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-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 17:5-10
October 2, 2022

Considered to be one of the “minor” Prophets of the Old Testament, Habakkuk definitely raises a “major” issue; namely, Where is God when we need help the most?

Very little is known about Habakkuk, other than the condition of the world at the time of his conversation with The Almighty, set out in our First Reading. Judah was under siege, and the oppressors were nonbelievers…worshipers of idols…pagans. They were intent upon inflicting great suffering on God’s people. This prompts Habakkuk to ask the question that must have been on the minds and hearts of all the Chosen People:

HOW LONG, OH LORD? I CRY FOR HELP BUT YOU DO NOT LISTEN!

That very profound question has survived the centuries.

It must be on the minds and the hearts of the People of Ukraine, afflicted by a brutal invader even as Judah was.

It must be on the minds and the hearts of the People of Puerto Rico, not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, only to be afflicted once again by Hurricane Fiona.

It must be on the minds and the hearts of patients listening to a dire diagnosis from their oncologist.

I can personally attest to the fact that it is very often on the minds and the hearts of elderly parishioners, often dealing with chronic pain, totally dependent on the charity of others, enjoying no quality of life. I have been asked that question, when making pastoral calls in ICU wards, hospices, and sick rooms where death seems to have been delayed. I am expected to answer on behalf of God.

I would be very surprised to hear that anyone facing one of life’s inescapable and often serious challenges hasn’t given voice to that very question. Even non-believers, in mid-crisis, longing for resolution, foolishly look to “the universe” rather than to the Creator of the universe and ask:

HOW LONG? WHEN WILL THIS END?

This is a question which was rooted deeply in the human experience as a consequence of The Original Sin. It is not a question asked within The Kingdom of God, where there is no time but only Eternity…no endings but simply endless peace and joy.

First, consider that Habakkuk is not merely questioning God. This passage is a prayer. And when the prayer is completed, he simply WAITS! The Church has provided a Second Reading and a passage from Luke’s Gospel that appear to suggest that “the wait” might be made more bearable if the question were to be re-framed.

Rather than: HOW LONG, O LORD? Wouldn’t it be wiser to ask The Lord: GOD…WHAT ARE YOU TELLING ME?

When we find ourselves in crisis mode, impatient for the storm to pass, St. Paul recommends that we stir into flame the gift of God…FAITH! Jesus goes on to reassure us that even a speck of faith has the potential to enable us to endure, and to come out the other side wiser for the experience.

HOW LONG? Doesn’t that question tend to prolong and maybe even intensify the pain?

WHAT AM I TO LEARN? It might take a speck of faith to ask this question during tough times, but it is definitely the way to change loss into gain.

When will the war in Ukraine end? When will the flood waters in Puerto Rico recede? When will the cancer patient know if the chemo has shrunk the tumor? When will Perpetual Light finally shine on the elderly hospice patient?

No one knows!

But we can be certain of this much:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power…and love…and self-control. So then reframe the question and then:

Be still and know that I am God! (Ps. 46)

…and you will be all the wiser when God finally responds.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary
Lk 16:19-31
September 25, 2022

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, made a visit to Pakistan in the wake of the horrific flooding that nation has recently experienced.

Flooding caused by monsoon rains and aggravated by melting glaciers in the mountains in the northern part of the country.

Flooding that an impressive number of experts insist has the “fingerprints” of the human-made climate crisis…a crisis that is either denied or ignored by so many; a crisis that Pakistan, itself, has little to no responsibility for causing…the “fingerprints” of industrialized, wealthy nations all over the world.

Flooding that has…to date…taken the lives of an estimated 1,500 people…about 1/3 of which were children.

Flooding that has left small, rural villages…islands…completely surrounded by water. Much of this nation’s landmass is literally underwater.

Flooding that is said to have had a devastating impact on the lives of 33 million people…washing away crops, killing livestock, and leaving hundreds of thousands of families living outdoors and totally exposed to the elements, barely clinging to life…in conditions that invite disease and more death.

Flooding that, relief workers and humanitarians point out, has been almost overlooked by the rest of the world…foreign aid being described as “a pittance,” and “laughable.”

The Secretary General of the United Nations certainly found nothing humorous about the suffering or the minimal humanitarian response from the wealthy nations of the world. What he saw prompted him to say in a recent TV interview: If the wealthy do not come for the poor…the poor will come for the wealthy!

On its face, this comment might appear to be a threat, but I would suggest that it is merely a statement of fact. When people’s home countries are no longer habitable, they have no other choice but to migrate. For most, leaving their home is definitely not the preference. But when staying means extreme hardship and even death…there simply is no choice. So, they migrate! They are indeed coming for us.

By this time, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with the Gospel. Well, I would suggest that this is a 21st Century version of Jesus’s parable about the wealthy man, who went about his privileged life, without even noticing the impoverished and suffering Lazarus sitting outside his door.

Obviously, there is precious little that anyone who is not a billionaire or the government of a wealthy nation can do to make a significant difference in Pakistan (or much closer to home, the even more recently afflicted Puerto Rico). But ALL OF US…every other person in the world should at least know what is happening to our fellow human beings. The very least we can do is be aware of what they are going through…and respond with compassion. To simply reach for the remote, when video footage of human suffering threatens an otherwise pleasant evening, is not discipleship.

This week’s Gospel cautions us that there are dire consequences to isolating ourselves…like the rich man, simply enjoying life without so much as even noticing the extreme poverty and suffering outside the walls we build to protect what we have.

What sort of consequences? From a worldly standpoint, an immigration crisis. If the wealthy do not come for the poor…the poor will come for the wealthy! If people cannot feed themselves at home…they have no choice but to leave home.

What sort of consequences? From a spiritual standpoint, Jesus spelled out the consequences of total disregard for human suffering with startling clarity. Nothing further need be said.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 16:1-13
September 18, 2022

This would be a good weekend to “call in sick.”

This Gospel is not only complex, but also extremely confusing. It certainly appears that Jesus is suggesting that the “scoundrel,” who has been doubly dishonest, deserves some sort of admiration.

Say what?

So far as I’m concerned, there is nothing to admire about this guy. And, in my book, the most contemptible crime of this thief is how he drew others into his web of dishonesty. Rather than simply writing off their debts in his own handwriting, accepting total responsibly should this further act of treachery come to light…he told them: Here is the promissory note…hurry up and YOU change it! In other words: YOU DO THE DIRTY WORK! He made them accomplices to his criminal acts. He set them up to be scapegoats! Scoundrels operate that way!

Clearly, this guy plays fast and loose with the truth. Once his further acts of embezzlement come to light…as crimes usually do…wouldn’t you expect him to deny knowing anything about it? Wouldn’t his ‘long game’ be to shield his own guilt by denying knowledge of how the lesser debts were forgiven?

This really would be a good weekend for a preacher to call in sick, because I, for one, have far more questions than answers, and more guesses than certainties.

QUESTION: For starters, why would the master “commend him?”

MY GUESS: Maybe because it is “prudent” to cultivate relationships that you can take refuge in when you are in trouble.

QUESTION: I wonder how many of the others actually resisted the opportunity to profit…illegally…by entering into the conspiracy?

MY GUESS: None. Some might have been so poor…so desperate…that the little relief from the big lie was irresistible. Others might have simply trusted him. After all, he was in charge. He must know what he is doing, right? Either way, they were all likely to have been drawn into the conspiracy.

QUESTION: How will it all end?

MY GUESS: The master might well “admire” the “prudence” of the bad guy in the way he has planned an escape route, but isn’t the most probable outcome a day of reckoning? That is the way of the world anyway. Who in their right mind would discover this scheme of massive betrayal and simply let it go? In the end, my guess is that the master will demand justice!

QUESTION: So, what is the “take-away” here? What is Jesus trying to teach us with this complex and confusing parable?

MY GUESS: Maybe the key is in our Second Reading, where St. Paul tells us WITH CERTAINTY…no guessing here…GOD WILLS EVERYONE TO BE SAVED, AND TO COME TO KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.

By now, you might well be wishing that I had called in sick this weekend. Let me just say this.

I don’t think salvation is a matter of “guess work.” And, while there are times when truth is hidden, or concealed…like the dishonest servant tried to hide and conceal his treachery…if we work to uncover it…eventually we will come to the knowledge of truth…because that is God’s will.

In the spiritual realm, wondering or reflecting is much more effective than guessing. Wondering invites the Holy Spirit into the work of truth-seeking. So then, after a whole lot of guessing about what Jesus is telling us in this story…I wised up and started “reflecting,” and came up with some “wonder questions.”

I WONDER if the Lord wants us to stop thinking about “the ways of the world” and consider God’s will and God’s ways?

I WONDER if the purpose of this story is to highlight the importance of our relationships…especially our relationship with Jesus Christ?
I WONDER if the image of “writing off debts due and owing” isn’t a way of highlighting our debts…for our sins?

I WONDER if Jesus is telling us that He recognizes our poverty…our desperation…our ignorance…and wants to offer us forgiveness, healing, protection…sort of a “fresh start”?

I WONDER if this story isn’t The Lord’s way of revealing His “end game” to shield us from our just punishments?

I WONDER if the Lord is handing us the pen and telling us to discount our sin debt in our own handwriting? Could this be The Lord’s way of encouraging us to seek forgiveness before our day of reckoning?

I WONDER!

So…what do you think?

Don’t take the day off…and don’t call in sick. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you so that you might come to the knowledge of the truth that this complex and confusing parable holds…and in that way…be saved!

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary
Lk 15:1-32
September 11, 2022

Almost universally known, Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son offers a lesson that transcends sibling rivalry and resentment. This drama-packed story offers insights into the complex interactions of the entire human family. For a deeper and even more fruitful interpretation of the parable, it might be helpful to remember that the word describing the wayward son…PRODIGAL… is suited not only to him, but to his father and his brother as well.

“Prodigal” is defined as wasteful or reckless extravagance. In fact, Fr. Richard Rohr would rename the parable. He suggests that the story of the Prodigal Son is more that of the Prodigal Father, who, we come to learn, is extravagant when it comes to his sons. The sons are prodigal in failure; the father is prodigal in generosity.

The failure of the younger son is obvious, but he dealt with it and returned repentant. As a result, his dignity as a much-loved child was restored. The failure of the resentful son is more difficult for most people to grasp. Why shouldn’t he be resentful?

But the truth is, by withholding forgiveness, and harboring resentment and anger, he is allowing the situation to continue to do him harm…spiritual, emotional, possibly physical…and maybe even financial harm…the kind of harm that neither he nor the family might ever recover from. Jesus leaves us to ponder whether the “faithful son” was able to work through the feelings that darkened his spirit and threatened the peace of his family.

As far as the “prodigal father,” anyone who considers it a “failure” to be extravagant in forgiveness, patience, tolerance, mercy, and love…as we hear in our Second Reading…is acting out of ignorance and unbelief.

By highlighting the prodigal nature of the father, the extravagant love of God surfaces as the primary lesson of the story. When we merely gloss over the father’s contribution to the drama, we limit the teaching power of the little story. By keeping the spotlight on the Prodigal Father, we have the opportunity to become better acquainted with our God!

There is a very dark cloud hanging over our world these days. This stormfront has brought with it anger, resentment, conflict, division, and violence. As a human family, we are in crisis mode, making it especially urgent for us to embrace the fullness of this story and use what we learn to push back against the darkness.

Consider, for example, the darkness that has overwhelmed a small town in Idaho. The town recently made the news as a result of the activities by members of the conservative Christian movement who have relocated there. According to one man, who is part of this exodus, these folks are seeking to escape the decadence that is rampant in our country. They have found refuge in this remote area of the northwest. They are ambitious to separate from the United States, living together according to “Christian moral principles.” They are claiming this town as their own “promised land.”

Recently, and inspired by fundamentalist interpretations of Sacred Scripture, these folks have targeted the local library. Attending library board meetings, literally armed not just with the Bible, but with guns as well, they are demanding the removal of a list of over 400 books from the library shelves. In fact, according to the director of the library, who has resigned out of fear, not a single book on the list has been in circulation from that facility.

She goes on to explain that because of the actions and threats of these Christians, and the clear and present danger of violence they bring, this once integral and much valued community resource is likely to close its doors altogether.

If I were the pastor in a Roman Catholic parish in this town under siege, I would stress how Jesus reacted to violence: Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt 26:52)

At the same time, I would very much encourage a prayerful, thoughtful, open-minded and “open-hearted” reading of today’s Gospel.

Like every other place in our sin-tainted world, despite the best efforts to force reform and conversion, this little town will never be perfect. Our world gave up perfection with the first sin. Moreover, it will certainly not be made perfect by bringing guns and Bibles to public meetings. “Stiff-necked people,” who are convinced of their own righteousness, might very well be missing the plank in their own eyes.

Continuing to dig deeper into the story of the “three prodigals,” Fr. Rohr suggests: If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.

So how does that work? Definitely not by packing a gun next to The Bible.

How do we deal with the imperfections we PERCEIVE in others in hopes of living together according to “Christian moral principles?

Maybe by accepting that God, when it comes to the human family, is truly Prodigal. Wouldn’t that mean that we should resist the urge to act out of ignorance and unbelief, simply leaving God to be God; that is, extravagant in Divine forgiveness, patience, tolerance, mercy, and love?

Isn’t the wiser course of action to loosen our “stiff necks” so that we can better see, focus on, and deal with our own imperfections? Isn’t it the better route to perfection simply CONTRITION AND REPENTANCE?

One thing is certain, if we, as a human family, do not make every effort to work through the feelings that have darkened our spirits and threatened the peace of the human family…the anger, resentment, conflict, division, and violence will continue until it boils over. No good will come from bringing guns and threats to public meetings…even if you are packing the Bible in your other pocket.

The solution, my reading of this Gospel leads me to believe, is set like a diamond in the center of the parable.

We are called to be PRODIGAL…like the father…like our God…PRODIGAL IN PATIENCE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS, AND LOVE!

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary
Lk 14:25-33
September 4, 2022

You may never be as wise as an owl… But you will always be a hoot to me!

Pretty corny, right?

But considering how severe the Gospel is…it seemed like a good idea to begin with a laugh…or at least a groan. The Church did something similar.

The passage from Luke is “softened” somewhat by the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom. There, we are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways…and the mind and will of our Creator are way, way, way too much for us to wrap our fragile minds around. There is some comfort in that, especially when we find a Scripture passage particularly challenging.

Still, we were created in the image and likeness of God. Accordingly, we are not totally without wisdom. And maybe wisdom grows, develops, and matures with age. The Roman philosopher Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is quoted as saying: “For there is assuredly nothing dearer to a man than wisdom, and though age takes away all else, it undoubtedly brings us that.”

I think that this little slice of “secular wisdom” is especially true in terms of our spiritual lives. In other words, “the wisdom of age” has a way of lifting the fog that prevents us from enjoying a clearer vision of what awaits us when we are finally free of…that is to say…no longer a slave to…time…or the demands of our flesh and bones.

Think of it this way. Even as cataracts begin to cloud our vision of things around us, our spirits begin to see ever more clearly what God intends for those who love…and serve…and yearn to know…yearn for wisdom. The more we are liberated from our earthly bodies, the more our spiritual selves are freed to explore what “while in the flesh” seems so far above and beyond us.

All this to suggest that as we grow older, the notion of hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…becomes a bit less daunting. Simply put, with the passage of time, our worldly relationships, desires, passions, goals, and objectives begin to slowly lose their hold on us. Our world gets smaller and smaller with age. At the same time, however, our relationship with God and our desire for things “other worldly” begins to dominate all else.

Certainly, there are younger people who enjoy this kind of profound wisdom before they need the support of a walker. They are called saints…disciples…seekers…servers! It is a wonderful gift to walk through this life with the freedom that comes from mature wisdom. On the other hand, whatever our age might be…although few are as wise as an owl…God takes enormous delight in each and every one of us…and waits patiently for us to “wise up!”

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 11:1-13
July 24, 2022

In our First Reading, we marvel at how brazenly persistent Abraham is in his efforts to mitigate God’s very justified reaction to the goings-on in Sodom and Gomorrah. And he is successful in his pleas. It appears that Abraham “changed God’s mind.”

Then, in our Gospel, we benefit from the disciple’s request that Jesus teach them to pray. The Lord completed His instructions on effective prayer practice with a parable demonstrating the need to approach prayer with an urgent and determined, even obstinate attitude; simply put, like Abraham…KEEP ASKING!

Although particularly memorable in that Jesus lays out in detail the recommended content for prayer, these are not the only two references in Scripture guiding us in “how to pray.” Consider St. Paul’s brief but powerful suggestion found at 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Again, we are called to be persistent in prayer. Still, not even monks or cloistered nuns can spend every waking moment in prayer. Or can they? Should they? Can you? Is it even possible?

When we focus on the third element of The Lord’s Prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name…we find that, regardless of who we are, or what our vocation might be, it is entirely possible to pray without ceasing.

Jesus reminds us that God’s Name is Holy. In order to fully comprehend what that means…that God’s Name is Holy…we do well to join Moses on the summit of Mt. Sinai. There, Moses asked the Almighty by what Name God should be known. The Divine reply was both simple and at the same time exceedingly complex…crystal clear but infinitely mysterious. God said: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

The Almighty seems to be telling us that it is impossible to Name the Eternal Presence. And so, the Divine should remain Nameless.

This passage greatly influenced the prayer practice of the Jewish people. To this day, many believe that the Almighty’s Name is unknowable…and that efforts to Name our Creator are, in a sense, a violation of the Second Commandment. Respecting the unknowable and unspeakable statue of The Divine Name, it is not uncommon to find a written reference to The Eternal One:

G-d!

Still, even though The Hallowed Name cannot be spoken, many believe that it can pass through our lips in the form of our breath. When we exhale…we are, in a sense, whispering The Name of the Eternal One; just so when we inhale. If we are mindful of this “prayer practice,” we can, indeed, “pray unceasingly” from the moment we emerge from our mother’s womb until we draw our final breath.

Consider this: That which sustains life…respiration…is also That Who gives us life! The necessary and involuntary act of breathing, when we are in touch with The One Who gives us breath and supports our life, can be an unceasing prayer.

If this seems exotic…foreign…extreme…know that this prayer practice was “Christianized” and used to Hallow God’s Name from the early centuries of our Church. “The Jesus Prayer” is the simple practice of relying on breath rather than the spoken word to Hallow The Divine Name in prayer.

The method is quite simple. On the inhale, let the words flow through your mind and heart:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.”

On the exhale:

“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This prayer practice is founded on the belief that The Holy Name establishes a solid connection between Creator and creature, and in that sense is an extremely powerful prayer, which makes it possible to pray without ceasing.

Whether you are praying in hopes of changing God’s mind…or for some special favor…or simply to Hallow God’s Name…the very breath God gives us is a beautiful way to connect.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF, puts it this way: Let your breathing in and out, for the rest of your life, be your prayer to—and from—such a living and utterly shared God. You will not need to prove it to anybody else, nor can you. Just keep breathing with full consciousness and without resistance, and you will know what you need to know.

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