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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The Ascension of the Lord
MT 28:16-20
May 28, 2017

Featured speakers at the White House correspondence dinner this year were Woodward and Bernstein. Both gave short talks…more like reflections…on how they perceived the role of the press/journalism, especially as it functions in a democratic society. Both stressed that journalists and reporters have an absolute obligation to offer to the public “the best attainable version of the truth.”

In order to achieve this, they explained that “sustained inquiry is essential.” Their thoughts were especially poignant in a day and age when we are constantly assaulted with so much untrustworthy information and prevented from hearing the real truth by “cover-ups.” As I listened to them caution about the extreme danger of any effort, by anyone, to suppress the access of journalists to “the best attainable version of the truth,” I couldn’t help but shift my focus from the political arena to the spiritual life.

“The best attainable version of the truth” is Jesus Christ. Jesus IS THE TRUTH, and The Source of The Truth (Jesus Christ) is God.

The Lord came to broadcast to all of humankind the Good News that eternal life comes to those who know the only true God, and the One Whom God sent, Jesus Christ. So that all might come to believe in this truth…the Good News…Jesus suffered a very public death, after which He revealed The Source of His Truth to the Apostles and disciples in the most dramatic of ways. Jesus rose from the dead and remained present to them until it was time for Him to return to the Source of all life and all love.

Knowing it is the way of this world to “cover up” the truth, drown out “The Good News” with false news, and persecute and silence those who give witness to the Risen Christ, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten and strengthen those first chosen to continue the work that God began through Jesus. As we bring this Easter Season to a close, it is critical that we remember that the sacred duty and absolute obligation to continue the work of the first witnesses now rests on our shoulders. In many ways, the challenge is even greater than ever before, because the means and methods of suppressing truth and broadcasting false news are many, varied, hi-tech, and comes at us from the most unexpected places. But we have the Holy Spirit…the same Spirit that poured down on the Apostles and disciples on Pentecost, to inform, embolden, and energize us as we go about our duty as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Still, “sustained inquiry is essential.” We must continue to read, learn, listen carefully, and pray. And, of course, we must continue to gather together to celebrate Eucharist where “the best attainable version of the truth“ is made available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Word proclaimed and the Bread broken and shared.

Welcome the Holy Spirit of Pentecost!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:15-21
May 21, 2017

In the First Letter of St. Peter, our Second Reading (3:15-18), we are told to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” From the earliest days of the Church, God blessed us with followers of Jesus Christ who brilliantly explained the faith. It was through the convincing witness of these early Christian apologists that The Faith spread throughout the ancient world. We are blessed today with multiple resources in multiple media that help us do just that. Theologians and other Christian writers have flooded the marketplace with books that can be classified as “apologetics,” the religious discipline of speaking in defense of what we hold to be true. Besides written publications, there are videos, CDs, and tapes, podcasts, several lecture series available on the Internet, and even movies that offer us ways of explaining why all of our hope rests in Jesus Christ. And this is a good thing.

Recently, a motion picture based on the book called “The Shack” was showing in the theaters. It offered an image of the most significant reason for Christian hope: THE BLESSED TRINITY. But how, if asked, do we even begin to explain that Three is One? “The Shack” does a beautiful job of showing the “threeness” of God. The boundless love and mercy of The Creator is depicted in a very pleasant looking, warm, and sensitive older black woman. Later in the story, the wisdom of the Father takes on the appearance of an elderly Native American man. The person experiencing The Trinity in the movie (as well as the readers and viewers) somehow understand that both are images of the First Person.

God the Son is depicted as a strong, young Jewish carpenter, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and sandals. We see Jesus as the kind of fun loving but encouraging person who you really want to be friends with. It’s hard to resist following Him. Finally, a petite wisp of an extraordinarily beautiful young Asian woman tackles the very challenging role of the Holy Spirit. She is so light and airy in appearance and demeanor that it seems you can gaze right through her.

“The Shack” is a profound story, and the movie adaptation does the book justice. However, I have my doubts as to whether someone who has no faith would find either to be a convincing explanation of why our hope rests in Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to do better than weaving charming stories around the Divine Life if we are going to capture the attention of the growing numbers of pagans in our world.

In our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how Philip went down to Samaria to proclaim Christ. He captured the attention of a crowd, both by his words as well as by his deeds. They were convinced and they were converted. What made the first witnesses to Christ so successful in their efforts to bring people to accept the Word of God? (Remember…Jesus IS the Eternal Word of God!) The answer might well rest in today’s Gospel, and easily summarized in one word…LOVE! Philip, Peter, John, and all of the others who walked with Jesus absorbed and reflected the perfect love that radiates from the Son of God…The Second Person of the Trinity. The love that came into the world with Jesus, a love with which His Apostles and disciples were saturated, “went viral.” And having returned to heaven, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world to seal the love of Christ within the hearts of all who believe.

How, then, do we prepare to give an explanation to anyone who asks for the reason for our hope? By loving God with our entire being…and…by loving one another even as we love ourselves.

Love is a more powerful explanation of our faith than any book, any movie, any podcast. Love is the perfect and most convincing explanation of our hope in the goodness and mercy of God…FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:1-12
May 14, 2017

Once upon a time, telephones were just for talking. Then, one day, it somehow happened that phones became “smart.” They learned how to do research and answer questions, store information, pay bills, buy things from stores, and give directions.

And so, one day, I was in the sacristy after presiding at a weekday morning Mass when someone asked to see me. The lady was well known to me, so I was concerned about what was on her mind. She wasted no time in explaining that she was very bothered by a man who “is always on his cell phone during Mass.” She wanted to alert me to what she considered to be disrespect bordering on sacrilege. It was her hope that I would put a stop to this behavior.

I immediately realized that she was talking about a younger man, a daily Communicant and good and faithful disciple, who is in the habit of following the Readings of the day on his Smart phone. I told my scandalized friend that the man was not talking on the phone, but using it to pray. She was skeptical. So, I pulled out my own smart phone and clicked onto the daily email that comes from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, distributing the Scripture passages of the day. She looked at my phone, satisfied herself that what was on the small screen in writing was what she had just heard proclaimed during Mass, and then passed the phone back to me and said: “I don’t care! This just isn’t right.”

Maybe it’s not this way with young people, but I think that most members of AARP appreciate a written bank statement delivered to the mailbox, a printed receipt for a major purchase, a pamphlet with assembly instructions, and, in spite of the fact that even senior citizens have learned to use GPS, we feel a sense of security knowing that there is a road map in our glove box. Many people simply do not feel comfortable without seeing things written down…ON PAPER.

Maybe that is why God saw fit to give Moses The Law engraved on tablets of stone. God knew that the written law would provide the people a sense of certainty and security. It simplified their lives having things written down. The people felt that if they observed what is written “in stone,” they would be pleasing to God.

But then, God did something so revolutionary that it can never be repeated. God spoke the Eternal Word into the Blessed Mother. And with Mary’s cooperation, God’s Word took flesh to walk among us. With Jesus, God didn’t send more stone tablets or written rules and laws, but A Divine Person. Jesus, fully human (just like us in all things but sin) and at the same time, fully Divine, is God’s most beautiful, complete and unrepeatable way of showing the Divine Self to us. Jesus is the summation of God’s will and God’s ways. That is to say, if we know Jesus, then we know “The Law,” not written on stone, but on The Lord’s Sacred Heart, on fire with love for us. Jesus is God’s most perfect way of communicating and communing with us. Without stone tablets, scrolls, books, laws…with only One Living Word…Jesus…God shows us the plan for us. Jesus IS who we could have been, but for the original sin. Jesus IS who we should strive to be more like as we walk through this life. Jesus IS who those that strive to follow HIS WAY will become when they leave time to dwell in eternity.

In spite of all of this, many simply respond: “I don’t care! This just isn’t right.” They go off a different way, listening to other voices, following bad directions, influenced by false messages and directed into darkness. They become lost.

Those who follow The Way of the Lord, however, walk in the Light of Christ. Through Jesus, God has simplified our lives here in this life, and assured those who follow “The Way” a destination of eternal peace and joy!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:1-10
May 7, 2017

Just before Holy Week, I had an extremely unnerving experience that is worth sharing as we begin this 4th week of Easter. The pastor of a rural parish in our Diocese asked if I would preside at his liturgies while he recuperated from a serious surgery that was scheduled as “urgent” if not “emergency.” I had never been to the parish before and thought it best to pay a short visit to familiarize myself with the worship space.

I asked my Smart phone for directions. Traveling the 30 odd miles to my destination, I didn’t pay all that much attention to where I was, simply following the instructions of the mechanical voice. Almost before I realized it, I was approaching my destination. It was then that my gaze moved from the road to the distant sky. I saw the bell tower of the church I was to visit, and for a brief moment, became totally disoriented. It was a very unnerving feeling. For an instant, I didn’t know where I was. I thought that I had unconsciously driven to the rural parish where I had served for nine years several years ago. A wave of panic washed over me as it occurred to me that I must be losing it!

It was then that I remembered that this church was built from the same architectural plans as the rural parish where I had spent so many wonderful years. It was understandable that my first view of this church would be disorienting. It was the identical spire that had, for so long, signaled that I was “almost home.” With the same brilliant blue sky as the backdrop, I could easily have been approaching my former parish. Entering the church, I continued to be amazed. As I walked through the building, I observed far more similarities than differences.

When I returned a few days later to lead the community in prayer, I was once again overwhelmed by the same eerie experience. This time, the cause of my uneasiness was not the place, but rather, the people. As I began the liturgy and looked out at the assembly, I kept seeing faces that I thought I recognized. Maybe it was someone’s coat, or hairstyle, or glasses, or height that caused me to think: “Oh! He is visiting here, too.” Or: “She must have family in this neighborhood.” Of course, whatever it was that seemed familiar I had never seen before. A past memory was simply awakened by a shared characteristic encountered within totally familiar circumstances. As the weeks have passed, these false sightings of old friends have stopped. Quite possibly, if someone from my past ministry were to visit this parish, I wouldn’t trust myself enough to call them by name.

Still, the entire unnerving experience has hung with me to the point that it seemed that God was telling me something I had better consider. And so, after a good deal of reflection, and with the help of this Sunday’s Readings, it occurs to me that regardless of the architecture of a church building, the faithful gathered there to worship should look alike.

Just as two church buildings constructed from the same architectural plans evoke a sense of the familiar, those who are guided to the waters of Baptism by the Good Shepherd have defining characteristics in common. Through Baptism, disciples are reborn in the Holy Spirit according to God’s eternal plan; and the plan is that we all look the same because we live the same. The defining characteristic shared by the flock we are gathered into has nothing to do with clothes, hairstyles, or height. Disciples should look alike because we should all reflect the Face of Christ to everyone we see. Our voices should strike a familiar note as we speak in a loving, forgiving, and charitable way. We should even smell the same! We should give off the aroma of holiness, because through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.

The sad thing is….WE SHOULD BUT WE DON’T. Although through Baptism, we are reborn in the Spirit according to God’s Eternal plan, among the defining characteristics we share is free will. We can choose to live according to God’s Eternal plan or we can pursue our own plans; often going so far as wandering away from the flock. And so, our First Reading emphasizes the need to repent those times when other’s don’t recognize us for who we are called to be… God’s People…the Flock of the Lord.

But we must also pay homage to the image of Christ that our Gospel offers us, because it is the Good News in all of this. The Lord is a Good Shepherd, Who recognizes each of us as both unique and precious in the eyes of our Creator. In spite of our similarities, He calls us by name. Although we mask our identities through poor decisions and bad choices, even going so far as to leave the flock, Christ knows exactly who we are…each and every one of us. And should that arouse an unnerving feeling within anyone, The Good News is that it is the will of the Father that the Good Shepherd not lose what has been given to Him. Even when we stray, He finds us and brings us safely back to the flock.

The Easter message as we near the midpoint of this holy season is that we are God’s People…the Flock of the Lord. And everyone we come in contact with should recognize that in all of us!

Third Sunday of Easter
LK 24:13-35
April 30, 2017

Today’s Gospel is something of a treasure map…with a few added details. Somewhat uncharacteristic of the Gospels, and offered in an almost offhanded manner, Luke motivated early Church authorities, pilgrims, archaeologists, historians, and those who were simply curious to search for a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus. Besides the name and the distance from Jerusalem, searchers were guided by other clues. For example, they were looking for ruins of an ancient town located near a Roman trade route. A water source, such as a deep well that could serve a small community, was also a key factor in the hunt. Expectations as to what was to be discovered must have been low. Many decades had passed since the events of Easter Sunday Night that immortalized the name of the village and one of its residents. As our Second Reading on this 3rd Sunday of Easter points out, the things of this world…even gold and silver…are perishable. So, barring a miracle, searchers could expect to find little more than a pile of rubble.

In fact, in at least four different locations, each about seven miles from Jerusalem, although in different directions, searchers declared that they had discovered Emmaus. Accordingly, the true location remains unresolved and the search for the “lost village” continues to this very day. Nevertheless, churches were built on several of the sites claimed to be the village where a person named Cleopas and his unnamed traveling companion entertained the Risen Christ. The faithful began to walk the walk that two dejected disciples made on that fateful Easter evening.

Centuries have passed, and still, pilgrims travel from Jerusalem to one of the “Emmauses.” As they embark on their journey, they remember how two of Jesus’s followers made the long walk home, the horror of Good Friday still fresh in their minds, the shocking reality of the Crucifixion causing the dejected pair to regard the whispers of Resurrection as false…rather than Good News!

As pilgrims draw closer to their destination, they often read and reflect on today’s Gospel. They recall how a stranger joined the pair, and how His words made their hearts burn within them. The Gospel report is sufficient to enable believers to feel The Real Presence of this Stranger and to ponder His explanation of the Good Friday tragedy foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. The walk to Emmaus…whichever Emmaus…does that. It offers an AHHH! moment, even to those who think they already know all there is to know. The destination is not just a village, but also a new insight into The Paschal Mystery. To this very day, the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem towards…whichever Emmaus…causes the hearts of the faithful to burn within them.

Upon arrival, Cleopas and friend did not want to let this stranger go. They urged Him: Stay with us! And so He did. He entered their home and sat at their table, just long enough to Break the Bread and share The Cup. Pilgrims today, regardless of which Emmaus they journey to, very often mark their arrival by celebrating Eucharist. Hopefully, during their prayer, the hearts of the faithful burn within them, and they come to see that in the Eucharist, The Risen Christ does not disappear from our midst; rather, we become what we eat. Through the Eucharist, The Word Proclaimed, and the Body and Blood of Christ shared…we make Christ’s continued presence a reality for others.

Our Gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35, truly is a treasure map. The starting point is an empty tomb. The journey is not measured in miles, but in lifetimes. Every step of the way, there is a Companion eager to accompany those brave enough to embark on the journey. Those wise enough to listen to His Words find that their hearts burn within them. The destination is not the ruins of an ancient village over which a commemorative Church has been built. Emmaus is EVERY Church, worldwide, where we celebrate the Supper of The Lord. The Treasure is not hidden. It sits out in the open…on The Table of the Word…where The Good News is proclaimed so that all may rejoice in the truth. The Treasure is also on the Communion Table, where the imperishable Treasure of the Body and Precious Blood of Christ, ”the spotless, unblemished lamb” awaits those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

There is something miraculous to be found by those invited to these Tables. They are changed! Their faith and hope in God is strengthened so that they might continue their pilgrimage towards a final, eternal destination…The Kingdom of God!

Today’s Gospel truly is a treasure map! But what we search for is not hidden. It is right before our very eyes! And there is a Companion eager to walk beside you every step of the way.

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