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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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.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:40-45
Febrary 11,2018

One of the most effective weapons used by Allied forces in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, was leprosy. Afflicted with the dreaded disease, Joey Guerrero, a young Filipino wife and mother, was forced to abandon her home and live apart from family and friends. After the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines, she quickly discovered that they were especially fearful of contracting the disease. The invaders took great care to maintain as much distance as possible between her and themselves. She was never asked to show identity papers; soldiers simply waiving her through check points. Believing the disease was highly contagious; not once was she subjected to the all too common personal search. And so she was able to carry supplies, medicine, food and even weapons and ammunition all over Manila. Her greatest contribution to “V J Day” (victory over Japan) was her ability to wander unchallenged into strategic areas in order to do recognizance. She was then able to deliver this vital information to the allies unchallenged. She was one of the most important intelligence agents of WWII; and she needed no disguise to go about her work. The sores on her skin protected her from being discovered.

Her name is, for the most part, lost to history. But her story is worth hearing and retelling. It is the story of how one, brave, young woman was able to use a horrible disease to help achieve a great victory.

In Biblical times, it was believed that leprosy was punishment for some grave sin. Over and above the fear of contracting the sickness, people shunned those afflicted, regarding them as both spiritually and physically impure. Like Joey Guerrero, lepers were driven from home and family and forced to live desolate and miserable lives on the very fringe of society. Every precaution was taken to ensure a great distance between these “unclean sinners” and the healthy. It was even written into the Law…the religious law…The Old Testament.

So then, what we hear in Mark’s Gospel is the story of how two, exceptionally brave men, used leprosy to help achieve a great victory. First the leper himself, demonstrated the urgency of his need, the depth of his courage, and the strength of his faith, by disregarding his enforced quarantine and calling out to Jesus. For His part, the Lord, rather than recoiling in horror, eliminated the distance between Himself and the man. He touched him. That healing touch must have stunned everyone looking on. They must have regarded “that touch” as extremely reckless; not to mention a serious violation of God’s Law.

With that touch, Jesus declared the urgency of His mission: to proclaim the Reign of God…where the Law of Love is primary. By eliminating the distance between Himself and the afflicted man, the Lord not only pre-viewed the courage that He would reveal in it’s fullness on Good Friday, but He also proclaimed God’s desire to close the distance between The Divine Self and sinners. Finally, “that touch” is proof positive, that the healing power of Jesus Christ is without limit…and it is His will that all should be healed…cleansed…freed from sin and death itself.

What a perfect story to hear as we prepare to set out on our Lenten journey. If we only have the courage to approach and call out to Him, the Lord will close the distance between us and God. He will touch us and we will be made clean. And once restored to health, on Easter morning, we will be able to join our voices in celebration of the greatest of all victories…the final victory over sin and death!

God is eager to speak the words to you…I do will it! Be made clean.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:29-39
February 4, 2018

What “mom” among us has not come home, bone weary, with an armload of groceries, but no plan for dinner, only to be greeted at the door with a chorus of
“MMOOOOMM!!!! Where have you been? I need__________________” (fill in the blank)?

Or what “dad,” after a long, hard day at work, anxious to lay back in the recliner and watch a game, is welcomed with…not a hug and a kiss…but: “Don’t get too comfortable, we have to __________________________” (fill in the blank)?

This probably strikes a familiar note to most folks, bringing a nod and a knowing smile to the face. But, ask a young parent in Afghanistan, or Syria, or Peru, or Africa how they enjoyed last evening, and you are likely to hear a heart-wrenching story that brings tears to the eyes, not a smile to the lips. All over the world, there are parents who hear their children say: I need…and you can fill in the blank with words like…water to drink, I am so thirsty…something to eat, we haven’t eaten since yesterday morning…help, I am so sick…there are too many blanks to fill in to even begin to recount the suffering!

For some, the First Reading from the Book of Job is a vivid description of their day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. But, even those of us blessed to live in a privileged country still wrestle with things that keep us tossing and turning at night. In fact, wealth is not a protection from misfortune, distress, or the loss of hope. Oftentimes, it is actually the cause of tragedy. It all boils down to the fact that the world is indeed a hostile environment. And while there are most definitely degrees of suffering, pain is pain…worry is worry…misfortunate is misfortune…loss is loss, and whatever the cause or the level of intensity, it can still be debilitating. It can rob us of our sleep, leaving us physically, emotionally, and spiritually fatigued. And God knows this!

Motivated by love for us and the desire to ease our sufferings without eliminating our free will, God’s Eternal Word took Flesh to walk among us. And for an all too short period of time, Jesus could not help but overpower sickness, disease, hunger, sin, evil spirits, and even death itself. When encountering human suffering, the Lord’s wondrous powers and miraculous deeds simply erupted from Him in an almost spontaneous and uncontainable display of compassion and love. Jesus could not help but to heal. And when He returned to heaven, He left behind the healing and calming power of the Gospel.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul describes how The Good News has the heart, the mind, the energy, the power, and the compulsion that was The Incarnation. The Lord left, within easy reach of our hands, what we need to plow through our sufferings and to recover hope and peace. When you step forward and extend your hands and say AMEN…it truly is given to you.

And this might be the key to opening up today’s Gospel passage. Once you have recovered your health, like Peter’s mother-in-law, stand up and serve!

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 1:21-28
January 28, 2018

I found the recent shutdown of the Federal Government very unnerving. I acknowledge that I might have been over-reacting, but still, as the weeks, then days and finally the hours passed without a resolution, I became more and more tense, questioning: What have they been doing all this time? Why has a budget become a national emergency? And I began to worry.

I began to think about all of the things we look to our Federal Government to do, and I began to worry what would happen if the machinery of government just came to a stop? True! I might have tried harder to heed St. Paul’s opening words in our Second Reading: be free of anxieties! But even though we should strive to “live above the world” so that our focus can be on spiritual things without distraction, the reality is that we do “live in the world. So, I confess to being anxious. And, quite frankly, the frustration didn’t subside when our politicians began congratulating themselves for having struck a deal…a temporary fix at best.

The entire experience left me feeling not simply worried and anxious, but less hopeful. There is an illusion that we are forging ahead as a great nation. However, we keep hearing words like “polarization” and “tribal politics.” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there has been a major “disconnect” in Washington D.C. that isn’t serving the “American dream.” So, I find myself straining to hear just one credible voice that speaks with authority…and I don’t care which side of the aisle that voice comes from. I am longing to be “amazed” by just one of our leaders. I really want to believe that we have entrusted our children’s future to people who are genuinely concerned about the common good of the American people…and our world. Tragically, however, things like ambition, pride, ego, greed, and even inappropriate behavior keep dashing my hope.

Whether or not you agree with this assessment of the direction in which we are heading…or for that matter, not heading…as a nation…as a world…know that this was the socio-political and spiritual climate of Israel when Jesus began His public ministry. He was very clearly frustrated with the crisis in leadership and did not mince words. >Blind guides! Wolf in sheep’s clothing! They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All of their works are performed to be seen. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor…

And the people listened to Him!

They were amazed by this “new teaching” and they listened because He taught with authority, an authority that inspired hope, an authority that instilled confidence that the Kingdom of God is not an illusion, but a reality that we can and should…and MUST be moving towards. And the more they saw and listened, the more certain they were that this “astonishing” teaching was rooted in Jesus’s first-hand experience of God.

Maybe most important to know is this: Jesus did not come to destroy. He came to build…by driving out what was contrary to God’s will and God’s ways. He came to restore hope. He came to renew.

And His work continues.

Hope is not dead. The Kingdom of God is not an illusion, but a reality that all people of faith…all of God’s children…should insist that we continue to work towards.

This brings us back to St. Paul and our Second Reading. We should be free of anxiety, because Jesus has already initiated the Kingdom of God. And no earthly leader…no matter how powerful…can stop what Jesus Christ has set in motion. No dark force can overpower Easter Glory.

In the end…love wins! Love always wins!

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