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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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 5:1-11
February 7, 2016

Somehow, I was able to squeak through my high school English literature class by reading the “Cliff Notes” summary of Charles Dickens’, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Although I didn’t know too much more about the tale other than London was a refuge and Paris was a dangerous place where the streets were filled with angry, vengeful, and bloodthirsty mobs. Years later, I found, read, and thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

In a way, the passages from Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard these 4th and 5th Sundays in Ordinary Time offer us “A Tale of Two Cities.” Well, not exactly cities; rather small, close-knit villages, the center of each being the synagogue where the people set the pattern of their daily lives through the traditions and practices of their faith. Almost isolated by geography, poverty, and primitive means of transportation, the people of both Nazareth and Capernaum looked inward rather than outward to the rest of the world. And as they faced the center of their village life, they encountered God in their village house of prayer. Still, in spite of the shared religious practices and traditions, they proved to be very different kinds of communities. The people of Nazareth rose up against Jesus, and were literally transformed from worshippers into a dangerous mob. In order to avoid being hurled over a cliff to His death, the Lord passed through their midst and went away.

Jesus didn’t cross the English Channel to seek refuge; instead, He hiked the 40 or so miles across rugged terrain to the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee. There, He found an adopted family and a “new home.” The people of Capernaum welcomed The Lord. They encouraged Him to stay with them. They listened to and embraced the message He brought to them…The Good News! And among them were those willing to be transformed from ordinary fishermen into Apostles and disciples. Luke reports a “tale of two cities” separated by only a short distance; the first, threatening violence to God’s Word made Flesh, the other offering The Lord refuge and supporting Him in the work of evangelization.

So, as we prepare to begin the 40-day journey through the Lenten Season, it is important to ask: What is my starting point? Which city am I departing from as I make my way to the heavenly Jerusalem? If the answer is “Nazareth,” then a deep conversion experience is needed. This involves truly accepting and then living the Gospel. There are no “shortcuts.” But, when we permit the Holy Spirit to be our guide, then the journey becomes more joyful and the destination more certain. Whether we simply neglect it or intentionally resist it, once we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit, life becomes so filled with peace and joy that we wonder why we waited. But there are no “shortcuts.” To put on the mind of Christ, we must reject sin and commit to faithful discipleship in the Church.

For those who “live in Capernaum,” Lent offers the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jesus Christ. Even the people who walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee with Him learned new and ever more amazing things from and about Jesus; and so, too, with us today. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit enables us to learn new and ever more amazing things about our God as we live with Jesus Christ. But, like the fishermen who were transformed into disciples, we, too, are called to become fishers of others. A perfect way to continue our own conversion process is to make Lent a time when we look for every opportunity to introduce the Gospel to our day-to-day lives in hopes that others might come to believe. Lent is the perfect time to let the light that came into our hearts at Baptism shine even more brightly, so that others might come to Christ. Lent is a time to amaze ourselves as we discover that when we speak, think, and act like Christ, we have the power to transform the lives of others.

So, whether you are beginning the journey from Nazareth or Capernaum, know that by allowing the Holy Spirit to chart the course over the 40-day journey…the destination will be the same…an empty tomb and Easter joy; and someday, the Heavenly Jerusalem. It really is “A Tale of Two Cities,”…here and there. And if we want to live for all eternity THERE, across the channel of time, in a place of safety, joy, and eternal peace…we need to make the crossing with the Spirit of Lenten repentance and conversion.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LUKE 4:21-30
January 31, 2016

I have a very distinct recollection of the first time I heard this Gospel proclaimed. I was old enough to listen and absorb what I heard, but not so old that I totally understood the message. I was also young enough not to be embarrassed to ask my Gramma, who had taken me to Mass: “How did Jesus get away?” After thinking about it, she replied: “It was a miracle. He just disappeared.” That satisfied me for a long, long time and also left me with an image of Jesus as super hero, like the characters on my favorite TV shows. Certainly, the Resurrected Christ “disappeared from their midst” after celebrating Eucharist in a little village called Emmaus. The Ascension of the Lord is another example of a miraculous vanishing act. And, just possibly, that is exactly what happened. All that Luke tells us is that: “He passed through the midst of them and went away.” We are left to do what Gramma did…ponder the matter.

As an adult, I have pondered the matter, and while I continue to believe the first part of Gramma’s answer…because Jesus’s escape from a murderous crowd was definitely miraculous, the thought that He simply vaporized, to me anyway, is unsettling. It seems in a way to devalue His human nature. Flesh and blood human beings are not capable of that kind of dramatic exit. So I wonder if another possibility might be found in our Second Reading.

Yes! Jesus was fully human, but Jesus was also fully Divine. St. Paul’s beautiful description of love is also a description of Jesus…because Jesus is God and God is love. While our all-powerful God is certainly capable of disappearing in a flash, I wonder if it was the power of love that enabled Jesus to “pass through the midst” of a bloodthirsty mob. Could the sheer power and force of pure love have shielded the Lord, repelling every effort to harm Him? Ponder that some more!

But to be honest, as adults, there is another question that seems more important to me than HOW Jesus managed to escape. WHY were the people of Nazareth so angry? Why did they move so quickly from appreciation to utter hatred? Once again, our Second Reading might offer fodder for a deeper reflection. They were people of faith. After all, this entire episode unfolded in their village synagogue where they were gathered to celebrate the Sabbath. As faithful Jews, they lived in hope…hope that the Messiah would come to liberate. Possibly they were lacking in one thing…LOVE!

Why is this possible? Well, they certainly were not patient with Jesus, and there is nothing kind about their response to Him. In fact, this passage is a perfect example of being “quick-tempered.” Arrogance and jealousy might well have blinded them to the truth that what they had hoped for was standing in their midst…The Messiah. The mob mentality we see here rejoices in wrongdoing. In other words, Nazareth that Sabbath morning appears to have been the antithesis of love. The result was tragic.

The behavior of this faith community offers us a good reality check for our contemporary faith communities. If we do not receive one another with love…if we do not relate to one another with love…all we are doing is “making noise,” and the Lord might well “pass through our midst” and move on…just as Jesus vanished from Nazareth, reappearing in Capernaum where He was received with love.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 1:1-4; 4:14-21
January 24, 2016

Recently, a BBC journalist, reporting from Madaya, Syria, a besieged city just miles from Damascus (actually a relatively short distance from Nazareth) started her TV report by acknowledging that when she began her assignment, she had doubts that conditions were as dire as described by the residence. Then, as trucks filled with food and medical supplies rolled into the town, and she saw the faces of starving people come out of the safety of their homes…she knew there was no “photo shopping” of the pictures of skeletal children posted on social media.

She spoke of the fact that “food” was being used as a weapon of war. The town had been surrounded by enemy forces, preventing the delivery of the things essential to sustaining life. She went on to explain that “even wars have laws” and that it is an internal national “law of war” that innocent civilians should not be starved to death. It was very difficult to watch this story. What is even more difficult, is knowing that there was only one month’s worth of supplies delivered to these people, who by now are probably down to the last of it…not knowing if more aid is going to make it through the military barricade. The report was nothing less than a study in hopelessness.

The present day events in the Middle East bring to mind the First Reading. Over run and over powered by enemy forces, Jerusalem was sacked and burned and its residents enslaved. Having finally been liberated after many years living in a foreign land, they returned to Jerusalem to find their beloved city…even the Temple…totally destroyed. To be in touch with the feelings of desperation and hopelessness they must have felt, tune into BBC.

While the loss of hope was devastating, perhaps the most lethal wound was the loss of faith. Separated from the Temple and their religious traditions, the Jewish people lost touch with God. They forgot that they were the Chosen People. It is likely that many even embraced the pagan ways of their captors. When they finally returned home, Ezra called them together to celebrate their homecoming; making it an opportunity for Israel to re-learn God’s will and God’s ways. With the return of faith, came the return of hope. Israel felt the same sense of relief and joy in hearing The Law, as the people of Madaya, Syria felt as the relief trucks rolled in. Why wouldn’t they? God’s law is as important to sustaining life, as food, water and medical supplies.

The conditions in Corinth, which Paul is addressing in our Second Reading, were probably not as violent and tragic as what many people in the Middle East are fleeing from today. Still, it does not take long for differences in appearance, beliefs, and life styles, to become the tinder for hatred and violence. Think of it this way: there would be no “refugee” issue if humankind were to hear Paul’s message encouraging us to accept our differences…not as something that distinguishes and divides us, but rather as ways in which we complement each other. Tolerance, acceptance and dialogue are ways to combat the tragic divisions that led to people starving children to death. Which brings us to this week’s Gospel.

Like the BBC journalist, Luke investigated the events he reported. He took pains to accurately, and in a logical sequence, record the events surrounding the mission and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Again, like the BBC reporter, it was his desire to report in such a way that left no doubts as to the truth of what he witnessed and was broadcasting. He did not want to be accused of “photo shopping” the story. The message is too important to allow room for doubt.

What is reported in this Sunday’s Gospel, is that God’s Word made flesh, spoke God’s Word first proclaimed through Isaiah. God is telling all people of all ages, that there would be no need for “laws of war” or “rules of engagement” if God Law were to reign supreme and if humankind were to set aside our differences and engage one another as loving sisters and brothers…all children of a good and loving God.

We take this Third step into Ordinary time, reminded by our Readings that no day or age is “ordinary” because Christ has come to strengthen our faith, fill us with hope and challenge us to live as we were created to…in a loving union with God and one another. If we were to re-learn and then live this lesson…then like the people returning to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, we could begin to rebuild our world, and the BBC could proclaim a “year favorable to the Lord!”

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 2:1-11
January 17, 2016

Last Sunday, the Gospel took us to the shores of the Jordan River. We were privileged to look on as Jesus submitted to John’s Baptism by water. Only AFTER all of the people joined in this ritual of repentance and cleansing did the heavens open, and somehow, God the Son was acknowledged, introduced, and appreciated for Who He was and remains. Because the people shared in the cleansing bath, they also shared in the acknowledgement, introduction, and appreciation that poured forth over the earth…even as the star poured its revealing light over the humble manger. The events of the day must have caused the people to recall John’s assurance that someone mightier than he would come with a new Baptism, not one with ordinary water, but a submersion into the Holy Spirit…and a cleansing by Fire.

This Sunday, through John’s Gospel, we fast forward…how much, we don’t know…to Cana, a small, humble, dusty village a short distance from the scene of Jesus’s Baptism. Among the four Gospels, John’s particularly makes effective use of symbolism. The report of the embarrassing shortage of wine, the assertiveness of the otherwise silent Blessed Mother, the witness of the astonished disciples, and, of course, the amazing transformation of ordinary water into the finest of wines are all key elements to this event. Each has a deeper meaning worth delving into further. Today, let’s limit our reflection to the circumstances of Jesus’s first public miracle, often referred to as the beginning of His ministry.

This happened during a joyful celebration…filled with hope and love…and the promise of a bright future for a couple who gathered their family and friends together as they began a new life. Today, even people without a faith life can appreciate the celebratory atmosphere and can also understand how the wine shortage would have brought the celebration to a screeching halt. Then, persuaded and possibly even encouraged by His mother, Jesus miraculously changed water drawn from the well into the finest wine. This miracle is very often associated with the Sacrament of Christian Marriage. Rightly so. This passage, reported only in John’s Gospel, is frequently chosen by a couple to be proclaimed at their wedding liturgy; a fitting choice. But, it would seem that this is about much more than the fact that Jesus appreciated the fact that the hopes and dreams of a young couple in love warranted a good party…that should not be cut short by empty wine bottles.

We should take particular note of the symbolic value of changing the ordinary into something extraordinary; in fact, so extraordinary and special that it was clear to the witnesses that God was indeed present and active in the transformation. The movement from the ordinary to the extraordinary at the wedding feast at Cana was not unlike the transformation that occurred at the Jordan River. There, Jesus changed ordinary river water, which John used to baptize, into cleansing, cauterizing, and healing Fire…The Holy Spirit. By allowing Himself to be submerged into an ordinary river, Jesus sanctified and made holy the water in every Baptismal font, in every church, and in every age. Those submerged in these living waters will rise up transformed, changed…reborn into an extraordinary life in the Spirit, a future filled with hope, love, and the promise of everlasting life.

Last Sunday, we brought the Christmas Season to a close. This is the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time. But, there is nothing “ordinary” about lives lived close to Christ and the Church. Regardless of which of the Seven Sacraments we celebrate, the impact on our lives is transformative…intoxicating…a preview of a celebration that will never end.

Baptism of the Lord
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
January 10, 2016

If you are fortunate enough to visit the great cathedrals of Italy, which all tourists typically do, Christian or non-Christian, make certain that you don’t miss the baptisteries. Our ancestors in faith, who somehow managed to erect these amazing architectural wonders without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, often included in the sacred space they set apart in honor of God a second smaller, yet still grandiose, structure. The adjacent building complements the main worship space in every way except purpose. The singular purpose of the baptistery is clear from the name. At the appointed time during the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the faithful gathered in the cathedral celebrating Christ’s Resurrection would process into the baptistery to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation. Church historians tell us that in honor of those becoming part of the Body of Christ, the baptistery would be transformed into a beautiful garden, filled with flowers and trees and vines. The environment was intended to remind those celebrating Easter that Jesus Christ was the New Adam, Who has won back for us the right to once again dwell in Paradise.

However, by pairing the drama of Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan with Isaiah 42, the Church points to yet another meaning of “Baptism.” Moses led the people to the banks of the Red Sea. The waters parted and the people fleeing from slavery in Egypt passed through unharmed to begin their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus, the New Moses, leads us to the waters in which He allowed Himself to be submerged. Upon rising, The Lord was introduced as the Son of God. Jesus, the New Moses, then began to lead those who shared in His Baptism toward the Kingdom of God. Just as Israel passed through the “birth canal” of the Red Sea, entering as a slave nation, and reborn as a free people….so too in Baptism, we are reborn. We are no longer enslaved by sin and death, and begin our pilgrim journey to the promised land.

Our ancestors in faith fully understood that Baptism is not simply an initiation into an organization, but a sharing in the Story of Salvation. They remembered and celebrated the cosmic significance of Jesus’s Baptism by building elaborate structures without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, in honor of the New Beginning that all humanity was given on that day. But they did more than build buildings. They continued the work that began as the heavens parted, and a Voice expressed Divine pleasure in Jesus. They continued to build the City of God.

And the work continues. We, who have been baptized in Christ…redeemed by The New Adam…led by The New Moses through the waters to escape slavery to sin and death…reborn in the Spirit…are called upon to continue to build the City of God. Even as our ancestors in faith set aside a special place to honor God and built special buildings as testimony to the significance of Baptism, we are called to set aside our lives and to live them in a way that complements The Life of Christ. We are living baptisteries that stand next to Christ, in Whom God is well pleased. And all who look upon us…even those who are not Christians, should marvel at our beauty. As we begin this new year, resolve to continue the work. You have been given the special tools, equipment, and machinery which it takes to make your life a spiritual architectural wonder. It was all given to you in the Spirit-filled waters you passed through. Use what was given to you…and someday, you will hear a heavenly Voice introduce you as a “beloved child in whom God is well pleased!”

TOWARDS CHRIST…WHO IS ALWAYS MOVING CLOSER TO US
LK 1:39-45
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2015

I began my reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, relating how during the last ten minutes of a recent visit, and sensing my concern for her well-being, my 90-something-year-old widowed mother asked: Would you be more comfortable if I were to leave the house and move to assisted living? Quite honestly, at the time, had I said out loud (because I was certainly thinking it) YES, I WOULD BE, I’m fairly certain that she, in turn, would have replied…”Well, I’ll give it some thought…maybe in a few years, I’ll move.”

Ironically, before we light the pink (rose-colored) candle marking the Third Sunday of Advent, she took a bad fall. Although she couldn’t STAND AND MOVE…she was first transported to the hospital for hip surgery, then on to rehab in hopes that soon she will be able to, once again, STAND AND MOVE on her own. After that her future is uncertain, except for this: She will continue to move in the direction her life’s path has always led her…TOWARDS CHRIST…WHO IS ALWAYS MOVING CLOSER TO US. About any of our futures, we know this much to be true: Christ is always moving toward us with outstretched arms.

The Sunday Readings throughout this Advent Season have inspired the mantra: STAND AND MOVE! We Christians should not be a sedentary people who merely sit and wait. While it is absolutely true that we are waiting for Christ to return in all of His glory, it is also true…that we should go out to greet Him…and also that we should bring Him to those who do not know Him yet.

We light the final candle on the evergreen wreath as we hear the story of The Visitation. This Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the story of two holy women, both surprised by their present circumstances, uncertain about their futures, but fully responsive to what God was asking of them. For her part, Mary STOOD AND MOVED so as to bring The Christ within her to her cousin Elizabeth, who STOOD AND RAN OUT to greet her and the child that she was carrying. Mary and Elizabeth are true action figures who should inspire each of us to continue to move through the Christmas Season, certain that we are always moving towards Christ.

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