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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Our Spiritual Warm-Up
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2014
LK 1:26-38

People who are faithful to exercise appreciate the value of “stretching” or “warming up” before jumping into their workout. In a way, that’s what the Season of Advent is all about; our lap around the Advent wreath is a spiritual warm-up. Over the course of four weeks, we stretch our religious imagination by reminding ourselves of the promises God made to us through the holy prophets. We turn to St. Paul, who coaches us on how to “warm up” our spiritual life, so that we are fit and ready to celebrate The Birth of Jesus Christ. We listen closely to four carefully selected passages from the Holy Gospel proclaimed at Sunday Mass so as to build spiritual enthusiasm for the sprint to the finish line.

And it’s there…at the finish line…Christmas Eve…with our warm-up complete, that we need all of the energy we have been building over the season of preparation. On Christmas Eve, we rely on our Advent training in order to make an unimaginable leap of faith.

Think of it this way: For many people, Christmas is simply a winter holiday. For Christians, it is a day when we celebrate the truth that an Eternal Word was spoken by our Creator into the finite, human body of a young woman, who willingly agreed…through the power of the Holy Spirit…to give birth to The Word made flesh…Jesus Christ. We believe that on Christmas, The Word of God took Flesh and dwelt among us. That is a leap of faith!

God prepared Mary in a very special way for her unparalleled leap of faith. Last week, December 8, we celebrated the truth that from the moment of her conception, The Blessed Mother was totally free from sin. Obviously, very few of us can come remotely close to her degree of holiness. But through our Sacraments and the traditions of our faith…including a committed observance of the preparatory season of Advent, we can “stretch ourselves.”

If you haven’t joined the family of faith in our annual walk around the Advent wreath, there is still time to “warm up.” And a “warm-up” is essential if we are to be able to make the leap of faith that carries us into a reality that is almost too big for us to wrap our minds and our lives around. But that is exactly what God is calling us to do.

Like Mary, God is asking us to wrap our minds around the truth that God has a plan that will end in perfect and everlasting joy for those who believe. That requires some “spiritual stretching.” And, like Mary, we are called by God to become participants in this plan. Even as Mary was invited to become Jesus’s mother, we are invited to wrap our lives around the Gospel, giving our very flesh to the Eternal Word…and then carrying it out into a world in desperate need of The Good News that…CHRIST THE SAVIOR IS BORN!

There are now four candles burning on the Advent wreath…Come and “warm up!”

John the Baptist
Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014
JN 1:6-8, 19-28

A key figure in the Advent season is John the Baptist. We met him in Mark’s Gospel last week and we meet him again in John’s gospel this week. Clearly, we are called to pay attention to who he is and what his life tells us. Two facts about him stand out.

First, he was extremely ambitious. He wanted to get things done and done right. He was so ambitious that he refused to let worldly concerns such as, food, clothes, or shelter interfere with his work of calling people to repent. He was the ultimate “motivational speaker”! He was committed to have people discover God and to do the difficult work of self-discovery. He wanted people to progress in their spiritual life by changing the things about themselves that needed to be changed.

Second, in spite of his ambition, he never lost sight of who he was and what he was called to do. He enjoyed the celebrity of a rock star! Jesus described him as “the greatest of men born to woman.” And yet, John’s success did not blind him to his limitations. He did not permit his fame to remind him that he was “the announcer” or the “warm-up act” for the Messiah. And with that role, he was content!

We are now past the halfway mark in our journey toward Christmas. The fourth Advent candle is in plain view. Maybe it would be a good thing to let John the Baptist “motivate” us to finish this last lap around the Advent wreath with the ambition to give ourselves the perfect Christmas gift…the joy of REPENTANCE.

Consider this: When describing John, Jesus said: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “ (Matt. 11.11) Wow! That includes you and me!

The problem is that the things of this world often blind us to who God created us to be…THE GREATEST! We tend to get so wrapped up in who we think we are, and who WE WANT TO BE that we lose sight of the ambition that God has for us! We let our worldly ambitions cloud the vision that God holds for us.

While it is true that REPENTANCE means acknowledging and seeking forgiveness of our sins, that is only part of the process.

Once we have unwrapped our lives from sin, we are free to do what John the Baptist did. We are free to use what God has given us to further God’s plans for us and for all the lives we touch.

John the Baptist has shown us the way! Now, let’s go light that pink candle and shed a little more light on who we truly are, and what we are called to do so that we can be all that God created us to be.

Are You Walking?
Second Sunday of Advent
December 7, 2014
MK 1:1-8

Just over a year ago, Pope Francis traveled to the home of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, to meet with a gathering of Church leaders. During his address to those assembled, The Holy Father commented on his great appreciation for the word “walking” in the context of exploring the spiritual life. He began his remarks this way:

WALKING is one of my favorite words when I think about a Christian and about the Church. I think that this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have, to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with Our Lord, Who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.

Bringing his remarks to a close, The Holy Father stressed that: “…the most important thing is to walk together by working together, by helping one another, by acknowledging one’s mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving. How important this is.”

Advent is a very short and brisk walk. Already we are at “3:00” on the Advent wreath. We have WALKED 1/4 of the distance that separates us from the celebration of God’s Word taking Flesh to dwell among us. As we strike the match to light the second purple candle, it might be helpful to look back over the past week to see if we WALKED on the straight path that Isaiah described in our First Reading…recalled as well in the Gospel. Did we WALK with determination in our step…determination to be better disciples? Did we walk with others in the spirit of the season…the true and authentic spirit of the Advent season? Did we do anything to prepare spiritually, or did we just stumble along distracted and diminished by the Spirit-less “holiday” season?

Does it seem like the first part of this journey around the Advent wreath passed by quickly? That would not be surprising. Urgency is certainly a theme that is common to all three Readings on this Second Sunday of Advent. The season is short…only four weeks. Perhaps, before we light that second purple candle, we might do well to take a few minutes to plan how…and with whom …we will walk this next week of the Advent wreath. It does not take long to come full circle. The journey is brief…and so is life.

Our Journey Together
First Sunday of Advent
November 30, 2014
MK 13:33-37

Whether or not we enjoy it, most of us will be doing a whole lot of walking over the next few weeks. At the Mall, grocery store, through Christmas tree lots, cleaning and decorating the house, to and from grandchildren’s pageants and programs, to parties and gatherings and hopefully…to special Advent prayer at our parishes. It’s relatively easy to get in the recommended 10,000 steps each day of the season of rushed preparation. We are on the move and it can be exhausting.

During the Season of Advent, were are also on the move, in the spiritual sense. We walk in a circle. The Sunday before we light the first candle on the Advent wreath is Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus as the King of the Universe…Sovereign of all creation, who rules with mercy and love. With that image fresh in our minds, we begin to move around a circle of ever greens, symbolic of everlasting life. Each week, we light another purple candle…pushing back the darkness and anticipating the glory of God that will pour out from the heavens on that night when The Word takes Flesh to dwell among us. We distinguish the third week of our journey with a rose colored (pink) candle…because of the mounting sense of anticipation…expectation…the growing sense of joy. Finally! We light the last candle and then we wait.

AND THEN WE WAIT! Those are very important words. We wait to close the circle, by encountering the new born King!

Advent is a season but it is also a journey when we walk together as a family of faith preparing to celebrate a past event…but also conditioning ourselves for a future event…Christ’s return in glory. And so we wait and we walk together as a pilgrim people…walking in a circle that began with Christ and will conclude with Christ…with Christ at our side throughout the journey. Don’t count the steps…measure instead the mercy, the forgiveness, the acts of charity and tolerance…and

Walk in peace!

Holy Spirit Sets a True Course
Feast of Christ the King
November 23, 2014
Matt 25:31-36

Mid-term elections are behind us…finally! As our nation watches a tragically unproductive session of Congress come to a close, it seems fair to say that the majority of Americans are road-weary from the gridlock that has characterized our government in recent years. We are certainly looking forward to a fresh start, but is there really any reason to hope things will change? The only element of our society that seems to benefit from this constant clash of philosophies, ideologies, and even personalities is the press. In fact, even the press has divided itself into camps. Rather than simply reporting facts, journalists are inflaming passions with biased reports from both sides of the aisle. It’s sad!

What is sad as well…and possibly even sinful…is that our Church seems to be experiencing the same deep divisions. You certainly get that impression from the secular press reporting on the October meeting of Bishops. The media seems to almost delight in broadcasting the diverse opinions expressed during the first meeting of the synod committed to the challenges Christian families are struggling with during this 21st century. Particular glee colored the reports of a comment attributed to an American Cardinal who is purported to have likened the Church under Pope Francis to “a ship without a rudder.”

This Sunday, like the past two, we step out of Ordinary Time to celebrate something special. On November 2, All Souls Day, we recalled how our Church is a union that cannot be divided even by death. Those who have gone before us benefit from and depend upon our prayers, and, in return, intercede for us. Last Sunday was the anniversary of the dedication of the “Mother Church,” St. John Lateran in Rome. That Feast offers an opportunity to consider our long, unbroken history. We are built on the strongest of foundations with Christ as our Cornerstone. Tracing our lineage back to this first place dedicated to public Christian worship is strong evidence of our unity and endurance.

This week, we mark the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Today, we image The Lord as a sovereign. Christ rules over all creation in a benevolent and loving way. It is Christ’s hand on the tiller, steadying and guiding the ship. And even as Christ charts our course through salvation history, it’s the Holy Spirit who fills our sails and propels us toward our final destination.

This Sunday’s Gospel offers a vivid description of the course that The Lord has charted for us as the Church moves through time toward eternity. The Holy Spirit carries us directly into the seas of need. As we pass through among the poor, the marginalized, the desperate…we should not simply observe what surrounds us, but through the Holy Spirit, we are called to reach out! We are called to take our hand OFF the wheel, confident that Christ our King, our Captain, our Shepherd, is guiding us into the waters where we need to be at any given point in salvation history…in order to be productive. The Holy Spirit sets a true course, and our duty is not to control the direction, but to serve those whom we encounter on our journey.

And so, as we bring this liturgical year to a close, our Readings make a clear distinction between the Church and state. In spite of the differing opinions, philosophies, ideologies, and personalities we bring to the Communion Table, we are unified by our shared belief in Jesus Christ…King of the Universe, who rules with compassion, mercy, and unconditional love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will endure whatever forces attempt to divide us. If there is an aisle that separates us, it is that some seek to control…while others commit only to serve…especially those in greatest need. For their efforts, they will be greatly rewarded!

Next Sunday, The Church can move into the season of Advent and begin a new liturgical year filled with hope…because it is Christ, our loving and gentle King, who is in control!

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