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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Trinity Sunday
JN 16:12-15
May 22, 2016

Every fireworks display ends with a grand finale. In one way, it’s disappointing to know that the sky will soon go dark. No more beautiful, sparkling, colored jewels lighting the night. On the other hand, the grand finale offers a series of spectacular skyrockets so amazing that the squeal of delight from the crowd almost drowns out the loud booms as the rockets explode.

This is an image that might help you appreciate how the Church brings the Easter season to a close. After weeks of celebrating Christ’s Resurrection, the grand finale begins with Pentecost Sunday followed by Trinity Sunday…and finally, next week, before turning back to Ordinary Time, we celebrate Corpus Christi. This is truly a spectacular way to bring the celebration of our hope for eternal life to a close.

The New Testament makes it easier for us to understand how Jesus’s promise not to leave us orphaned was fulfilled on Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11) describes this spectacular event in salvation history. A forceful wind, tongues of fire, a dramatic change in behavior manifested in the fearless behavior of the Apostles and disciples in the miracle of speech wherein The Good News was simultaneously translated into a language which all who heard understood and accepted with great joy. The vivid description of these historic events helps to put us in touch with our own personal experience and relationship with The Holy Spirit. In fact, the grand finale of the Easter Season begins with remembering and celebrating something that occurred in the past…a bit like a “birthday.”

Today’s celebration is far more difficult to wrap our minds around. Trinity Sunday is not about an event that occurred in the past…within human history. There are no eyewitness descriptions of how our One God is Three Divine Persons…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a sacred and infinite mystery that is beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend. So, we search for concrete images in order to delve deeper into The Three Persons identified in today’s Gospel (John 16:12-15). St. Patrick used the familiar shamrock to acquaint the Irish with the unfamiliar Blessed Trinity. St. Hildegard of Bingen spoke of the light, heat, and power of a flame to explain how three can be one. But these are just word pictures, and, although useful, at best, provide only a superficial explanation of the Divine existence.

Perhaps in these times of “multitasking,” real life experience might give us a deeper sense of what we celebrate today. What better experience of “trinity of persons” is there than a working mom? Leaving her own bed in the middle of the night to comfort a crying child…she is pure mother…and her child sees her as that and only that. Hours later, at her workplace, dealing with and focused on whatever challenges her day brings, she is absorbed by her job…and her coworkers see her and relate to her in terms of her function. Then, at the end of a busy day, when they are finally able to enjoy a quiet moment together…she is a loving spouse.

While we all “multitask” to the point of having multiple dimensions to our lives, moms might experience the reality of The Blessed Trinity in a special way because all they do is motived by love. It is love that enables them to “live three.” And so it is with God.

The Creator calls us into existence and holds us in existence out of love. We, the coworkers of The Son, look to Jesus to teach us the work of healing, forgiving, exercising, calming storms, nourishing, sharing, teaching, and proclaiming the Kingdom. It is the Holy Spirit whom dwells among and within us…inviting us to join in the perfect harmony of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Simply put, God multitasks!

As we look up into the dark unknown today, and see the wonder and beauty of the Holy Trinity burst open before our eyes like a brilliant skyrocket…the shouts of delight from the Church should drown out the loud noise of the world. The image of the fireworks display, however, is pathetically superficial. A skyrocket lasts for mere seconds. The beauty and wonder of our good and loving and “multitasking” God…is eternal. There is no finale to God!

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
May 15, 2016

One of my early memories…or possibly best learned and most used lessons from my early elementary years in Catholic school, was how very important Pentecost is. If the Holy Spirit had not rained down from heaven…well…possibly the easiest thing to do is use Jesus’s image: We would be left orphaned. We would be on our own…left to our own devices…street children, the target of every kind of evil. But the Holy Spirit did come, just as Jesus promised.

Bishop Ken Untener must have enjoyed the same “take-away” from his years in Catholic schools, because Pentecost truly was very important to him. In a conversation at the outset of my first assignment as a pastor, Ken asked if I had ever heard of the ancient tradition of Pentecost Novena…nine days of prayer in preparation for the Feast. Actually, I had not. He talked briefly about it, and, true to his gentle style, did not direct, order, or command, but rather, “wondered” if it would be a good thing to call an entire parish to prayer for nine days prior to Pentecost. So I did that.

As often happens in parish life, the first year was met with lukewarm response. But the word did spread, and, by the end of the nine days, there was a very healthy group of people praying for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The second year, the church was close to capacity almost every single evening. Looking back, I think that people came to appreciate that this is truly a very special time of year…an especially holy time. I think they came to that realization because during those nine days, they were on “watch.” They were searching for signs that the Spirit was among them. They were not disappointed, and neither was I.

Many extraordinary things happened that very well may have happened anyway…but, because we were on “watch,” we were better able to appreciate that these mysterious happenings were of and from the Holy Spirit.

I often share the memory of a dear little lady who lived just on the outskirts of the small town in the Thumb parish, where we prayed the Pentecost Novena. She was the primary caregiver for her husband, who was confined to a hospital bed set up in the living room of their home. She was a devout Catholic and made special arrangements both the first and second year to have someone care for her husband, while someone else drove her to church for the prayer.

On the ninth evening, we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick as part of the Novena. She stepped forward to be anointed. As her daughter drove her home, she noticed that her mother was holding her hands out in a peculiar way, but didn’t think to ask why. When they got home, the lady walked immediately over to her husband’s bed, caressed his face with her hands, and “anointed” him with the Oil of the Sick that had remained glistening on her palms.

After saying a brief prayer over him, she said to her daughter: “I’m really tired and I’m going to bed. Before you leave, would you please find my red sweater and lay it out for me. I want to wear red to church on Pentecost Sunday.”

Sometime during that night, The Holy Spirit guided her out of time and into eternity. When the little town gathered for her funeral Mass, after placing the pall on the casket, we dressed her earthly body in her red sweater, as a symbol of her spiritual life.

Every year, I think about that dear little lady …and how the Holy Spirit honored her…for the way in which she honored the Spirit.

Another thing Bishop Untener taught me is that: “It is never too late!” While it’s true that we can’t pray a Novena to PREPARE for Pentecost, it’s never too late to honor the Spirit with nine days of prayer…asking for the gifts and the fruits which the Spirit is so eager to give.

I wonder…if you say the prayer that follows, and if you “keep watch,”… will you see some special…extraordinary…holy things…and understand from where they came?

I wonder…

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with love.

Grant me wisdom to know what is good and true;
Understanding to embrace your plan of salvation;
Right judgment to act according to your will;
Courage to share my faith in Jesus Christ with others; knowledge to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ; reverence to respond faithfully to your grace each day of my life; wonder and awe in your presence to enjoy your abiding love now and for all
eternity in heaven.

Inspire me with enthusiasm for my Catholic faith,
Grant me boldness to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,
and guide me in transforming my world through
the Divine power of the Gospel!

I make this prayer through Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, Savior and Lord.

(Contact Paulist National Evangelization Association for the complete Novena)

The Ascension of the Lord
LK 24:46-53
May 8, 2016

This past week, Pope Francis tweaked their consciences in a letter directed to the Bishops of South America. The Holy Father challenged the Church leaders of his “home continent” to reject “clericalism.” That is a term that many pew Catholics might not have heard before, but, unfortunately, may well have experienced. Simply put, “clericalism” is the attitude or belief that the ordained, by virtue of Holy Orders, are a “cut above” lay people in the sense that they are closer to, or know more about, our God.

In his message, the Holy Father echoed Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which The Lord both dramatized and emphasized, by humbling Himself and washing the feet of those gathered at the table. Francis has made the same dramatic gesture each Holy Thursday since he has become the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Each year, he has begun the Triduum by humbling himself and washing the feet of people who might, too many, seem “unworthy.” Through this gesture, Francis not only obeys Jesus’s command, but emphasizes his own belief that pastors and Church leaders should be, first and foremost, the servants of God’s people.
It seems that he has chosen an especially appropriate time of year to raise this issue, which warrants consideration by the baptized worldwide, not just the Church leaders of South America. As we come to the end of this Easter Season and prepare to celebrate The Lord’s Ascension followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, our Readings stress that Jesus’s work here did not end with His return to heaven; quite the contrary. By returning to the Father, the Son has made room for all of us to get involved. For that reason, The Holy Spirit was sent to dwell among us, investing certain gifts within each of us, so that we might put these talents and abilities to good use.

For this reason, Pope Francis spoke of the need for Bishops and priests to put to full use the great treasury of talents and abilities that rest within the Catholic Christian laity, and he cautions us that to disregard the graces of the Holy Spirit bestowed on each Christian at Baptism is to do a great disservice to The Church…The Body of Christ.

While it is the Holy Father who asks the ordained to humbly open themselves to the gifts that are lodged with the non-ordained, it is Scripture which teaches the laity that they have both a right and a duty to respond to the needs of the people of God in a way in which each individual is specially equipped through the gifts of the Spirit. This requires all of the baptized, first and foremost, to respond to the call to service after discerning how they can most effectively serve. In addition, like the ordained, the laity must humble themselves by acknowledging personal limitations and submitting respectfully to the shepherds entrusted with the overall care and protection of the flock.

The world does not know God…searching desperately to find something to believe in, but repeatedly falling into idolatry by elevating and worshipping things that, in the end, fail them. We know God because Jesus has revealed Perfect Love to us. Through our Baptisms, that Perfect Love has come to dwell in us. “As one,” lay and ordained…we are now called to pass on to the rest of the world what has been given to us…so that when Christ returns in glory…there will be a loving people, anxious to greet Him. Then God’s love will be brought to perfection, and “all will be all.”

Last week, after reading the Pope’s remarks mentioned above and reflecting on this Sunday’s Readings, I had three occasions to see words take life. Friday evening, two elders of our Church were recognized by our Diocese for their contributions to their respective parishes; one giving 50 years of service as a catechist, the other through her work in multiple outreach programs. Saturday morning, I was privileged to preside at the funeral Mass for a woman who moved from the classroom of a Catholic school to become the principal at a time when the religious women who worked so hard to establish a Catholic educational system began to fade from the scene. Sunday, I attended the wake service for a theologian, spiritual director, and leader of her religious congregation held at the motherhouse.

Together, these four lives represented almost 400 years of service and discipleship. These celebrations of Christian Baptism lived out in such a brilliant way…to its fullest…were occasions of great joy.

On the other hand, they also raised the concern…who will replace them?

Could it be you?

Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:23-29
May 1, 2016

While I was living in Israel, it didn’t take long to adjust to greeting and taking leave of people with the same simple, beautiful, almost poetic word: Shalom!


Try it.

It’s a little like exhaling. Lifegiving breath comes out of a person when they speak that gift…Shalom…to another. And gift it is. The literal translation is “peace.” What a very thoughtful gift. I often wondered, however, if a shopkeeper, bus driver, waiter, or passing stranger actually stopped to think that when speaking that word…Shalom…they were giving a gift…the gift of their lifegiving breath…and the hope that the recipient of the greeting enjoys a peaceful encounter with the giver and a peaceful day after parting. It seems to roll off the lips of folks so easily and casually that, by some, it might have been de-valued to the level of Hi! Bye! Morning! Nite! – low-energy ways we verbally punctuate our encounters with other people…small, colorless words that do not require “an exhale.” No lifegiving breath is necessary to say: “Nice Day!” No gift is given. No hope is inspired.

Fortunately, our God does not give as the world gives. For example, God greeted all creation with another Word that involves exhaling…Jesus! That Word took flesh. With that Divine exhale, God sent the world the gift of new hope that the just will enjoy everlasting life…and eternal Shalom!

But, even as God gives differently than we… with Divine intention…generously and purposefully…with a plan…we “receive” in an imperfect way. We do not always comprehend, appreciate, or even accept the priceless Gift of Shalom that The Father has breathed onto creation through The Son. Just this past week, for example, gunfire broke out at a high school prom in our country’s midwesttry, a Canadian hostage was brutally murdered in the overwhelmingly Catholic Philippines by fundamental extremists, and North Korea, once again, rejected Shalom! by firing a missile from a submarine. Where is Christ’s Peace in all of this?

And so, through the Gift of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that, ultimately, God is in control. God has a plan imaged in our Second Reading. At the appointed time, the Glory of God will dispel all darkness that makes a vain effort to disturb Shalom! Meanwhile, while we wait for the day of fulfillment of the Divine plan…the just need only keep free of those things which deceive the foolish into thinking that there is anyone, or anything greater than God.

So Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…Shalom!

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