfair labor practices must be addressed. Leaders must learn to rule with an eye to the common good and not in the pursuit of power to promote self-interest. With these changes, Jerusalem would reestablish itself as the City of Light…shining brightly for the rest of the world to see, admire, and strive to imitate. Without these changes, darkness would continue to veil and obscure the light.

Today’s Gospel passage about salt (not just a seasoning but also a preservative) and light (necessary to preserve life) follows and is very much compatible with last week’s proclamation of The Sermon on the Mount…THE BEATITUDES. The Lord touches on all of the concerns about the common good found in the passage from Isaiah.

So then, while people of faith naturally find comfort and encouragement in seeing our nation’s leaders praying together, it is important to ask: JUST EXACTLY WHAT IS IT YOU ARE PRAYING FOR? If prayer is for the success of a particular agenda, then another question becomes quite significant: HOW DOES YOUR AGENDA SQUARE WITH SACRED SCRIPTURE?

If we truly are a nation which places our trust in God, then we should expect to see our national policies come down from the mountaintop and not from political machinations on Capitol Hill.

That, of course, means a commitment to make those changes in policies and laws which reflect the message voiced by Isaiah…and magnified by Jesus Christ. Hopefully, at some point prior to this year’s “scaled down prayer breakfast” the participants had an opportunity to consider the call to social justice that reverberates throughout Sacred Scripture…certainly highlighted by the Lord, Himself.

For those of us who will never be invited to “The National Prayer Breakfast,” no matter who hosts the event, we can certainly pray at home. And a most worthy prayer is to be found at Ephesians 1:17-23 where St. Paul asks: God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [our leaders] a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.

Let US pray that all those who lead our world, our nation, our Church, our parishes, our families…serve with hearts enlightened by God’s will and God’s ways…so that we all might live in peace, justice, and love.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 5:1-12a
January 29, 2023

I told my iPhone to connect me to “YouTube” and asked to see any homilies that one of my favorite theologian/author/preachers (Franciscan, Fr. Richard Rohr) may have delivered on this Sunday’s Gospel…THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.

In an instant, I was given the choice of six reflections, each focused on one of the BEATITUDES. There was also the option of “listening to all,” which, of course, I clicked onto. I closed my eyes and began to hear some very inspiring and thought-provoking observations about this extremely important teaching of The Lord.

All of a sudden, the first reflection in the series was harshly interrupted by a commercial from one of the big drugstore chains, advertising some kind of beauty product guaranteed to make me look young again. (Good luck with that!) I assumed that, somehow, I had lost the connection with the “channel” I was listening to. But before I could figure out what was happening, Fr. Rohr was back. I relaxed, closed my eyes again, and returned to the “mountaintop,” and the calm and soothing voice of Fr. Rohr echoing that of The Master…The Good Teacher…Jesus.

It happened again!

I can’t recall who was selling what…but another annoying sales pitch interrupted a beautiful reflection. This time, I didn’t even open my eyes because it dawned on me…I do not pay the monthly fee to engage the YouTube station without commercial interruptions. I listen “for free.” So, I did my best to ignore the unavoidable distractions, trying my best to hold on to the sacred mood as best I could, waiting patiently to return to the mountaintop for the third reflection.

Of course, after about five minutes of peace, another commercial came blasting out of my iPhone…for some reason…louder than Fr. Rohr’s reflection. The thing is, this time, something caught and held my attention. I actually listened. Worse yet, (Mea Culpa) I began to think to myself: I need that! I want that! I wonder if I can order it from Amazon.

Now it was the sermon that interrupted the commercial. Fr. Rohr returned and began his reflection on the next Beatitude. I reconnected quickly, but not without making a mental note to order whatever it was that I was now convinced that I couldn’t live without.

By the time the fourth reflection began, I knew that my shield was down. I was no longer effectively blocking out the advertisements. In fact, I was expecting and even accepting them without resistance. And so, I next listened to a voice urging me to call a law firm that assured me of the maximum recovery if I were to be involved in an accident.

Ironically…OR PROVIDENTIALLY…this “helpful” message was followed by a profound reflection entitled: Happy are Those Who Hunger for Justice. I was immediately reminded that, for Jesus, “justice” was much greater than the “maximum recovery” from an insurance company.

It was at that very moment that I realized that the first…and maybe even the most important lesson to be learned from the Sermon on the Mount…is to be found on the very first line. We have to do what the disciples did. We have to join Jesus on the mountaintop, away from all distractions and interruptions and commercial announcements.

When we leave the physical world and allow our spiritual selves to travel to the mountaintop, we are better able to listen with our minds and our hearts, and fully engage in what He is telling us.

And, if we are able to do that… rise above the cares and concerns of day-to-day life, opening ourselves as fully as possible to God’s Eternal Word made Flesh, we are better able to understand what comes next in this teaching that is at the very core of the Gospel.

All nine of the Beatitudes can be woven into one hope-filled lesson…and it is simply this: When life knocks us to the ground and we feel crushed under the weight of some problem, or worry, or challenge or sickness…so heavy that we are certain that we are broken beyond repair…it is then we are truly blessed…because it is then that God takes over. When you come to truly understand and believe this teaching to be true…then THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS YOURS!
Obviously, we can’t stay on the mountaintop, no matter how wonderful it might be up there. We have to come back down and face the challenges that await us here in the world. But, because of our time with the Lord, we are strengthened…and we can face our problems with renewed courage and with hope! Amen.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
January 22, 2023

One Sunday morning, having proclaimed and then preached on today’s Gospel, a person stopped me on the way out of church and remarked: I definitely could not do Jesus’s job, but after hearing today’s Gospel, I have to say, He couldn’t do mine. The person was director of human resources (HR) for a midsize corporation.

When called to find the perfect person to do a particular job, HR makes four simple inquiries. My friend’s reaction to Mark 6 was obviously prompted by The Lord’s casual way of assembling a workforce to support Him in his mission and ministry without asking a single interview question. For example…

DOES THE APPLICANT HAVE THE NECESSARY SKILL SET? This is a “no-brainer.” Obviously, placing someone in a job they have no ability to do is a recipe for failure. And yet, Jesus began His talent search for Apostles along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and among commercial fishermen. Not only did The Lord begin recruiting in the most unlikely of places in which to find candidates with the NECESSARY SKILL SET TO PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS…but there was no application process and no interview. He simply extended the job offer to individuals who demonstrated little, if any, promise of succeeding.

DOES THE CANDIDATE HAVE THE ABILITY TO EASILY COMMUTE TO THE WORKPLACE? Employers want employees readily available for service. With respect to the work of the Apostles, there was definitely travel involved. But transportation and accommodations were not of particular concern to Jesus. Remember how He sent The Twelve out two by two and instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. (Mark 6:7). Clearly, this required a great deal of trust on the part of the worker, which raises the next concern of a competent HR officer.

DOES THE PERSON BEING INTERVIEWED HAVE THE CHARACTER AND ATTITUDE TO SUCCEED IN THE POSITION? Basically, HR is exploring a candidate’s capacity for loyalty. Is a potential new hire “in for the long haul?” Are they trustworthy?

The New Testament describes how 11 among those of Jesus’s first “new hires” were unconditionally loyal. In fact, all but one of them lost their life in the course of doing the work of proclaiming the Good News.

The final concern to HR departments might leave them vulnerable to accusations of “ageism” …but nevertheless, it is a significant concern.

IS THE POSITION TO BE FILLED “AGE-APPROPRIATE” TO THE APPLICANT? There are many aspects to this area. Not only do people in different age brackets have different strengths and weaknesses, but they come to a position with different needs and expectations. While there are obviously no personnel files dealing with The Apostles, tradition tells us that Peter was the oldest. John was the youngest, though, in the end, he served the longest…as he lived the longest. We also know with certainty that Jesus called siblings…in other words…older and younger brothers. So, this is one HR hiring box The Lord seems to have checked. The Lord covered a broad age range.

Jesus’s approach to assembling His team baffled my friend working in a modern-day HR department. Nevertheless, His approach tells us something very significant about the call to modern day discipleship. First and foremost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, everyone has the skills and abilities to serve. The most extraordinary contributions to salvation history have been made by the most ordinary people. The most important qualification is a loving heart…that, and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ.

As far as the commute to work…it can be as close as the family dinner table or as distant as the other side of the world. In fact, some of the most important work that disciples are called to do is within the family unit, the neighborhood, and, without a doubt…the parish! Even still, modern communications make long distance discipleship a snap. Today, we can send the Good News to the other side of the world in an instant and without packing a bag.

As to the matter of commitment and loyalty, doing “the work” is an expectation of our Baptism. Through the Sacrament of Initiation, we share in the Life of Christ, and, as such, are expected to share in His mission and ministry…regardless of our age.

It’s understandable that a person involved in modern day HR would find the story of Jesus’s methods surprising. But they were undeniably successful. The work continues to this very day. Loyal and trustworthy disciples of all ages continue to serve and are good at the job because the Holy Spirit inspires, empowers, and guides them.

So then…let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s lots to be done.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 1:29-34
January 15, 2023

Last fall I was invited to join a group of college friends for a “Big Chill” weekend up north. I hadn’t seen several of these folks in over 50 years. Half a century does a lot to change a person’s appearance. So, I was a little nervous that I would not be able to recognize everyone. In fact, that was not a problem in the least.

I have to admit, at first sighting, my reaction was “Wow! Did he age.” Or, “She certainly looks older.” I have no doubt that my friends all thought the same about me as I hobbled out of the car on my cane. But in spite of the ravages of time, I had no problem in recognizing each of my friends. Whether it was their tone of voice, or the color of their eyes, or the sound of their laughter…or some unique mannerism…time had not concealed their identity. Friendship is stronger than time.

The beginning of the friendship between John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus of Nazareth is described at Luke 1. Neither had yet to be born. But the mere proximity to Mary, pregnant with God’s Eternal Word made Flesh, caused John to react with excitement and joy, within his own mother’s womb. Without even seeing Him, there was a recognition that triggered a dramatic response.

All four Evangelists report on The Baptism of the Lord. The Gospels do not tell us, however, whether or not there was any interaction between Jesus and John during the “in between” years.

Like all Israel, The Baptist was awaiting the appearance of The Messiah. Still, a prayerful reading and reflection of each version leaves one with the impression that John was taken by surprise when Jesus at last appeared.

One might safely assume that the feelings of excitement and joy which overwhelmed him while still unborn were again aroused within John as Jesus approached. What we are left to wonder at, is whether John was able to actually identify the person Who triggered this visceral reaction within him. Consider how, twice, within today’s rather brief passage, John is quoted as saying: I DID NOT KNOW HIM.

Some 30 years had passed since the visit of their pregnant mothers. Obviously, time had made enormous changes in both during those unreported years. If, as some Scripture scholars suggest, they had not seen each other during the “in between” years, it is certainly reasonable to assume that John did not immediately “know” the person of Jesus. Nevertheless, he definitely recognized the powerful feelings welling up within him as The Lord approached. Those feelings prompted John to introduce Jesus as The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

Time might well have changed their physical bodies, but their spirits were the same. “The Real Presence” of THE HOLY SPIRIT, perfectly embodied within Jesus from the moment of His conception, was instantly identified by John. THE HOLY SPIRIT is infinitely stronger than time. THE HOLY SPIRIT is eternal.

The very same HOLY SPIRIT reunites us with JESUS CHRIST each time we fully, actively and consciously participate in The Eucharist. The powerful feeling that is ignited within us as we approach The Communion Table is very much like John the Baptist’s reaction to the approach of Jesus.

And after our “reunion” with CHRIST through the Sacrament, we are sent forth…back into our day to day lives. Our faith strengthened by THE HOLY SPIRIT, everyone we encounter…regardless of how much time has passed between meetings…should be able to recognize us as disciples of THE LAMB OF GOD WHO HAS TAKEN AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD.

Time cannot change the appearance of a faithful disciple…because friendship in Christ is eternal.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Mt 2:1-12
January 8, 2023

Today’s Gospel is the story of star power versus STAR POWER.

Thanks to modern communications, there is an entire galaxy of stars out there, desperately hoping to attract attention to themselves. These stars are called actors, pop singers, or athletes…and then, of course, there are politicians and corporate executives. Places, things, and even feelings and emotions also have star power. Think about anger, revenge, bigotry, envy…these are just a few of the feelings that can draw a person in and hold them in orbit!

Regardless of their place in the cultural universe, these stars have this much in common: Each has some quality, characteristic, or talent which makes them shine. Dazzled by their light, star gazers are strongly influenced by them, revolving around them like Earth revolves around the Sun.

These stars have something else in common with one another. They are constantly searching for ways to increase their power and influence over their admirers. Also, they jealously guard their power.

The star gazers have something in common with one another as well. They pay a great price when they are drawn into the orbit of a star. All too often fans are so overwhelmed by star power that they sacrifice their own identity…even to the point of losing their free will.

Consider the brilliant people in Jerusalem whom Herod consulted. They appear to have been just as smart as the three foreign visitors…but it would seem they were not as “wise.” They were trapped in a toxic relationship with the person their very lives revolved around. It appears that, for whatever reason, probably fear, they could not break free of Herod.

The Three Magi, on the other hand, were not drawn into the orbit of the evil king. After a very brief encounter with the dark forces at work in Jerusalem, the three searchers resumed their journey. Empowered by the brilliant STAR that had led them so close to Bethlehem, they did not fall victim to the power that appears to have imprisoned their colleagues who remained in Herod’s service.

The Three Wise searchers from the East did not permit Herod to take control over them. They trusted in THE STAR from heaven, and, as a result, found what they were searching for: The newborn King of the Jews. What they could only study about in their homeland they were rewarded with a first-hand experience of in the most unlikely of places…a manger.

After their visit with the Christ-child, they ignored Herod’s orders to return and report. Instead, they returned home, avoiding a further encounter with the treachery of the evil ruler.

So, as we continue our celebration of God’s Eternal Word made Flesh, it would be a wise thing for each of us to take a moment and ask ourselves whether we have been overpowered by some star…or are we determined to be guided only by THE STAR…THE LIGHT OF CHRIST!

Choose wisely…THE STAR has THE POWER…to lead you to Eternal Light and life…while the star gives Herod way too much power and control.

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