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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Fourth Sunday of Lent
Jn 9:1-41
March 19, 2023

The Academy Awards aired last Sunday. In the days and even weeks building up to the show, there was a lot of news about the nominees in the various categories. Of course, the actual production held a prime time slot on television. And entertainment reporters, at least for the next few days, will continue to find things to discuss about the winners and losers. Although the whole thing was of little interest to me, it did give me an idea about this week’s Gospel.

The story of this “healing miracle” and the backstories leading up to it would be a powerful movie, that, if done properly, could well be an “Oscar sweep.”

The screenplay writers, in order to do justice to the script, would have to understand the social customs of the times. The so-called “holiness code” that influenced people’s impressions of and relationships with one another, provided that “bad things” happen to people because they have sinned. The movie will begin with disciples, aware of this misguided belief, asking The Lord: Rabbi, who sinned…this man or his parents that he was born blind?

And so, a “backstory” will be needed. What did this family do…or fail to do in the past…maybe even several generations in the past…which resulted in “inherited guilt” and the punishment of a child born blind?

The family’s shame will surface again during the investigation into the healing. The parents carry a sense of guilt because a past sin (even if they are unaware of what it might have been) is the only logical explanation for their son’s blindness. They are called before the authorities investigating the healing without social standing or credibility. They know they have been per-judged.

Of course, they are reluctant to make any statement or express an opinion which might add to their troubles. Their sense of shame is so great that they leave their son to defend himself. They are already broken down by a totally misguided theology which depicts God as a harsh and punitive judge. In short, they are terrified…of God and of those representing God.

With respect to the inquisitors, the costume department and the makeup artists will be key. The religious leaders must be extravagantly dressed to demonstrate their power and privilege. They must appear sanctimonious, confident in their righteousness, and understanding of the situation before them. The actors will play the role with arrogance uncaring, but at the same time with exaggerated piety.

It will help to refer back to the “holiness code,” which explains that honor and privilege comes to those who lead exemplary lives. But the audience must be left asking themselves: What kind of example are these religious authorities really giving?

Actually, these parts won’t be particularly demanding. Even an inexperienced actor could offer a convincing performance. Human nature is such that we often jump to conclusions without bothering with the truth of a matter. And once we form an opinion, we vigorously defend it, regardless of the facts… especially when it comes to playing the “blame game.”

The casting director’s real challenge will be to find a young actor capable of depicting a person who has lived his entire life unable to judge or evaluate people by the color of their skin or the quality of their clothing. The man’s blindness has left him with a sort of innocence that is to be admired. Throughout his whole life, this man has been dependent on others for his safety and well-being, so the role must be played with humility.

Since he has never known anything different, there is the sense of acceptance of his disability. The man did not ask Jesus to be cured. The challenge of the part will be to communicate the total surprise and delight in seeing the world for the first time. The sheer joy and excitement will come, however, with a sense of confusion. Imagine living your whole life in darkness, and suddenly, without warning, being called into the bright light of the world.

The part demands that he bring all this emotion before the self-righteous panel of religious investigators. The young man has not only been given the gift of sight, but, as a result of his encounter with Jesus, he slowly comes into a spiritual vision which is an even greater gift. His growing insight is reflected in his answers.

Ironically, this growing spiritual vision and insight is completely absent in the so-called religious authorities sitting in judgment. They are blinded by their own privilege and pride.

A supporting actor, capable of bringing the complexity of this young man’s life onto the silver screen, will certainly be deserving of an Oscar.

Of course, the lead actor in the drama will need to capture the unconditional love, the unshakable peace, and the overwhelming compassion of The Lord. No easy feat. If the actor is to rise to the occasion, his performance must leave the audience with an understanding that Jesus did not always require belief or even faith before performing miraculous deeds. Sometimes, a miracle had a purpose beyond the healing.

In this case, for example, The Lord gave the man vision to demonstrate that spirituality is about seeing what God is revealing, and that arrogance and self-righteousness often blinds us to what God places before our very eyes.

If the movie is successful, people will leave the theatre appreciating the importance of “unlearning” customs and beliefs like the notion of inherited guilt and punishment…or the folly of the “holiness code” which enabled some to enjoy unearned honor, while others suffered from undeserved shame.

It is highly unlikely that a movie inspired by this Gospel will ever come to a theater near you. But there is no need to buy a ticket in order to enter this drama. During this fourth week in the Lenten season, you can simply close your eyes and sit with this passage to learn all it has to offer.

Better still, cast yourself in the supporting role of the blind man. Allow yourself to feel Christ summon you with His gentle and loving touch. Imagine opening your eyes to everything that God has in store for those who believe that Jesus is The Son of Man and worship Him as their Lord and Savior. Use this powerful drama to enhance your spiritual vision and enjoy a brief glimpse of Easter Glory on this Laetare Sunday!

Third Sunday of Lent
Jn 4:5-42
March 12, 2023

I did a double take when I first noticed the car in front of me had a license plate with a dark blue background and bright yellow numbers. When I saw the motto: WATER WINTER WONDERLAND across the bottom, I realized that there has been a REVIVAL of the plate that every Michigan vehicle sported back in the 1950’s. This triggered a childhood memory for me.

I was taken back to the day, many years ago, as I stood watching my grandfather put a new license plate of that very design on the rear bumper of his brand new “Ford Crown Victoria.” It had a white roof, a black body, and lots and lots of shiny chrome. I recall asking him what >WATER WINTER WONDERLAND meant. He explained that we here in Michigan are doubly blessed by God. Not only are we surrounded on three sides by the Great Lakes, but we are also fortunate to have many inland lakes all over the state. He told me that there were places in the world where water was so scarce that people went thirsty. In those parts of the world, water is so limited that the people cannot even take a bath or wash their clothes. It really was the first time in my life that I gave any serious thought to how precious water truly is.

That is a realization…how precious water truly is…that is easy to lose sight of. It seems that when something is plentiful, we tend to forget its value. We take it for granted. Hopefully, the REVIVAL of a vintage license plate will somehow remind us of how blessed we are, although, these days, we have a lot more than a license plate to remind us of the value of water.

Water is very prominent in the news these days. Some parts of the world are dealing with massive flooding, even as others are suffering from devastating drought. Water also takes center stage in our Readings on this Third Sunday of Lent.

My reflection on what a precious, abundant, and powerful “spiritual resource” water is triggered another memory…not from childhood, but rather from the Easter Vigil liturgy. The Blessing over the fresh water flowing through the Baptismal font is a powerful reminder of how the Creator doubly blesses us with the gift of water. It is a natural resource which is essential to life in this world. At the same time, it is a spiritual resource which enables us to hope for eternal life in the Kingdom.

The Blessing begins:

Oh, God, who by invisible power
accomplishes a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs,
and who, in many ways, have prepared water,
your creation, to show forth the grace of Baptism…

The Blessing goes on, reminding us that the Holy Spirit hovered over water in the first moments of creation, giving water the power to sanctify.

Next is a reference to the deluge, where water became an instrument of regeneration.

In the Blessing, we recall how the waters of the Red Sea parted so that the people could pass from slavery into freedom in the Promised Land. The sea closed and it was water that shielded the people from Pharaoh’s army which was in hot pursuit.

Moving into the New Testament, we recall how Jesus was Baptized in the waters of the Jordan. That extraordinary event in salvation history reminds us that God’s life-giving presence is as available to us as water. We are literally surrounded by it. A significant detail of the Paschal mystery is the fact that water poured from Jesus’s side as He died on the Cross.

The Blessing concludes:

May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with Him.

Today’s Gospel is as deep as the well where Jesus encountered the woman with a very colorful background. There are many levels of meaning to be drawn from this passage, which, for centuries, has been used to catechize those preparing for the Easter Sacraments.

But it also carries a critical message to those who might have lost sight of how precious water is…not just to quench our thirst or cleanse our bodies or wash our clothes. At the very dawn of creation, the Holy Spirit used water as the medium to sanctify our world and make it holy.

It is that same Spirit Who regenerates us when we are deluged by doubts, fears, worries…even sin. It is The Holy Spirit Who parts the waters, enabling us to escape those things that enslave us, making us less than what God created us to be. And once we have passed over into our personal Promised Land, it is the Holy Spirit Who protects us from those things that continue to pursue and threaten our freedom. It is the Holy Spirit Who dwells within our Baptismal waters…making The Living Water a source of healing and spiritual REVIVAL.

It is the Holy Spirit…Who dwells within each and every one of us, leaving us precious in the eyes of God…Who never takes any of us for granted, no matter how “colorful” our lives might be or how our “village” regards us. It is the Holy Spirit…Who makes all of creation a “WONDERLAND” for those wise enough to draw the Spirit up from the depth of their being and into their daily lives.

It is this same Spirit Who will awaken us to Eternal life in Christ.

Second Sunday of Lent
Mt 17:1-9
March 5, 2023

Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently made the news, and not because of some spectacular play on the football field. Rather, his decision to spend four days in a specially outfitted “hermitage” (my word not his) in total isolation from the outside world, and in complete darkness, drew the attention of the press, his fans, the general public, and, actually, so called “experts” in psychological and emotional well-being.

In the past, he has described using yoga, meditation, and even certain drugs to calm his fear of death and to promote “self-love.” As he explains his most recent venture, which ironically was undertaken as the Christian world entered the Lenten Season, as an effort to: stimulate his mind…get into a better headspace…and have a greater peace in his life. He might not be familiar with the term, but what he is doing through these somewhat “unconventional” methods is spiritual discernment. No criticism there.

As I read the various articles about this sports celebrity, my mind went to the Gospel proclaimed on Ash Wednesday (Matt. 6:1-6). There, Jesus encourages those on a “spiritual quest” to do so in private. On the other hand, when a public figure acknowledges a desire to rise above the material world, there is the potential for positive influence on others…especially young fans. That is a good thing. So, again, no criticism.

However, missing in the various reports was any reference to Christ. Herein lies possible criticism.

In the extremely unlikely event that I am ever able to speak to Aaron Rodgers, I would say: Hey Pal, I admire what you did. But you do realize that you were NEVER alone during those four days of darkness, don’t you? The Holy Spirit was with you every second.

As far as the “experts” who have weighed in on the pros and cons of “darkness retreats,” I would try to explain that, from a spiritual standpoint, there are two kinds of darkness. There is the darkness that comes about when we are blind to God’s loving presence in our lives and in our world. This is a darkness brought about by poor decisions, bad choices, evil thoughts, and divisive feelings. Truth cannot exist in this kind of darkness but lies and falsehoods thrive. It is the kind of darkness where the “boogeyman” dwells.

This darkness breeds fears of every kind, including the fear of death. It is a spiritual, psychological, and emotional condition that leaves the human mind vulnerable to self-doubt and self-loathing. There is no peace to be had in this darkness that resists the Light of Christ.

And then there is a darkness described in a variety of ways by many holy people. It is an inviting kind of darkness that the Holy Spirit leads us to…even as the Spirit led Jesus into the desert…the kind of isolation into which Jesus led Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop. Drawn into this healing darkness, seekers find peace and hope. And you don’t need to travel to a special place or pay big money for this spiritual therapy. All one has to do is to shut the doors, draw the curtains, blocking the access of the blaring lights of this world. So protected from all distractions and worries and fears from the “outside,” one can overpower temptations and be healed, all within the shelter of their inner room. God’s saving grace thrives in this “holy darkness” and brings with it stronger faith, abiding hope, deeper love…and peace…THE PEACE OF CHRIST.

Isolating the soul from all things but God, it is within this SACRED darkness that we develop an inner vision of who are at the very core of our being…BELOVED CHILDREN CREATED IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD. This darkness is like the bright cloud that surrounded Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop, enabling them to hear the heavenly Voice urging them to Listen to Jesus.

Once again, reaching back to the Ash Wednesday Gospel proclaimed as we began our Lenten practices of PRAYER, FASTING, and ALMSGIVING…this “holy darkness” is to be found in our “inner room.” And we can access this place where truth flourishes and Peace abounds by simply finding a quiet place and closing our eyes to anything but God.

Reflecting on the mysterious events of The Transfiguration, Pope Francis once said: We all need to go apart, to ascend the mountain in a space of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. This we do in prayer…and this is curious. When we hear the Word of Jesus, when we listen to the Word of Jesus and carry it in our heart, this Word grows…Do not forget: This week, listen to Jesus! And think about the matter of the Gospel: Will you? Will you do this? Then, next Sunday, you tell me if you have done this.

When Aaron Rodgers stepped out of his four days of total darkness and into the light, he was momentarily blinded. He would have had to shield his eyes from the sun. When seekers emerge from the “holy darkness” of their inner room into which they have been led by the Spirit, they can look directly into the Face of The Son…and rejoice in the Glory of God.

Do not forget:

(Pope Francis) This week, listen to Jesus! And think about the matter of the Gospel: Will you? Will you do this? Then, next Sunday, you tell me if you have found a very simple and easy way to…

(Aaron Rodgers) stimulate your mind…get into a better headspace…and have a greater peace in life…

And all from your recliner (Me!)

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