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 12:20-33
March 18, 2018

It’s hard to know just exactly how much of what I am trying to pass on to my 9th grade theology students about our faith is sticking with them. Putting facts down on paper isn’t the real test of what they have learned about Christ and our Church. How they live their lives is the “final exam.” And that is a test that will take a lifetime to complete. I do know this much with certainty: No one will get a 100%. Even if I should happen to have a future saint in my classroom, it is highly unlikely that they will escape their desert experiences of life, or their own personal agonies in the garden, without succumbing to temptation.

The other day, one of my kids (who, by the way, rarely speaks) shared a profound insight while we were reflecting on The Passion according to Mark. The class was focused on the religious leaders taunting Jesus, saying: “If You truly are the Messiah, come down from there…save Yourself.” My usually silent friend pointed out that this was a temptation much like Satan used in the desert when the evil one dared Jesus to jump from the parapet of the Temple. Elaborating, the student suggested that Jesus resisted the very human instinct of self-survival, so that He could save us.

This was a good teaching day for me, because at least one 9th grader understood that right up to the end, He must have been tempted. Consider what we are told in the Second Reading: In the days when Jesus was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.

By my continually repeating our belief that Jesus was fully human, like us in all things but sin, it is my hope to instill hope in my students. I myself find enormous hope in knowing that by sharing in our human nature, The Lord shared as well all the things each of us deals with each and every day, including temptations and the fear of suffering and death. However, He was able to resist every temptation…even the very human temptation to avoid pain and suffering because, unlike the rest of humankind, He was not weakened by sin.

Still, He knows our struggles from first-hand experience and will be understanding and merciful when we submit our lives for judgment…our final exam.

If this seems presumptuous…too bold a statement… then refer back once again to our Second Reading to another statement which seems presumptuous and bold when we recall that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully Divine. He learned…from what He suffered!

He learned what it means to be human. And from Him, we have learned what it means to be perfectly human. The more we strive to be like Jesus our Brother, the more like The Christ our God we become. How much of what The Lord has passed onto us has stuck with you? It’s not about what you know…or what you are able to write down on paper…it’s about how you live that will help you pass the final test.

These final days of Lent 2018 are “study days.” Let’s put them to good use.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 3:14-21
March 11, 2018

We are halfway through Lent 2018. This 4th Sunday of the Liturgical Season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving…not unlike the midpoint of Advent, has a name.

Today we mark Laetare Sunday. The third Sunday in the four-week-long Season of Advent is called Gaudette Sunday.

The two Latin words both have the same meaning: JOY. But it seems that there is a subtle distinction between them. Gaudette describes the kind of excitement and happiness that bubbles up from within us. In other words, internal feelings brought about by “the season” that can no longer be contained and are expressed. Laetare is more external and it’s joy in spite of “the season.” We take a break from the somber practices and anticipate the joy of hearing the message: HE IS RISEN! We get a break from ashes and sack cloth.

Several different spiritual authors have suggested that because Catholics today are far less committed to observing the ancient traditions and practices of Lent, there is no need to take a break, and so there is no spurt of joy.Theologian Monika Hellwig put it this way: The rejoicing does not seem to come quite as spontaneously nowadays as it used to when Lent was, for the most part, far more rigorously observed. In other words, for many Catholics, Lent is “business as usual.” There is no need to re-charge when there has been nothing taken from our ordinary ways.

That being said, I readily admit that I personally do not feel a sense of joy today, nor have I for the past week. And I suspect that many of our sisters and brothers here in the Diocese of Saginaw would say the same, whether or not they have been observing a “good old-fashioned Lent.”

Why no joy for me this Laetare Sunday?

The media has been reporting conditions in our Church that echo the opening lines of our First Reading from The Second Book of Chronicles. And as that passage unfolds, things go from bad to worse. The story ends in total destruction. Please, God, spare us further suffering. Let us once again experience joy.

So we look to our Second Reading for relief. There, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, as well as us today…of who we are and what we are about. In spite of the things that threaten our peace and rob us of our joy, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared.

As we venture into the second half of Lent 2018, more than ever, we need to keep focused on The Cross, the source of our hope and of our salvation. Whether or not we embrace the traditions and practices of Lent that have been passed on through the generations, we must continue to embrace The Cross and enjoy its healing powers. As our prayer goes…By Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Let’s pick up The Cross and continue our journey knowing that after every Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 3:14-21
March 4,2018

Over the years, on multiple occasions, and for any number of reasons…some baseless, others valid…I have heard “detractors” of the Roman Catholic Church use this Sunday’s Gospel (John 2:13-25) to support the comment: Clean your own house before you start telling other people how to live. And with that, they simply wipe away a rich tradition of social justice teaching which, if observed, would make this world a better and safer place for everyone…Catholic or not…detractor and supporter alike…believer and non-believer…to live. How tragic.

One of the foundational teachings of our Church is that the original sin has left all human beings vulnerable to poor choices, bad decisions, dark feelings, and sin. It isn’t an excuse; it is reality. All humankind struggle with PTSD…POST TRAUMATIC SIN DISORDER. Catholic Social Justice Teaching readily acknowledges that to be true. And so, we embrace with gratitude and relief that which our Creator has revealed about the Divine Self. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Moreover, we are eternally grateful to the Son of God for leaving us Sacraments that continue to do what He did on that day in the Temple area. Through the Sacraments of the Church, The Lord continues to cleanse us, heal us, and strengthen us so that we are better able to resist those inclinations that make us less than we were created to be. After all, Jesus did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. And so, after returning to The Father, The Son sent us The Holy Spirit.

We are encouraged to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance when we are discerning what is right and just and true. The Spirit enlightens us to what needs cleansing and healing. The Spirit is eager to fill us with the strength of God’s grace to overpower those inclinations that cloud our good judgment and turn us in the wrong direction.

Over the years, on multiple occasions, when listening to “detractors” voice criticisms of our Church…some valid…some baseless…I have always replied: We acknowledge our sins! We admit to our sinful nature. That is exactly why we embrace the penitential season of Lent. We know we need to “clean house” in order to properly celebrate the Good News of Easter morning: CHRIST IS RISEN!

Christ HAS died…for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Christ IS RISEN…and invites us to join in eternal life. Christ WILL come again. But while we wait, we continue to prepare. And we will not be detruded from our work of proclaiming the Good News. The Good News overpowers those voices of darkness that try to shake our faith in God’s unconditional mercy and love.

Second Sunday of Lent
MK 9:2-10
February 25, 2018

We began “Lent ‘18” with the shocking news of yet another test of faith. This test did not occur on a mountaintop, but rather on the campus of a high school in Florida. The test did not end with the unbinding of a child. In fact, it began when parents heard the news that the lives of their children had already been sacrificed. No angel came to stop the slaughter. Tests can be opportunities to demonstrate what we have learned from listening, contemplating, and conversing with others. Tests call us to commit to what we believe is true. When we successfully complete a test, we should feel more confident about what we know, who we are, and what we are capable of doing. But when we fail a test, it can break us.

And so we must pray for the parents, families, and “student survivors” of the unimaginable test that they are only just beginning.

Shock, horror, grief, anger, hatred, the desire for revenge are powerful bindings that can be next to impossible to break. The only effective way to be liberated from these life-threatening restraints is through faith…an intense, unconditional, and even extravagant faith like Abraham demonstrated on the mountaintop. Without faith, the lives of the parents and loved ones of those sacrificed might end up on the fire; a further sacrifice to a moment of insane violence.

The truth is, life is filled with faith-challenging tests. From the moment we are born, we begin the lifelong process of letting go of things we treasure. And there are countless ways in which we are bound by things that restrict the freedom which God intends us to enjoy.

The Ash Wednesday test that continues to unfold in Florida seems to push the boundaries of human endurance. But the reality is that day…like every day since the Original sin… people all over the world faced equally severe tests that were unreported. This is the fact that makes it so very important that we hold close to us the ultimate test that Jesus endured.

And so we look from the mountaintop of our First Reading to the mountaintop of the Transfiguration. It was there that Jesus prepared for the ultimate test: the Paschal Mystery. By listening, contemplating, and conversing with Moses and Elijah, Jesus made the commitment to permit Himself to be bound over to face the brutality of Rome. With the help of Moses and Elijah, the Lord left that mountaintop experience confident of what He knew, Who He was, and what God was asking Him to do.

And when the “Good Friday survivors” were bound tight by the horror of Jesus’s public execution, the memory of The Transfiguration must have enabled them to liberate themselves so that they would be free to embrace The Risen Christ on Easter morning.

How are you being tested? Does your personal test seem beyond your personal endurance? Will you let the test break you? Look to the mountaintop to recall who you are…a much loved child of God…one who God will not permit to be sacrificed.

First Sunday of Lent
MK 1:12-15
February 18, 2018

Mark’s report of the “Temptation in the Desert” is the shortest of the 3 versions that appear in the Gospels. While Matt. and Luke offer details of the encounter between Jesus and evil, Mark simply says that He was: tempted by Satan. This brevity and simplicity somehow add power to key elements of the story that might otherwise not be given proper attention or weight.

First of all, consider how Jesus came to find Himself in the wilderness, among wild beast. The Spirit DROVE Jesus!

Yes! That’s correct. THE SPIRIT drove Jesus!

What a striking thought. Those few words enable us to almost feel the Holy Spirit propelling Jesus through time and space to engage the enemy without further delay. Salvation is an urgent matter. Certain of a final victory over sin and death, The Holy Spirit urges The Lord forward, to engage in battle without delay.

So then, why would we pray: Lead US NOT into temptation? Could it be that we aren’t as certain of a favorable outcome?

If there was “a rush” to get there, things seemed to have slowed way down once Jesus arrived in the desert. This was a 40 day war, not a swift victory. Hopefully you have made the connection between our Old Testament Reading from Genesis and our Gospel on this First Sunday of Lent. 40 days happen to be the exact duration of the torrential rain that wiped out every living thing on earth: man and cattle, the creeping things and birds of the air. Everything on dry land with the faintest breathe of life in its nostrils died. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were left.

Maybe we are being told that there is no quick fix when it comes to the war against evil. Purification takes time. Conversion is typically a long, drawn out process, which for most takes an entire life time.

And so now we look to our 2nd Reading to bring things all together. At 1Peter 3:18-22 we are given the comforting news that God patiently waits. With this reassurance, we follow the Holy Spirit into the 40 Days of Lent 2018. If we feel uncertain of the outcome of our personal confrontation with those things that tempt us, the 2nd Reading reminds us that Jesus has already defeated Satan. Granted, evil is still very much a part of this world and temptations of every kind, are very much a part of our day to day lives. But through Jesus’s 40 day war, sin has been permanently weakened. More importantly, through our Baptisms, we have been permanently strengthened. So, we should engage the “enemy within” totally confident of victory. Do you feel the driving force of the Holy Spirit? Don’t resist! Salvation is an urgent matter.

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