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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Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:23-29
May 26, 2019

I recently invited myself to stay with my aunt, who I haven’t seen for way too many years, because she lives on the other side of the country. She seemed delighted when I called and suggested the visit. The moment I saw her face greeting me at the airport, I was confident that she was genuinely excited about hosting me. I must admit, however, that when I invited myself, I was aware of the fact that my stay might be a burden to her, and I tried to be alert to ways to be a helpful and gracious guest.

She has always been an extremely fastidious housekeeper. You can literally “eat off her floors.” Her house is guest-ready 24/7. Still, when I invited myself, I am absolutely certain that she not only gave the house a thorough inspection, but that she also prepared in many other ways; organizing, planning, shopping, and cooking.

Even though I had never been in this house before, I felt very much at home from the moment I set foot through her door. Certainly, because of her warm and loving welcome, but also because I was surrounded by so many familiar things. In every room, there was something to remind me that I was staying with family. I definitely did not feel like I had invited myself. I was made to feel like I belonged.

Today’s Gospel is part of what is commonly referred to as Jesus’s “Farewell Discourse.” But, it is much more than a “good-bye.” It is also His self-invitation to abide within us as The Holy Spirit. The invitation, however, involves far more than a brief visit. It is a self-invitation for a prolonged stay.

When first extended, this Divine Self-invitation triggered numerous anxious questions from the Apostles and disciples. Moreover, as we see in our First Reading, the anxiety persisted even after Jesus’s Resurrection. The uneasiness that the Divine Self-invitation evoked back then persists even today, in those eager to prepare properly for the Visitor from the other side of reality. How can we ever possibly do enough to ready ourselves to receive God as our houseguest?

Obviously, we can never be worthy for God to enter under our roof…but Jesus has left us some very reassuring and calming words. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. There is also great comfort to be found in The Acts of the Apostles, where we hear: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities.

What we hear on this sixth Sunday of the Easter Season are instructions from The Guest as to what “necessities” will make for an enjoyable and fruitful visit.

First of all, it seems essential to accept the Divine Self-invitation with authentic and genuine delight. The Guest will know that the greeting is genuine and sincere if extended with “The Word.” A welcoming host has The Word of God in their mind, on their lips, and in their heart. Spoken and lived, the Gospel is the best way to welcome The Holy Spirit into our lives.

The Holy Spirit does not want the visit to be spoiled by an unrealistic concern that we be fully prepared. Even a life that is “houseguest ready 24/7” can never be truly worthy to be a tabernacle. The Spirit is a gracious guest, alert to ways to assist us making the stay joyful and fruitful without causing undue burden to the host. Where our preparations fall short, The Guest steps in to make things better.

Our Sacraments, a special gift Jesus left to us, are the familiar things that make The Holy Spirit feel truly at home…not merely a passing visitor, but a much loved and welcomed family member.

The absolute necessity, however, is an atmosphere of love. We sing the hymn Where there is love, there is God! A life devoid of love is not simply inhospitable, it is uninhabitable for The Spirit of Life and Love.

The most reassuring and hope-filled lesson to be had as we near the conclusion of this Easter Season and prepare to welcome the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday is that, at the end of the stay, The Guest becomes the host, guiding us out of our earthly bodies and welcoming us to The Kingdom, where Christ, with pure love, will greet those who have tried their best to host the Holy Spirit.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 13:31-33A, 34-35
May 19, 2019

This past Wednesday evening, the Diocese of Saginaw celebrated the jubilees of four women religious who live and serve among us. Our own Sr. Laurene Burns marked 70 years in religious life. The occasion took me back to another event a number of years ago.

It was the 60th Jubilee of Sr. Marianita, who had spent the majority of her life passing on our faith to over three generations of Catholic school students. The faculty of the parish school where she concluded her teaching career but continued to minister through her presence and prayer wanted to celebrate with a surprise party. It was agreed that since it was her 60th Jubilee, a “’60s theme” was in order. The gym was decorated with balloons as well as Peter Max posters, peace signs, and the like. The DJ was given instructions about the playlist, and the potluck dinner was all arranged. Everyone understood, however, that for this holy little woman, no celebration would be acceptable unless the focal point was Eucharist. Appropriate thought was given to preparing the liturgy.

On the big night, people were encouraged to arrive for Mass just before the opening hymn so that the jubilarian would already be in her usual seat in the front of church, deep in prayer. We did not want her to notice the tie-dyed t-shirts, bell bottom jeans, head scarves, vests, and “love beads” that were the recommended attire. (Later, Sister did remark that as she noticed people going up for Communion, she thought they were definitely not in “church clothes.”)

In spite of the casual attire, the liturgy was celebrated with great dignity. However, after the final blessing, but before departing the worship space, there were a few brief words of tribute to Sr. Marianita. And then, by way of explaining how a young girl could leave home and family and entrust her future to the leadership of a religious order, the guests broke into a very enthusiastic chorus of the Beatles song: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!

Clearly secular, the song was nevertheless most fitting to the occasion. Those words ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE tell the entire story. Because of her love for Christ and His Church, Sr. Marianita, like the women our Diocese honored Wednesday evening, was able to embrace a life of service. Their own dreams and ambitions were subject to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. How could they make such a great sacrifice? ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED!

On May 31, the Church of Saginaw will again have occasion to gather in our Cathedral. Three young men will be ordained to the priesthood for service in our Diocese. In an age of rampant materialism and greed, it must confound most people to think of how much these men are foregoing. How can they make such a great sacrifice? ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED! Love for Christ and His Church…the kind of love that surpasses love for the fleeting things of this world…the kind of love that is greater than love of self.

Really, this is not remarkable; at least it shouldn’t be. It is simply one way…certainly a very special way, of following the new commandment that Jesus left us as He was about to express His unparalleled love for creation by suffering and dying.

Clearly, not everyone is called to religious life or Holy Orders. In fact, it seems that at least in recent years, the Holy Spirit is inviting fewer and fewer to this vocation. However, ALL who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ must make every effort to distinguish themselves by responding to life’s choices and challenges in a selfless and loving way.

St. Thomas Aquinas summed it up in a few poignant words: The things we love tell us what we are! So then, no matter what your vocation might be, or your station in life, if you want to be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ…IT’S EASY…ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.

Amen!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:27-30
May 12 2019

We believe that, through our Baptisms, we are called to share in The Lord’s mission and ministry of priest, prophet, and king.

We accept these responsibilities according to our gifts and talents and as befitting our station in life. Obviously, Pope Francis lives discipleship in a far different way than a Catholic high school student. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who, at our Baptism, comes to dwell within each of us in a special way, we are entrusted with the responsibility of helping to sanctify the world which has been tarnished by sin (PRIEST). Each of us, in our own way, is expected to proclaim The Word of the Lord (PROPHET). And, finally, we become part of “THE” Royal family. Baptism entitles us to live as the adopted children of God, destined to reside in the Eternal Kingdom. We are gifted with Royal powers that give us the strength to resist anything that would rob us of our free will. We enjoy a royal lifestyle, subject only to Christ our King (KING).

This is all very lofty. But today’s brief Gospel adds to our Catholic identity as well as to our job description in a much more down to earth and much less glamorous way. Included in our inherited duties is the call to shepherd God’s people.

James Rebanks, a real life, working shepherd from England, wrote a book entitled: The Shepherd’s Life;. In a newspaper interview, he offered a glimpse of the challenges that come with that job.

You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best, they still die, and you will need to keep going.

It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

You will also need to be emotionally tough, because part of shepherding is that things don’t just die; they are killed. Lambs are bred and sold for meat. Nature kills as well.

You’ll need the patience of a saint, too, because sheep test you to the limit, with a million innovative ways to escape, ail, or die.

The apprenticeship period for a shepherd is as about 40 years. You are just a “boy” or a “lass” until you are about 60. It takes that long to really know a mountain, the vagaries of its weather and grazing, to know the different sheep, marks, shepherds, bloodlines, and to earn the respect of other shepherds.The Shepherd’s Life’ is published by Allen Lane.

In offering the image of Himself as shepherd, The Lord was fully aware of what would be demanded of Him in return for His work of gathering us together, nourishing us and protecting us, and finding and retrieving us when we stray. Jesus gave His life for His flock. Authentic discipleship requires the same self-sacrifice.

If there are any shepherds among us here in mid-Michigan, they are certainly few in number. But there are tens of thousands of parents. The work of parenting is every bit as demanding, especially when it comes to the spiritual well-being of our children. We live in a day and age when there are countless things that capture the attention of the younger generation, causing them to wander away from the safety and nourishment of the Christian Community. Separated from God’s people, their spiritual well-being is in grave danger.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, it is especially appropriate to consider the efforts of Christian mothers, who most often take the lead in forming our children into the next generation of disciples…teaching them to be PRIESTS…PROPHETS…AND KINGS.

Very often, moms have to be “as tough as old boots” in order to defend the spiritual lives of their kids. The vocation of Christian mother requires a great deal of endurance. In going about the work of passing on our faith, they have to dig in and hold on with the patience of a saint. And tragically, even after they have done all they can do…it often appears that they have failed. At those times, they have to draw on the reserves of emotional and spiritual strength that come from understanding that they are not alone in this work. Christ the Good Shepherd is right beside them, and at the right time, He will call out their child’s name…and all will be well.

And so…on this Mother’s Day, we give God thanks for the women who give us life and then continue to protect and nourish that life…at great personal sacrifice. We pray that God will reward them abundantly.
AMEN!

Third Sunday of Easter
JN 21:1-19
May 5, 2019

To me, “breakfast” is another word for three cups of strong, black coffee. Unless, of course, there happens to be a cinnamon roll sale at the parish. This week however, I started to rethink my approach to the first meal of the day, as I read about a study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

As I understand it, all other health issues taken into consideration, people who skip breakfast routinely, have an 87% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality compared with people who have breakfast every day. The article made me think about going out and buying a box of oatmeal. But of course I haven’t done that yet, and at the moment am enjoying my third cup of strong, black coffee as I prepare to begin the day.

This week’s Gospel is as complicated as it is lengthy. There is so much here to reflect on, learn from, and pray about that it is hard to know where to begin. An even greater challenge comes with the effort to harmonize the Gospel with the other two Readings. So just possibly, the best place to begin is with the first meal of the day.

The fact that this post- Easter encounter with the Risen Christ occurred at breakfast, Jesus Himself the “breakfast cook”, invites us to consider the connection between proper nourishment of the body as well as the spirit. In other words, even as our bodies must be properly and frequently fed if we are to thrive, so too our spirits. If skipping a bowl of oatmeal before rushing into a busy day results in an 87% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality; consider the consequences of missing Morning Prayer. Consider as well, the dire consequences of failing to participate in Eucharist “routinely.”

Tragically, this is what is happening.

The article about the importance of a healthy diet caused me some concern about my own eating habits. But I read another article this past week that made be very sad. The article reported on MLive, spoke to the worship habits of Catholics in Michigan. For example, in our Diocese of Saginaw, it is reported that since 2000 there has been a 64% decrease in Baptisms, as well as First Communions and celebrations of Christian Marriage. There were 77% fewer Confirmations. Even “church funerals” saw a decline over this period, down by 20%. There might well be a valid challenge to these numbers, but anyone who is committed to the Sacramental Life of our Church, by simply looking around on a Sunday morning, is aware of a dramatic downward trend.

We live in a time when many people are spiritually malnourished. They are either “skipping” the sacraments altogether, or are “routinely” absent; almost casual about their relationship with Christ, in the Church. Forgoing Eucharist, many are choosing to feed on things that offer temporary satisfaction through empty spiritual calories. Just as there are isles full of unhealthy options in the grocery store, today’s culture offers countless ways satisfying spiritual hunger that do not support true spiritual health. The spiritual mortality rate is alarming.

All of this makes Jesus’s breakfast meeting with the Apostles all that much more relevant, even critical to our times. There is nothing complicated about The Lord’s directive to Peter. IF YOU LOVE ME THEN FEED MY LAMBS. IF YOU REALLY LOVE ME…. FEED MY SHEEP. IF YOU LOVE ME THEN GO OUT AND NOURISH MY PEOPLE.

How do we reverse the trends that threatens the spiritual lives of so many? Invite them to breakfast…AFTER MASS! Host a dinner party…FOLLOWING EUCHARIST. And begin small. Make it a “family affair” because there aren’t many families who can boast that they haven’t made a substantial contribution to the downward trends.

Today’s Gospel is a call to evangelize. Moreover, Jesus wasn’t speaking just to Peter…or to the Apostles…or to priests and nuns and DREs and Youth Ministers. The Lord was speaking to ALL of the Baptized, in every generation. The message is crystal clear. IF YOU LOVE THE LORD THEN FEED HIS FLOCK.

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 28, 2019

Doubt is a force to reckon with. It has the power of a speeding bullet. Rather than directed at the heart, it is aimed at the mind. When it strikes, the damage is far more devastating than the bombs that shattered the joy and peace of Easter morning in Sri Lanka.

The first victim of doubt is the doubter himself. Like Thomas, doubt prevents doubters from opening themselves up to something too wonderful for them to wrap their minds around. And so we speak of “suffering doubt.” And suffer Thomas certainly did. But then there is very often extensive collateral damage. Doubt sends shock waves that impact people with whom the doubter comes into contact.

In today’s Gospel, we find Thomas suffering from the horror, grief, and even humiliation of Good Friday. He was heavily invested in Jesus. Like the other Apostles, Thomas committed his entire life to The Lord, and the return on this enormous investment was a new sense of meaning and purpose in life. He placed all of his hope in The Good News which Jesus proclaimed. It seemed that all was lost with Jesus’s Passion and death.

Thomas was blinded to the truth he had invested in wisely, and the returns were infinite. Jesus’s Passion and death left him deaf to The Easter message: HE IS RISEN! It was simply too much for him to work through, and so he reinvested what was left of his mind and heart into doubt.

Thomas has gone through history known as “Doubting Thomas” when it would be far more appropriate to refer to him as “Suffering Thomas.” Thankfully, his suffering was short lived and his doubt overpowered and crushed; all because he returned to the Upper Room and the community of believers.

The Book of Revelation is very often misinterpreted, but in these early verses we hear today, we might be given a glimpse of why Thomas’s doubt had no power over the rest of the community. Thomas found them together in the Upper Room, where they had celebrated The Last Supper. Just as they had SHARED the Passover celebration, they were continuing to SHARE their DISTRESS. But, because they were together, they were able to reinforce the vision of THE KINGDOM that was at the core of all that Jesus taught them. And so, together, in community, they were able to ENDURE. Moreover, they were immune from the doubt that Thomas brought to the Upper Room.

Better still, they offered the perfect environment…Christian community…for Thomas to shake off the doubt from which he suffered. His personal experience of the Risen Christ healed Thomas, and the Upper Room, in the company of the Christian Community, was the perfect place for this cure to happen.

So, how will the Christians of Sri Lanka survive the violence they suffered on Easter Sunday? Or, for that matter, how will any Christian resist the virus of doubt that flourishes in the secular culture in which we live? By continuing to join the Christian community in the Upper Room, SHARING EUCHARIST…SHARING ALL THAT CAUSES US DISTRESS…SHARING OUR VISION OF AND COMMITMENT TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Through the Eucharist, we will ENDURE.

Easter Sunday
JN 20:1-9
April 21, 2019

I’ve never had the experience of witnessing the birth of a child. But, as a Catholic priest, I have been privileged to join families at the deathbed of a loved one on a number of occasions, most recently, on Thursday, April 5. Only this time, I was not standing there as the parish priest, but as the first-born child.

Midmorning, Joan, the hospice caregiver who had become such an important part of my mother’s life and preparation for death, came rushing out of the room where she was tending to Mom. She told me that there was “a change,” and that I better hurry.

I went into the room and immediately saw “the change.” I took Mom’s hand and began to “coach her into Eternity.” I hadn’t prepared anything for the moment. But, of course, I used the words I’ve spoken before to parishioners…spiritual words…prayerful words…words of hope. But this was much different. This was my Mom who was dying. It was very personal to me.

As she struggled to breathe, I heard myself saying: “That’s right, Mom…get it all out!”

Breathe out the worries, cares, concerns.

Good Mom…Now another….you’re doing great!

Breathe out your grief at the loss of Dad…and Grampa and Grama…and Uncle Jerry! Breathe out the pain and suffering and humiliation that has come with old age. Breathe out doubts and fears.

Breathe out time, Mom…and breathe in Eternity…breathe out time and breathe in Christ!

She responded. I know she did. I could hear and see her trying to push her earthly life out…and give up her spirit to her Creator…to empty herself completely, so that she could be born into Eternity.

That was a good one Mom…now another!

I didn’t count the times she followed my command in her efforts to exhale the last of her earthly life. I have no idea of how long I stood, bent over her, holding her hand and coaching her. I do recall, however, in fact, vividly, that the last breath was deep, powerful, almost determined, the last breath of a Christian wife and mother, confident of The Lord’s promise of everlasting life for those who believe.

After that, there was no cry of a newborn, or sounding of a trumpet, or fragrant smell. But there was an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. Deep down, I felt that this wasn’t an ending…but just the start of something wonderful that will never end.

I turned to Joan, who was standing respectfully at a distance, like I try to do when I’m a minister and not a son. We didn’t speak to one another, but the look on her face reassured me that the room was filled with Easter joy. And then, like Joseph of Arimathea, Joan began the work of respectfully caring for Mom’s earthly body, confident that her friend was now recreated.

I’ve never been at the birth of a baby, but I was the “midwife” that coached my mother into her new life in The Kingdom. That honor has left me with a deeper sense of what we celebrate today. Resurrection!

Theologians struggle to define it in words. The faithful try their best to understand what it means to be raised from the dead. Philosophers and scientists argue against it. But we are here to celebrate it. We are here because we believe that at the hour of our own death…The Risen Christ will be there to coach us into The Glory of God.

And while we wait…breathe! Breathe in the grace that comes from our Sacraments, confident that by His death and Resurrection, Christ has set us free.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
LK 22:14—23:56
April 14, 2019

Even though it has the potential to impact global financial security, I haven’t learned much more about BREXIT other than what I’ve read in headline news.

After a rather spirited campaign, the people of Great Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union. The very next morning, there were widespread reports of what was being labeled “buyer’s remorse.” Energized by a spirit of nationalism and patriotism, BREXIT prevailed, the voters apparently not having given much thought to the consequences. The months that have followed seem to clearly demonstrate that not even their leaders, who rallied the forces in favor of BREXIT, had really worked out what was to come next. I don’t know much more about Brexit than that. But what I do know leaves me thinking that the British people acted very impulsively.

Psychologists identify five “behavioral stages” which characterize impulsivity. There is an impulse which leads people to consider a certain course of action. Thereafter comes what is called a “growing tension.” Should I or shouldn’t I? Then a sense of pleasure from actually doing whatever the impulse is leading you towards sets in. Next comes a feeling of relief from having made a decision and acted. Finally, for some people anyway, the process ends with a sense of guilt; in other words, impulsive behavior very often leads to “buyer’s remorse.”

It seems like this pattern of human behavior applies to the BREXIT crisis. Possibly, it might also explain how the people of Jerusalem could move so quickly from shouting “HOSANNAH!” on Sunday, only to drop their palms and raise their fists and voices on Friday…shouting out “CRUCIFY HIM!”

It was an evil impulse on the part of those most challenged by Jesus’s message of justice, peace, and love…an overpowering impulse to silence Him once and for all. They began a campaign to influence the people who were actually in most need of The Good News. There had to have been a great tension between what those poor, marginalized, and hungry folks had seen and heard as they followed The Lord, and what the dark forces were telling them. It is hard to imagine, but somehow the memory of the miracles, and the comfort and hope that they felt through His teaching and preaching were pushed to the back of their minds and hearts. Sin won the day, and what had been a welcoming crowd of followers changed quickly into a bloodthirsty mob.

They experienced a wave of pleasure as Pilate freed the mobster Barabbas and bound Jesus over to the soldiers to begin His death march through their city. Maybe they felt relief once He was out the city gates and fastened securely to The Cross up on the rocky hill…an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing. But, in truth, they couldn’t get Jesus totally out of their minds. He IS The Eternal Word of our Living God, and every human being is born into time with a whisper of His promise of Eternal life. It’s that whisper…that promise …that no human being can ever totally escape no matter how loud and convincing the dark voices become.

And after the heavens opened…and the earth quaked…and the dead roamed the city…and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. After all these signs…they felt guilt. At least some of them felt guilt…all because of the inability to control an impulse.

But here is the remarkable thing…THE IMPULSE that caused salvation history to move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday was not bad human behavior. It was the Divine impulse that all should be saved. God’s impulsive behavior, the Divine impulse to forgive, to heal, to re-create, to raise up…THAT’s what was at work in all of this. It was our Creator’s impulse that ensures that every Good Friday gives way to Easter Glory! And there is no buyer’s remorse.

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