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 Lent
JN 11:1-45
March 29, 2020

The Plague, by French philosopher Albert Camus, although first published over 70 years ago, offers a very vivid description of everything humankind is living through today. Very much like today’s news reports, it is hard to read/watch but impossible to turn away from. I found one chapter to be especially unnerving, and it wasn’t the graphic description of the human suffering that a pandemic brings with it.

In the book, the priest in the fictional French city that was in strict military-enforced isolation, called for the citizens to join in a “Week of Prayer.” The faithful took this seriously, begging God to bring an end to the pandemic. At the conclusion of the week, a special Mass was scheduled. The cathedral was filled with the city’s residents. The church was also filled with all of the feelings of fear and desperation that many people around the world are wrestling with today.

The priest began his sermon to this stricken community, in need of comfort and hope, with the following words:

Calamity has come upon you…and you deserve it!

He went on to explain that the city had been punished by God because of the sinful practices the residents had fallen into. He concluded by telling the worshippers that they should be grateful for the plague, and they should see it as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and change their way of living.

Certainly, any preacher would be correct in saying that we very often bring “calamity” on ourselves through poor choices and bad decisions. There are always consequences. But, the suggestion that an angry and vindictive God would send a plague to punish offenders is not consistent with all that God has Self-revealed through Jesus.

God is…

kind and merciful, slow to anger but quick to forgive.

Although natural disasters and public health emergencies DO offer an opportunity for us to learn how to be more FULLY human, it very difficult to believe that God purposefully inflicts suffering on us, as a way for us to “self-improve.” God values and treasures us, and He does not wreak havoc upon us out of anger or the desire to punish us or teach us a lesson.

God’s loving and merciful nature is especially important to remember at this time of global crisis, because it is very possible that there are sermons being preached today, suggesting that Covid-19 is our “just rewards” for all the sins of the world. There is no doubt that this is a sinful world. Still, it bears repeating.

God is not punitive.

God does not send plagues or pandemics or tsunamis or tornadoes or forest fires…no matter how much we might deserve these “corrective measures.”

And the very dramatic events in the dusty little Village of Bethany validate this belief.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is one of the longer and more detailed reports of Jesus’s healing ministry. It is filled with extraordinary detail, both obvious and subtle. Possibly the most important detail for us to focus on during Lent 2020 is Jesus’s reaction to the grief that He encountered having finally arrived in Bethany. He cried!

The significance of the Lord’s expression of grief goes well beyond His empathy for His friends, Martha and Mary, at the death of their brother. His tears and anguish offer insight into how God reacts to all of our afflictions. God takes no delight or satisfaction in human suffering.

Clearly, the most memorable element of the “raising of Lazarus” is just that…THE RAISING OF LAZARUS. But, in addition to being the miraculous event that it clearly was, it is also an opportunity to learn more about our Creator. Through Jesus, God reveals that when we suffer…God weeps.

So, a major takeaway of this week’s Readings is that God puts great value on every human life… and so should we. This Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is soon coming to an end. But, it does not appear that the season of COVID-19 is. Still, we can enter the Easter season with the certainty that through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection…Salvation has come upon you…even if you don’t deserve it!

By His Holy Cross, He has redeemed the world.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 9:1-41
March 22, 2020

Last weekend, reality hit. The very same “reality” we Christians marked ourselves with on Ash Wednesday. The “reality” that so many people turn a blind eye to…pushing it to the back of their minds, trying to live around the truth that…

WE ARE DUST…AND TO DUST WE SHALL RETURN!

So how did you react to this high-powered hit of “reality,” reminding us of how fragile and vulnerable we are?

Were you one of the folks that rushed to empty the shelves in the stores, selfishly stockpiling, focused only on yourself? There certainly have been reports of the “everyone for themselves” mentality. Fear tends to BLIND us to the needs of others, causing us to lose sight of the call to be CHARITABLE.

Did you make an effort to comply with the authorities’ urgent call for “dramatic reduction of activity,” or were you resentful and resistant to the suggestions that you voluntarily limit your freedom? Again, there are the unfortunate reports of bars, filled with patrons, refusing to close. It seems that a lot of people are so focused on protecting their own right to do as they wish that they become BLINDED to the rights of others to avoid being infected.

We Christians are accustomed to “FASTING AND ABSTAINING.” It’s part of our Lenten routine…or at least it should be. We know how to take control over the things that try to get control over us…or at least should. We’ve got this!

For us Catholic Christians, “the reality” became REALLY real…when we learned that dioceses around the world were canceling Masses…even Sunday Masses. The Eucharist is THE SOURCE AND THE SUMMIT of our faith. The Eucharist defines us.

And in no small way, the definition is one of the participants in Jesus’s act of total Self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Foregoing Eucharist for the sake of containing the pandemic…for the sake of others…is very consistent with the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist. But, while we wait for the “all clear” it is good to remember that when two or more are gathered in my name…

The third pillar of Lent is PRAYER. In past generations, that has involved families gathering in their own homes for special Lenten prayers. In recent times, that practice seems to have been neglected or forgotten altogether. This might well be the Lent to reinvigorate the long and rich tradition of family prayer. We do not have to gather in our churches to enjoy the presence of Christ. When two or more are gathered in my name means that the Lord is eager to be a guest in our homes.

Even still, in the meantime, priests are being encouraged to celebrate “private masses.” The Mass is a way of breaking out of time and space. From the moment we gather “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” until we hear the celebrant say: “Go in the Peace of the Lord,” we exist in a spiritual reality that defies the laws of nature. We are all there.

Through the Eucharist, the past, the present, and the future all blend into the reality of the Eternal Christ. So, for one hour a day, I will be joining other priests in defying the order for social distancing. YOU will all be in my home GATHERED around my table…doing as the Lord commanded…in memory of Him…and He will be in our midst.

We don’t know when this emergency will come to an end. We are uncertain as to how the dramatic events of today will impact our future. But what we do know with certainty is that Lent 2020 will conclude with Easter Sunday. Don’t let this emergency blind you to the reality of Resurrection.

We embrace the practices of ALMSGIVING, FASTING, AND PRAYER so that we are better able to understand that it is only our earthly bodies that will return to dust. Our spiritual selves will rise to share in the glory of the Risen Christ.

And so…GO IN THE PEACE OF CHRIST!

Thanks be to God.

Third Sunday of Lent
JN 4:5-42
March 15, 2020

“Social distancing” is an expression that is becoming more and more familiar as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Besides avoiding large gatherings (even in Rome, public Masses are being canceled/limited…during Lent no less), people are encouraged to maintain a distance of at least 3 feet from one another. “Fist bumps” that became popular during ordinary flu seasons in years past, are considered unnecessarily intimate. Polite nods are becoming the new normal when greeting friends. If people feel that physical contact is absolutely necessary, some countries are introducing “shoe bumps.”

As silly or extreme as these measures might seem to some, we simply can’t pretend anymore, that we are not in the midst of a universal health crisis. And so “social distancing” is the order of the day. Even those who have convinced themselves that this is not a serious situation should respect the personal boundaries of those who are working for containment.

Any examples of “social distancing” employed as we deal with the current pandemic, seem minor when compared with the practices common to Jesus’s time. Consider the examples in the Gospel, as to how lepers were treated. To avoid contamination they were totally banished from the community. Today this might well seem heartless but at the time it was the only way to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease.

What was in fact, very heartless and difficult to understand, was the “social distancing” that observant Jews…religious people who believed they were doing what was right and proper in the eyes of God, employed when coming in contact with people of other faith traditions; especially women.

Although “cousins” of “the Chosen people” Samaritans clung to certain pagan traditions that observant Jews found totally unacceptable. And so, automatically grouped with other pagans, Samaritans were simply “shrugged off”…ignored…passed by as if they did not exist…especially Samaritan women. Physical contact with a pagan, rendered an observant Jew, spiritually contaminated; unworthy to even pray until they have been cleansed in a special, ritual bath.

John’s Gospel makes a point of explaining that Jesus’s disciples were not present when The Lord encountered the Samaratin woman and engaged her in conversation. Had they been present, it is quite likely that they would have tried to prevent this beautiful story of inclusivity, forgiveness, evangelization and conversion. It certainly was a break from the rules of “social distancing”. The woman herself was surprised and alarmed by the encounter with Jesus. She understood the rules. Had Jesus not taken the initiative, she quite likely would have returned home with her water jug as empty as her spirits.

But here we see how Jesus is a game changer…collapsing human traditions that distance people from one another. Had The Lord complied with “the rules” and not engaged this public sinner…the distance between her and God might have gone so far as to exclude her from salvation.

We also see here, that even the most unlikely of persons…the hardest of hearts, has within them the ability to hear God’s voice and repent. This woman was very courageous. She stood her ground. She spoke truthfully and she asked questions. Most notably after her conversion she became an evangelist.

“Social distancing” in times of crisis like we’re living through might well be unavoidable. But while safe distance and common sense are necessary, we cannot wall ourselves off from the rest of humanity. No virus could possibly be as lethal as distancing ourselves from Christ. Very often we find Christ in the midst of others, particularly those in greatest need.

So as we move into the final weeks of this Lenten season, we should continue to PRAY for a speedy end to the virus. We should also pray that these challenging times draw us closer together, rather than distancing us from one another.

Rather than panic buying and hoarding, we should be more committed to FASTING from the unnecessary, and appreciating and using to the best advantage, what we do have.

As part of our annual ALMSGIVING, we should make a point of looking beyond our own isolation, to see what we might share with others…especially the poor.

This might well be a time when “social distancing” is unavoidable. Still, this is a time to grow closer to Christ by drawing closer to one another.

Second Sunday of Lent
MT 17:1-9
March 8, 2020

On Thursday, February 28th, as the very dire consequences of the coronavirus were being reported, the Church was celebrating the lives of “unnamed” disciples, collectively referred to as THE MARTYRS OF ALEXANDRIA.

Some might call it a coincidence, but it certainly seems providential that as the financial markets were “crashing,” we were “raising up” in loving memory an example of the way Christians are called to respond to catastrophic emergencies and the human suffering they bring.

Plagues and highly contagious diseases have always been part of the human experience. In the middle of the 3rd century, a pandemic spread throughout the ancient world. At the time, Christianity was an underground movement. The targets of bloody persecutions, early Christians had no choice but to worship in secret. Then, in the year 261 A.D., a highly contagious disease spread throughout the Roman Empire. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was hard hit. The residents of the city were totally ill-equipped to face the challenges of the pandemic. The sick were not cared for. Corpses were simply thrown into the street, which fueled the spread of the deadly disease.

In our First Reading, we are told how God challenged Abram to leave his place of security and comfort and venture into the unknown. So, too, the early Christians of Alexandria were motivated by The Holy Spirit to leave the relative safety of secret rooms and secluded places to bring the Gospel into the light of day.

Historic documents report how these courageous disciples began to care for the sick and bury the dead. Through these public acts of charity, they risked arrest and persecution. The highly contagious disease was an even greater threat. Many of them contracted and fell victim to the lethal virus. And so, today, we honor them as martyrs of our church.

One can’t help but marvel at the courage it took for these disciples to respond so lovingly to the very people that were persecuting them. Clearly, even though they were forced to practice our faith “underground,” they had been to the “mountaintop” and were transfigured…changed…made radiant in the way they reflected the Light of Christ. With the strength that came from God, they gladly embraced the hardships of caregiving for the sake of the Gospel.

There is a great deal of confusion and conflicting information about the disease that is rapidly spreading around the globe today. Here in the United States, there is a debate over how serious this epidemic actually is, and whether we, as a nation, are prepared to meet the challenges it poses. It is hard to know what we are to believe.

We Christians, however, are absolutely certain of this much: love is infinitely more powerful than any pandemic. We know this to be true because of our love for humankind. Our Savior, Christ Jesus … destroyed death and brought life and mortality to light through the Gospel.

We can be confident, as well, of the truth that Christian charity is as contagious as the most infectious disease. Acts of charity spread and spread rapidly. And we disciples are “ground zero.” It is our duty as Children of the Light…as a Resurrection people…to follow the heroic example of the Martyrs of Alexandria, and bring comfort and healing to those who are suffering and in need.

At this point, we have been spared the hardship that comes with this virus. But what we can do now is to make those who are afflicted, as well as first responders, medical personnel, and caregivers the focus of our Lenten PRAYER. We might also recommit to FASTING; offering up our sacrifices for the success of scientists and researchers who are working to find an effective immunization. Aware that it is the poor who suffer most in times of crisis, it would be most appropriate to step up our ALMSGIVING.
There are many unanswered questions raised by the coronavirus. Among the uncertainties is our capability as a nation to test for the virus. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, also have some questions to answer. These questions are an effective way of testing our spiritual health.

Would I respond to the Call of The Holy Spirit in the same way as the Martyrs of Alexandria?

Do I have the strength of faith it takes to leave my comfort zone in order to bring healing to those in greatest need?

Am I willing to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel?

Do I test positive for Christ?

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