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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33 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 21:5-19
November 17, 2019

A friend passed me a book that left me a total couch potato for three full days. A real page-turner. I could not put it down. It was fiction, but the characters and the plot were so well developed that it seemed like a true story. Basically, it described the age-old struggle between good and evil. As the story unfolded, it was hard to predict which would prevail. With only about 10 pages left, it was still anybody’s guess whether the bad guys would crash and burn, or continue on a path of greed, corruption, and violence. Then, all of a sudden, the story ended.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise; after all, I had almost reached the back cover when the author started to wrap things up. Still, the way the book ended was definitely surprising…even shocking, and bitterly disappointing.

After close to 400 pages of nail-biting action, the author simply killed off the bad guys in a few totally unrealistic paragraphs. The good guys were sent off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The book ended in such a way that no sequel is likely (not that I would ever read another book by this author). The conclusion to a story that held my attention for three solid days left me feeling that I had completely wasted valuable time that I can never get back. Bad endings are like that. A disappointing conclusion can totally ruin a great book, play, or movie, or even an exciting football game, i.e., Michigan State last Saturday.

Our story…the story of salvation…the history of humankind is the ultimate “thriller” for those serious enough to commit to it. But, it’s not a matter of committing to simply reading “The Good Book.” We are called to live it. Christians are expected to participate in the great battle. Armed by Christ with our Sacraments and emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are sent out to engage the enemy.

During certain chapters in salvation history, this has involved actual combat, but the war is also one of ideas. In our Second Reading, Paul explains that discipleship requires stern resistance to any ideas that disrupt or undermine the order of the Gospel. When peace, justice, and charity are threatened by “disorderly” laws or policies, Christians are called to arms. Moreover, the early Christians were sternly warned that failure to live according to God’s battle plan is a lost opportunity to overpower the enemy…a waste of valuable time that can never be recovered. That warning holds true throughout the history of humankind…and is especially relevant during this 21st century.

There is no doubt that the story of salvation involves a constant struggle between good and evil. And, as in all confrontations, suffering and persecution are to be expected. However, we do know the ending. It is neither surprising and certainly will not be disappointing for those who have placed their hopes in God. Throughout Scripture, we are assured that God has not lost control, but is guiding human history according to an eternal plan. And He has invited people of faith to share in the fruits of victory by joining in the battle. The final outcome has been described in different ways, in both the Old and the New Testaments. But, in the end, good wins!

We are not given the details of just exactly how and when The Author of Life…God…will write those words: THE END!

However, we can be certain of this: The day of the Lord is coming. And those who have helped to bring Gospel order to the chaos caused by sin will go out to welcome Christ with joyful hearts!

32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 20:27-38
November 10, 2019

“Reality TV” is as old as I am. The first televised program identified as “reality TV” is said to have been “Candid Camera” that debuted the same year that I did…1948. Since then, a number of programs have been introduced in a variety of settings. Apparently, viewers enjoy watching supposedly unscripted, ordinary people navigate various situations. Still, and in spite of its popularity, “reality TV” is suspect. Are the viewers actually watching “reality,” or are these situations structured by the producers?

One of the most popular, and at the same time suspect, “reality TV” shows involves so-called mediums delivering messages from beyond the grave to grieving loved ones. People want very much to believe in the authenticity of these programs. Certainly, there is comfort to be had from the assurances that a loved one who has passed on is “ok.” But viewers might also be inclined to place their hope and trust in these kinds of entertainers for selfish reasons.

Death is a thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain that defies those curious to know what is on the other side. Many people are actually terrified by the inevitability of death. What they find most unnerving is the “unknowing.” And so they eagerly place their hope in…of all things…”reality TV.”

While the Holy Spirit definitely acts in mysterious ways, offering a variety of gifts to bring comfort, wisdom, and peace to us earth dwellers, I can’t help but wonder if this vast array of gifts includes a communications network of this sort, to “the other side.” I do know that many bereaved families report special, comforting experiences they have had after a loved one has died. I never doubt the authenticity of these graced moments. After all, God is all loving and merciful. Divine compassion is a very reasonable explanation for whatever it is that brings some relief from the overwhelming sense of loss that comes with death. But, the suggestion that those who have died send messages via a third party…well, I’m not so sure about.

It certainly seems that if anyone would have been entrusted with these kinds of instagrams delivered from the other side of the dark and impenetrable curtain, it would have been Jesus. Yet, today’s Gospel is pretty much the extent of what Jesus had to say on the matter. The Lord’s focus was on teaching us how to live in this world, as if there was nothing separating “here from there” so that when we are called to pass through that thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, it will be with a sense of eager joy and not terror. As far as what awaits us upon our arrival…well, He left it to us to read between the lines of the Gospel.

Last Sunday, shortly after being hospitalized due to a fall in his home, 95-year-old former President Jimmy Carter reported for duty as a catechist at his church. The lesson he delivered was certainly a brilliant description of how Christians should approach the inevitable reality of death. When he was already in his 90s, Carter’s doctor delivered a very serious diagnosis. Mr. Carter told his Sunday school class that upon hearing the news: “I obviously prayed about it. I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.”

Actually, all Christians should be “absolutely and completely at ease with death.” Although the earthly Jesus did not have a great deal to say about what awaits us, the Risen Christ showed us what it will be like…what we will be like. After three days in His own grave, The Lord passed back through the thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, and there was nothing staged or structured about His Easter visits. The Easter experience was entirely convincing to the Apostles and disciples. Any doubts they might have had at first as to the reality of what they were experiencing quickly disappeared. They recognized Him. But at the same time, they saw that He was totally changed. He was GLORIFIED!

Our language cannot even begin to capture what that means. But, the reality of those totally graced moments of Easter are undeniable. His followers were convinced. All fear of death was dispelled, evidenced by the courage and conviction with which they shared the Good News. The pure reality of The Risen Christ left them with a “proper attitude toward death.” They discovered that they were “absolutely and completely at ease with death” to the point that many became martyrs for the sake of the Gospel.

The reality is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living…for God, all are alive! Just exactly what that means is a wonderful surprise that awaits those who do their best to live here and now as Jesus has taught us. Live the Gospel and place your hope in the power of the resurrection. Soon, you will find that you are “absolutely and completely at ease with death,” and no further assurances will be necessary.

Nevertheless, it never hurts to ask for a little extra help. St. Joseph is the Patron saint of the dying. So…let us pray:

Saint Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary. When the seal of death closes my earthly life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me. Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen.

31 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 19:1-10
November 3, 2019

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom, a collection of little sayings intended to enlighten our minds, enflame our hearts, and inspire us to change our lives so that we live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.

As this liturgical year is nearing its end, it’s interesting to consider that the passage we hear directs our attention beyond ourselves…and even beyond this world. We are encouraged to imagine the whole universe. That is easy to do while looking up into a clear, night sky.

When folks gaze…that’s a good word to use…when we stargaze, pondering all that is out there so far above and beyond us, it stirs strong feelings and emotions within us.

In our second reading, St. Paul uses the expression “shaken out of our minds.”

That’s a good expression to use to describe the rush we get when we take just a brief moment to stand quietly, looking out into the vastness of the whole universe. When we allow ourselves that opportunity, we can actually shake off all cares and worries and concerns and frustrations that weigh heavily on our minds, if only for that moment.

Even a few seconds of awareness (another good word)…even a few seconds of awareness of and appreciation for the whole universe enlightens our minds and inspires us to think the deepest of thoughts; thoughts about how this all came to be, how insignificant we are in the scheme of things…but at the same time, how totally valued we are by the Creator, Who entrusted this universe to our care. Just a few seconds of stargazing causes us to think big thoughts and ask big questions.

What power, what force could have brought this “wonder” we call the universe into being…and then keep it all in existence? A clear night sky…for those who are wise enough to be aware of it…has the power to enflame the heart. We actually feel something in our chest when we stargaze. I’m not sure of the right word…or expression…to give that feeling.

Maybe wonder and awe? Possibly desire…or longing? Could it be restlessness? Or maybe when we are wise enough to stargaze at the whole universe, aware that this all came about through the loving gesture of our all-powerful Creator…what we feel is love. And when we are in touch with that powerful force we call love…we want to change our lives so that we can live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.

All of this happened to a funny little man in broad daylight, and in the middle of a large crowd of people, many of whom disliked and disrespected him because of what he did for a living. He was a tax collector. Zacchaeus was the man’s name. And that name, Zacchaeus, usually was spoken with ridicule and scorn by his neighbors, passed from the lips of the Son of God and continues to be spoken through the Gospel after all these centuries. When Jesus looked up into that sycamore tree and called out “Zacchaeus!” You can almost see the smile on the Lord’s face…and hear the amusement and the love in Jesus’s voice.

Zacchaeus! Come down quickly, for today, I must stay at your house!

So just exactly what was there about this man that attracted Jesus’s attention and earned Zacchaeus the honor of hosting the Son of God? Well, according to the story…this sinner…this tax collector (you have to say that with disgust in your voice) allowed himself a brief moment to gaze…that’s a good word to use…

Zacchaeus took the opportunity to stargaze…not into the night sky…but in the brilliant light of day. He allowed himself to catch the briefest glimpse…not of the universe…but of the Creator’s eternal word, who pre-existed the universe. Somehow, this person, thought to be a sinner, was aware…that’s a good word to use…

Zacchaeus was somehow aware of the fact that the person whom he was gazing at was not just a flesh and blood human being, but also God. Somehow, Zacchaeus’s mind was enlighten to the truth that he was gazing upon the Second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity, who played a part in calling the universe into existence….and somehow, some way, is involved in holding the universe in existence.

And he was shaken out of his mind!

His mind began to think deep thoughts…and his heart was inflamed. And he felt something powerful….in his chest. Maybe it was wonder and awe, or desire…longing…

Just this glimpse of Jesus made him feel restless and wanting more. What caused him to climb the tree to get a better view? All of that…and more. He was attracted to Jesus by the most powerful force in the whole of the universe…love! And love stirred in him a desire to be an even better person.

A few minutes gazing into a star-filled night sky can do wonders for our minds. But if, like this little tax collector from centuries past, we take the opportunity to gaze with full awareness of who we are privileged to catch a glimpse of…well, that does wonders for our souls.

We have that opportunity to look beyond the universe and into the Kingdom each and every time we gather for Eucharist. We don’t even have to climb a tree. All we need do is gaze at the Table of the Word from which the Lord Jesus is speaking directly to us…calling our names, inviting us to approach the Communion Table so that we might host His divine presence within us. The Eucharist places us in direct contact with God’s infinite mercy, love, and forgiveness. When we celebrate with the awareness of what we are about, we leave with our minds enlightened to the truth that God loves even the most despicable sinner…even tax collectors.

When we come together to break the bread and share the cup, our hearts are enflamed by the love and the peace that comes from hosting the Living Word within us. And when we leave, it is with the sincere conviction that we can and will change our lives so that we can and will live in Christ’s peace as we make our way out of this world…out of this universe…home to the Kingdom of God.

Does all of this leave you shaken out of your minds?

It should!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:9-14
October 27, 2019

Another parable this week. But, it does not appear that this is just “another in a string” of little stories that Jesus happened to be sharing with friends, sitting around a campfire…or while relaxing at the table after a good dinner. This lesson had a target audience. Jesus was speaking directly to people who considered themselves to be “holier than Thou.”

When His words hit the mark, it hurt…or at least it should have. His message continues to strike a nerve today…or at least it should. This is not just “another in a string” of little stories.

What we have here is a lesson, which, in my estimation, is on par with The Lord’s reply to the disciples when they said: Lord, teach us to pray! (Luke 1:11) Although there, His wisdom was sought and appreciated. Furthermore, He responded by giving them words that disciples continue to use over 2,000 years later.

In this encounter, we have what amounts to a critique, which was most unlikely unsolicited, and quite probably resented. Imagine how these self-righteous, sanctimonious, and judgmental people must have felt when they heard the “punchline:”

Whoever exults himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Now, 2,000 years later, this lesson in humility remains relevant and still packs a punch…or at least it should! Basically, Jesus is telling us how to pray. Not in the sense of giving us words, but rather, pointing out the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer. We are to stand humbly before the Lord our God.

I clearly don’t know this to be fact, but I suspect that this Gospel is very close to the heart of Pope Francis. I suggest this because of the long string of comments he has made publicly. Words to the effect of: Who am I to judge?I am a sinner and I confess every two weeks…etc., etc. Ironically, when The Holy Father makes these types of self-effacing comments, he seems to irritate some folks, even within the Church hierarchy.

An attitude of self-righteousness, like the Pharisee brought to prayer in Jesus’s parable, tends to blind us to the weaker aspects of human nature. Even worse, the feeling of superiority that comes hand in glove with a “pharisaic spirituality” can cause people to be judgmental and intolerant of those who appear not to measure up to the high standard they believe they have achieved. As a result, then, it is hard for some people to accept Francis’s message of tolerance for human frailty and weakness. Some bristle when the Pope extends a welcome to those who the “self-righteous” feel should be excluded.

It really should be no surprise to anyone that the Holy Father’s teachings tend to echo the prayer of the tax collector: O God, be merciful to me, a SINNER! His spiritual formation was in the Jesuit tradition, and St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that the foundation of a sound spiritual life is an honest and daily examination of conscience. Beginning and/or ending the day by humbly acknowledging our total and complete dependence on God is key to a healthy relationship with our Creator; just so, a humble and candid listing of our shortcomings, coupled with a plea for the grace to improve promotes conversion…justification.

So then, if, through this little story, Jesus is teaching the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer, the Jesuit tradition has provided us with the words to humble ourselves so that we can hope to be exalted. Here is one Jesuit’s efforts:

Praying the Jesuit Examination of Conscience

Thanksgiving
Lord, I realize that all, even myself, is a gift from you.
– Today, for what things am I most grateful?

Intention
Lord, open my eyes and ears to be more honest with myself.
– Today, what do I really want for myself?

Examination
Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me this day.
– Today, in what ways have I experienced your love?

Contrition
Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.
– Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?

Hope
Lord, let me look with longing toward the future.
– Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?

29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:1-8
October 20, 2019

True story!

Last week, I noticed a questionable charge on my credit card statement. I immediately called “the bank” and was greeted by a very pleasant, mechanical voice, advising that “due to an unusually high volume of callers, please expect a long delay, but if you prefer, simply leave your number and a representative will contact you within 24 hours.” I chose to wait…and wait I did.

Music…music…music…

Finally, the mechanical voice came back on the line to explain that it would expedite my call if I were to key in my account number using the keypad on my mobile device. For some reason, that took three attempts, at which point, the same mechanical voice asked me to state in a few words the reason for my call. I was offered several examples of what to say. Supposedly, this would make it easier for the representative to serve me.

I told the computer that there was an “improper charge on my September statement.” I felt that was fairly straightforward. But the computer didn’t understand and replied: I’m sorry…I did not get that. So that our representative is better able to assist you, please state in a few words the reason for your call…for example…

I repeated…SLOWER and LOUDER…”improper charge on my September statement.” And two more times, the mechanical voice apologized: I’m sorry…I did not get that…

At that point…and I do confess I might have been shouting…I told the mechanical voice: I WANT TO SPEAK TO A REPRESENTATIVE! That registered and earned the pleasant response: One moment please. A representative will be with you shortly.

Music…music…music…

FINALLY! Good morning, my name is Jane…may I ask who I am speaking with?

Regaining my composure, I told her my name and she replied: Thank you…And what is your account number? What are the first three digits of your Social Security number? What was the name of your first pet? Having replied to all of this screening, she finally said: Now, how may I help you?

I detailed my complaint, at which point, I heard Jane clicking away on her computer. And after several more minutes, she said: I’m sorry I can’t help you with that. I will have to transfer you to another department. One moment, please! And then…before I could get a word out of my mouth…

Music…music…music…

WHEN FINALLY! Good morning, my name is John…may I ask who I am speaking with? And then, for reasons that are far beyond my understanding…I was put through the identical screening process before I was able to speak those few, simple words: “Improper charge on my September statement.”

In a reassuring voice, John said that he needed a few moments to track the charge and he would put me on hold….Music…music…music…

When he returned, he explained that the best way to handle this issue would be to make a call to the offending company and have a three-way conversation. He asked if that would be satisfactory to me. And, eager to get the matter resolved, I agreed. John dialed the number of the firm.

So how did that go?

Well, we were greeted by a very pleasant, mechanical voice, advising that “due to an unusually high volume of callers, please expect a long delay.” It got worse. Before we connected with a human being…WE WERE DISCONNECTED!

You know this is a completely true, unexaggerated story, because almost everyone has had this very same kind of experience. We live in a day and age where we have to be persistent if we are going to know justice. If we are not aggressive in pressing our rights, we lose them. We can all empathize with the poor widow, because we frequently find ourselves in the same position. In a way, things are even more challenging for us than they were for her, because computers have no conscience. They aren’t worn down by begging.

However, we can also very easily identify with the judge. How often have moms heard the word PPPPLLLLLLEEEEAAAASSSEE…repeated over and over again….until they finally cave?

Our human experiences enable us to get up close and personal with this parable. And, as a result, we tend to hear in this little story as encouragement to pray harder, more frequently, until we wear God down. In fact, that is exactly how Jesus introduces the lesson. But I sense that would be a great mistake to stop there.

God knows every single thing there is to know about us, and He recognizes us instantly without further proof. There is no need to suffer through a screening process. God knows our needs and how and when they are best served…even before we ask. There is no reason to “storm heaven” in hopes of wearing God down. God will address our needs at a time and in a way that is most beneficial to us. God would not disconnect us. God should not be placed in the role of the bad judge.

So what is the take-away here?

Let’s change the facts a bit. Think of how much easier life would have been for the poor widow if she had someone of power, influence, authority, or skill to speak on her behalf. What if she knew the judge’s sister…or was a friend of his major campaign donor? Again, drawing on our own life experience, we can be fairly confident that she would have known justice without having to ask twice.
Or…consider how the story would have ended if she were homebound…too sick to make her way to the judge’s office to plead her case. If there was no one else to speak on her behalf, her cause would be lost.

The unborn have no voice and are unable to plead for their lives. Refugees and the countless people left homeless by natural disasters very often flee their homes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs…no cell phones or electronic devices to make their claim for human dignity…no proof of identity. Take a walk through an assisted living facility or nursing home. You will quite likely hear someone begging…with persistence…for help. But they are ignored.

There are countless examples of people who are incapable of doing what the poor widow was able to do…overcome injustice with persistence. And that is where Christian discipleship enters this little parable. Those who have the ability and the resources are called to speak up on behalf of those incapable of representing themselves.

It is certainly a good thing to pray constantly. But it is Christ-like to speak out with persistence on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. IT IS RIGHT AND JUST!

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