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 of Advent
MT 3:1-12
December 8, 2019

As we began the second week of this Advent season, I am beginning the third week after total knee replacement surgery. The experience has truly become the lens through which I’m examining this liturgical season of joyful preparation for the feast of Christmas.

It seems to me that there have been three stages to this process of orthopedic surgery, each with its own challenges, goals, and expectations, as well as results. The first stage was pre-surgery preparations. The second stage was the surgery and recovery mode. Finally, the place I am at right now…rehabilitation. So, how can I possibly learn anything about Advent from knee replacement surgery?

As I see it, John the Baptist was in charge of “pre-habilitation.” His role in salvation history certainly involved the announcement to the Jewish people that the Messiah had arrived. But his role did not end by gathering people around Jesus and declaring Him to be the Lamb of God. John’s call to repent has echoed throughout the centuries and remains as relevant today as then…possibly even more so as humankind finds ever increasing distractions from the direction in which God calls us. It’s important to remember that when John shouted out to his listeners: REPENT! he wasn’t just asking for “contrition.” John’s pre-habilitation program involved a radical rejection of all those distractions that keep us from being what God created us to be.

Jesus ushered in the next phase of the process of salvation. Baptism is a little like a surgical procedure that cuts away what is broken or diseased. Freed from what causes spiritual disability, we move forward in the restored health of God’s grace. But the process does not end there.

Post-surgery rehabilitation is critical to a successful procedure. Post-Baptism Spiritual rehabilitation is essential to continue the process of recovery from the original sin. Exercising our faith through the Sacraments, staying close to and participating in the Christian community, and acts of discipleship are all ways of ensuring that we continually grow stronger in faith, hope, and love.The Holy Spirit is very much in charge of our post-Baptism spiritual rehabilitation. Moreover, just like those who have undergone joint replacement must continue with the strengthening exercises throughout their life or regress…the same holds true with the process of conversion.

My recent surgery has really been the lens through which I am in examining this Advent Season. What lens has God sent you to see and better understand the beauty of the season of joyful expectation?

Repent! Recover! Rehab! And REJOICE! Salvation is at hand.

First Sunday of Advent
MT 24:37-44
December 1, 2019

I am embarrassed because last Sunday’s blog was a “repeat”. I am especially embarrassed, because I “should’ve-could’ve” been better prepared, so that a repeat wasn’t necessary.

In late August, I learned that on November 19, I was going to have total knee replacement surgery. The doctor gave me a fairly detailed sheet spelling out ways for me to physically prepare. In short, it was recommended that I lose weight, eat healthy foods and of course…exercise!

Again, I am embarrassed to admit that I knew exactly what I had to do, and had every intention of doing it. However, I wasn’t so good about sticking to the plan. I kept finding excuses to enjoy a second piece of pie, fries with my burger, or a midnight snack. Even more embarrassing is the way that I kept putting off the exercise program by fooling myself into thinking that there was no point in starting too soon. I can get in shape in 45 days…30 days is all it will take…If I work out in the morning AND the evening I can make up for the lost time…etc.etc.etc.

And then “all of a sudden” it was surgery day.

I quickly came to understand that everything was much harder because I had not prepared properly. Everything could have gone much easier, if only I hadn’t fooled myself into thinking that there was plenty of time to prepare.

For me, however, the most serious and painful consequence of my failure to properly and fully prepare for what I knew was coming, was my total inability to make a proper connection with last Sunday’s Readings. I am totally embarrassed to admit that The Feast of Christ the King came and went with me being so totally preoccupied with my physical condition, that there didn’t seem to be much time nor energy to pick up my Bible and properly prepare to celebrate the conclusion of the liturgical year. I was either in a little too much pain to focus on the powerful Readings of the day, or asleep because of the pain med. Determined not to begin the new liturgical year, on the same sad note with which I concluded the year that just ended, I made a point of beginning the multiple, daily rehabilitation exercises with a few moments of spiritual exercise, reading and reflecting on the passages the Church gives us on this First Sunday of Advent.

I made an immediate connection between what I have just experienced and the take away from this set of Readings. It is critical to prepare. Proper preparation makes everything less challenging and that much more likely to be successful. Just so, giving in to the all too human inclination to delay frequently leaves us surprised and at a great disadvantage when we find that we have run out of time.

Even though Advent is the season of joyful anticipation for the great feast of Christmas, preparation is still important. Unlike Lent, Advent is not penitential in its purpose or focus. Still, it is a time for preparation.

It is important to “lose weight.” The weight we place on ourselves by shopping, wrapping, baking, card writing…and trying to at least make an appearance at every, single Christmas party. The busyness of these activities can preoccupy us and become so burdensome, that when Christmas Eve finally comes, we are totally worn out.

I am definitely not one to preach about eating healthy. But who can argue the fact that Eucharist…The Bread of Life…is essential to the Spiritual diet of Advent.

As far as exercise goes, what season offers more opportunities for Christian charity and service?

We Christians know the authentic way to prepare for Christ’s birth. It is simply a matter of following the program. It is the ultimate embarrassment to have Christ come and not be ready to receive Him properly.

The Feast Christ the King
LK 23:35-43
November 24, 2019

A friend gave me a gift. It is intended to hang on a wall as a decoration. It is a miniature deer mount. It is shiny chrome. I like it. But, it is a mere image of a real deer head, preserved and hanging as a trophy from a successful hunt. That’s a really beautiful thing…although the living animal in the wild is what is most beautiful. My gift is eye-catching, it fills a space, and it is a reminder of something much more authentic and real…but that is all it is…a reminder…a space-filler…a decoration. It is the mere suggestion of majestic, wild game roaming free in the woods, and the thrill that hunters know when they bring home their prize.

I remember asking my friend what made her think to give me such a gift. She answered: “Oh, they are very popular in home decor catalogues right now…you see all kinds of these. They are the rage.” In fact, I now have a small collection of these faux trophies. Something possessed me to buy one as a companion to the first. Another friend saw and admired the pair, and when Christmas came along, I was the proud owner of a third. Eventually, I acquired a little “trophy room.” But, in truth, there is no pride or admiration to be had in this room. There is evidence of shopping skills and generosity, but not marksmanship.

For many generations after being settled in the Promised Land, The Chosen People were ruled by leaders known as “Judges.” They were not elected, and this was not a hereditary title passed on through a family. Judges were appointed by God. When Israel would rebel against God’s will and God’s way, they would encounter disasters. When they repented, God would send a Judge to deliver them from whatever oppressed them, quite often a neighboring pagan nation.

With time and exposure to pagan ways, Israel became infatuated with the idea of being governed by a king. Like my shiny deer mount, hereditary monarchs and the glitz and glamour and even intrigue of court life appealed to them. Royalty was…and for many centuries remained…”the rage.” And so, Israel begged to be like other nations. They wanted a king. Samuel, the last in the line of Judges, was distraught. But God told him: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject. They are rejecting me as their king. But at the same time, warn them.” I Sam 8:6

Samuel did describe what life under a monarch would be like. But the people ignored the warning and persisted in their demand for a king. This is a classic example of the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. They got their king.

The story of the brief monarchy is checkered at best. Even David and Solomon had their shortcomings. Solomon, for example, was still humble enough when he took the throne to acknowledge his faults and recognize the dangers of power. He prayed that God would give him wisdom so that he could be a wise and just king. God listened to his prayer and gave Solomon what he needed to be a good shepherd. But Solomon did not rely exclusively on God’s counsel. He allowed himself to be influenced by others, including pagans. He gave in to his own appetites and greed. He even fell into the grave sin of public idolatry.

In the history of Israel…the first part of the story of salvation…the Kings were certainly decorative and they filled space while the people waited for the Messiah. We remember the good things they accomplished, and most often, overlook their shortcomings. In fact, when all was said and done, they fell short of the authentic and real leadership of the patriarchs called by God to protect, teach, and guide the Chosen People. What pride or admiration was to be had from the decisions made in their throne rooms was blemished by human weakness. Possibly the most destructive result of the longed-for monarchy was that it gave the people a false and unreal image of what a king should be. And so when God the Father sent The Son into the world to initiate a new reign…The Kingdom of God…THE PEOPLE DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM FOR WHO HE WAS!

From His humble birth to His humiliating death, Jesus was the exact opposite of the image of a civil leader. There was no pomp and circumstance, only a gentle and loving Shepherd who “smelled like His sheep.” (Pope Francis) There were no military drills or buildup of armaments; rather a call for unity and peace. There was no royal court or cabinet. Jesus was surrounded by a rag tag band of fishermen, tax collectors, and public sinners. Jesus was in no way, shape, or form what the people expected from a king. The people rejected Jesus. His crown was thorns, and His throne The Cross.

What Christ’s Kingship does have in common with worldly monarchs is the right of succession. Through our Baptisms, we are called to share in what we celebrate today…Christ’s dominion and the Reign of God. When confirmed, we are anointed like queens and kings, only we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and become part of a royal priesthood ordained to serve all, especially those in greatest need. Like the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets and judges, we have been chosen by God to show the rest of humankind how to live in harmony and peace. To insure that we are up to that enormous task, we are invited to a banquet unimaginably more important than any state dinner. We are guests at the Eucharist, where we first hear God’s Eternal Word that defines our mission. And then we are nourished by the Bread from Heaven and The Cup of our Salvation so that we have the strength to carry out our ministry…telling the whole world that Soon, very soon, we are going to see the King! Then our ending will be like our beginning…Christ!

Monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and presidents come and go…but Christ is the Eternal King!

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!

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