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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Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
May 31, 2020

Last week, some friends surprised me with a wonderful gift. It was truly a morale booster that helped me to deal with the “quarantine fatigue” that many of us are feeling these days. They prepared a basket filled with many different treats, most produced in their own gourmet kitchen. The presentation was so beautiful that I hated to undo the bright red ribbon and begin to unpack. As it turned out, that was a big part of the joy I felt from the gift. Every item I removed brought fresh delight, but I think that the best part of this gift was the invitation that accompanied it.

What filled my kitchen counter was all the prepared components for a very special meal. I needed only to “heat and eat!” But I didn’t have to eat by myself for a change. My friends suggested that we have a virtual dinner party with the three of us enjoying the same sumptuous banquet at the same time, as if we were sitting at the same dining room table together. So, at the agreed time, my cell phone rang, alerting me that there was an incoming “Facetime” call. I accepted the call and was instantly transported into their home…and they into mine.

We began catching up, and, within a matter of minutes, the visit no longer felt “virtual.” Our conversation…the table fellowship…closed the distance and made the experience REAL. When we finally got around to eating, the dinner tasted as good as it looked and smelled. We spent about 2-1/2 hours together, and, as with every successful dinner party with good friends, we hated to see the evening end (at least I did). But, my cell phone battery sent the signal that it was on low power mode. We reluctantly said good-bye!

It was a very thoughtful and generous gift that I thoroughly enjoyed as we shared it together. The memory of the gesture, as well as the evening we spent together, has lingered with me. Finally, it occurred to me that there was one final surprise…a surprise that I discovered only after a few days of reflecting on this memorable evening. In addition to the remarkably good food and great company, my friends had given me a perfect image of Pentecost.

Appreciating that our “spiritual selves” are in isolation, distanced from “The Kingdom” as we dwell in this world, and concerned that we are better able to manage “quarantine fatigue,” God, through the Holy Spirit, has sent each of us the most incredible gift basket.

The presentation is extraordinarily beautiful. The Holy Spirit has packaged seven priceless gifts within each and every one of us. If we take the time to remove and examine what has been placed within us, each of these gifts brings fresh delight. The “unpacking” is a big part of the joy of Pentecost.

It is critical to see, however, that these gifts are not given for us to enjoy by ourselves…in isolation. When we put them to use, they bring delight to everyone with whom we interact. Moreover, when we lay these gifts out, resolved to share them, we quickly discover they are the means to make our relationships with one another more intimate…more fruitful…life-giving!

But these seven powerful gifts do much more than help to make our earthly lives more pleasant…more bearable. These seven gifts are the means to transport us out of this reality into the Heavenly Banquet, where we sit at a table with and enjoy the fellowship of the angels and saints. When we try our best to live our lives “In The Holy Spirit,” we really and truly…not just “virtually”… are transported into The Kingdom of God, where there is an eternal celebration of love, life, peace, justice, and the fullness of joy.

In preparation for the feast of Pentecost, the faithful throughout the diocese and throughout the world have prayed a special Novena (9 days of prayer) to The Holy Spirit. The closing prayer enables us to unpack, examine, and develop an appreciation for each of the seven gifts that were presented to our Church on that first Pentecost. These are gifts that have been continually refreshed throughout the generations. This prayer is certainly not confined to one season of the liturgical year. It can be a most useful, daily reminder of what God has packaged within each and every one of us. LET US PRAY!

PRAYER OF THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

O Lord Jesus Christ, before ascending into heaven, you promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of your apostles and disciples.

Grant that I may be open to the work of that same Spirit within me.

Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may not be attached to the perishable things of this world but seek the things that are eternal.

Grant me the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of your divine truth.

Grant me the Spirit of Counsel (Right Judgment) that I may choose the surest way of pleasing God.

Grant me the Spirit of Fortitude (Courage) that I may bear my cross with you and that I may overcome all the obstacles that oppose my salvation.

Grant me the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself.

Grant me the Spirit of Piety (Reverence) that I may find the service of God sweet and attractive.

Grant me the Spirit of Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe) that I may be filled with loving reverence towards God and may avoid anything that would displease him.

Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of your true disciples and animate me in all things with your Spirit.

Amen

Seventh Sunday of Easter
JN 17:1-11A
May 24, 2020

When the STAY AT HOME is finally lifted…I don’t know where to go first…Weight Watchers or AA!

The joke has been told and retold so many times lately that it’s no longer funny. Actually, the first time I heard it, although I laughed, it “hit home” with a sobering punch. Whether out of boredom, the need for comfort, the lack of healthy choices resulting from limiting our visits to the grocery store, or the reduced activity because of the STAY AT HOME ORDER, many of us find ourselves loosening our belts. The Japanese actually have a special word to describe this needless…or mindless eating or drinking, basically uncontrolled snacking.

Kuchisabishii

translated “lonely mouth,” conveys a sense of the longing or urge to “put something into our mouth.” Although it is almost impossible for me to pronounce, it occurs to me that

Kuchisabishii

is the perfect word to describe how we Christians feel as, week after week, we are forced to go without receiving Holy Communion. We LONG to put The Eucharist into our mouths. We hunger for The Body of Christ. And rightly so! The Eucharist is the very source and summit of our faith.

Our First Reading from Acts reinforces the need for us to come together to do as Jesus told us…

Break The Bread and Share The Cup.

Having experienced Christ’s Ascension, the Apostles returned to the upper room, the very place where Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Joining with the other disciples, they prayed together.

Although technology enables us to pray together simultaneously by watching the liturgy on our televisions and computers, we miss the sense of community and the feeling of unity that comes from praying together…physically together. During these times when we have no choice but to distance ourselves from one another, our “mouths are lonely” for Holy Communion and our hearts are lonely for one another. This sense of physical and spiritual isolation has, no doubt, been the cause of much suffering.

So then, our Second Reading deserves special attention. Consider the opening line:

Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed, you may also rejoice exultantly.

Certainly, when we speak of Christ’s sufferings, the first thing that comes to mind is The Lord’s agony and death on The Cross. By its very nature, the pandemic has brought with it extreme physical suffering by those who have contracted the virus. But, at the same time, people all around the world are suffering from the emotional and spiritual consequences of the pandemic. In that way, too, humanity is sharing in the spiritual and emotional suffering of Jesus. As He entered into His Passion, The Lord suffered greatly from what He experienced as distancing from The Father.

The Church has wisely selected a passage from John’s Gospel to complete the Liturgy of The Word on this final Sunday of the Easter Season. Taken from what is referred to as “The Last Supper Discourse” or “Jesus’s Farewell Address,” the chapter we hear is known as “The Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” Anticipating His betrayal, great suffering, and death, the Lord nevertheless expresses unwavering confidence in His perfect, unbreakable, and eternal unity with The Father.

Admittedly, the concept of “shared glory” is hard to wrap our minds around, but what we hear in this prayer is His unshaken faith in The Father’s love…as well as The Lord’s response of perfect love and perfect obedience. Through His prayer, Jesus teaches us to be confident in The Almighty’s power and presence among us, especially in times of suffering or doubt. God is always with us.

The takeaway in all of this is simple:

When the STAY AT HOME is finally lifted…the first place people of faith will

(or should)

go is back to their parish Churches to join their spiritual families in celebrating Eucharist.

In the meantime, however, as we wait for that day when things return to normal, there is really no reason for our mouths to “be lonely.” And there is no reason for us to suffer from lonely hearts. God is always present to us!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:15-21
May 17, 2020

Have you had this conversation lately?

Is today Tuesday or Wednesday?

Wow! You have lost track of time. It’s Friday!

During this time of “shut down,“ when most folks are only venturing out of the house in order to deal with necessities, it’s easy to get disoriented. In the same way, the Readings during the Easter Season can leave us wondering:

Wait! What? When did that happen?

As we cross this bridge between Easter and Pentecost, our First Reading is always from the Acts of the Apostles. No problem there. “Acts” is the continuation of Luke’s Gospel. Essentially, it is the story of how the early Church blossomed and grew. The passage we hear on this Sixth Sunday of Easter reminds us of the unparalleled power of The Holy Spirit.

It is helpful to put today’s passage in context. St. Stephen had already suffered martyrdom and the efforts by the authorities in Jerusalem have intensified in hopes of suppressing the fledgling Church. Persecutions have begun in earnest. Having already received the fullness of The Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the disciples recommit to proclaiming the Good News. Still, they appreciate the need to self-protect. Accordingly, the leaders encourage the community to escape the threat of arrest by seeking shelter in outlying villages. They took the Good News with them, and as people were converted and baptized, the fullness of Holy Spirit was quick to follow.

Acts concluded, but the story of our Church continues with each succeeding generation. We keep the story alive. In the future, these will be times remembered for the need to self-protect and escape danger, among other things, by refraining from public Masses. But we cannot let that define us.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be remembered by the way we inspired others to follow Christ…facing the challenges of a global health crisis with ever stronger faith, unshakable hope, and intensified love…LOVE…reflected in Christian outreach to those in greatest need. If we embrace the same Spirit Who sustained and fortified the early Church, we will come through this current crisis stronger for the experience.

The same Spirit that fortified and motivated the early Christian community dwells with us and within us today. If we draw on the gifts freely given by the Holy Spirit, we will live a seamless story during this very significant chapter of salvation history.

Jumping ahead at least 30 years, our 2nd Reading carries us to Rome. Tradition tells us St. Peter himself wrote this letter of encouragement to a Gentile community, just before he was martyred for our faith.

For Christians of all ages, the message is highly relevant, particularly in times of uncertainty and danger, like we are presently experiencing. Through Baptism, we enjoy a rebirth in The Holy Spirit, Who provides an arsenal of weapons enabling us to defeat all that threatens us.

Finally, John’s Gospel jolts us back in time. Before He was taken from us…before our Church was “born,” Jesus assured us that He would not abandon us, leaving us defenseless against anyone or anything that would do us harm. The Lord promised to send The Holy Spirit…THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH…Who would be with us ALWAYS!

And the truth is this: The Spirit is with us today…in our hearts and in our homes. Whether or not we gather for the public celebration of our faith, our church is still alive.

Have you had this conversation lately?

What day is it?

Sunday!

It doesn’t seem like Sunday when we don’t go to Mass.

In challenging times, it is easy to become confused…lost…even disoriented. But in today’s Gospel, we see how Jesus orients us toward the Holy Spirit. So, in the coming week, let’s look forward to, and prepare for the celebration of Pentecost. It seems unlikely that we will gather to celebrate the birth of our Church inside our parish churches…but make no mistake about it…there is still a great outpouring of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit for those who love the Lord and keep His commandments. Keep the faith…The Holy Spirit is with us!

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:1-12
May 10, 2020

On Holy Saturday evening, this Sunday’s Gospel came to my mind, almost to the point of displacing the brilliant message that The Crucified Jesus had broken free of the tomb. ALMOST! Almost, because there is no greater news than JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN! As St. Paul explains:

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. (1 Cor 15:14)

Nothing can displace or overpower the Good News that Christ has OVERPOWERED…conquered, once and for all, sin and death. This News is the foundation of our faith and the reason for our hope…Christian hope!

So, like countless Christians, I was unnerved by the fact that, this year, I would not be part of the dramatic celebration of Jesus’s resurrection at the Easter Vigil. It would be necessary to simply view the powerful liturgy on television.

And then a friend, whose computer knowledge far outdistances mine, offered to host a ZOOM EASTER VIGIL WORD SERVICE.

(Even technically challenged people like myself know that Zoom is one of the internet services that enables a good number of people to see and communicate with one another during such things as online meetings, virtual school lessons, and social gatherings.)

Shortly before sunset on Holy Saturday evening, our host began to “usher,” one by one, the faithful into the virtual worship space. All who were participating were asked to gather in darkness, just as we would if we were in our parish churches. It was suggested that each have a candle at the ready, as well as a bowl of water.

When everyone was in place, our computer screens were divided into 12 squares, each filled with the shadowy figures of the worshippers sitting in their unlighted homes, waiting for The Light of Christ to break into our world.
We started with the blessing of the new fire. At the proper time, everyone lit the candle in front of them, and the computer screen broke into a blaze of glowing, orange light. Our little candles were images of the grand Paschal candle that was being enshrined in empty cathedrals around the world.

With that, we began the Liturgy of the Word. From all parts of our Diocese, dining room tables became ambos (Tables of The Word) as from each “square,” in turn, one of the seven Old Testament Readings, the Psalm, Epistle, and finally, The Easter Gospel was proclaimed. Although the lectors’ faces weren’t quite clear, their voices were identifiable.

Then we prayed the prayers of blessing over the 12 bowls of water in our homes, after which we renewed our Baptismal promises. All were then invited to refresh the graces we received on that day we were born again in The Spirit, by blessing ourselves with the water from our “home fonts.”

It was as we prayed The Lord’s Prayer and virtually shared Christ’s Peace that I linked John 14:1-12 with what we were about in our ZOOM EASTER VIGIL WORD SERVICE. Our computer screens, divided into 12 equal spaces that Holy Saturday night, for me anyway, was an image of God’s house in which there are many dwelling places.

While we retained our personal identities, the importance of who we were as individuals was displaced or overpowered by Who had called us together…and what we are about…professing the faith we share. Clearly, that evening, our primary identity was that of CHRISTIANS, waiting…keeping Vigil for Christ’s glorious return. Gathered around the Light of Christ, divided into 12 parts, we raised one voice in celebration of Jesus’s final victory over sin and death. Distanced from one another, there was nevertheless a powerful sense of unity and intimacy rooted in our common belief that CHRIST HAS DIED, CHRIST IS RISEN, AND CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN.

Admittedly, we all look forward to the day when we can gather SAFELY in our own churches to celebrate the fullness of Eucharist. And, hopefully, next Easter Vigil, we will stand around one grand Paschal candle, and bless ourselves from the same font of Living Water. Still, I will be ever grateful for the “Virtual Easter Vigil of 2020,” which left me a vivid image of what awaits those who have faith in God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We live in a time of extreme uncertainty. However…Do not let your hearts be troubled. Because you can always be certain of this: For the faithful…there is a dwelling place prepared just for you by The Risen One…in His Father’s House.

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