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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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 12:49-53
August 14, 2022

O.M.G.

What in the world is a preacher supposed to do with these three Readings? Especially the Gospel!!

We come to the Eucharist, in part, to escape all the conflict and division that is absolutely raging in our world. We come to the Eucharist, in part, hoping for a little peace…and rightly so. It’s here that we remember in a special way Jesus’s own words: Peace I give you…my Peace I leave you!

And now we are told…by the Lord Himself, no less…Who, by the way, really does seem to be contradicting Himself: No Peace for you! No Peace for you! I’m here to divide you!

I gotta tell ya…I spent a lot of time reflecting on each of these three passages, trying to make some sense out of it all. After every prayer session, I felt exhausted…frustrated…and more than a little confused.

Finally…it dawned on me…why wouldn’t I be worn out after engaging these three Readings? They are nothing short of a spiritual workout! Just think about it. Each demands a whole lot of energy…but together…this is like watching a Bruce Willis movie. Our Liturgy of the Word this weekend is an action-packed thriller, carrying us from one great challenge to another, without allowing us enough time to catch our breath.

First, we’re thrown into a dark, damp well…sinking deeper and deeper into the mud…and then, without warning, we’re dragged back into the glaring light of day. No sooner do we surface, and St. Paul tells us to: Lace up your running shoes…you’ve got a marathon to run.

But, at the finish line, there are no cooling blankets…or water bottles waiting to refresh us. Instead, there is this challenging Gospel that conjures up images of a war zone! DIVISION…FIRE! Anything but peace! There’s no relief!

At least I didn’t find any relief from the action and drama…and confusion…until the idea struck me that, in linking these three Readings together, the Church…whether or not intending to…has painted a picture of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ…from womb to grave!

Wouldn’t you think that when Jeremiah was unexpectedly dragged out of that well, his first words might have been: I need to clean myself up!

When, without warning, we are born into time, pulled into the glaring light of this world, we are covered in original sin…and we need to be cleaned up. So, we are brought to the Living Waters of Baptism. A little soap and water might have done the trick for Jeremiah…BUT DISCIPLESHIP DEMANDS MUCH, MUCH MORE!

To be a follower of Christ…a radical cleansing is required…a cleansing that is so powerful, so intense, so complete…that it is best described as REBIRTH!

And the agent for this REBIRTH…this RE-CREATION, actually, is FIRE and THE HOLY SPIRIT!

The Lord uses the unsettling, even jarring image of “divisions within the family structure.”
But the spiritual rebirth Christians experienced by FIRE and THE HOLY SPIRIT is even more intimate…and divisive!

Baptism is the catalyst that divides and separates what is good and holy and life giving within us; in other words, that which makes us in the IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF OUR CREATOR…from our shadow selves…our dark sides…our evil inclinations.

With that, we lace up our running shoes and begin the marathon that St. Paul speaks about in our Second Reading, the marathon of life, that really does require a whole lot of energy.

Now, here is the Good News:

All along the way, we have the other Sacraments to refresh us…nourish us…heal us…unite us…and strengthen our commitment to Christ and to one other. It’s through the Sacramental life of our Church that we are able to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus…the leader and perfecter of faith. And it is the very same Jesus Christ Who is there to greet us when we finally cross the finish line to become part of the cloud of witnesses to the eternal Glory of God.

What in the world is a preacher supposed to do with these three Readings? What are we to make of these three passages?

I suggest that we sit with them…pray over them…reflect on them…no matter how exhausting or confusing the well might be, until each of us hears in our minds and hearts the message they hold for that part of ourselves that was divided from our dark side and is nourished and invigorated by the Life-Giving Word of The Lord!

What should we do with these Readings? We should claim them as our story, a story that begins in darkness…but ends in Perpetual Light…The Light of Christ.

Amen!

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 12:32-48
August 7, 2022

The term “long hauler” has taken on a very negative connotation…once again…thank you, Covid! But don’t be too hasty to recoil from those words: LONG HAULER!

Because of his uncanny ability to predict what is going on in the global financial markets, billionaire and philanthropist extraordinaire, Warren Buffet, is often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha” (his home state). I think of him as a modern-day Ben Franklin. Franklin’s advice on how to live a good life…even suggesting how to accumulate wealth…is quoted to this very day (a penny saved is a penny earned). Both Franklin and Warren Buffet offer pithy, sage one-liners full of wisdom.

Reacting to this roller coaster economy we are experiencing; Buffet has been quoted as saying: no one wants to get rich slow! But he goes on with calming words in the midst of so much economic uncertainty. He is telling investors to relax…be patient…be long haulers. He believes that the economy will rebound. I wonder if Warren Buffet’s financial genius is inspired by St. Paul?

From a spiritual perspective: no one wants to be SAVED SLOW!

We want laws and rules and regulations to follow so that we can say: I did everything required of me, so I am saved! We use special prayers and devotionals like spiritual vaccines, believing that once we’re done…we are completely protected…immune, so to speak. And all of that is good. BUT…

After we finish a novena…or Nine First Fridays…or the perfect Lent…we must go back into the world. Life can be hard…and full of temptations and challenges. It’s then we look to the first part of the little parable we heard in the Gospel and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul uses Abraham as the perfect example of a “long hauler,” whose patience, sustained by faith, paid unimaginable dividends.

Uprooting his family, Abraham left the security of his home, taking up residence in a tent. Relying on faith as opposed to the security of GPS, he wandered in search of what he left behind…a new homeland. During these LONG years of uncertainty, he and Sarah proved that nothing in this world is truly certain…except for this: nothing is impossible for God!

And so, late in life, they were blessed with a son. His unshakable confidence in God’s goodness, mercy, and love has been memorialized through the generations as we recall his willingness to give back to God, this much-loved child.

The consummate “long hauler,” Abraham died without seeing the fruits of his spiritual investment…only to discover that his reward was twofold. First, he left a great inheritance to his children, who have become as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore. That, by the way, would include us. We are also the beneficiaries of this great legacy of faith in the One True and Living God.

Isn’t that one of the major reasons good and loving parents worry about their investments? They want to leave something of value for their children. Abraham and Sarah did! What more valuable treasure can we bequeath to our children than belief and dependence on God’s unfailing mercy and love?

Through his powerful example of faith in our Creator, Abraham has passed on to the generations a treasure of unparalleled value…at least to those who accept and reinvest it. Then, of course, his faith, patience, and endurance were rewarded when he was FINALLY resettled in the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God.

What a contrast to the scoundrel in Jesus’s parable. Clearly, he was looking for a “get rich quick” scheme. Borrowing, defaulting, forgiving…it all sounds like a Biblical Ponzi scheme…and it ended badly for him. He paid the price that all scoundrels pay.

The Church has given us three Readings this weekend that, at first glance, seem to be somewhat challenging to harmonize with one another. However, if you sit with them for a bit, it seems that the message is fairly obvious. The Passover from time and into eternity…in other words…the journey from death into new life, for most folks, is a marathon, not a sprint. We face any number of challenges along the way. But when we meet those challenges with FAITH…we will certainly survive and ultimately arrive in the Promised Land.

On those occasions when we might make a wrong turn, get misdirected or misguided…feel lost…we need only to look to the Master for forgiveness.

In short, no one wants to be SAVED SLOW! But, for most, that is the way it is. The good news is that Christ is with US for the LONG HAUL. So be patient…be calm…and be faithful…and someday, you will arrive in the Promised Land!

18 Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 12:13-21
July 31, 2022

The richest man in the world will soon take possession of a so-called “super yacht.” The price tag is close to a 1/2 billion dollars. But there is an additional expense. He will have to personally bear the cost of dismantling, and then rebuilding, a bridge that is presently blocking access from the shipyards in Amsterdam to the sea. He is not alone.

It is widely reported that the ultra-wealthy are investing heavily in larger and larger private yachts. Their motivation seems a bit less admirable than Noah’s Ark building. While they are seeking refuge at sea, they are also purchasing large tracts of land in remote areas of the world. This interest in seclusion is reminiscent of the early months of COVID, when the “One Percenters” were heading off to their private islands.

It certainly appears that the increasing concerns over global health issues, the impact of rapidly changing climate patterns, and the cultural shifts that are leading to worldwide civil unrest are motivating billionaires’ desires to go to sea. What we seem to be witnessing is “survival of the richest rather than the fittest.”

One can’t help but wonder if many of the issues driving these extremely costly escape plans could be resolved if the money were to be committed to survival of all humanity. It is tempting to speak to the obvious social justice issues at play here. However, our Gospel seems to nudge our attention in another direction.

The parable of the wealthy man blessed with an unexpected windfall raises the issue of the “need to control.” (Emphasis on NEED)

Who hasn’t run into a “control freak”? We all have a friend who always chooses the restaurant or the movie…or hangs onto the remote for dear life. And, of course, the experience of a “micro manager” for a boss is never pleasant.

Some people who can’t take a back seat and delegate seem to have trust issues. They feel that no one can “do it better” than they can. VANITY!

Others might be motivated by fear, and so they do what is necessary…at any cost…even to the point of burning bridges that they might never be able to repair…in order to control what they perceive to be a threat to their security. ALSO VANITY!

Whatever the motivation might be, controlling personalities can’t seem to be fully at peace unless they are in full control, which means that they can never be fully at peace, because life is full of things which ARE BEYOND OUR CONTROL.

Which brings us to the important takeaway from this week’s Readings.

Jesus’s gift to us is PEACE!

From a spiritual standpoint, TRUST in God’s infinite power, goodness, mercy, and love are the ultimate “survival plan.” Relying exclusively on our own resources as we negotiate the challenges of this life tends to leave us in a constant state of restlessness…bereft of peace!

That thought is worthy of further exploration.

There is nothing wrong with planning or even taking steps to protect one’s own health and well-being. But, without accepting that, ultimately, God is in control, and without TRUST in The Almighty, it is nearly impossible to live in PEACE!

St. Ignatius of Loyola is credited with this little gem of wisdom that is a survival plan worth taking note of: “Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you”.

Very few can afford a luxury yacht or a thousand-acre ranch in Montana, but God’s mercy and love and the Peace of Christ is there for the taking.

The most reliable survival plan is simply this: TRUST IN GOD AND LIVE IN PEACE!

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.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 10:38-42
July 17, 2022

I was talking with a young couple who will be celebrating the Sacrament of Christian Marriage this fall. At some point in our conversation, I asked the question that often comes to mind when conversing with an engaged couple: How did you guys meet?

They looked at each other and smiled. Almost simultaneously they responded: We met in chemistry class in college.

It was the groom who went on to explain that they sat next to each other and there was immediate chemistry in chemistry  In other words, this was a “love at first sight” situation.

Please understand that I DO NOT subscribe to the publication. Still, some limited “online research” about the concept led me to an article in the issue of Bride’s Magazine that hit the newsstands this past May…in time for the opening of wedding season.

In an article titled: Can Love at First Sight Actually Lead to a Lasting Marriage? Author Lauren Levy relied on the observations and experiences of four apparently well-credentialed marriage therapists. Each agreed that there is such a thing as instant attraction…fireworks…a moment when nothing else matters…a feeling that completely engulfs you…that you’ve never felt before and don’t want to end.

Still, these experts caution that while immediate attractions of this intensity are real, the heightened feelings are hard to sustain. The so-called “honeymoon phase” ends after about six months, and very often, so does the relationship!

The experts offer a bit of encouragement, however. They counsel that when couples take the time to really get to know one another, the spark can turn into a flame that fuels and energizes a lifelong marriage. However, this takes work…that never really stops.

(By the way, in spite of their mutual and immediate attraction, my young friends have taken the time needed to insure a lifelong commitment to their marriage covenant. But I will keep them in prayer because…as all married couples know…it is HARD WORK!)

By now, you might be wondering if I’ve taken leave of my senses. First, I admit to reading an article in Bride’s Magazine. And then, even worse, I share what I’ve read in my weekly reflection. But before you delete me, consider this: The Church has long been referred to as THE BRIDE OF CHRIST!

This image of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church is very much supported by passages in the Old as well as the New Testament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes to great lengths to unpack this metaphor, and to explain the symbolism in great detail. It really boils down to Christ’s desire to enter into the most intimate of relationships with us by joining Himself in an everlasting covenant with the Church and “never stops caring for her (His Bride) as for His own Body.”

I would suggest that, for Mary, the visit by Jesus was very much like a case of “Love at first sight” in the extreme! We are told how she sat at The Lord’s feet, basically hanging on His every word. Can’t you imagine an instant attraction…fireworks…a moment when nothing else mattered to her…not even sharing the burden of hospitality with her sister? Can’t you imagine the feeling that completely engulfed her…a feeling that Mary had never felt before…and didn’t want to end?

Martha on the other hand, appears to have been so distracted by the need to sweep the floor that she was not swept off her feet by their Guest…at least not the way her sister was. Still, later in the Gospel, after Lazarus died, she is the first to proclaim her faith: “Yes, Lord! I have come to believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

On the surface, this is a lesson that echoes our First Reading in the sense of highlighting the importance of hospitality…and how best to welcome Jesus into our homes and into our hearts. But the deeper meaning might well have to do with how we come to a strong, lasting, intimate union with Christ, that, much like Christian Marriage, transcends time and carries over into Eternity.

Mary certainly makes a convincing case for “love at first sight.” But Martha reminds us that it takes work…to keep the flame alive and burning…and the work never ends.

Prayer, study, contemplation, and reflection…in other words…the “Mary model” of sitting at the feet of The Lord, can be inspiring beyond description…the ultimate experience of LOVE! But, in order to ensure that the infatuation does not cool, the “Martha model” must be considered. In fact, isn’t that what we learn while enjoying the privileged seat near Jesus Christ? Isn’t the call to service the centerpiece of the Gospel?

There was definitely chemistry at work in that humble little home in Bethany. Jesus was the catalyst that combined the elements of contemplation and action, and the result was DISCIPLESHIP!

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