Re-reading Father Joe Kelly’s book, “On Second Thoughts: a Book of Stories” (Omaha, Nebraska: Institute for Priestly Formation, Inc., 2021, $15.00) has been a wonderful experience for me.
Every time I pick up the book to re-read a few pages, I am enlightened and encouraged. The stories that Father Kelly tells are all centered on experiences that he has had both before he was ordained a priest and in the many years that he has been a priest.
Reading Father Kelly’s book caused me to recall many experiences that I have had in my life, some experiences joyful, some not so joyful. All the stories Father Kelly shares are interesting but more importantly they are inspiring. They are also challenging.
I cannot remember the last time I read a book that so clearly revealed the enormous good that a priest can do by being faithful to his commitments. I am going to recommend the book to seminarians. I think reading about Father Joe’s experiences as a priest might give them many examples of what it can mean to be a priest both in a parish and is some different assignment. But the book was not written just for seminarians or priests.
It was written for those who wish to reflect seriously about their lives. Father Kelly’s honesty and faith-filled reflections may jump off the page, motivating readers to reflect seriously about their own stories. I know this has happened to me while reading Joe’s book.
In spite of some very difficult experiences, Father Kelly’s hope and trust in the Lord are evident throughout the book. Recently I read a quote from the French Catholic novelist Leon Bloy, who became the godfather of Raissa and Jacques Maritain when they entered the Catholic Church. Bloy thought that joy was a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I agree completely with Bloy’s view. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we should allow the Holy Spirit to help us rejoice because of what Christ has done for us, is doing for us, and will continue to do for us. No one can go through life without some suffering, but the presence of the Holy Spirit can enlighten us to appreciate that whatever our problems or crosses, God’s love can sustain us.
Father Kelly’s book is a powerful sign of the joy that has filled his life as a priest. I am hoping that Fr. Kelly’s joy is infectious, that it will be a strong sign providing powerful motivation to those who read his book.
Just about every story in the book shows the importance of faith, the indispensable role of hope and the beauty of charity in a person’s life. That is quite an accomplishment. The book is profoundly personal. Readers may have the experience of engaging in a conversation with Father Kelly. I believe that his faith, hope and charity moved Father Kelly to write his book.
He believes deeply in the presence of God in his stories and the power of Christ’s Spirit in the “second” thoughts that have been an enormous blessing in his life. While readers may greatly enjoy learning about Joe’s stories and the “second thoughts that have been such a special blessing in his life, I am certain that more important to Father Kelly is the desire that his book will help readers to appreciate the special presence of Christ’s spirit in their lives.
Father Kelly provides a nice summary of his book in the following words:
“When asked what the stories in this book are about, I respond by saying that the stories are about faith and seeing God in all things, believing that God is somehow and somewhere present in all things, and knowing that God’s providence is active in our daily life. To believe without seeing is to be blessed, as witnessed by Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas.
“Most of the stories in this book were written while sitting in silent prayer, seeking and feeling around for God with faith.
“Please remember that memory played a big part in many stories, some memories filled with loss and pain and others, with liberating joy. Often a memory was sparked by something or someone else: a mother’s gaze, lyrics in a song, crying during a scene from a movie, a man in the street, a neighbor’s invitation, a photograph of a man in an army uniform, a failed audition, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the frequent and mysterious challenges of being led by God.”(pp. x111-x1v)
Father Kelly’s book is filled with memories of the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit, a presence that is part of everyone’s life. Those who read Father Kelly’s book may become more aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
What author could hope for more?
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.