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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Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 9:1-41
March 26, 2017

On this 4th Sunday of Lent, our Readings are filled with physical things that are brilliant communicators IF one takes the time to notice them…and listen to their message.

In the First Reading (Sam. 16), the Lord commands that David be anointed with oil. Oil was key to survival in the ancient world. It was back then, and continues to be today, extremely important in many different ways. Especially critical to the lives of our ancestors, it was an important source of nutrition, fueled lamps to provide light, was used as a medicine, and served to enhance one’s appearance. It’s remarkable how such an ordinary thing could be elevated to a place of extreme importance. How appropriate, then, for God to use oil to elevate an ordinary shepherd boy to king. Still, without water, there would be no oil.

Then, in the Gospel, John tells us how Jesus used spit…basically water…to make mud while giving sight to a man born blind. But this was no ordinary spittle. This came from the mouth of God. It was, in every way, like that which all human beings are capable of producing, except Jesus’s saliva was a transmitter of the Holy Spirit…the same Spirit that God used to call life into ordinary mud in the creation of humankind. The same Spirit that God breathed into the ordinary body of a young woman who became impregnated with The Eternal Word of God. The same Spirit that calls us to a new life in the waters of Baptism…and entitles us to share in the ministry of Christ…Priest, Prophet, and King, when we are anointed with Sacred Chrism in the Sacraments of Initiation.

As we begin the second part of our Lenten journey, we are reminded of how often in salvation history God has elevated the most ordinary of things so that they might serve as brilliant communicators of Divine Mercy and Love. But, in this passage of the Gospel, we are also reminded of how often we fail to see, understand, or appreciate what God puts right smack dab in front of us. Even the religious leaders of His time failed to recognize The Christ…because God placed Jesus before them in an ordinary human body.

Jesus’s decision to use mud made from the Living Water that came from the very mouth of God brings to mind the Creation of Adam and Eve. This healing miracle should, likewise, alert us to how our ordinary lives are elevated through our re-creation in Baptism. Through our Sacraments, God takes our extremely ordinary lives…sin and all…and elevates them so that we can be brilliant communicators of God’s abundant mercy and love.

The problem is…so few of us actually take the time to see just how extraordinarily important we are to God in the work of salvation. We have the power to nourish people with The Word of God. We are called to bring the Light of Christ into the darkest of lives. We are healers! And when we put on Christ through the Sacraments, there is nothing more that could enhance our appearance.

Third Sunday of Lent
JN 4:5-42
March 19, 2017

If you look at a map of the Middle East, it’s amazing to think that it took Israel 40 years of wandering through the Sinai Peninsula before making their way into the Promised Land. It’s a large land mass, but still…40 years? The Reading from Exodus 17 helps to give some insight. It wasn’t a matter of poor sense of direction. It was about needing to shake off the spiritual and emotional effects of being enslaved for so many generations. The time in the desert was akin to a “spiritual detox.” The experience of being enslaved dehumanized the people. They were looked upon and treated by the Egyptians as work horses. When people are denigrated for a long enough period of time, they lose their sense of self-worth and an appreciation for the value which God places upon each and every individual. In this passage, we find them still suffering from a slave mentality. When animals are hungry or thirsty, they cry out. And so, when thirst overpowered them, the people cried out, demanding satisfaction even if the cost might be their freedom. But God always hears the cry of the poor and the suffering and responded with a miracle. God called fresh water out of a dry rock.

In a way, this miraculous event in a barren desert foreshadows and points towards the Gospel passage for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. It’s likely that this was not a mere chance meeting. Jesus probably sent his traveling companions off for food because He anticipated the encounter and knew that they might try to prevent the woman from approaching, or would be scandalized by The Lord engaging a pagan woman in conversation, stepping up the intimacy by asking her for a cup of water.

Much like our Readings from last Sunday, we see that wonderful things happen when we encounter Jesus while we are alone in a deserted place. The Samaritan woman seems to have been suffering from a severe case of self-loathing. Her life was like a barren desert in which she was going round and round in circles, making the same mistakes over and over. Some theologians suggest that she was a victim of human trafficking, or she might simply have become enslaved to her own passions. Addictive behavior has the same impact as forced slavery…it robs its victims of freedom, dehumanizing them. It leaves them little better than animals.

Still, from this dry, hardened life, The Son did exactly for the people of the Samaritan town of Sychar what The Father did for the people in the desert. He struck the woman in her hardened heart, certainly not with a staff, but with loving and healing words. And then, life-giving water poured forth from her. She carried back to her village much more than buckets of water from the community well. She took back from her personal encounter with Jesus Christ the living water that Jesus offered her…and she shared it…and the people drank. This is not only a story of conversion, but also evangelization.

Second Sunday of Lent
MT 17:1-9
March 12, 2017

This past week, I was watching an “online” video about the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. At one point, the lecturer used a word that I had actually filed with other infrequently used expressions in my theological vocabulary. The word “typology” is almost self-defining. It is “the study of types.” It is a tool used in many of the sciences. For example, archaeologists will group artifacts according to certain characteristics. Anthropologists separate humankind into cultures, usually identified by race. In linguistics, languages are categorized by structural features.

However, for academics, especially Scripture scholars, the word “typology” usually brings to mind the fact that there are persons and things used by God in the Old Testament that foreshadow a person, event, or thing in the New Testament. In other words, the Old Testament frequently points forward to the New. For this reason, it is important that we read the Old in light of the New and the New in light of the Old.

The perfect example of “typology” is to be found in the Readings for this Second Sunday in Lent. The Liturgy of the Word opens with Genesis 12:1-4. God directs Abram to leave all that is familiar…home, family, land, work…and having completely separated himself from all distractions, to look into himself to enjoy an encounter with God. It took courage for Abram to follow through, but his obedience was greatly rewarded. This episode in Salvation history foreshadows Jesus separating Peter, James, and John from the other Apostles and disciples, leading them up a high mountain. And, having risen, about the demands and distractions of day-to-day living, Jesus looked inward. The Lord called forth His Divine Nature that was concealed by His human nature. Even his clothing responded to this cosmic event, becoming “white as light.”

When we read “The Old” in light of “The New,” we are able to see that the directive that the Father issued to Abram points forward in time to Jesus’s invitation to the privileged three. Placing these passages side by side helps us better understand both. By categorizing what is often referred to as “The Call of Abraham” with “The Transfiguration of the Lord,” we are better able to understand the purpose of both. Simply put, when we rise above the demands and temptations of this world and enter into prayer and reflection, we can call forth from within us some special message that God has placed there. And for our efforts, we will be changed and much blessed.

The life-changing experience of Abram and the Transfiguration of Jesus both point forward to today…to us…to this Lenten Season. These 40 days are a time when we are called, like Abram, to leave all distractions behind and to indulge ourselves with at least a little solitude, so that we can look inward and discover the wonderful things God has placed there. Lent can be a hike up a high mountain…making the journey with other followers of the Lord. If we take the Gospel with us and simply sit and listen, we will hear wonderful things, things that give us the strength and courage to walk back down to our daily lives…changed…for the better! It all comes down to what type of person do you want to be?

First Sunday of Lent
MT 4:1-11
March 5, 2017

There is a BIG difference between “excuses” and “reasons.” For one thing, we can learn, improve, and make progress when we search for and finally discover the reason that something has happened…or hasn’t happened. Excuses usually do not carry the kind of information that leads to learning, improving, and progressing. They simply brush things away. Excuses often prevent progress.

Reasons, at least valid reasons, are based on fact. They are truth. And so, there is only one valid reason for anything. Since excuses are concocted, based on partial truths, if that, they can go on…and on…and on. Rather than searching for truth, the spinner of excuses looks for ways to avoid accountability, quite often attempting to deflect blame from oneself. When someone reaches for an excuse rather than a reason, they are thwarting the possibility of changing things for the better.

Not only are excuses inherently dishonest, but there is an element of immaturity about them. It takes maturity to choose accountability over denial and avoidance. Moreover, the childlike tendency to excuse things away means that the same mistakes will be repeated over and over and over again.

And there we have the essence of ORIGINAL SIN!

In their immaturity, BOTH of the disobedient first parents turned to excuses rather than valid reasons when responding to God. We often refer to the ORIGINAL SIN as “the fall from grace.” I wonder if things might have been different had they given mature, honest, and candid reasons for their cosmic mistake? Had they simply said: God, I was greedy, arrogant, ambitious, foolish, and weak….and I am so sorry…well, then, we might be talking about a “slip” and not a “fall.” Because of that fatal day in the Garden, all humanity suffers from the same spiritual and emotional immaturity that makes excuses seem preferable to candid reasons. As a result, we continue to fall rather than walk in righteousness before God. Fortunately, because of Jesus, after a fall, contrition, forgiveness, and grace enable us to get back up and start moving again.

With the greatest of purpose, The Holy Spirit led Jesus from the waters of Baptism directly into the desert. Faced with the same kinds of false and deceptive promises as the first parents: SATISFACTION…MATERIAL THINGS…POWER…Jesus proved, once and for all, that TRUTH always prevails. And so, on this First Sunday of Lent, we might consider refreshing ourselves at the Baptismal font of our parish church, and then walking with confidence directly into the desert to face off against those things about us that make us less than God created us to be. If we want to “give up” something truly meaningful this Lent, why not try giving up “excuses.”

In Baptism, we have been given the graces we need to overpower the effects of the original sin. While we might very well stumble, there is no need for us to “fall from grace.” But the first temptation we need to resist is the tendency to make excuses! If we are to use this Lenten Season to learn, improve, and make progress, CHOOSE TRUTH!

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 6:24-34
February 26,2017

I haven’t seen the most recent movie directed by Martin Scorsese, “Silence.” It has been called his “masterpiece.” I haven’t wanted to see it because I am told that it is extremely violent. It offers a graphic depiction of Japanese Christians being tortured and even martyred. One film critic says of the movie: “Silence is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment, only a set of questions and proposition, sensations, and experiences. So, at least for right now, I’ll pass.

I did, however, read the book by Japanese author Shusaku Endo on which the movie is based. The story is inspired by historical fact, but relies on fictional characters. It is set in 17th century Japan during a period when the island nation isolated itself from European influences, especially Christianity. The story is about two young Jesuits who embark on a dangerous voyage from their homeland to Japan, their purpose being to locate an older Jesuit priest for whom they had enormous respect. Their mentor had risked his life by ignoring the prohibitions of the Japanese government, stealing into the country in hopes of converting the people to Catholicism. Somehow, word had gotten back to Europe that the elder priest had apostatized. It was rumored that he rejected Christ.

Their motive might well be one of the questions which lingers at story’s end. While it is inferred that they hoped to disprove the accusations and possibly rescue him, it could be argued that their purpose was confrontational. One thing is clear: During their search, they were determined to minister to those Catholic Japanese who they encountered, and they continued to evangelize as well.

The story is extremely complicated. If I ever do muster the courage to see the film, I will take this week’s Scripture passages with me. What the Church proclaims on this 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time might well help to answer lingering questions and enlighten those who are stymied by the complexity of the drama.

For example, as the story unfolds, we find one of the younger priests in desperate circumstances. His plight, as well as that of the Christian community he has grown to know, seems beyond hope. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, he is totally depleted. Unwavering in his commitment to his mission and ministry, he is unable to comprehend why God has not answered his prayers and somehow intervened. God’s apparent silence fuels within him feelings and emotions which echo the passage from Isaiah: “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”

Even the reader/viewer can’t avoid praying that God somehow steps in to offer relief from the unimaginable suffering. The thing is, the young priest seems to have expectations as to how God should respond. And so, he fails to hear God’s assurance: I will never forget you. Our Old Testament Reading reminds us that God is constantly mindful of every detail of our lives. God NEVER forgets or abandons us. We just need to be patient…and silent, so that we can hear what God is saying.

It seems that there are many similarities between the young priest and St. Paul, who, in our Second Reading, describes himself as a servant of Christ…a steward of the mysteries of God. They differ, however, in that Paul is very conscious of the futility of judging others…or even himself. The young priest, on the other hand, is constantly judging. Certainly, he judges the Japanese authorities, finding them cruel and barbaric. He judges the culture, traditions, and even beliefs of the country, finding them in need of “saving.” He judges the strength of faith of the Christian community with which he had interacted, holding some in the highest regard, while being harshly critical of others. There comes a point in time when he stands in judgment over the priest he came to find. And, in the end, he judges himself. In a way, throughout much of the story, it seems that he is even judging God.

Unfortunately, he never sits in “silence,” listening to evidence. Some might find his judgments hasty or even questionable. Most important, however, he totally disregards St. Paul’s admonition: Therefore, do not make ANY judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.

Finally, we turn to the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. The plain meaning, obviously, is that we should not be materialistic, fretting over our worldly needs. But, if we delve deeper, don’t we find that Jesus is urging us to trust God in all things, and at all times…even those times when we think God is silent? Simply put, the lesson here appears to be: Stop worrying. God has a plan! One might well argue that the young priest placed his plan over God’s.

Next Wednesday, we begin our preparations to engage in another Story…The Passion of Jesus Christ. No part of this story is fictional, and it is truly God’s masterpiece. The story of The Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection is truly a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell! But, at the end, we find ourselves in Paradise. And, while there are most definitely questions, propositions, sensations, and experiences to be had in this cosmic drama, unlike the story of missionary work in Japan, The Passion is filled with promise. In fact, the entire purpose of the Passion is so that we might live in hope. Still, in order for us to better understand and appreciate THIS STORY…we need to prepare.

Next Wednesday, we begin Lent 2017! The three traditional pillars of the Season are PRAYING, FASTING, and ALMSGIVING. It might be of benefit to add a fourth…SILENCE. If we allow ourselves just a few minutes each day for 40 days to sit in SILENCE, we might find that God has something to say to us. Rather than judging our spiritual progress by what we “give up” or “how much we give” or “how many prayers we say,” it might serve us well this Lent to permit ourselves the gift of SILENCE. It’s in SILENCE that we are better able to hear God speak. We might just hear something wonderful! We might hear God praising us for our willingness to listen.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:38-48
February 19, 2017

If a youthful, mop-topped blond kid walked into my parish by himself on a Sunday morning, I would be delighted. I’d make every effort to see that he felt welcome. After all, the young are the future of our Church. It is the duty and the joy of disciples to pass on our faith to the next generation. I would be even more pleased if a young man of that description wandered into a Bible Study or a parish meeting. I would see the opportunity for evangelization, or possibly even conversion. I would hop right on it.

I suspect that 19 months ago, in Charleston, S.C., when such a young person walked through the doors of Emanuel African Methodist Church, the Christians that saw him felt the same feelings of delight and opportunity. I suspect that they were pleased…if not overjoyed…to welcome him. And welcome him they did, in spite of the fact his skin color distinguished him from the majority of the folks on hand that day for prayer and study. In fact, two days after unleashing horrific violence in this place of worship, the young man acknowledged that everyone was so nice to him that he almost abandoned the plan that he’d spent months concocting. Nine people were martyred at the hands of this youthful, mop-topped blond kid.

Having been quickly apprehended by authorities, the young man faced a judge at a bail hearing. People watching the televised proceedings must have been as shocked by his harmless appearance as they were by the violence and hatred he unleashed on innocent people at prayer. When someone commits a crime of this magnitude, we expect them to look like a monster, not the kid next door.

Even more shocking, however, were the statements made that day by family members of the nine people who died. Rising out of their grief, they tearfully confronted this unrepentant “white supremacist” with the words: I FORGIVE YOU! I FORGIVE YOU!

From the moment of his arrest until he heard the jury sentence him to death, the young man has shown no contrition…no regret…no remorse. He has persisted in his hatred, his sole defense to his heinous crime being bigotry and prejudice. And still, many of the victims remain as steadfast in their forgiveness as the young man in his hatred: I FORGIVE YOU!

What’s most shocking of all is that any Christian would be shocked by the totally Christian response to such blatant evil. Forgiveness is what Jesus calls us to. The willingness to forgive…at least try to forgive…is what distinguishes us as followers of Jesus Christ. It is our eagerness to forgive even the most grievous offense or insult that makes us images of our God, Who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

The folks from Emanuel African Methodist Church, who have expressed forgiveness of the man who brought death into a place of spiritual life, are brilliant examples of Christian discipleship. To their great credit, certainly, but also to their great benefit. If they were to harbor hatred and the desire for revenge against him, they would be in the same position as he is today: in prison, facing death! Because that is what the desire for revenge does to us. It imprisons us in a dark cell…and sentences us to the death of joy and peace. Their willingness to forgive has preserved their freedom to live as children of God.

What brilliant images of our God they are!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 5:17-37
February 12, 2017

It’s possible that, in the near future, there will be a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. The mere suggestion that a wall be constructed has already divided our nation. We all know the arguments…pro and con. The concern over national security has triggered the discussion. Most recently, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl Game dramatized the arguments in opposition. I don’t raise the issue to weigh in on either side. I mention it because I think it’s extremely ironic that, while the national debate rages as to whether or not “walls work,” or that bridges should be preferred to walls…our Gospel calls us to BUILD A WALL!

The Lord doesn’t use those exact words, but the people listening to Him knew that’s exactly what He was saying.

From earliest of times, Israel understood that, in order to protect their “spiritual security,” more than compliance with The Law was needed. As the generations passed, the expression build a fence around the Torah (the Law) was used to communicate an understanding that when our spiritual lives are at stake…or at risk…extreme measures are in order. Certainly, the Lord was not encouraging self-mutilation. Like the Super Bowl commercials, He was offering a dramatic explanation. His point being: we should take extreme measures to protect ourselves so that we do not wander outside of the protection of God’s Law. In other words, build a fence around the Torah and strengthen the border between good and evil…life and death!

Our First Reading offers another irony to ponder. Consider this: God’s greatest gift to us is our free will. The passage from the Book of Sirach emphasizes that our Creator is (to borrow a phrase) “pro-choice.” God is not an arrogant, iron-fisted dictator who imposes the Divine will. Rather, we are allowed to choose for ourselves how we are to live. We can choose the excitement of fire, which has the potential to harm or even destroy us. The other option is cleansing, nourishing, healing, and life-sustaining water. The choice is ours.

But, Sirach also makes it perfectly clear that “free choice” must not be confused with a license to sin. And so, in God’s infinite wisdom and kindness, God gave us The Commandments as a “boundary” or “border” that keeps us from wandering off into dangerous territory through poor choices and bad decisions. Wisely, the people wanted to reinforce the “boundary,” and so they added to The Commandments an extensive body of rules, regulations, and traditions in order to “build a fence around The Law!

The hope is that a spiritual “firewall” will provide an even stronger barrier between the danger zone of sin and the safety and peace to be had through a life of virtue. Extreme danger calls for extreme measures. Jesus most definitely is NOT calling for self-mutilation in order to avoid sin. He is suggesting that we “reinforce our borders.”

There is another ironic situation to be found as our three Readings work together. St. Paul seems to be telling the Corinthian community that a wise person seeking to remain within the border surrounding the City of God should seek the protection of love! Love of God is a sufficient spiritual firewall, or barrier, to protect us from those things that threaten eternal life. Love of God is the perfect fence, or wall, to prevent us from wandering off into dangerous territory. Every choice that a wise person makes is motivated by love…of God…and of God’s Creation!

So, the final irony to ponder during this sixth week of Ordinary Time is that walls do work…at least spiritual walls…but not to keep people out; rather, to invite them in! When we isolate ourselves from things like fear, hatred, envy, prejudice, and selfishness by surrounding ourselves with LOVE…then our hearts and our doors are open to God and to all of God’s Creation.

It all boils down to this…and there is nothing ironic about it: If it’s safety you are looking for…it is wise to choose love!

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