Arts and Culture

On First Thought This Book Is Excellent

A few years ago my friend Father Joe Kelly told me that he was writing a book and described for me what he planned to deal with in the book. I cannot recall exactly what Joe said, but I do recall thinking that Joe’s ideas were not good and I was certain that he would not be able to get a publisher.

Perhaps a few months later Joe gave me the manuscript that had been accepted by a publisher. I was delighted that I could not have been more wrong about Joe’s project. The manuscript was excellent.

Now the book “On Second Thoughts: A book of stories…” (Omaha, Nebraska: Institute for Priestly Formation, pp.149, $15.00) has been published, and I can only describe it with superlatives. I am hoping that it reaches a wide audience.

The following is from Father Kelly’s Preface:

“First, a few words about the title. Some of you may have picked up this book because of the title. If you did, then you are probably like me —for many of us our second thoughts are better than our first thoughts. In fact, we can say that our second thoughts often reveal the moments behind our first thoughts, telling us something about ourselves.

“Most stories in this book were written on second thoughts, after the actual experience had taken place. Frequently, upon reflection on my response to someone or something, I was left troubled and upset with myself.” (p. x111)

Father Kelly trusted in God to help him to understand his negative emotions and reactions. That trust led eventually to the writing of “On Second Thoughts.” After reporting each story and both his initial reaction and his second thought, Father Kelly proposes two simple questions for the reader to try to answer after reflecting on what Joe has written:

1. What would Jesus say?

2. What would Jesus do (in this situation or experience)?

Father Kelly offers his own answers to both questions. Posing those questions is an excellent idea. If the reader takes the questions seriously then it is possible that several good results might follow.

One obvious result is the reader might reflect on Father Kelly’s answer to the questions and be led to reflect on some aspect of Jesus’ life and mission. Another good result would be that readers will think more deeply about how their own image of Jesus dictates why they answered the questions the way they did.

There are more than 40 stories in “On Second Thoughts” All of them are interesting. Many are inspiring. One of the blessings in my life is my friendship with Joe Kelly. I think when people finish reading “On Second Thoughts…” they may think they know Father Kelly. The author of “On Second Thoughts” is very honest, and in writing his book he is very self-revelatory. As Father Kelly reveals himself, he offers the reader the opportunity to grow in self-knowledge.

A serious, even prayerful, reading of “On Second Thoughts…” may help someone reach a new level of self understanding. I think that any book that can help a reader in self-understanding is a book worth reading. I cannot retell all the stories that Father Kelly recounts in his book, but I will refer to one that touched both Joe and me deeply.  Before he became a priest, Joe Kelly saw the results of an horrific train wreck, a wreck that killed and injured many. Racing to the scene, Joe helped a priest minister to many of those either injured or dead. The priest was anointing even parts of human bodies. When he finished anointing all the people he could, the priest went to comfort those who were injured.

Joe was also inspired by a husband, who had a compound fracture in his arm, encouraging his wife trapped in the wreckage. Joe writes the following:

“Looking at the protruding bone from his arm, I could not imagine the pain. I marveled at the power of his love to forget himself and focus totally on his wife trapped below…Her husband never stopped encouraging her to be patient and calm. When she was finally hoisted up to the helicopter, she passed  right over our heads. I saw his face and her smile as he waved to her as she was flown off to the hospital; he then collapsed”(p.13).

Referring to the priest and the husband, Father Kelly writes, “These two heroes live in my mind to this day.”

In relation to this story, Joe’s answer to what Jesus would say is, “Whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me”(Matthew 25:40). His response to what Jesus would do is, “Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he healed them” (Matthew 15:30).

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.