Sunday, December 24, 2017

Homily – 4th Sunday of Advent – The Foolish Man

                                                                                2nd Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14-16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

A Parable for Our Times
By Deacon Dennis Kelly
In a wealthy kingdom there lived a wealthy man called Asinus. He felt anointed by God and by all appearances led a holy life.
He prayed regularly in the house of worship and was pleasant to those he encountered there. But he always expected others to serve his needs and never stepped forward to serve the needs of others.
He wanted silence when in the House of the Lord and would become irritated when others would make noise. They were spoiling his time with God and he resented their interruptions.
Asinus would pass by people at the door of the church needing assistance and become angry in his heart. He thought, “What are those people, but a blight on our kingdom and its privileged people.”
 He roamed the streets of the kingdom seeing others with less than he, and his pride would swell in his fortunes and blessings. He deserved this. He was anointed by God to live well and scorned those who had less, for they, he thought, were cursed by God. “How else could you explain their misfortune?”
Then, one day, the wealthy man fell unconscious with a blinding fever.  He was very sick and near death.
In his fevered dreams appeared an angel who said,
“Asinus, turn back from your evil ways.
You say your fortune comes from God and that you are blessed, but your wealth has cursed you with blindness to the needs of the world. God expects you to bless others with your fortunes, but you do not.
Your worship is nothing, but vanity, done only to feel good about yourself. You refuse to hear God’s voice.
The Lord is sending you on a journey, Asinus. Learn well from the people you meet along the way.  They have much to teach you.”
Asinus found himself standing alone on a deserted cobble stone street in a blinding fog. It was very cold, a cold Asinus had never experienced before.
The first person he met was a frail old man abandoned by his family and turned away by those who care for the infirmed in the kingdom. He was riddled with sickness and was dying in the streets. The man said his name was Egenum.
Asinus’ cold heart immediately judged the man’s condition. But Egenum just smiled and bid him, “Hello.” He asked Asinus if he could help find him a blanket so he would not die cold.
Asinus thought, “I am in this foreign place and do not know where to find you a blanket!”  He said, “Sir, you will need to find a blanket yourself.”  But the man was so frail he could not move.
Asinus coldly wished the man blessing and continued on his journey unable to even look the man in the eye as he departed.
Asinus next met a pregnant woman crying at the doorsteps of the church. She, too, was cold and in need of a place to stay. But the church doors were locked.
She meekly introduced herself at Cupio and asked for his help getting into the church. Asinus thought to himself, “I have no time for this.”
Asinus tried the door, but could not get it open. He knocked once, but no one answered.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “There’s nothing I can do to help you. I am sorry for your misfortune. Do you not have a man to care for you?“
The women turned away and cried even harder. Cupio told him she was fleeing a husband who beat her. She was hoping for a better life for herself and the child she carried in her womb.
He didn’t ask her any more questions, but shook his head, and walked away, and continued on his journey.
Next he met a mute child who had a sign around her neck that read Fame. She was gaunt with one lame leg.
The child grabbed Asinus by the hand and slowly took him to the edge of town. Each step was difficult for the little girl. Asinus grew impatient as they walked together.
At the two iron gates that appeared before him he noticed a sign overhead that read, “Pauper’s Graveyard.”
There the child showed him two freshly dug graves, one large and one small.
            She pointed to him, then to the large grave. 
His heart sank as he realized he was staring at his final resting place. “But how could this be?  I am a wealthy man. I am still young. Surely I will recover from this fever and wake up from this awful dream.”
            As he looked down he noticed his reflection in a puddle next to the grave. He could see in the reflection he was no longer young, but a very old man. His face looked scornful and angry, and filled with contempt. Where was the pious man he believed himself to be?
           The child then pointed to herself and to the smaller grave. At that moment he realized the cold, stark truth.
He looked closely at the child. She smiled innocently, but her gaunt face told him she was dying of hunger.
He began to weep and prayed with all his might for the angel to return to him. But the angel did not.
Instead, a woman dressed in a white and blue flowing gown stood before him. She radiated light and her face was a thing of beauty and peace.
She began to speak. 
“Asinus. Asinus. God is speaking to your heart. But you refuse to listen.
He has sent you three messengers to teach you how to see the world differently. But your blindness prevents you from seeing beyond your own needs to needs of others especially those I hold most dear.
Your hardened heart and arrogance come from your wealth. They prevent you for hearing the cries of the poor.
I am the mother of your Lord and Savior. You know well my example of listening and responding to God’s voice. My Son is calling upon you to do the same.
First, he wants you to know the names of those you have met today.
The old man is named Egenum or 'needy.' He asked your help in finding a blanket. But you ignored his needs.
The pregnant woman is named Cupio or 'want.'  She desired entrance into your Church to find sanctuary from an abusive husband. But you judged her and refused to act on her pleas.
The child holding your hand at this moment is Fame or 'hunger.' She has shown you your future if you do not change your ways.
And, you, Asinus, do you know what your own name means? It means 'fool.' 
Are you unaware your own friends refuse to tell you of their good works for the poor and outcast for fear of your ridicule?
The man began to weep bitterly.  
The lady said, “This does not have to be your future.” 
            At that, the man awoke from his fever. He was young again. He felt healthy. In fact, he felt like a man renewed.
            As Asinus looked out the window of his warm home he saw all three people he met on his journey on the street below. He knew what he had to do.
            To the old man, he brought a blanket and took him to house of the infirmed and paid for his stay. He was there when the man died peacefully in a warm bed a few days later.
            Next he found the pregnant woman at the Church door, and he himself pounded on the locked door until the priest came to open it. He told the priest of the woman’s plight. She was given sanctuary. He visited her often and became like a brother to her as she built a new life for herself and her new child with his financial help.
            Next, he found the gaunt little girl and took her to the nearby home for abandoned children. He promised to fund her stay and be a part of her life.  He was like a father to her for the rest of his life. 
Years later she buried him in a beautiful cemetery, with an elegant tombstone. She would inherit his wealth and never again be hungry. She was both compassionate and generous, spending her entire inherited fortune helping those in need.

“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Advent – Prepare!

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Are you prepared for Christmas?  I know that’s a loaded question this time of year.
The word “prepare” is the one word that pops to mind when reflecting on this weekend’s readings. Our Church calls us to spiritually prepare for the birth of the Christ child -- as we wait expectant yet hopeful.
Our spiritual preparation requires a healthy dose of humility if it is to be successful this Advent season.
I read something beautiful in Morning Prayer this past week. It gets to the heart of this weekend’s readings. In the intercessory prayers of Lauds (or Morning Prayer) I read the following:
“Prepare a path in our hearts for the coming of (Christ)… 
Bring low the mountains of our pride, and fill up the valleys of our weakness.”
In other words, we all probably have some work to do to prepare for Christmas. And this preparation has nothing to do with the Christmas shopping, or other Holiday to-do list.  
Perhaps the best way to understand how God wants us to prepare for what’s to come is to be like first-time parents awaiting the birth of their own first born child.
No doubt Mary and Joseph, and John the Baptist’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah all experienced this preparation and waiting, expectant yet hopeful.
I’m reminded of the Christmas 1990.  My wife Mary and I were expecting our first child, with a due date one week before Christmas.
We’d moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier in the year for a job managing a radio station. Mary was less than enthusiastic about our time spent living in the South. She was a real trooper for leaving family and friends behind to go to a place unknown to have our first child.
In the months leading up to December, we did all the things first time parents do to prepare for the blessed event.

We prepared a bedroom for the baby. We prepared the car to be able to transport the baby. We prepared for child birth with Lamaze classes. We prepared to be Christian parents by taking baptism classes at our local parish. We prepared to have family come to visit once the baby was born.
We were all consumed with preparation as we waited expectant yet hopeful of the big change coming to our lives.
And shouldn’t we all be spiritually preparing for the big change coming to our lives this Christmas?
If we listen to the cry of John the Baptist, we’re all called to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”   

We’re about to celebrate the greatest event of all human history, the birth of Jesus. Our hearts need to ready to meet the Christ child.
            On our due date, my wife thought she was going into labor and called me home from work. She was so happy and had big smile on her face as we drove to see her doctor. She was convinced the time was now!
            Dr. Eddie walked into the exam room, took one look at my wife’s beaming smile, and said, “Mary, you’re smiling. You’re not in labor yet. If you were, you wouldn’t be smiling.”
            So, we returned home to wait expectant yet hopeful, and we prepared some more.
            I had to work on Christmas morning.

            As the shift was coming to an end, the phone rang.
            It was Mary calling (with distress in her voice) to say “I’ve been in pain all morning. Please come home quickly.”
            So, I jumped in the car and headed home.
            When I got there, the smile was gone.
            Yep, we were now officially in labor.  But contractions were still 10-to-12-minutes apart and we were told to wait until contractions were five-minutes apart before going to the hospital.  
            So, we spent Christmas Day 1990, all by ourselves, far away from family and friends, experiencing child birth for the very first time. We were waiting expectant yet hopeful, albeit a little stressed that Christmas day.
            The truth is nothing can truly prepare us for such a blessed event. We did all we could to prepare. But the rest was left to the grace of God. 
In fact, I remember thinking all through the month of December, “I’m not ready to be a father!” But the baby was finally ready to come into this world.
Mary gave birth to our first born son Sean Michael Kelly 30 hours after going into labor. The bouncing baby boy arrived one day after Christmas 1990, on the Feast of St. Stephen, first Christian martyr and a deacon.
            For a 29-year-old struggling with his faith, the experience helped seal the deal between God and me. After witnessing a miracle, faith was real in ways it had never had been before. I had never felt love like that before.

We’d experienced a true God moment together. Our lives would be forever changed.
            And this is what God is calling us to do as we prepare the way of the Lord this Christmas. Make paths straight, fill in every valley and make low every mountain and hill.
            Everything in our world had changed with one miracle: the birth of a child.  
And so, our story is God’s story for us all.
We are called by John the Baptist to prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts and change everything as we orient our lives to Christ.
As we baptized our son one week later, with family finally in town, our pastor Monsignor Gaston Herbert reminded me of something stupid he heard me say on the radio shortly after the baby was born.
            When asked by a fellow radio host on the air, “What was the experience like, DK?”  Yours truly said the following fateful words, (and I quote) “It was fun and easy.”
Monsignor Herbert howled as he repeated my careless words, and then baptized our first child.
The people living in the time of Mark’s Gospel were awaiting the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ. They were waiting expectant yet hopeful. Today we’re reading the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.

            Bible scholars agree. Mark’s was the first written Gospel, probably around 65 AD. This was nearly a generation after the death of Christ. It’s believed Mark’s community lived in Rome.
This early Christian community faced persecutions, betrayals, denials and many conflicts. Mark’s Gospel helped keep this community focused on the expected and hopeful Second Coming of Jesus. Many at this time believed the generation that witnessed Jesus in the flesh would not completely pass away without Jesus coming again.
The action in Mark’s Gospel is fast-paced and designed to get all its readers caught up in the drama, and begin to see ourselves as a continuation of the story of Jesus Christ.
The belief was Jesus is returning soon.  So, prepare.  And so, we, too, are called to prepare while we wait expectant yet hopeful. 
I’m reminded of a beautiful lyric in an Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith Christmas song called “Almost There:”

“You’re almost where the journey ends
Where death will die and life begins
The answered prayer, Emmanuel
You’re almost there.”


           My sisters and brothers, the Lord is coming soon! 

Let us prepare our hearts to welcome a child who will change our world forever.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Homily – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – The End

                                                                                                                                    Wisdom 6:12-16
Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

If you knew today was your final day on earth, how would you spend the time you had left? 
          Would you do anything differently? 
Who would you want to talk to?  What would you want to say?
Would go to confession to unburden yourself of any baggage you might be carrying?
Are you ready today to meet Jesus face to face?
Saint Benedict’s Rule for Monks encourages they think about their death every day: “Keep death daily before your eyes. This is part of a wisdom tradition. If we realize that this might be our last day, we generally will try to make good decisions about how we are living.”
          Father Mychal Judge lived his life this way. The Franciscan friar was as a Catholic priest for 40 years, serving his final nine years as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department.
During his long ministry, Fr. Mychal battled alcoholism and found his sobriety thanks to AA.
He was very well known in New York City for ministering to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, the sick, injured and grieving, immigrants, and those who felt alienated by the Church and society.
A dear friend remembers giving him a jacket as winter was approaching.  Fr. Mychal didn’t have a jacket at the time.  But on the way home after receiving the gift, Fr. Mychal saw a homeless person lying in the cold and gave it to him. He sheepishly told his friend, “He needed it more than me.”
When anointing a man dying with AIDS -- a man who asked friends “Do you think God hates me?” -- Fr. Mychal just picked up the frail man, kissed him and silently rocked him in his arms.
Fr. Judge was considered by many to be a living saint for his extraordinary works of charity and his deep spirituality.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Fr. Mychal heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. He quickly changed out of his Franciscan brown habit, put on his Fire Department chaplain’s uniform, and rushed to the scene. 
He was met by Mayor Rudy Giuliani who asked him to pray for the city and the victims.
Fr. Mychal was spotted by many in the early moments of the tragedy consoling the injured and traumatized, and praying his rosary. 
When the South Tower collapsed at 10:59am local time, Fr. Mychal was among those killed by the debris that went flying through the North Tower lobby.
Shortly after his death, an N.Y.P.D. lieutenant found the priest’s body.  He and two firemen, an emergency med tech and one civilian bystander carried Judge’s body out of the North Tower, a moment captured in a breathtaking photograph by a Reuters photographer.
The Philadelphia Weekly called the photograph “an American Pieta.”  Judge’s body was laid before the altar of St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Fr. Mychal Judge was designated the first official victim of 9/11. 3000 people attended his funeral. His fire helmet was presented to Pope John Paul The Second.
Fr. Mychal Judge’s spiritual lamp was found burning brightly as he met Jesus in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
We Christians are called to live in such a way as to always be ready for Jesus’ arrival.
This weekend’s readings speak of this readiness by highlighting the importance of wisdom.  The wise prepare. The foolish do not. And when the door to the wedding banquet is locked, the foolish won’t be allowed to enter. 
We are called to always be ready to meet Jesus and live our lives like we could our Savior at any moment.
After all, we know neither the day nor the hour when He will return just as we know neither the day nor hour when our journey in this life will end.
As we come to the close of the liturgical year, our Church turns to Matthew 25. Matthew is using themes drawn from Jewish Apocalyptic literature.
These readings are designed to get us thinking about end times.  For our evangelical sisters and brothers, this is a conversation about Rapture and the end of the world.  For Catholics, this conversation is more personal. It’s all about becoming our best selves before meeting Jesus face-to-face.
When the Lord comes, all that will matter is the kind of person we are, not what we have achieved or what we have amassed in this life.  But who we are and what we’ve done to build up the Kingdom by serving others -- especially the poor and marginalized.
What if we should be caught unprepared, with little or no oil in our spiritual lamps?
This is an important question for reflection.

         We are called to keep our lamps burning brightly.
There are 5 easy ways to do this:
1. Pray.
Pray daily and grow in your relationship with Jesus. This is the most important relationship and we should want Christ to be our best and closest companion on this road we call life.
2. Give to the needy.
By serving the marginalized and outcast, you will be building up the Kingdom and preparing for the Lord’s return by being Jesus to others.
3. Examine your conscience.
Is there someone I’ve harmed?  Is there someone I need to ask for their forgiveness?  Is there someone God is calling me to forgive?  Is there something I need to change about myself in order to be better prepared to meet Jesus?
4. Confess.
Use the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a powerful way to unburden oneself from any sinful baggage we might be carrying.  Confession times are in the bulletin. 
5. Be joy-filled.
We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a Holy nation.”  We have been called out of darkness into his wonderful light.  So, rejoice.
True wisdom means living a life centered on the divine, on following God’s will in our lives, on loving God by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Then and only then will we be prepared for the coming of the Lord. Then and only then will our spiritual lamps be burning brightly for Jesus to find us. Then and only then will St. Paul’s words today be fulfilled, and, “we shall always be with the Lord.”
Fr. Mychal Judge wrote a special prayer. I think it’s fitting as we reflect on how best to live our lives as if it were our last day:
“Lord, take me where You want me to go; Let me meet who You want me to meet; Tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Perfectly Imperfect

                                                                                                                          Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20
         You might notice the alb I’m wearing is a little big on me.
Clearly, it’s an imperfect fit.
The alb belonged to a favorite uncle, my Uncle Frank, known to the people of Great Falls, Glendive and Billings, Montana, as Father Frank Kelly.
He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.
I had the honor to serve both as an altar server at his ordination 40 years ago and as deacon at his funeral Mass four years ago with Bishop Michael Warfel.
This alb is a gift from my Montana Kelly family members. They felt Father Frank’s alb would be put to good use by his nephew the deacon.
Uncle Frank was bigger than me. In fact, he was a lot bigger than me. That’s why this alb doesn’t fit perfectly.
Its imperfect fit reminds me every time I put it on of not only my dear Uncle Frank, but also of the imperfect person I am; an imperfect person who can only find perfection in the love of Christ.
In our Catholic world, an alb has very specific symbolism.
          According to the Vatican website, the alb recalls the immaculate clothing we all receive at baptism and is a symbol of the sanctifying grace received in this sacrament. It’s also considered a symbol of the purity of heart needed to enter heaven.
When we put on the alb, we are encouraged by our Church to recite the following Vesting Prayer:
          “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.”
A powerful prayer, again showing that perfection only comes from the Lord.
I bring this up for a reason.
We heard today the powerful and prophetic words of priest, prophet and mystic Ezekiel to his fellow Israelites in exile in Babylon.
The prophet was made a watchman by God, a sentinel to warn the people of pending danger. In this passage, God calls Ezekiel to confront wickedness and warn the wicked of their sinful ways.
We live in a wicked world. We live in a world full of sin. We live in a world that strives to create human perfection, strives to play God. This is the height of human wickedness today.
Perhaps you read the news about Iceland’s efforts to eradicate Down syndrome through the use of abortion.
Doctors there counsel women who have a Down syndrome pregnancy to abort the child. 

One doctor tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: "This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like."
This same doctor says this about the practice, "We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder."

Chilling, isn’t it?
            Sadly, it should come as no surprise from the Culture of Death.
But we Catholics are called to build up a Culture of Life, valuing all life from conception to natural death.
This means our Church stands against abortion, against euthanasia, against the death penalty.
Tragically, in our fallen world, some embrace these evils.
The head of Heartbeat International says “parents whose children have Down syndrome … need love and support – not abortion.”
This Pro-Life leader says, “As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer (if we end life) for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations,” our attempts to create human perfection, our attempts to play God.
If this wicked mindset catches on around the world, we might not have the lifesaving heroics of Italian teenager Valerio Catoia.

The 17-year-old took up swimming at age three to develop muscle strength. He has Down syndrome. Valerio went on to become a Special Olympics swimmer and is now an overnight hero in Italy.
He’s credited with noticing two young girls struggling in the surf and crying out for help at a local beach. Jumping in, he saved them from death. Valerio knew just what to do thanks to training from a first aid course.

The event made headlines all over Italy. The Italian Sports Minister congratulated him. The former Italian Prime Minister praised the boy’s bravery, saying, Italy should feel proud to have citizens like Valerio.
The event didn’t change the boy one bit; he’s still the same humble kid. But it did change attitudes toward people with Down syndrome in Italy and around the world.
Our response to what Iceland is doing might be to get angry and vent – especially on social media.
But I encourage us to resist this temptation and remember what St. Paul told us today.
Instead, do something in the name of love, by becoming a part of 40-Days for Life, or volunteering or supporting such wonderful organizations as Pregnancy Aid or Prepares.
We Catholics must speak out against this wickedness.  But we must do so in love. When we respond with hateful language, anger and condemnation we fail to bring Christ to the world.
A more loving response will not only be more effective with those weighing such a difficult decision, but also bring more people to Christ.
What we must never do is condemn those who chose abortion. Judgment is best left to God.
After all, women who chose abortion did not sin against us personally.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel message. He’s proposing a beautiful process of reconciliation for members of the Church, reconciliation that promotes healing.
We are listening to His words just before he shares the parable of the unforgiving servant. Remember, Peter is about to ask, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?”  And Jesus tells him, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
In other words, our forgiveness should know no limits.  We should always lead with forgiveness no matter what someone says or does to us.    
Jesus says if reconciliation fails, treat them as “a Gentile or tax collector.”  What is not clear here is whether Jesus means to “exclude the person or emulate (his) practice of befriending such people.”
My guess is Jesus is advocating that we be willing to sit down and break bread together, even while working out our differences.  And to do so privately and never in public.
What a refreshing way to handle conflict resolution. What a divine way to handle reconciliation.  What a beautiful way to bring Jesus to our broken humanity.
In other words, as Christians, we are called to love and forgive first as we call sinners to repentance.
St. Paul reminds us, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” 
Or as Catholic writer and mystic Thomas Merton puts it: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy."
Love is perfection. We mortal humans are all imperfect (just like the fit of this alb).  Perfection comes from God alone.