Editor's Report

Father Kelly’s ‘Second Thoughts’ Offers Great Reflections

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With Lent turning toward Holy Week and Easter, this is a time of year many people like to take up some spiritual reading. I would like to suggest “On Second Thoughts: A Book of Stories” by Father Joe Kelly, a retired priest who has served the archdiocese since 1978.

The 41 stories in the 149-page volume, each a couple of pages, primarily derive from Father Kelly’s priestly experiences.

His calling has brought him to varied assignments in parishes, both as a pastor and parochial vicar; in seminary formation, where he served as a spiritual director; and on the archdiocesan Parish Mission Team, where he led retreats across the archdiocese. He retired in 2017, and had a subsequent assignment as spiritual director of Casa Santa Maria in Rome.

The Institute for Priestly Formation in November published the book, which costs $15 and is available on Amazon.

When we spoke recently, Father said the book enabled him to “help people” by shining a light on what he knows about prayer, seeking God in our daily circumstances and using Scripture to explore how God is “present in all things.”

After each story, he offers concluding thoughts under the heading of “what Jesus would say,” invariably highlighted by a pertinent Scripture verse, and then “what would Jesus do,” often punctuated by Scripture or another holy person, such as St. Mother Teresa.

This technique gives people “a chance to reflect” and “evoke memories in their own lives,” he said.

“The Power of the Powerless” is drawn from his first parish assignment in the South Bronx. Father Kelly writes of the battles he and the pastor had with a cab company, whose cabbies “often parked illegally in front of our school.” Several children were nearly hit by a passing car, he said.

Despite many attempts to resolve the situation, their pleas were ignored. The tension boiled over one weekend day when a confrontation took place on the street. A cab driver Father Kelly passed on the way into a nearby bodega “purposely flung a Twinkie wrapper at me.” It landed on his black clergy shirt, leaving “a white mess,” which he regarded as “a deliberate provocation.”

Exiting the store, he resolved to be ready if a derogatory comment or insulting sound came his way. Sure enough, a cab driver made an offending noise. Father Kelly quickly approached him with his fist cocked. The standoff only ended when a neighborhood man slowly backed him away from the heated situation.

Later, Father Kelly “realized how terribly close I had come to violating everything Jesus stood for. His command to love your enemy had been far from my mind.” As he prayed in the parish church, God offered him a way to cope with the troubling situation. He also needed to calm down before offering 5:30 Mass.

“As I looked at a life-sized crucifix on the wall, God’s voice within me called me up to the cross with Him,” Father Kelly said.

Several vignettes feature vivid descriptions of life on the water and others express his love of music.

A poignant section concerns the assistance Father Kelly received from a fellow priest when his evening plans to visit two wake services was complicated by a late call from the daughter of a dying woman who asked him to anoint her mother at the hospital the same evening, a very rainy night.

A priest friend offered to accompany Father Kelly on the calls. When the weather worsened en route to the hospital, Father Kelly suggested calling to say they couldn’t make it, but the other priest said, “We have to go. We can do it.”

A large line of family members awaited them. When they approached the woman’s bedside, the priest he was with led the way “as Moses through the Red Sea, as God opened a passageway for us to pass through the people.”

The fraternity he shared with his colleague was a great witness to what priests do, often quietly and without fanfare. The moment inspired him to write: “I was so moved just being with this family. This is our family too.”

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