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 in Ordinary Time
JN 1:29-34
January 15, 2016

The calendar doesn’t always cooperate with the telling of The Story of Salvation. We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany this past Sunday, and so our Gospel Readings during the Christmas Season were proclaimed in chronological order. That’s a good thing.

But this year, we missed the opportunity to celebrate the Feast of The Baptism of the Lord together at a Sunday liturgy. That’s not a good thing. It is an extremely important chapter in The Story of Salvation. Church historians tell us that the dramatic events in the Jordan River reported by Mark, Matthew, and Luke were considered by early Christians to be more significant than Christmas.

Certainly, Jesus submitting to baptism by John marked the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. But, possibly of even greater significance is the fact that the heavenly Voice and the descent of the Dove served to identify Jesus as the Messiah. And so, in those parishes which even offered Mass this past Monday, we marked a “Feast of Light” with only the small gathering of weekday faithful. The majority of the Church missed the opportunity to rejoice in this great Feast of Light! That’s not a good thing.

However, we embark on this period of Ordinary Time, which links the Christmas Season with Lent, proclaiming John 1:29-34. That’s a good thing, because, although John does not offer the same kind of “real-time” description which the other three Gospels present, the key elements of recognition and introduction are there. This offers us a second chance to celebrate this Feast of Light on this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

We live in a period of history riddled with “false news,” “hacking into personal information,” and “identity theft.” That’s not a good thing! These are methods employed by dark forces in order to mislead and deceive people. We fully comprehend the importance of credible testimony and concrete proof of identity. John’s testimony provides that. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist reaffirms what was seen and heard on the banks of the Jordan. This is the Good News! And there is nothing false about it. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Jesus is the Son of God.

Now it is our turn!

There is no need to “hack into Christ!” Through Baptism, the Lord has opened His life to us. He has freely shared His identity with us. That’s a good thing! Now, He asks that we share what we have been given. We are called to continue John’s work. Strangers to Christ should be able to recognize Him in the way we lead our lives. Those who do not know the Lord can be introduced to Him by what we say and by what we do and don’t do.

Everyone Baptized in Christ somehow authors a chapter in Salvation history. Some chapters are very short, maybe only a few lines…others are very lengthy. That’s a good thing!

During Advent, we “prepared.” During Christmas, we “celebrated.” Now it is Ordinary Time, and we “live it!”

Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 8, 2017

I did something this week that I have never done before. I woke up from a very disturbing dream, ran right past the coffee pot, skipped morning prayer, sat down at the computer, and began to write it down while it was still fresh. I will spare you all the gory details and simply tell you that I was asked at the last minute to “substitute” for the pastor of a great cathedral in a large city far from home. In my dream, I was extremely nervous to the point that I was tempted to decline. But it seemed there was no choice; I had to go. So, I began to work feverishly on the homily that I would deliver during the liturgy. Although I wasn’t totally satisfied, as I rushed…of all things…catch a bus to travel the long distance to this great cathedral, I had an idea of how to “break open God’s Word” for the faithful who would be gathered for this very solemn event.

The entire trip, I continued to work on the homily, struggling to concentrate. When I got off the bus and walked into the enormous, poorly lit, shadowy stone church, I encountered total chaos. There were hundreds of choir members, and, rather than rehearsing, they were arguing about the music choices. Very scary! In my dream, there was an entire symphony orchestra, clearly not prepared to play for Sacred Liturgy. I tried to motivate them but wasn’t successful. Florists were scurrying around with potted plants, trying to prepare a beautiful environment, but it was still a big, dark, stone building.

Overwhelmed by the total lack of organization, the nerves I felt early on in the nightmare escalated into sheer panic. I struggled to wake up. But I just kept dreaming. The most agonizing part of the bad dream was that there was so much confusion and chaos, I couldn’t concentrate on the message I hoped to deliver.

Then I heard the opening hymn. With a sense of urgency, I searched for a private place to change into my clerical clothes and vestments. I opened my suitcase, and a shock went through my entire body…it was empty! Somehow, I had neglected to pack any of the trappings of priesthood. Now, you would think this would be the moment that I woke up SCREAMING. I didn’t. The dream held on to me. Alone, I walked out into the brightly lit sanctuary, wearing flip-flops, cut offs, and an old golf shirt. I looked like the gardener, not the presider. There was a communal gasp!

The gasp turned to angry grumbling and cat calls. Many of the well dressed, elegant people simply got up and left. I still could not break free from the dream. In my dream, I actually began the Mass. Things became quiet, and someplace in my subconscious, the terror of the nightmare began to recede and I started to calm down. I was no longer willing myself to wake up. My dream carried me to the ambo, where I began to proclaim a passage from Matthew’s Gospel: I give praise to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, You have revealed them to the child-like.

With that, I woke up!

I didn’t wake screaming. I woke up smiling and with a sense of peace and joy…even excitement. I think maybe I dreamed my own special “epiphany.” I don’t want to play Sigmund Freud and interpret my bad dream/good dream, but I suspect that throughout Advent and Christmas, I have been so focused in prayer, reflection, and homily preparation on the mystery of the Incarnation, that the Sacred Mystery filled my mind and was absorbed into my dream. The result, as the Season comes to its conclusion, was my own special “manifestation” of what God has done for us through the birth of Jesus Christ.

God called upon Jesus to bring the Eternal Word into the world; a message of Peace, Joy and Love! Jesus could not decline. But, upon entering time, He found the world to be a place of unimaginable confusion and chaos, so much so that The Lord’s mission was constantly being challenged, even threatened. Jesus had to struggle to stay focused on what He was about and the message He was to deliver. Making matters even more complicated, the Messiah arrived, looking nothing like what was expected.

The “wise and learned” that surrounded the evil Herod were anticipating the arrival of an earthly emperor. Misguided by the image of Caesar, they were looking for a military leader who claimed to be divine, who, ruling with absolute power, would make Israel great again.

The Magi, also “wise and learned,” came at the mystery of the Incarnation from a different direction. Unaffected by the attempted influence of Herod or the worldly expectations of what the Messiah would look like, they followed the star with open minds and open hearts. Their “child-like innocence” protected them as they embarked on their search. Their wisdom and goodness enabled them to recognize The Christ child, lying in the straw-lined manger, for Who He was…The Son Who is given to us…Wonder –Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace…Whose dominion is vast and forever peaceful. Prepared with appropriate gifts, they laid the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the side and offered something far more appropriate. They humbled themselves before The King of Kings!

And they felt radiant at what they saw…their hearts throbbing and overflowing, filled with peace, joy, love, and excitement. They returned home “a different way.” They returned home with a new dream! They left their encounter with the Christ-child filled with a dream of how all people from all nations can live together in peace, joy, and love, confident that their Christ-dreams can be reality to those who strive to live with child-like hearts.

Pleasant dreams to you! May each of you experience a personal epiphany!

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
LK 2:16-21
January 1, 2017

I was talking with a parent who has concerns about the direction the life of an adult child is taking. After listening to the details, I could well appreciate why my friend was so distressed. I commented that “parenting” is definitely the most challenging vocation to live out. My friend nodded and replied: A parent can only be as happy as their unhappiest child…and so I’m pretty unhappy right now.

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, celebrated just seven days after the joyful feast of The Nativity of the Lord, seems to be the perfect way to keep up the thrill and excitement of the season. For example, there is a choice between two antiphons to begin the Mass.

Hail, Holy Mother, who gave birth to the King,
Who rules heaven and earth forever.

Or:

Today a light will shine upon us, for
The Lord is born for us; and He will be called
Wondrous God, Prince of peace,
Father of future ages: and His reign will be
without end.

Either is entirely fitting to this Season of joy and hope. Through the extraordinary cooperation of Mary, and with the critical support of Joseph, God’s promise of old was fulfilled. Our Savior came into the world. While the secular world continues “the party” Christians rightly hold on to the sense of triumph, knowing that God’s Eternal Word has taken flesh to walk among us. The victory over darkness and sin is something we want to savor. And we do by gathering again, in honor of the Blessed Mother, singing the same songs, continuing to enjoy the poinsettias and beautifully decorated trees. We might even linger in church for a few moments, and do what the Shepherds and Magi did; pay homage the Christ child lying in a bed of straw.

Standing before the crèche, our eyes might wander up to the serene look on the face of the statue of the young woman. But I wonder if that look of wonder and awe that artists strive for in paintings and statues might mask The Blessed Mother’s deepest feelings. When Mary is mentioned in the Gospels, our attention is not directed to the expression on her face. Rather, we are drawn to her heart.

As we celebrate The Blessed Mother today, we most certainly remember the cosmic impact of her willing acceptance of God invitation. But at the same time, we should make an effort to gaze into her heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was the living vault into which she carefully secured every detail about the life and mission of The Messiah. From the moment the Angel visited her, to that morning when she stood gazing up into the heavens as her Divine Son, returned to where He had come from, her heart was constantly flooded with an entire range of emotions.

The first words spoken by the angel were: “Do not be afraid Mary!” Still, many occasions followed that unexpected visit when she must have been absolutely terrified. She had to disclose her pregnancy to her intended. They had to travel to a little village far from home and family as her time drew near to deliver the Christ child. And then, in utter terror at the bloody rampage of the murderous King Herod, they fled for their lives to Egypt. After re-settling in Nazareth, she endured the horror of being separated from Jesus, Who had remained behind in the Temple after a family pilgrimage to the Holy City. Years latter, she stood by and looked on as their entire village turned on her Son, driving Him out and threatening to push Him over a cliff. She must have been continually looking over her shoulder each and every time Jesus was confronted and challenged by religious leaders, too vein and foolish to comprehend that they were debating and challenging God’s Son. Still, nothing could compare to the raw emotions that tore her heart apart as she followed Jesus to Calvary on Good Friday.

All of this misery was stored within her heart, mingled with and tempered by the pride of watching Him grow in strength and wisdom. Her heart must have burst with joy as she looked on as He miraculously fed a famished crowd…nourishing their bodies with bread and fish, and their spirits with The Good News! There is no word to capture what The Blessed Mother felt when she first looked upon the Risen Christ.

As a loving parent, Mary could only be as happy as Her Divine Son, when He was unhappy…and there were times when the Lord was definitely unhappy. Repeatedly, He was moved with compassion and pity as he encountered the sick and suffering. He wept with those grieving the loss of a loved one. He was saddened by the cruel and unforgiving way people treat one another. He was outraged by the manner in which His Father’s House was used as a place of business. Mary felt all of this pain and took it into her heart.

But at the same time, as a good and loving parent, Mary’s heart was overflowing with the joy that Jesus experienced by walking this earth and encountering us…God’s most excellent creatures. Because in spite of our failings, we do bring God great joy.

All of this is what we celebrate, when we set aside a day of the Christmas Season to honor the Blessed Mother; her Immaculate Heart a tapestry of sorrow, joy and glory.

We live in very troubled times. As we begin this new year, it’s very important that we keep all of these things we know about the Blessed Mother in our hearts. As we await the joys we hope for, and weather the unavoidable sorrows that the next 365 days will bring, we will find comfort in the angelic message that sustained Mary: Do not be afraid…you have found favor with God.

Happy New Year!

The Nativity Of The Lord
MT 1:1-25
December 25, 2016

Most people have a very special “Christmas memory” from years gone by. Maybe we treasure the year we were snowed in and had no choice but to enjoy a simple celebration at home with our family. For some, there is the memory of foregoing gift exchange, and, instead, traveling to Hawaii for a family Christmas vacation. Floating in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Day is certainly a memory to hold onto! There are very often engagement rings unwrapped by the light of the Christmas tree; a moment not to be forgotten by the giver or the receiver.

While I have many special Christmas memories, a lot of them from my parish ministry, there is one that I think has enlightened all of the others. My memory is not of something that happened on December 24/25. In fact, my special Christmas memory tracks back to a hot summer evening. It is not something that happened with family, or in church, or as part of my ministry. Still, it is at the top of the list of my best memories.

In hopes of beating the heat, a friend and I decided to go to a “Christmas in July” offering at a local planetarium. We weren’t certain what to expect. We were simply hoping for an hour or two in free air-conditioning. From the moment we entered the small, round room with the high-domed ceiling, we knew we had made a good choice. It was actually chilly; and, it was a bit like being in church. Everyone gathered for the presentation sat quietly or were whispering to the people around them in hushed tones.

At the appointed time, a man with a “professorial air” about him came in and explained that he was going to display the night sky above our heads, and with the help of the star-making machine in the center of the room, and, of course, relying on science, replicate the night sky that hovered above Bethlehem on a winter’s night about 2000 years ago. With that, he plunged us into total darkness.

After our eyes were somewhat adjusted, we heard the “whir” of the star-making machine. In an instant, the dome of the small, round room was transformed into a brilliant, clear night sky. The professor of astronomy then began to orient us by using a laser pointer to indicate this planet and that galaxy. Once, we had a sense of the fact that, through science and technology, he had transported us to another time and place.

He began to explain the phenomena of what we Christians know as the Christmas star…the star that the three Magi saw rising in the East…the star that guided them to the place where they encountered Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus in Mary’s arms. The lecture was certainly not religious, but neither was the professor critical of what is reported in the Gospels. He simply described how astronomy was able to confirm that a celestial event occurred at a specific time and place. Through the technology of a planetarium, he was able to replicate the experience for us on a sweltering July evening.

Sitting in a comfortable chair in a cool, dark room, looking up into the replication of a long ago night sky was, for me, a very special Christmas memory. It made me feel like I was there. It helped me enter more deeply into the sacred mystery of how all creation responds to God’s will and helps to make God’s plans reality. That lecture in astronomy was as enlightening, possibly even more so, than a theology lecture. Watching a brilliant globe of dazzling light rise in the east and make its way across the night sky was a profound and very moving experience.

The “whir” of the star machine faded into the background. What I was hearing, not with my ears but with my heart, was the heavenly choir singing Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests! I could smell farm animals and straw; obviously not with my nose, but through the power of creative religious imagination. I became less interested in the scientific explanation and simply enjoyed the spiritual experience of being there…in Bethlehem…under the magnificent light of the Christmas Star that shone in a dark, cool, round room. That summer night, I truly paid homage to the child born to the Virgin named Mary!

The take-away from that very special “Christmas in July” memory?

Being snowbound with loved ones can be very joyful. But, we are always time-bound with all of humanity that lives on this small little planet Earth with us. And while we share time…we should strive every day of the year to share as well the message the shepherds were privileged to hear: Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people. A savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord!

Beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters are certainly something to enjoy. But the heavens are telling the glory of God, and all of creation is shouting for joy! Nature is one of God’s ways of revealing Divine power and the loving care our Creator offers each of us. The entire universe is constantly proclaiming God’s love; all the time moving towards that day when Christ’s glory will, once again, fill the dark sky. We, in turn, must care for this great gift…the gift that proclaims the wonder and glory of God!

The giving and receiving of gifts is the thing that special Christmas memories are made of…especially engagement rings. But, on that Holy Night in Bethlehem…God made a proposal to all people of all ages…I will be your God if you will be my people! God has been unfailing in His commitment to this relationship; we should strive to be, as well, and not just on Christmas.

May God grant you a very special Christmas memory each and every day of the coming year, together with the wisdom to accept, treasure, and share the experience.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
MT 1:18-24
December 18, 2016

I celebrated a birthday last Sunday. It wasn’t a big one…but close…very, very close to a BIG one. Ironically, the day before, my favorite news source decided to make a big deal over the fact that the life expectancy in the U.S. had dropped for the first time in many years. Granted, it was just a fraction of a year. Still, it is moving in the wrong direction.

So I noticed that over the following day or two, I spent some extended time mirror gazing. I thought back over family history, taking some comfort in the fact that Mom is almost 92… stressing a bit about an uncle who died at 62. I even took my blood pressure. None of these things were bad in and of themselves. But as I began my reflection on the Readings for this final Sunday in Advent, it occurred to me that I had been hunting “for signs”. We all do it…look for signs…and then try to interpret them.

Our First Reading introduces a person who stands out …not only because he is not out looking for signs…but actually brushes aside God’s offer to guide him. He seems to think it will cause God too much trouble. Or, that it makes God mad to be constantly bombarded with requests of “signs”. Scripture scholars, however, debate his real motives. Some think Ahaz preferred not do things his own way rather than enjoying directions from above. This passage is especially fitting to our final week of Advent because, in spite of Ahaz’s attitude, and no matter what his motivate might have been, God described a sign that would be timeless… guiding, consoling and bringing peace and hope to those wise enough to notice.

The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel!

The thing about signs is this. We might well be on the lookout for them, but more often than not, pass them right by. All too often we are blind to them. Or, we do not properly read them. It’s not unusual to willfully ignore signs, or deny the warning they bring. Yellow lights, blood sugar levels, credit card balances, uncommunicative teenagers… the list goes on and on of signs that go unheeded. Eventually, however, whether or not we are wise enough to read and react to them, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the prediction of an authentic sign becomes reality.

And so it was with “The Sign” God sent through Isaiah. A child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, to a Virgin who has been pre-sanctified, so as to be a worthy tabernacle for The Eternal Word Who was to take flesh and walk among us. As the story of salvation unfolded, most were oblivious. Some in a murderous rage tried to prevent the prophecy from becoming reality. Others could not bring themselves to believe or to understand. A few responded to the signs that took different forms: a dream, a choir of angelic voices, a star rising in the east.

And so something began in a cave in Bethlehem which continues to reveal God’s plan to us to this present day. The only thing that has changed is that WE ARE THE SIGNS that Christ our Savior is born. We have been given “a dream” of a world of peace, justice and love. But it doesn’t come to us in our sleep. Rather it is intended to be lived out through us, during our waking hours, so that others can share the Good News!

There is still a choir singing…but those voices are not angelic. We are the voices that sing of the truth that God’s promise has been fulfilled with the birth of the Christ Child. And even as we sing GLORIA! we also sing… SOON AND VERY SOON WE ARE GOING TO SEE THE KING. We sing of that day when the Risen Christ will return in glory.

We don’t follow a star. We follow the Light of Christ, and we carry that Light with us into a darkness that is defeated each and every time we forgive someone…help someone in need…welcome the stranger in our midst…heal someone who is suffering or share the hope that have been placed within our hearts through the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s most perfect sign and assurance that every story has a happy ending!

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