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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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:14-20
January 24, 2021

One person dominates my thoughts as I reflect on today’s Gospel. It isn’t Jesus, Who is obviously the central character in every Gospel story. The importance of His very significant walk along a sea shore; beach combing for Apostles, is certainly of huge importance. Especially so, during these first weeks of Ordinary Time, when there is much to be learned about discipleship. But, it seems Jesus has stepped to the side, directing my attention elsewhere.

Nor am I focused on Peter, Andrew, James or John, who were drawn from their work by a magnetic force way too powerful to resist. Who could possibly say “no” to an invitation delivered by “The Voice” so filled with peace and joy and love?

Whenever, I am working with this particular passage, I often find myself imagining the reaction of the abandoned father and hired hand, left with so much unfinished work. Not so this time.

The same, peaceful, joy filled and loving voice that drew four fishermen from their work, has invited Sr. Laurene Burns, O S.C. “to follow!” Early Saturday morning, January 16, the powerful force of infinite love, drew her spirit from her earthly body, carrying her into the presence of our God, to Whom she had committed, the entirety of her 92 years. And so, all of the other characters in this story of “call” and “acceptance” somehow have faded into the shadows. For me, the spotlight is on Laurene.

Over the years, Laurene honored me by sharing many of the details of her life …a life of service and discipleship. So by reflecting on the story of a disciple I personally knew, I seem to have a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the drama that unfolded on the shore of the Sea of Galilee…many generations of discipleship ago.

Laurene was what we commonly refer to as a “cradle Catholic.” She was born into a devout family. In that sense, I wonder if the very first “call”…the initial invitation “to follow” was spoken even before her birth? Clearly, from the earliest age, she was formed into a “Christian” through the efforts of her parents, family and teachers. But, she quickly learned to listen for herself.

A childhood illness left her bedridden. Possibly those months of solitude helped develop her spiritual listening skills. However it came about, God gifted her with a particularly discerning spirit. She had exceptional hearing, and her ear was always directed toward “The Voice” inviting her “to follow.” She always did.

As I think back on what she shared with me about her journey, it seems that like Peter, Andrew, James and John; she was impulsive in responding to “The Voice.” There must have been times when her family and friends felt like Zebedee, as she simply dropped what she was doing, and moved on. Where is she going? What is she doing now?

But, I think that what might seem impulsive to those left behind, is actually the response to that magnetic force too powerful to resist. Even as those 4 fishermen dropped their nets…and even as Laurene put aside whatever she was about; when discerning spirits hear “The Voice” they enjoy an inner logic. They understand that there is a reason for “the call.” They make a conscious and free decision “to follow.”

There were stops along the way, when Laurene felt that she had finally arrived. She knew the Mt. Tabor kind of experience that Peter naively enjoyed when he said to The Lord…It’s good we’re here…I’ll set up camp so we can stay. There were times and places in her life when Laurene felt settled in.

However, the wisdom of Sirach 24:8 comes to mind: My Creator chose the spot for my tent. In the end, she always understood that her dwelling place was just that…a tent. When she heard “The Voice” whisper: follow me, she broke camp and moved on.

For Peter, Andrew, James and John the journey led to Jerusalem for the ultimate experience of Resurrection. The experience that at last gave meaning to their great adventure with Jesus. Laurene and her 3 traveling companions followed “The Voice” to their monastery on Shattuck Rd. in Saginaw, Michigan. Here, for many years, they have lived the life that “The Voice” first inspired in St. Clare. And now, Christ, Who invited her into a life of discipleship and service, has called her to Himself…into the Eternal life of peace and love.

Reflecting on the story of a disciple who we personally knew, often inspires a deeper understanding of what we, ourselves, are called to. From Laurene Burns, a Sister of St. Clare, I am reminded to keep my ear turned towards “The Voice” and to be willing to move. I am reminded that a life of discipleship, even when lived out in the solitude of a sick room, or within the walls of a monastery, can be the greatest of adventures. And from this Gospel, I am reminded that when we are courageous enough ”to follow” the journey ends in Easter joy.

Update:

Dear Friends,
Some of you may know this and others of you may be hearing this difficult news for the first time. Our Sister Laurene died January 16, 2021 at home with us. We had a private funeral Mass at the funeral home followed by the committal where she was laid to rest in the St. Francis of Assisi section of Mr. Olivet Cemetery in Saginaw, Michigan.

Because of age, high risks and social distancing, we missed hearing your memories of Laurene. Your memories will help ease our sorrow and also give us a chance to comfort one another. Perhaps there will be a time in the future when we can come together and celebrate the gift of Laurene’s life. Until then we hold these memories in safe keeping.
Sisters Dianne and Laura

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 1:35-42
January 17, 2021

I remember being confused about the difference between “Apostles” and “disciples.” What I can’t recall is who I consulted for clarification. It was either my mother, grandmother, or teacher in the Catholic elementary school I attended. Even back then, I tended to check my sources, so I suspect that all three weighed in.

In any event, early on and based on what I was taught, I formed the impression that Apostles were the VIPs — which, of course, they were! But, by contrast, I somehow came to see disciples as little more than groupies. In my mind, disciples were merely the spectators viewing the life and ministry of Jesus from the bleacher seats. In fact, I carried that image well into my adult years.

This might seem a naive or childish view, but, before Vatican II explored the role of the laity in the work of salvation, the job description for “discipleship” tended to be limited to PRAY…PAY…AND OBEY! Certainly, all three elements are important parts of Christian discipleship. But we have grown into an appreciation for the rights and privileges, as well as the duties and obligations, of disciples.

Obviously, the Apostles were in a league of their own; nevertheless, the original disciples were far more than spectators. Those who remained faithful to the Lord enjoyed an intimate relationship with Him. They patterned their life after His example. They also shared what they learned and experienced, calling forward subsequent generations of disciples of Jesus Christ.

The fact is all Baptized are disciples. By virtue of Baptism, all disciples should see themselves as VIPs. We are not merely spectators, but we are each actively involved in passing on what has been given to us. Through Scripture, our Sacraments, and our traditions, we can get up close and personal with Jesus Christ.

But this great privilege brings with it a great responsibility. Discipleship involves the obligation of passing on our faith. We are, indeed, VIPs…very important people to the work of salvation.

Returning to Ordinary Time this Sunday, we look forward to a long season of listening to Jesus teach and preach and observing His miracle-making. Appreciating that we, as students, must, in turn, become teachers, should inspire us to be more attentive to the experience of Ordinary Time.

We begin this great adventure with a cautionary lesson. Our First Reading reminds us of the importance of “checking our sources.” Almost daily, we are invited to become disciples of someone or something. The “dark web” for example, is full of opportunities to apprentice ourselves to a teacher. But the lessons and experiences offered there are the antithesis of salvific. It is important to question just exactly who it is that is calling to us. Not every voice is of The Spirit.

Our Second Reading reminds us of our frail and vulnerable nature. At the same time, however, there is a note of encouragement. When we fully commit to the work of discipleship, God places within us the power to make a true and lasting contribution to our world. St. Paul stresses our importance. When we appreciate our importance, we tend to behave like VIPs.

Finally, it is important to notice the seamless transfer of power between John and Jesus. John does not try to hold onto his disciples; quite the contrary. John directs their attention to their next step on the path to total enlightenment. He actively passes them over to Christ.

While still “in the body,” we should look for, and take full advantage of, every opportunity to sit with, listen to, learn from, and experience Jesus. These powerful experiences enable us to do the most important work of discipleship…passing on what we have been given.

So, we begin our great adventure through Ordinary Time…keeping in mind we are VIPs with some very important work to do.

Update:
Our Sr. Laurene began her wedding with eternity yesterday, January 16, 2021. Please keep her in your prayers and us as well.
Srs. Dianne and Laura

The Baptism of the Lord
Mk 1:7-11
January 10, 2021

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I re-experienced a wave of emotions that I had prayed never to suffer through again.

As I watched in real-time, mob violence unleashed on the Capitol of the United States of America, I felt the very same ache, deep in my heart, that hit me on September 11, 2001. Now, as back then, I am acutely aware of the cause of my distress. Hatred!

I think possibly the worst pain hit early in the siege. To the right/center of my television screen, in the middle of the mob storming the front doors of the Capitol, on view for the entire world to see, someone was holding up a large yellow placard with black lettering. The message was simple:

“Jesus saves!”

Throughout the day-long ordeal, other Christian symbols were visible. But, it was that big, yellow sign that someone had made on their kitchen table, or in their garage at home, that pierced my heart.

“Jesus saves!”

When our nation’s elected leaders were finally able to resume their duties, speeches were made. From both sides of the aisle, elected officials denounced what was repeatedly referred to as a desecration. I believe that a very egregious desecration (that might otherwise go unmentioned) was the use of the Holy Name on that yellow sign.

While the motive of the person carrying that sign is unclear, this much is certain: At his baptism in the Jordan, a voice from heaven introduced Jesus as God’s beloved Son…in whom God is well pleased. For that reason alone,

At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend. (Phil. 1:10)

No knees bent as the lawless mob moved forward, carrying that yellow sign with it.

We mark the conclusion of this Christmas season with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It would behoove all Christians to consider that, among the many things that God the Father found pleasing about God the Son is the peace that Jesus has brought into the world. Peace is the Lord’s great gift to the world. “Peace” is exactly how…

“Jesus saves!”

This is also a good time for us to renew our own baptismal vows, recommitting to sharing the peace of Christ. This is a good time to reflect on what God expects of us, who have been privileged to share in the Lord’s Baptism.

We are called to overpower hate with love.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Mt 2:1-12
January 3, 2021

Most people…whether or not they are “believers”…Christian and non-Christian alike…are at least familiar with the search of the Three Magi.

The search began in their homes…as they read ancient prophesies and studied the night skies. Then, having seen the sign they were waiting for, they left the comfort of what was familiar to them and embarked on a dangerous journey to parts unknown.

Over the centuries, as we hear, reflect on and pray with this beautiful last chapter of the Christmas story, we have come to understand that it describes a cosmic confrontation between good and evil.

The contrast between the three seekers and Herod is a reminder to us that, eventually, darkness is overpowered by light. Still, we must always remain vigilant because sin is stealthy and deceitful, always looking for opportunities to misguide and misdirect us.

Once these three mysterious figures encounter what they have been longing to find, they humble themselves. Kneeling before an infant in a manger, they are humbling themselves before an all-powerful God, who has humbled the Divine Self to the point of taking on an earthly body. Through this feast of the Epiphany, we are also reminded of the Christmas announcement of the angel…

I proclaim to you news of great joy that will be for…all…people!

Through these final events unfolding in the manger, the universal gift of the Christ child is reaffirmed. Jesus was sent for the salvation of the whole world.

There was an exchange of gifts. God gifted humankind with the Christ child. In return, humanity, through our three wise and courageous representatives, presented Jesus with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. We have grown to understand these gifts are symbolic of the Child’s royalty, divinity, and inevitable suffering and death.

So then, most are familiar with the story. Many understand the messages. The question that remains is whether we accept the challenges.

Are we willing to pay the tribute of our time, talent, and treasure to Christ our King? These are the gifts needed to ensure that the good news first announced in a shepherd’s field will continue to be broadcast to all people.

Will we accept the obligation to stand humbly before our good and loving God, offering our thanks and praise?

Can we accept our sufferings and even the reality of death, appreciating that Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death so that we might live in eternal light?

God has gifted us with salvation. It is only right and just that we gift God with our offerings of gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Holy Family
LK 2:22-40
December 27, 2020

Our Christmas liturgies carry our minds and hearts through time and space. The Readings we hear transport Christians around the world out of our parish churches to a dark field on the outskirts of an impoverished little village, where, in spite of the late hour, we are almost blinded by the light of a brilliant star that we’ve never seen before. Oblivious to the sounds and smells of the herd of sheep pressing against our legs, we become spellbound by angelic voices, singing so beautifully that we are overwhelmed with joy.

Following the directions of these visitors from heaven, we find ourselves moving, drawn with a sense of urgency toward something in the distance. We arrive at a stable filled with livestock, standing calmly around a manger that appears to be glowing. We look down and see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in fresh straw. The child’s parents stand guard on either side of Him. The look on their faces is a mixture of fatigue and pure love.

We feel a touch on our shoulders, pushing us gently to our knees. Somehow, we know that we are on Holy ground, privileged to be invited to witness something miraculous…something sacred. And we do the only thing that seems right. We pray.

We pray with an intensity that we aren’t accustomed to. We pray without asking for anything. Our prayers spring up from deep inside of us. And, no matter what else is happening in our lives, we feel at peace. We are filled with joy, so much so that we wish we could stay in the moment. If only we could always feel this way. We ask ourselves: “Why can’t every day be like this? Why can’t everyday be Christmas?”

Then we hear those words that break the spell: “Our Mass has ended…Go in PEACE!” And that gentle touch returns, only this time to lift us up, turning us towards the doors of our parish church. We carry all of those wonderful feelings we have just experienced to our cars, and we head home.

For some, this special Christmas Peace lingers for hours…days…maybe even for weeks. For others, it disappears the moment we turn the key in the lock and open the door to our home and family.

And so, fast on the heels of our celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Church gives us The Feast of The Holy Family. Just like Christmas…The Liturgy of The Word that unfolds during the Mass celebrating The Holy Family also serves to transport us out of our parish churches. But, today, our journey through space and time is very brief…just a matter of a few miles and a few minutes.

As we hear God’s Word proclaimed…our minds travel from our church to our homes and our families. During this liturgy, we are given a shocking dose of reality. We can’t help but compare our relationship with spouses, parents, children, and siblings with what we hear proclaimed from The Table of The Word. We size up our family life and compare what we see to how we imagine that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…The Holy Family…lived, once they returned to normal, day-to-day life. They set the bar so high that we inevitably feel that we have fallen short. It occurs to us that for them…Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…

EVERY DAY WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS!

In fact, we know precious little about the day-to-day life of The Holy Family. Their home life is shrouded in sacred mystery. The few details that the Gospels do offer fuel our imaginations. But, when we do imagine life within this earthly home that GOD prepared specially for His only Son, we tend to do what we do at Christmas; we romanticize and dramatize. We risk forgetting what Simeon, inspired by The Holy Spirit, said to The Blessed Mother:

This child will be a sign that will be contradicted-and you, yourself, a sword will pierce!

We don’t know many details about how this family lived, but we can be certain of this much: For them…just like for us…not every day was Christmas. They faced and struggled with the very same challenges that many families deal with today.

They were forced to flee threats of violence. They were a refugee family. That meant that they dealt with things like food scarcity and the tragedy of being homeless. They even had to pay taxes.

Life for them was not always “Christmas!”

We can only imagine how they coped. Today’s Gospel, however, reveals this important detail to help us to “keep it real.” The Holy Family was always faithful to God’s Law and was always inspired and guided by God’s messages delivered by the Prophets. With this as their foundation, they met every adversity with hope in God’s infinite mercy and unconditional love.

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Our hearts might well wish it, but our heads know that every day cannot be like Christmas. Our family lives, often the source of our greatest joy, for any number of reasons, can very quickly become the cause of our greatest pain. But, inspired by the Holy Family, we can be certain of this: If we place our hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed…and we can run and not grow weary…until the day when we do soar like eagles.

With all the ups and downs of family life, it’s important for us to remember that our family homes are holy ground…because God has specially prepared them for us.

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