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.
Fr. Kelly is interested in your response to the Gospel or his reflection. He invites your comment on his journal entries.
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First Sunday of Lent
February 22, 2015
I recall that way back in 1988, The Detroit Free Press committed the entire front page of the entertainment section of the Sunday paper to a movie which had just been released called “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It was the first that I had heard of the film directed by Martin Scorsese, and I was excited by the possibility that Hollywood had finally done something right. Within a few paragraphs, however, I made up my mind that I would not see the movie. Much of the article laid out the criticisms of the film by the Church, leaving me convinced that the movie was “condemned.”
Fast-forward about 10 years. I was taking a class called Christology (the study of Christ) in preparation for Ordination. I was shocked when the professor not only recommended, but mandated that the class view the movie. What I discovered was that the film was not the typical “life of Christ” movie that used the Gospel as its script. Instead, this film took what might be called artistic license, telling the story in a way that used different images and symbols in order to convey what the Sacred Texts first reported. For me, Jesus’ temptation in the desert was especially powerful.
True to the Scriptures, the film depicted Jesus, fresh from the waters of baptism, journeying out into the desert. He picked up a long branch and purposefully drew a circle in the sand and then sat down in its center and began His meditation. As the 40 days drew to a close, an enormous cobra slithered up to the edge of the circle, reared up so that it was eye level with Jesus, and, in an alluring and seductive female voice, began to tempt the Lord with suggestions of earthly pleasures. The loathsome snake hearkened back to Eve’s conversation with the serpent in the Garden. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus angrily dismissed the cobra.
Shortly thereafter, a majestic and powerful lion approached. In a strong, masculine, and markedly arrogant voice, the lion listed all of the things that made Jesus a force to reckon with. The lion offered a plan for Jesus to take control of the world. Jesus quickly sent the lion, a symbol of pride, off into the darkness, clearly preferring God’s plans for His time in this world.
Following the second temptation, a brilliant pillar of flame shot up from the desert floor. Jesus mistook this manifestation as an archangel. Reminiscent of the pillar of flame that guarded the camp of the Israelites during their time in the desert, the flame was warm and comforting. Jesus greeted what He thought to be a heavenly messenger, but soon realized that the message was not from God. The voice from the pillar of flame was calm and ethereal, and gently tried to persuade Jesus to put His Divine powers to purposes contrary to the will of God. Jesus extinguished the flame, but the voice was not silenced, and promised to return.
The three temptations, although not portrayed in the detail given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, nevertheless conveyed the nature and intensity of Jesus’ struggles. The scene from the movie was memorable.
So, fast-forward several more years. Remembering the striking way in which the Lord’s Temptation was filmed in the Scorsese movie, I decided to use it in a Lenten program in the parish where I was serving. My first stop was at the local library, where I was told that the film was removed from circulation because of strong objections from fundamentalist Christians. My next stop was at the video store. There, the manager explained that each time he offered a copy in for rental, it “disappeared.” He had a sense that would continue to happen and did not re-order it. Simply put, some people “condemned the film” because it made Jesus too human for their sensitivities, while at the same time, others praised the movie as offering something the Gospels do not always clearly convey: a vivid picture of Jesus’ humanity.
This reflection is not meant to promote the film. Rather, it is using the varied reactions to the Hollywood production to demonstrate how some Christians focus solely on the truth that Jesus was fully Divine. Others appreciate that The Lord was also fully human, and as such, wrestled with the same temptations that all humankind face. In fact, it’s extremely important to image Jesus in both natures. When we fixate on either His Divinity or His humanity, at the expense of the other, we miss the fullness of His mission.
Think of it this way: Throughout his teachings and writings, St. Francis de Sales often stresses that when we are human, it is then we are more in touch with that within us that is Divine. In those instances where Jesus faced off against evil, and overpowered every kind of temptation, He gives us an example of what it means to be FULLY HUMAN; that is, the way we were before the first parents were misled by the serpent.
Lent is a time for us to strive for that experience…the experience of being FULLY HUMAN…human as Jesus was…human to the point that we can resist those things that tempt us…to be less than we were created to be…FULLY HUMAN.
And so…draw a circle in the sand and stand in the center of it for 40 days. Drive out the serpents that approach with alluring invitations. Tame the lions that are hungry to devour your good intentions. Extinguish the flames of passion. Walk only in the Light of Christ. Our time in the desert has begun. Use this Lent to experience what it means to be FULLY HUMAN…so that, someday, you will know what it is to be FULLY DIVINE.
Black and White
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 15, 2015
Recently, I was invited to be one of three clergy participants in a “theology on tap” held at a local restaurant. Although publicized in parishes throughout the Diocese, the pastor who organized the event, appreciating how busy life is these days, was hopeful that there might be 10…at tops 20 people responding to the invitation to share faith and beverages in a social setting. In spite of inclement weather, three, maybe even four times that number gathered with a very enthusiastic spirit. This was telling of the fact that Catholics want to learn more about our faith.
It was apparent from looking around the room that the group was very diverse in terms of age. There were seniors, middle-aged folks, and even a table of college students. As the evening progressed, and people began to share thoughts and feelings, it also became apparent that there were a variety of “spiritualities” represented. Some comments carried what might be called a traditional tone, while others were more “exploratory.” It was very heartening to see Catholic Christians with differing approaches to the core truths of our faith, dialogue without debate or argument. The weather outside was unpleasant but the atmosphere in the room was warm and congenial.
The very first question directed to the panel of pastors, which caught and held the attention of everyone, was simply this: What’s going on with the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Everyone put down their glasses and leaned in to catch every word of reply. It’s not possible to even summarize the ensuing 20 or so minutes of discussion which that simple question prompted. However, for the purpose of this reflection, suffice it to say that the core of the Sacrament is unchanged throughout our history, although the way we celebrate it has changed and evolved over the generations. At some point, one of the young college students offered a rather surprising observation. She said something to this effect: “Many people my age, at least the ones I talk with, want things (matters of faith) to be black and white.”
While on the surface, this Sunday’s Gospel is a healing miracle, is it possible that contained within the story of a leper who is made clean, there are some “black and white” facts that help us better understand our Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Consider this. Sin, like leprosy, gets under our skin. Very often, sin has an external impact on our health. It somehow, some way, shows itself to others. It marks us, or scars us. At the same time, it attacks our interior, our spiritual well-being. It leaves us with a gnawing sense of guilt…a queasy feeling we simply can’t shake. Try as we may to ignore the symptoms and effects of sin, we carry it both inside and outside of ourselves and it impacts every aspect of our lives…our relationship with God, with others, and even with ourselves.
Who in their right mind would not do everything possible to be healed from a devastating disease? The burning desire to be made clean prompted the leper to shout out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean!” When this healing miracle was first recorded in Greek, Jesus’s reply was much more dramatic and powerful than the translation we hear in church this Sunday. Jesus’s answer was something to the effect: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!”
Who in their right mind would not want to be freed from sin? And so we sinners call out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean! You can heal me from the ravages of sin…You can make the scars disappear…You can quiet the guilt and restore my peace…You can put me back into right relationship with God…with others…and with myself.”
And here is the “black and white of it” when we call out in that way. Jesus responds with the same urgency that He answered the leper: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!”
But there is a final element in the healing miracle that we might want to take special note of in this discussion. Even though the leper was clearly healed, Jesus referred the man to the priests in the Temple, whose responsibility it was to declare the man clean. And so, even though we know that Jesus need “only say the word” and we will be healed, we look to the Church to prescribe the manner in which we approach the Lord for forgiveness. And the Church, in Her wisdom, often adjusts the manner in which we celebrate the Sacrament to suit the times and circumstance in which we find ourselves.
Still, it is great comfort to know that the leper was healed…even before he showed himself to the priests! That’s “the black and white of it”!
Our Own “Selfie”
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 8, 2015
Autograph books are a thing of the past. Today, it’s all about the “selfie.” Even Pope Francis has been known to humor the occasional fan by leaning back and smiling into the cell phone, held at arm’s length by the eager young people standing shoulder to shoulder with him. A picture with a celebrity is certain proof that a person came into contact with a celebrity. Moreover, it is something that can be easily shared and will endure the passage of time, helping the people in the picture relive the moment over and over again. Still, it is the actual moment of contact that’s important. Anyone can “photo shop” an image of themselves standing next to Taylor Swift. But only the fortunate few can say that they actually danced with her, touched her hand, or were graced with a hug. The thrill is the actual moment of contact…and if there happens to be a picture as proof…even better.
The Gospel proclaimed on this 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time offers us a timeless Word picture of an amazing moment of contact between a desperately ill woman and Jesus. “Immediately” upon entering the home where she laid close to death, the Lord was informed of her condition. One can’t help but wonder what He was told. Maybe he was warned away, like health care workers in an Ebola-infected village. “Jesus, You shouldn’t come in, Mother is very sick and You might catch her fever! We just can’t take the chance.”
Rather than backing away, or looking for a hazmat suit, Jesus moved towards the healing moment of contact. He grasped her hand and wrapped His arms around her waist, helping her to her feet. Mark 1:29-39 is the ultimate “selfie.” In this Word picture
“…you see how fever loosens its grip on a person whose hand is held by Christ’s; no sickness can stand its ground in the face of the very source of health. Where the Lord of life has entered, there is no room for death.” (Taken from Sermon 18 of St. Peter Chrysologus 380-450, Doctor of the Church)
This healing miracle was shared far and wide. It was certain proof of the healing moment of contact between the familiar face of the celebrity carpenter from Nazareth and a woman in desperate need. But, it was and continues to be much more. It is God’s “selfie”…standing shoulder to shoulder with humankind…but at the same time…at arm’s length from us…capturing for all time the Divine Image so that we can relive the healing moment over and over; especially when we are incapacitated by anything that threatens our physical, emotional, or
And here is the Good News! We don’t have to look at this Word picture to remember or relive this healing moment of contact. We can experience it for ourselves each and every time we walk up the isle with an outstretched hand. The Eucharist offers us an opportunity to invite Jesus into our hearts, and even as He did not recoil from the threat of illness as He stood at the threshold of Peter’s home, there is nothing that would cause The Lord to turn away from us. Rather, in the Eucharist, Christ approaches us and grasps the hand that we extend. And “where the Lord has entered there is no room for death” or fear, or hopelessness. The thrill of that healing moment of contact will transform us…bring us to our feet, and make us want to share our “selfie with Christ.” Who wouldn’t want to prove that they held the hand of the Lord…danced with The Lord of life…were hugged by God?
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 1, 2015
If you listened closely to the Second Reading last Sunday, which we all should certainly do, (1 Cor 7:29-31 just in case) you might have found yourself a bit unnerved, and rightly so. The passage begins with the startling warning: TIME IS RUNNING OUT! It almost sounds like the headline from a tabloid. Paul goes on: “FOR THE WORLD IN ITS PRESENT FORM IS PASSING AWAY.” This week’s Second Reading is more of the same; a continuation of a dire warning. Not very cheery. Paul actually seems to be suggesting there is no point in marrying and having a family. The message is along the line: “Use all of your energy for saving yourself…because TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” Two thousand years later, we can safely say, it would seem: “Well, he was wrong!” But imagine the impact he must have had on his contemporaries.
It’s easy to do that…to imagine the effect his letter had on the Corinthian community who heard this warning for the first time. In order to put yourself in their sandals, read the recent report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Last week, they moved their famed Doomsday Clock, which started ticking after World War II, two minutes closer to Midnight. Now at 23:57, this clock attempts to help us imagine how close we are to a global catastrophe due to EITHER natural disasters that these scientists believe are caused by global warming, or as a consequence of a nuclear war. It’s not as easy to dismiss this report as it is to put aside St. Paul’s cautionary lesson. Concurrent with, and in large part motivating the “Doomsday Bulletin” are the graphic videos of men in orange jump suits with a menacing figure shrouded completely in black standing behind them with a dagger in his hand. And then there is the increase in earth tremors in states that have never before been considered at risk, melting glaciers, and drought in the areas of the globe where most of our food is grown. These are undeniable realities.
Unnerving…to say the least!
But the world has always been an unnerving, violent, dangerous place for us fragile human beings to inhabit. We are literally, every moment of our lives, surrounded by danger. We are on HIGH ALERT from cradle to grave…or at least we should be. And, as it turns out…St. Paul is right…“our world,” in its present form, is passing away. Our time in this world is limited. We have just so many heartbeats within our frail bodies. All of this is not speculation; rather, it is based on our experiences. And all of this is unnerving to most people.
That is why God sent Jesus into this hostile environment. We are in desperate need of Good News! The dramatic encounter between The Lord and the man possessed with evil spirits, which occurs early on in Jesus’s public ministry, is just that…Good News…not just for the man liberated from a force that overpowered his free will, but for our entire universe.
Much more than helping one desperate individual, what Jesus did in the synagogue in Capernaum was to interject Himself into salvation history in a powerful and dramatic way, introducing Himself as The One Who commands authority over all that threatens us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The story of this exorcism that so astounded and amazed the eye witnesses is sort of a preview of what will happen when the “clock strikes Midnight”…whether for us as individuals…or when “time is up” for “the world in its present form.” Then Jesus will say to all that is unclean, evil, violent, all that is opposed to goodness and love…all that is contrary to the will of God…BE QUIET! COME OUT! And the Peace of Christ will prevail.
In the meantime, we can’t be too hasty to dismiss St. Paul. Although sometimes unnerving and maybe even extreme, he reminds us of the power that Christ shares with us through our Baptism. We are called to join our voices to that of the Lord, facing off against all that is evil…and shouting out…BE QUIET! COME OUT! Sometimes even in front of the mirror, always confident The Peace of Christ will prevail.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 25, 2015
I have read and reflected on, prayed over, and preached on today’s Gospel for 20 years; I know it well. But, as I was preparing to break open The Word for you today, one word kept jumping off the page for me, causing me to relate to this passage in an entirely different way than ever before. That word was “NET.”
Those three letters…”N-E-T”…hooked me to the point that even though I obviously can spell it and use it in a sentence, I looked it up in the dictionary. This is what I found:
NET: As a noun, means a contrivance or trap for catching something, like fish, or butterflies. A NET is also something that divides, like the net that divides a tennis court. And NETS can be something that protects us…like mosquito netting.
But the word NET is also a verb, an action word that means: to take with…to catch or snare.
Finally, the word NET can be an adjective to describe something that’s left over when everything else is taken away, like our net salary, our “after taxes” pay…our take-home check! It means: what’s left…what’s pure!
Well, by now, you’re probably thinking that this is a grammar lesson and not a homily, but please keep reading. You see, I had to work all of this out in my own mind in order to understand why The Holy Spirit kept drawing me to the simple little word, NET, as I reflected on this week’s Readings. And this is what I’ve come to see:
The NETS that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and James and John were working with, cleaning, mending, folding in order to get ready for another night of fishing were clearly the tools of their trade and were extremely important to them. Without their nets, they couldn’t make a living. They couldn’t be fishermen. However, I’m wondering if there just might not be a deeper, more profound meaning here in this passage from Mark’s Gospel.
Is it possible that the Holy Spirit wants us to think about ALL of the contrivances…or traps…that occupied these four men? Certainly, there were other things that captured their minds and hearts, things that had such a strong hold of their attention that they almost didn’t see Jesus as He passed by them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee…things like debt, the relationship with their wives, a sick child, a dependent parent, or even a leaky roof.
Could it be that the Holy Spirit wants us to consider all of those things that divide, or separate, us and have such a strong hold on our attention that we are at risk of failing to see the Lord pass through our lives? Could this passage be an invitation to reflect on all of the things that threaten our unity with God and with one another? Could the “nets” that Mark’s Gospel is referring to be all of those things that divide us from God?
Maybe the Holy Spirit is asking us to consider the NETS we surround ourselves with to protect us from things that make us uncomfortable…or challenge us…or threaten our way of thinking…or acting.
Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to stretch us…and get us to think of all of the OTHER THINGS besides their work tools that these first disciples had to put aside in order to follow Jesus, so that we are able to identify and lay aside all those things that keep us from following the Lord.
Consider this: NET is an action word. Some might argue that Jesus said something that so influenced these four men that they abandoned their lives, their families, and their obligations. Some might argue that Jesus trapped…or snared…or captured them. But the truth is, Jesus liberated, or freed, Peter and Andrew, James and John from the world as they knew it, so that they could enjoy a glimpse of what the world could and should be. He took away those things that weighed them down, burdened them, and encumbered them. And the NET result of this encounter with The Lord on that amazing morning was their purest self. What was left when they laid aside their NETS was everything God intended them to be when God spoke them into existence.