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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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:17-37 OR 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37
February 16, 2020

For health as well as appearance sake, a good friend was determined to begin 2020 “on a diet.” She did her homework and hit on a program that, at first glance, appeared to be fairly severe. What appealed, however, was the promise of dramatic results within 30 days, and without the need to measure or weigh food or count calories. She bought the book and began to read “the laws.” THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…sugar, grains, legumes, dairy products, or alcohol…simple as that! What was permitted, however, was a wide range of healthy, fresh, and non-processed food. The theory behind this particular diet is that by abstaining from certain addictive foods for a relatively short period of time, it is possible to regain control over our appetites, redirecting them towards what is good for us.

My friend began by enthusiastically reading the book. By day two, she still had her nose in the book, only now she was desperately searching for ways to circumvent “the laws.” Can’t I use just a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in my coffee? Do I have to take the croutons off my salad? Peanuts aren’t really legumes, are they? What harm would a small glass of wine be on Friday night? As the first week progressed, her search for exemptions intensified. She became especially anxious when she read that ANY violation means starting over again from the beginning.

Midway into week two, she noticed some significant changes occurring. The hunger pains had disappeared. Her cravings for things that are prohibited became less demanding. Her feelings of wellness and well-being increased as did her energy level. And she became less dependent on the book, consulting it only occasionally for a new recipe. “The law” had moved from the book to her mind and became central to her lifestyle. At the beginning, the program required a good deal of discipline. For her efforts, however, she has been rewarded with better health, and she did lose weight. But, will this last?

St. Augustine once said that: God wrote on the tablets of The Law what men did not read in their hearts. It is important to understand, however, that “The Law” that Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel is much more than The 10 Commandments. The Old Testament Law is found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, speaking to three distinct areas: ceremonial- ritual, civil, and moral law. All three areas of the Old Testament Law were a gift from God to guide humankind in the responsible use of God’s greatest gift to us: free will.

God’s Laws were given to help us live healthy, happy, and peaceful lives by making the right choices and good and sound decisions. When faithfully observed, God’s Laws enable us to be even more beautiful in the sight of our Creator as well as one another. Although the principles underlining the ceremonial and civil laws intended to guide Israel still stand, the requirement for strict observance has given way to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. By contrast, the moral aspect of the Old Testament Law remains in full force and effect.

But, human nature being what it is, those whom Jesus encountered and challenged…much as people today, search God’s Law for ways to circumvent it…rationalize behavior inconsistent with it…impose it in a severe fashion on others while living above it themselves…or judge themselves as being totally compliant, when, in fact, few can be totally faithful to every letter of The Law. Then, of course, there are those who totally ignore God’s Law.

And so, Matthew reports on The Lord’s efforts to enlighten the people of His time…as well as us today…as to God’s intentions in gifting us with The Law. Our Creator has provided us with guidance so that we might live free from all those addictions that erode our free will and cause us to indulge in unhealthy cravings.

Moreover, Jesus shows us that this doesn’t have to be complicated. Just like my friend’s diet can be reduced to THOU SHALL NOT CONSUME…5 things…God’s Law can be reduced to THOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND…AND YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

It really is quite simple. When we reduce The Law to these two, simple Commandments, moving them from The Book to our minds and hearts, our spiritual health rapidly improves. Love becomes our lifestyle. And the good news is, should we slip back into our old addictions, we can easily start again with the help of God’s grace.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:13-16
February 9, 2020

Way back in 1940, there was a special movie premier…Not in Hollywood or New York or London…but in Port Huron, Michigan. Mickey Rooney played the lead in the biographical film called “Young Tom Edison,” the setting being Port Huron, where Edison spent much of his childhood.

One of the more memorable scenes in the movie comes about when Edison’s mother suddenly takes ill. The town doctor was summoned. He made his diagnosis and explained that surgery was the only hope if she was to live through the night. Unfortunately, surgery was not possible because there was insufficient lighting to enable the doctor to operate. This, of course, happened before electricity.

While the rest of the family, grief-stricken by the shocking news, surrounded what they were certain was to be Mrs. Edison’s deathbed, “Young Tom Edison” sprang into action. He ran through the house gathering every mirror, oil lamp, and candle that he could find. He arranged the mirrors all around the dining room table and placed the lamps and candles in front of them. Calling the doctor away from the dying woman’s room, he led the man into the dining room now flooded with more than enough light to enable him to successfully operate on Edison’s mother.

This story somehow made its way into children’s textbooks in a chapter dealing with the inventor’s life. Eventually, someone “fact checking” determined that it could not have happened as depicted in the movie. In the late 1800’s, surgery had not advanced to the point that an operation of this nature would have taken place, regardless of how well-lit the room was. So, apparently, the textbooks were edited, and the story deleted. It seems a shame because the little story was a fine way to teach children how mirrors can make a dark room seem brighter by reflecting and magnifying a light source. The little story…real or not…might help us as well, come to deeper understanding of this Sunday’s readings.

Over the past few weeks, we have heard about the radiant light of Christ. This “Christ-light” dispelled the darkness that overwhelmed creation through the original sin. But it is part of God’s plan that we reflect and magnify this brilliant light so that the darkness of sin and death is completely vanquished.

Whether or not “Young Tom Edison” actually saved his mother’s life, he certainly must have understood the power of reflective surfaces like mirrors. And although mirrors have no power on their own to generate light, they do have the ability to increase the brightness of a room by reflecting and magnifying a light placed in front of them.

Through Baptism, the light of Christ is placed before us. And although, on our own, we do not have the ability to generate this “Christ-light,” we can and should make every effort to diffuse it. There is nothing we human beings can do to add or detract from the Glory of God. But what we can do is enable this “Christ-light” to reflect off of us, and, in that way, drive back darkness even more aggressively.

When people of good will let their souls become reflective surfaces, brightening the world with the Christ-light…what is revealed is hunger, oppression, homelessness, and dire poverty.

The spotlight revealing this suffering…we are then called to offer relief. Humankind can no more produce God’s glory than a mirror can generate light. But once we become aware of the needs of others, we do have the power to offer relief and bring about healing.

That is God’s plan. God provides the light, and we reflect it and magnify it. In so doing, our next challenge becomes visible. We are expected to feed the hungry, shelter the displaced, clothe the naked, and speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
LK 2:22-40 OR 2:22-32
February 2, 2020

Growing up near Lake Erie, my family was no stranger to “tornado warnings.” Our home was located right in the middle of “tornado alley.” And while there were far more false alarms than actual funnel clouds, the injuries, deaths, and destruction resulting from two actual “touchdowns” over the course of about 15 years conditioned us to take storm warnings very seriously. When we heard the sirens, my parents would hustle us down to the least vulnerable corner of the basement, at which point, we would gather around a “holy candle” that my mother would light, and we would pray the Rosary. By the end of storm season, there would be little left of our “holy candle.” It would have burned down to a stub. But that was not a problem, because, each year, it would be replaced by a brand new candle.

The “holy candles” were blessed by the pastor on February 2…THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE, also referred to as Candlemas.

The tradition of blessing candles 40 days after Christmas dates back to the seventh century. The practice was inspired by the witness of Simeon and Anna, whose testimony echoed the Christmas message:

The Christ-child was indeed The Light that God had sent into the world to dispel the darkness of sin and death.

Sharing these sorts of “Catholic family memories” today, many people would consider taking shelter in the light of a “holy candle” superstitious. In fact, not every pastor continues to bless and distribute candles to the faithful. Not every Catholic family has a blessed candle in their home to light on those occasions when dark storm clouds, of whatever nature, threaten security or happiness.

Moreover, it’s sad to consider how few families these days gather to pray the Rosary together. Some traditions are sadly forgotten and lost, but what will withstand the passage of time is The Gospel. This week’s Gospel finds the Holy Family gathered together in the most secure of places…The Temple…The House of God. They are joined by two elders of the community who seek refuge and comfort in that holy place. Simeon issues a warning to Mary, but the realization that they are in the presence of the Light of Christ makes this the most joyful of occasions.

Simeon is now prepared to walk into the darkness of death, confident that Eternal Light awaits those who recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. For her part, Anna’s life of prayer and fasting were richly rewarded, having been included in this further revelation that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who will take away the sins of the world. She cannot contain her joy and shares The Good News with “all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

After all these centuries, Simeon’s warning is still very relevant, and should be taken seriously by everyone. Few people will be spared the violent storms that threaten our security and peace. But when we seek shelter in the Light of Christ, we will be saved. Knowing this, how can we not experience the joy that Anna felt in the presence of the Holy Family? We may or may not have a blessed candle in our home, but the Light of Christ will always be close by to dispel any darkness that threatens us. Knowing this to be truth, we can say with confidence:

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 4:12-23 OR 4:12-17
January 26, 2020

I was in a meeting with a group of parishioners to plan upcoming liturgies. The recently ordained associate pastor was also present. I began by talking about the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” My young friend interrupted, and with a note of correction in his voice, said: “Altar.”

I patiently resumed my presentation, and once again mentioned the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” Once again, I was corrected with a single word, this time spoken with a bit more emphasis: “ALTAR!”

I continued with my thoughts, which required a further reference to the “Table of the Word” and the “Communion Table.” You guessed it! He chirped up again, this time allowing the slightest bit of impatience as he spoke the single word: “ALTAR!”

I shot him “the look” which I hope no one else noticed, but I know that he saw, because he was quiet for the rest of the evening. At that point I said: “Fr. we don’t want these folks to be confused, so I think we’re going to have to give a little bit of an explanation as to why you keep interrupting me.”

I went on to explain to the gathering that the names we give to liturgical furniture speak to their sacramental purpose and are very important. By referring to “the Altar” the younger priest was inviting people to Calvary, where The Lamb of God…the Agnus Dei…was sacrificed on The Altar of The Cross. Jesus was the perfect offering…the only sin offering capable of redeeming the world. Offerings are made on altars. And so my young friend is correct.

Nevertheless, the Lord instituted the Eucharist at the last Passover meal that He celebrated with the Apostles and disciples. Accordingly, when we speak of “The Communion Table” we are inviting the faithful to take a place at the Lord’s Supper…and to hear Him speak those words that have echoed across the centuries: DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!

Far more than an invitation Jesus has given us a command to come to “The Table.”

So in reality that piece of liturgical furniture that is the center and focal point of every Eucharist is both Table and Altar. And we know this because of that piece of furniture that stands beside it supporting God’s Eternal Word. It is the proclamations made from “The Table of The Word” that give meaning and purpose to what we are about when we gather around The Communion Table/Altar.

God tells us: Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life. (Isaiah 55:3) And so Pope Francis has named this 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time WORD OF GOD SUNDAY. In choosing to do so, the Holy Father has directed our attention towards that piece of liturgical furniture that supports Sacred Scripture, so that we Roman Catholics may deepen our appreciation for the Living Word of God. He is encouraging us to pay closer attention to what is being proclaimed, so that we might have life.

So here’s a question that is easily answered. What do you call the piece of furniture in your home where Sacred Scripture rests? Is it a shelf in the closet that’s not often used? Is it the bottom drawer of a dresser in a spare bedroom? Do you even remember where your Bible is? Do you even have a Bible in your home?

On this first “Word of God Sunday”, we are reminded of the enormous importance of Sacred Scripture. It is an excellent opportunity to place a “Table of The Word” in a prominent place in your own home. And each time you pass by it, remember God’s invitation/command…. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life.

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