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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Second Sunday of Advent
MK 1:1-8
December 10, 2017

One tradition has it that the Advent wreath has four candles to symbolize the 4,000 years separating Adam and Eve from the Birth of Christ. Symbols are essential to our Christian faith. We use symbols to help us wrap our minds around things we cannot see. So, it’s important that the message they offer is true and accurate.

To protect the symbol value of the four candles, take special note of the opening line of our Second Reading (Peter 3:8). Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. Rather than counting days, or years, or centuries, or millennia, it might be more helpful to focus on the gradually increasing light the Advent wreath gives with the passage of each week of the season.

God works very slowly so as not to overwhelm us. We see “Godspeed” throughout nature. Even a new day, with all of its promise and potential, begins with a mere suggestion. Slowly, gradually, gently…almost without notice, the light pushes back the darkness. Nothing we do can hurry “daylight.” We can fight darkness with artificial light, but to enjoy true “daylight,” we simply have to wait patiently. The waiting, however, is made easier by the certainty that eventually the sun will rise.

That seems to be the message that Isaiah brings in the passage from the Old Testament proclaimed on this Second Sunday of Advent. God works very slowly, and there is a lot of work to be done. A straight path needs to be carved out through the wasteland. That means valleys need to be filled in and mountains and hills need to be leveled. The process of clearing the way for The Incarnation, the Birth of Jesus Christ, took many generations. So, too, with respect to the Lord’s return in Glory, when, as our First Reading concludes: the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

John the Baptist is a major character in the Advent Season. His mission and ministry focused on the work of carving a straight path for Jesus to walk into human history. His call to baptism and the repentance of sin was a challenge to the people to remove all obstacles that prevented them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Unlike the Almighty, John did not move slowly. He went about his work with a sense of urgency.

And so, too, with Jesus Himself. His earthly mission as God’s Word Incarnate was measured in time…slightly over 30 years. He could not go about His work of building the Kingdom slowly. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a greater urgency to any task than the urgency of the work which The Father sent The Son into the world to accomplish.

And the same holds true for each of us. Through our own baptisms, Jesus shares both His power and His mission and ministry. But our earthly lives are measured and limited. We have to be aggressive in carrying out our duties as Christian disciples. We cannot go about nourishing the hungry or thirsty at a leisurely pace. We have only a minuscule amount of time to reach out with a healing touch to the sick, shut-in, and dying. We are required as followers of Christ to extend an immediate welcome to the stranger. We might not be able to level mountains or fill in valleys, but we should be quick to knock down the walls that divide us.

Advent is the perfect season to evaluate the pace at which we work on discipleship, aware of the fact that every time we do what we are called to do, the Light of Christ burns just a little brighter in this dark, dark world.

In the coming week, let’s resolve to be a true and accurate symbol of Christ, so that those who do not know the Lord can wrap their minds around Him, Whom they cannot see.

First Sunday of Advent
MK 13:33-37
December 3, 2017

The past two years, I’ve been driving a vehicle that has a special safety feature. The car came with sensors on the front and sides. Not that I ever did, but if I just happened to “tailgate” the car in front of me, a flashing red “collision alert” would appear on the dashboard, warning me to back off. And if I ventured out of my lane, which, of course, even the most conscientious drivers occasionally do, a cautionary signal appears on the side-view mirror, together with rather loud chimes. If one method of warning doesn’t reset wandering attention, the other certainly will.

When I first started driving the vehicle, I actually found these devices as annoying as my Dad…who was a world class backseat driver. But with time, I came to appreciate these watchful helpers. Obviously, no one can rely totally on this technology to get safely to their destination. Drivers still have the primary responsibility for getting home safely. But these warning signals certainly help. They are especially helpful at night. I recently changed to a vehicle without these bells and whistles, and I missed them. Once again, I was totally dependent on myself.

We begin Advent 2017 with a passage from Isaiah, who acknowledges the human inclination to wander from the path of righteousness. The First Reading brings to mind how easily we are distracted from what is good and holy.

It doesn’t take that much to distract even the best driver. Our minds wander, especially if we are worried about something. Our vision tends to stray from the road to a sign or a building. Don’t even get me started on the cell phone.

It’s the same sort of thing with our spiritual journey. There are countless distractions that draw our attention away from God. We travel through time in the darkness of sin and death. The neon lights of worldly things are constantly trying to draw our attention away from The Light of Christ. They don’t offer true light, only dangerous distractions. And once worldly…material things…grab our attention, they hold on with a death grip.

Which brings us to this first season of the liturgical year. Although technically, Advent is not a time for repentance, still, it is a four-week long opportunity to refocus on our journey. The key words in our First Reading are like the safety features in my old vehicle…they get our attention. And if we happen to ignore one of the warnings, another follows quickly behind.

WANDER…RETURN…HEAR…SEE…WAIT…ROUSE!

Today we are reminded of the need to redirect our attention and make any course corrections that are necessary to ensure safe traveling. Just like the signals on the side mirrors of newer vehicles, our Gospel flashes words at us that are impossible to ignore…even with the multiple distractions of shopping, parties, decorating, assembling, wrapping, and baking. The Lord Himself cautions us to BE WATCHFUL! BE ALERT!

Thankfully, we are not totally dependent upon ourselves. We are equipped with all of the safety features a traveler needs to arrive home in the Kingdom of God. We are given the Gospel to guide us. We have the Holy Spirit to “backseat drive.” And of course, we have the Sacraments to help us get back on the right path when we wander. So, then, together, let’s travel around the Advent wreath, making four stops to light candles as we make our way around this symbol of eternal life. Our first stop is the candle that reminds us to BE WATCHFUL! BE ALERT! Because the Day of the Lord is at hand!

The Solemnity of Our Lord
MT 25:31-46
November 26, 2017

A political research group has published its findings which indicate that currently, there are 49 dictatorships in the world, and 21 of these authoritarian regimes are in Africa. Recent dramatic events in Zimbabwe have commanded international attention as 93-year-old strong man Robert Mugabe resisted efforts by the military and his own political party to bring his almost 40-year rule to an end. Once in power, dictators are reluctant to step aside. Tragically, there is a strong likelihood that his replacement will be no better…possibly worse!

There are 18 totalitarian governments in Asia. Kim Jung Un’s style of governing is a classic example of how absolute power can be abused. Amnesty International charges this oppressive regime with unlawful detentions followed by harsh prison sentences or interment in work camps without due process. There is severe restriction on freedom of expression. Torture, executions, and assassination are an everyday occurrence.

Seven despots in the Middle East rule without concern for the well-being of their people. Syria’s Bashar Assad is a reminder that absolute power is passed on to the next generation.

There are two dictatorships in the Americas, both characterized by gang-style violence and corruption.

Putin is Europe’s contribution to this list of henchmen and a sober warning that their ambition for power extends beyond the borders of their own countries.

So then, about one-quarter of the world’s 195 countries are governed by leaders who are brutal, corrupt, and guilty of countless crimes against humanity. Those numbers are sobering, but if you look at a map showing how this all plays out, the reality is terrifying. Over half of our planet lives in the darkness of tyranny.

What is most amazing, however, is that in spite of the suffering these criminals inflict, they often enjoy inexplicable popularity and support beyond what is imposed by the military, informers, and secret police. Putin’s favorability ratings are in the high 80th percentile. Kim Jung Un’s litany of honorary titles isn’t as long as his growing list of atrocities. While it is impossible to know the true feelings of the people of North Korea, he is commonly spoken of as “dear leader,” conveying the love and esteem with which his people regard him. Social scientists tell us that “dictators” are oftentimes revered most by the masses…common people hoping that a strong leader will somehow make their lives better. Tragically, their hope is misplaced when invested in the personality type that governs half our planet, which makes the Feast with which we end our liturgical year all that much more important for us to understand. Today is The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Today is a stark reminder of the truth that our ways are not God’s ways! God’s plan is not that we turn to another human being in hopes that their strength and power will make our earthly lives better. Rather, we look to Jesus Christ to lead all humankind into an era of everlasting peace and joy.

Jesus did not rise to power by taking control of a political party or gaining the support of the military. Our First Reading from Ezekiel describes the Lord’s power base. He gathered around Himself “the lost”…those who were marginalized and excluded by the privileged. His influence wasn’t based on threats of punishment. Rather, He “bound up the injured and healed the sick.”

If worldly leaders restrict freedom and imprison their opposition, Christ is the Cosmic Liberator. He opens our minds and hearts to the truth…and then encourages us to open our lips to broadcast the Good News that, by His death and resurrection, even our graves have been opened and the dead are set free.

The Lord was not looking to establish a dynasty by ensuring that His relatives would succeed Him. Instead, He came to proclaim the Reign of God…a Kingdom in which all are much loved children of The Almighty…a Kingdom which has no borders or boundaries…a Kingdom in which all are welcome.

Jesus did not seek titles and honorarium. He quickly corrected the admiring disciple who called Him

    “Good Teacher.” Why do you call me good?
    No one is good but God alone.

He humbled Himself to the point of submitting to the public execution of a political prisoner charged with the attempted overthrow of earthly authorities…religious leaders and the Roman authority alike. The Lord’s subversive message which the establishment found so threatening was simply a call to live in love…to respect the dignity of all humankind, and to provide for those in greatest need.

We conclude this liturgical year with the sobering reality that our ways are not God’s ways! As a result, half our planet lives in the darkness of dictatorship. Although the other half aspires to freedom, universal justice, and peace, no earthly government is perfect. Simply put, the condition of this world is chronic imperfection, which will persist until Christ returns in all of His glory. On that day, Christ will be accepted by all as King and…all will be all.

Until then, we wait in hope! And we are able to hope because we know the truth…that Christ IS King…now and forever! Amen.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

One of my oldest and dearest friends is celebrating her wedding anniversary today. As it happens, they planned something EXTRA special for the occasion, and it wasn’t a trip to Hawaii. They came here to Saginaw from Washington, D.C. for their anniversary weekend. Obviously, Saginaw is not a couple’s first thought when planning a romantic getaway. But my friends wanted to be part of the group that I helped organize to travel to the beatification Mass of Fr. Solanus Casey celebrated yesterday at Ford Field.

To join in the celebration of the advancement of the cause for canonization of a man who ministered right here in Michigan to people still alive today is certainly special…a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and they took advantage of it. But marking another year of Christian marriage is also very important and deserves a party as well. So, I called my friend’s husband to put our heads together to plan a surprise for her.

As we were scheming, he said: “She is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Now, I’ve known “the bride” for close to 50 years. I see how happy she has always been in her marriage. So, without a second thought, I fired right back: “And YOU are the best thing that ever happened to HER!”

How perfect that my friends will be sitting at Mass together on this final Sunday of Ordinary Time, listening to our First Reading from Proverbs. But, while the passage speaks in great detail about how a “worthy wife” brings joy to her husband, it tells us as well about the benefit of a good husband to his wife: He entrusts his heart to her. He entrusts his love to her. He entrusts his life to her.

And so, one might say: A good wife is the best thing that ever happens to her husband. And a good husband is the best thing that ever happens to his wife. What a perfect message for an anniversary celebration. But, that message can also be applied to yesterday’s celebration of the life of Blessed Solanus Casey.

God entrusts HIS Sacred Heart to us. God entrusts His unconditional love to us. God entrusts the Divine life to us. And a few special people, Fr. Solanus being one, respond like a “worthy” spouse, committing their entire life to the service of God.

A saint is a person in whom God places enormous value because they partner with God in furthering the Divine plan for the perfection of creation. Saints, like a loving spouse, use their God-given talents and abilities unselfishly, particularly mindful of those in greatest need. Saints do not keep locked within them the deposit of life and love which God entrusted to them. Rather, the holy men and women we identify as saints invest their very lives in others, so that God’s life and God’s love will flourish.

And, for their efforts, saints are honored here on earth as Blessed Solanus was yesterday. But infinitely more important…they are recognized and honored at the gates of the heavenly city. Saints are people who are wise enough to understand that Christ is the best thing that ever happened to us.

And the good news is…if we try our best to lead worthy lives…if we use what God has entrusted to us for good and not evil…if we work at being saintly…someday, we will hear God say: You’re the best thing that ever happened to me!

And so we end this liturgical year with this thought:

Christ IS the best thing that ever happened to us…and in turn…He asks that we be the best thing that ever happened to one another. AMEN!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 25:1-13
November 12, 2017

There is an international project named “BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT” that is making rapid advances in the development of wafer-sized space probes, which are a little thicker than a postage stamp. Known by scientists as starchips, or nanocrafts…(“nano” meaning tiny) these ultra-light vehicles are equipped with cameras and other equipment that will gather data from around the universe. The hope is that information will be transmitted back to Earth by the starchips that will enable humankind to discover potentially habitable planets.

Many scientists believe that there is a great urgency to the work of space exploration and travel because the “end times” for planet Earth are upon us. They foresee a mass “exodus” from our home planet to a “new world”, the next “promised land”… if human life is to continue. That is one thing that religion and science agree upon with certainty – Earth cannot last forever.

What does all of this have to do with our Sunday Readings?

“BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT” is a means to travel deeper into outer space. However, we might also use the concept as a vehicle to transport us deeper into Jesus’s teaching about the coming of the Kingdom. Granted, to older folks, words like “nanocrafts” and “starchips” seem like pure fantasy and figments of overactive imaginations. But the idea of space travel and planetary migration is part of the lived reality of our younger generation which has been raised in an age of hi-tech and high speed. They carry entire libraries in their pockets. The knowledge of the ages is contained in their cell phones, so it is no surprise to them that these mini-explorers will travel 1/5th the speed of light or 134 million miles per hour. That’s about 1000 times faster than any space vehicle to date.

The young don’t ask, “How can they do that?” Instead, they ask impatiently: “How soon can they get this done?”

These vehicles will be shot into space by laser beams that provide the wind that will be captured by tiny onboard sails that are only a few atoms thick. These flying postage stamps will “sail” on light that is beaming down to Earth. That light is the sea that will carry them to their destination, which will hopefully welcome humankind to our new home.

Encouraged by science and technology, and eager for a new beginning, our kids are looking deep into the universe for a “promised land.” And someday, they might just well arrive there. But, it is critical that they carry with them not just scientific knowledge, which itself is a gift from God, but WISDOM!

Our First Reading describes the beauty and importance of WISDOM. Without WISDOM, we run the risk of becoming spiritually nearsighted; we see only what is immediately in front of us. Science and technology become larger than they truly are. Without WISDOM, which reminds us that all human accomplishments are part of the Divine plan, we run the risk of depending entirely on ourselves and not God, Who is the Source of all knowledge…and hope.

There are lots and lots of things that are happening in our world that are sucking the hope for a happy future right out of our kids. Global warming, terrorism, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and dwindling natural resources. In order to make certain that they look beyond science to God as the Source of all hope, we need to talk their talk. We need to use images that are as much a part of their lived reality as “oil lamps” were to the people listening to Jesus speak. It is our duty to pass on more than knowledge. We have to pass on WISDOM as well. And WISDOM tells us that the ultimate destination of humankind is not another solar system, not another planet on the other side of the universe…but the Kingdom of God.

So, we might say to them that the Kingdom of God is like “BREAKTHROUGH STARSHOT.” Tiny fragments of The Creator, so small that they are invisible to the most powerful of microscopes, have been placed by God into every human being called into life on Earth. But these flesh and blood bodies are like plant Earth. Our bodies are not intended to last forever. And when the earthly bodies die, the invisible part of us…that God has placed within each of us…is projected out of this reality toward a new world…a fresh beginning that will never end…a promised land of perfect and infinite peace.

The energy that these tiny God chips need to BREAK THROUGH is LOVE!

Love is like the oil that burned in the lamps that Jesus was talking about. LOVE is like that laser beam that will project starchips onto light beams that will carry them to new planets…new worlds. Love is the energy that will project the tiny piece of eternity within each of us onto the Light of Christ that will transport us to our final destination…not another planet or universe…but to another reality…the Kingdom of God.

In the opening line of our Second Reading, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: We do not want you to be unaware…about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope. We don’t want our kids to be unaware about the end times. We want them to look at life and death with the WISDOM that comes from God. We want them to face the threats and challenges of this world with Christian hope. So, we use their language and their images to encourage them to love God and others above all else because love is the energy that will carry them to eternal joy in the Kingdom of God. Love is the only way to BREAK THROUGH to the other side.

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