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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Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 13:31-33A, 34-35
April 24, 2016

A British research team has published a convincing study showing that “loneliness and social isolation can increase a person’s chances of suffering stroke or heart disease by as much as 30%.”

While he did not mention this particular study, Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Exhortation: Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) definitely sets out the numerous situations that might bring about these harmful feelings. Likewise, in his 267 pages, the Holy Father suggests ways in which loneliness and social isolation can be avoided. Everything he proposes somehow ties into this week’s Gospel…“I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you…you also must love one another.”

It has been suggested that the whole of the Bible can be reduced to that brief sentence spoken by The Son of God that concludes with the command, “…you also must love one another.”

As the title suggests, this “Commandment of Love” is at the heart of the latest Papal teaching, which attempts to draw together the thoughts of Catholic Christians from around the world, voiced during the two-session Synod on the Family. Francis’s insights are invaluable.

On the other hand, if you aren’t able to read the entire document, you would be safe in saying: Pope Francis is telling us “…you also must love one another.”

Oddly enough, Francis begins his rather lengthy reflection by musing: “For where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.” Later, he clarifies that point by quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola who once observed that: “Love is shown more by deeds than by words.” While it is true that there is great joy in love, it is equally true that love very often brings with it the most gut-wrenching pain. Possibly that is what Jesus means when He says: “…just as I have loved you.”

During His time on earth, His unconditional love was the source of enormous joy for Him…but His unconditional love was also the cause of His unimaginable suffering.

Libraries have been written about love. Most music is inspired by and speaks of love…sometimes love lost…sometimes love unrequited…sometimes love rejoiced. And the complete absence of love is evident on the front page almost every day, as we hear news reports on terror, war, violence, hunger, homelessness, prejudice, and bigotry.

Maybe the best thing to do in a reflection on this “New Commandment” is to just sit in silence and allow God’s all-powerful love do its work within us.

But before I fall silent, let me conclude by saying that if just for a moment…all humankind was to be perfectly obedient to this “New Commandment,” then the passage from the Book of Revelation would not simply be a vision, but reality. If, for a single moment, love triumphed, there would be no more loneliness or isolation…or anything else that causes pain, suffering, and death.

If, for a split second, the whole world LOVED…there would be only God…Who IS Love!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:27-30
April 17, 2016

Years ago, I was traveling in Ireland with a few friends, one of whom could not pass a shop without entering and making a purchase. Toward the end of our travels, we were in a small, picture perfect, ocean side village. Sure enough, rather than simply enjoying the natural beauty of the place, I was “shepherded into” (thankfully) the only shop in sight. I no more than set foot in the door than the elderly proprietor, in her enchanting Irish brogue, said: “Thanks be to God! You are just the man I wanted to see!” Surprised, I looked over my shoulder, certain I would see a local who had walked in after me. There was no one. Standing, she started for the back room, calling out: “I want you to try on a sweater that I’ve only but a few stitches to finish.”

I quickly responded: “Thank you but I wouldn’t be interested…I’ve already tried on so many sweaters since I’ve been in Ireland that I smell like a sheep.” She stopped dead in her tracks, turned around, looked me in the eyes, and in a very grave whisper, said: “Oh, my dear…never say a thing like that…sheep are the most foul smelling of beasts.”

It turns out that I was, indeed, “just the man” she wanted to see. It seems that she got a bit carried away while knitting a sweater she intended to sell in her shop. The garment turned out much larger than one that would spark the interest of any villager, and too big even for the few tourists who wandered into this fairly remote place. It fit me like a glove!

She didn’t doubt that I was going to buy the sweater from her…even though I had no idea of the price. She said: “Now, you go along to the pub next door, Love, and have yourself a nice pint while I finish the last few stitches.” So, once again, I found myself being “shepherded” out into the seaside beauty, only to be taken immediately into a dark, smoky bar.

After a bit, three very…I mean VERY VERY…scruffy-looking men walked into the place. In all truth, we smelled them before actually laying eyes on them. The young waitress must have seen the looks on our faces and came immediately over and leaned down, wiping our table with a bar towel, and in a low voice, said: “Pay them no mind. They’re not what they look to be. They’re just having a bit of a break from their sheep.”

Trust me…sheep ARE the most foul smelling of beasts.

So it is especially surprising, that in his homily during the celebration of his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis looked up from his prepared text and into the faces of over 1,600 priests, challenged them by saying: “This is what I am asking you: Be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

What he was telling those priests, assembled to restate their commitment to ordained ministry that is they must make every effort to be an image of Christ to the people whose spiritual lives are entrusted to their care. Think of it like this: Through Jesus, The Creator got up close and personal to His creatures, who, as a consequence of the original sin, had indeed taken on the foul smell of death. By walking among us…rubbing against us…hugging us…leading us…feeding and protecting and healing us…Jesus took on our stench. And, having taken on our odor, He carried it with Him to Calvary where He became the True Lamb of God…sacrificed…so that we would no longer be “the most foul smelling of beasts.”

Our encounter with Jesus, The Good Shepherd, has given all of humankind the opportunity to look, sound, act, and even smell…the way in which God intended when He created us. All that made us “beastly” was burned up…destroyed…by the sacrificial fires of The Cross.

And then, on Easter morning, a fragrance of unequal beauty…a holy smell…the fragrance of new life…resurrection…re-creation…poured out from the empty tomb…overpowering every foul odor that blemished what The Creator first called into being. At first, only a chosen few enjoyed this powerful fragrance…far sweeter than any Easter Lilly. But, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost…this Divine fragrance poured out over the whole world.

Those of us who are made clean in the waters of Baptism have this Christ smell infused in us. Through Confirmation, it is sealed within us. At Eucharist, we celebrate and share the fragrance of new life…no longer foul-smelling beasts…but images of God. When we make an effort to live out our Baptism to the fullest…the Lord recognizes our voices and our smell…and so do other people! And they are attracted to it…the smell of Christ.

Now, back to the sweater.

It was waiting for me, wrapped up nicely with a bill sitting on top of the package which was a fraction of what the value was. I handed the lady a much larger travelers’ check…but still got the better of the bargain. Not only did I have a beautiful sweater, but when I got back to the U.S. and opened the package, there was a handwritten note: “Wear this for many, many years with the protection of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The blessing was priceless, the same blessing we enjoy in Baptism…when we put on Christ…in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we do our best to wear Christ without allowing the world to stain our Baptismal garment…we are no longer foul-smelling beasts, but children of God…recognized easily by how we look, speak, act…and even smell.

Third Sunday of Easter
JN 21:1-19
April 10, 2016

When he was very young…first or second grade…my sister indulged my nephew’s great fascination with magic. She permitted him to take lessons from a local magician. So, after a few months as the “magician’s apprentice,” and while our family was out to dinner, Joe stood next to the table in the middle of a fairly crowded restaurant and regaled us with several slight-of-hand tricks. The tricks themselves were amazing, but, to see them so smoothly executed by such a little kid only made the act more fascinating; so much so, that when he sat down, the other diners broke into applause. As we were bringing our meal to a close, the server brought over an enormous ice cream sundae, complete with lit sparklers, and placed it in front of Joe, indicating that the people at the next table had sent it over to him. It is one of those treasured family memories that we tell and retell…without tiring of it. But, even more than the magic show, what stays with me is what happened after we left the restaurant.

I was so impressed with his skill that I asked for an encore. He refused! I persisted. He continued to decline. Finally, with a note of impatience in his voice, he replied: “Listen, Uncle Ran…if you see the trick over and over again…you’ll figure out how I do it…and it won’t be magic anymore.”

This weekend, we hear yet another of the many experiences of the Risen Christ that the Apostles and disciples enjoyed between Easter Morning and Ascension Day. The passage from John’s Gospel is rich in symbolism and invites each of us to spend time reflecting on it in private prayer. Breakfast with Jesus! Can you think of a better way to begin the day?

What is striking to me, however, is that The Risen Lord continued to reveal the mystery of resurrection to His followers…in many different ways and places, each experience carrying with it a special lesson or message…or gift. Each, in its own way, seems to be an effort to reinforce that THIS IS FOR REAL! THIS IS NO TRICK! THERE IS NO ILLUSION…I LIVE!!!

Jesus appeared over and over to His followers so that they would “figure out how He did it.” With each visit, it must have become more and more clear to them that the power of Almighty God rolled back the stone and called back to life what the destructive power of darkness tried to kill. The visits of The Glorified Christ were repeated so that the Apostles and disciples would “figure it out.” But, the Lord, in turn, asked that Peter repeat his declaration of love…to the point that Peter’s final reply was quite likely carried on a note of impatience. OF COURSE I LOVE YOU! YOU KNOW THAT! WHY KEEP ASKING?

The fact is Jesus did keep asking Peter, and continues to ask each of us…DO YOU LOVE ME? We are continually challenged by The Lord…in a variety of places and circumstances…each and every day of our lives…to declare our love. Why? Maybe so that we finally “figure it out”…come to see that we were created in the image and likeness of God…WHO IS LOVE!

It’s no trick. It’s not magic. It’s reality. Love is the power by which the dead rise…and share in the Easter Glory of the Risen Christ.

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 3, 2016

At some point during my school years, I was reluctantly introduced to the works of the American poet, Emily Dickinson. Each student was required to memorize and recite a poem in front of the entire class. I chose for length, rather than for depth of meaning. My selection was:

The Bustle in a House

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R.W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

What’s ironic is that as I went about the easy work of committing the eight short lines to memory, the depth of meaning actually started to sink in. And as years passed, and I found myself actually awakening to “the morning after” the death of a loved one, this poem would resurface. It comes again to my mind on this Easter Monday morning 2016 as we begin the season of celebrating and exploring the infinite depths of meaning in Christ’s Resurrection.

Imagine the remaining Apostles, disciples, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the others who did not run…flee…try to escape the savagery, huddled together in the very room which Jesus Himself arranged for them to gather and grieve. That “morning after death”…the Sabbath morning following the horrific events of Good Friday, brought with it far more than the pain of grief.

These faithful followers of The Lord were forced to undertake “the solemnest of industries” which would ever be affected on this earth. Having seen, heard, and felt the very power of the Almighty radiate from the person of Jesus, they were the first to be confronted with the Paschal Mystery.

On that chilling morning after the Crucifixion, bound together in their shock and grief…terrified that every sound outside the door of that upper room might be a death squad coming to take them, they struggled to make sense of it all. Why did the mob turn on Him? He could calm a violent storm. He could drive out demons. He could bring an overwhelming sense of peace to great crowds of people with a few simple words. Why didn’t He get control of that Good Friday mob? He called Lazarus from the tomb…why did we have to entomb Him?

And in the midst of “sweeping up their hearts”…news came that The Tomb was empty. Like every news story, The Good News came in brief and even varying “flashes” that must have been received by each in their own way. Some immediately convinced, some grasping at hope, some confused. It’s not likely that Thomas was the only one to doubt.

Then, on Easter night…the door locked against the evil lurking in the world, but their minds and hearts open…The Risen Christ stood in their midst. With time, even those with the most determined doubts found that their hearts were swept up and healed for them and they came to believe and to understand.

Because of their experiences with the Risen Christ, they came to believe and to understand that they should not put love away. Rather, it was their calling to share the Love and Peace of Jesus Christ until He returns in all of His glory to put an end to death…so that every morning dawns with perfect joy, hope, love, and everlasting peace…The Peace of Christ! Alleluia!

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