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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LK 21:25-28, 34-36
First Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2015

Have you ever noticed how people entering a boarding area, waiting for a flight, look around for an empty seat that seems to offer the best view of the counter…or that is near an electrical outlet so they can charge their cell phone or iPad…or that has a vacant chair on either side to accommodate their carry-on luggage (even though that means others might have to stand)? To a lesser extent, the same holds true in train stations, bus stops, and even doctors’ offices. Wherever we gather “to wait,” we look for the most convenient spot and then claim it. We set up camp and make the best of it while we wait. And when there is activity at the gate…or vibration on the tracks…or we catch sight of the bus lumbering down the street…or the nurse opens the door of the waiting room, the reaction is universal. We put aside whatever we might be absorbed in…AND WE STAND AND MOVE! There is no looking back at the space we have been occupying, no matter how convenient or comfortable it might have been. It served its purpose as we waited, AND WE STAND AND MOVE!

On the surface, the Season of Advent is very much like that. It carries with it the feelings of the excitement and expectation or even the anxiety we experience, at whatever level of intensity, as we wait for an arrival. This is a season of joyful expectation and anticipation. It is a season of preparation. But if you go deeper, it is much more.

While it is true that this opening season of a new liturgical year culminates with the celebration of the BIRTH of Jesus, our Readings for this First Sunday of Advent invite us to look beyond The Nativity to that time when Christ RETURNS in all of His glory. These next four weeks are an opportunity for each of us to shrug off whatever spiritual lethargy we might have settled into…and to STAND UP AND MOVE towards Christ. When we realize that we are waiting for both the cosmic arrival and the ultimate destination of all creation, it’s almost impossible to get comfortable where we are. It’s too exciting to merely sit and wait until we see some activity. We shouldn’t simply search for a place to camp out and get comfortable while we wait. Jesus has already signaled that the time is at hand.

We sing “Arise from your slumber, awake from your sleep.” Over these next four weeks, during the Christmas Season…and throughout the coming liturgical year we begin today…let’s live those words we sing. Let’s STAND UP AND MOVE towards the new day that’s dawning in Christ!

JN 18:33B-37
The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King
November 22, 2015

It has been reported that the number of “radicalized” ISIS recruits pouring into Syria and Iraq from around the world has doubled over the past year. Social media has been a very successful means of “getting the message out.” The question is: What is there about “the message” that is so powerful that so many young people find it irresistible? Some believe that the appeal rests in large part with the skillful use of an ancient collection of sayings and prophecies about “the end of the world.” The young recruits have bought in a vision of a final cosmic battle between good and evil; the victor welcoming into existence a new era. They perceive themselves to be God’s champions.

This non-Christian literature that has been used to give the impression of “religious war” is not unlike what we Catholics heard proclaimed last Sunday, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, and again this week as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. The passages from the Book of Daniel as well as that from Mark’s Gospel are “apocalyptic” in tone. In other words, they speak to the final things. But it is extremely important to remember the closing line of last week’s Gospel: BUT OF THAT DAY OR HOUR, NO ONE KNOWS, NEITHER THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN NOR THE SON, BUT ONLY THE FATHER!

Those who are successfully inspiring others to barbaric violence are claiming to know things that Jesus, the Son of God, did not know. They are using Islamic apocalyptic literature as “a war strategy” and a script for terrorism. Those behind this movement are trying to make things occur in such a way that it appears that what has been foretold is now unfolding…and that this is the will of God. In short, they are attempting to impose a timetable on The Almighty.

And so, the message God sent through the Prophet Daniel has particular relevance for us today. There we enjoy a vision of Christ drawing all things together under His dominion and control. Daniel’s vision is one of unity, not war, terror, and violence. This Old Testament vision is made more brilliant by our Second Reading from the Book of Revelation. Jesus is The Beginning and The End…” The First and Last Word” so to speak. And The Last Word is one of love, forgiveness, and freedom for “all peoples.” What we hear in our Second Reading is essentially this: THE WAR IS OVER! JESUS IS VICTORIOUS! The Reign of God has already begun. The terrorists’ vision fails because Christ has won a peace that will prevail until…at the time God the Father choses…He will return in glory.

We celebrate Christ’s dominion in what, at first glance, might appear to be an unusual way. Our Gospel on this Feast of Christ the King takes us to the praetorium in Jerusalem on Good Friday to overhear what theologian Monika Hellwig once referred to as: “perhaps the most important conversation captured in literature.” By that, she means…we have it all wrong. Our perception of…our job description for…“monarch”…is one of power and control; when, in fact, Christ’s Kingship is about suffering, service, justice, peace…and unity! Should the Gospel appear weak next to the horrific acts of violence we are witnessing, consider how weak Jesus looked standing in front of Pilate!

Those who lost loved ones in the attacks on Paris and Beirut or in the downed Russian airplane over the Sinai Desert might not find comfort in all of this. Those who have a son or daughter deployed to the Middle East might well say: “This is just all a bunch of words.” But it is extremely important for us to remember that it is words that motivate all of this violence and terror. Many young people are listening to words that describe a vision that is the complete opposite of that which Jesus has left us, and they are buying into that vision…a false vision.

Christ the King is the Eternal Word of God. And the vision Christ has left us is one of peace, justice, love…and truth!

While we cannot deny that there needs to be a political and quite likely a military response to the evil that is spreading across the world, the most persuasive diplomacy and the most effective weapon…is truth…The Truth…Jesus Christ.

The front lines of this war on terrorism, in a very real way, are our classrooms and our pulpits. More than ever, it is imperative that we “radicalize” our young people…radicalize them in the Gospel. It is imperative that we pass on a clear vision of the Kingdom of God…a vision that has been spoken to us by The Eternal Word…Christ the King.

For some time now, our Church has been calling us to commit to a New Evangelization…but the response has been half-hearted at best. Next week, we begin a new liturgical year with the Season of Advent. Let’s commit in a radical way to these four short weeks of preparation. When we welcome Jesus at Christmas, let us do it with a deeper understanding that He is the Prince of Peace!

Living Hope
MK 13:24-32
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 15, 2015

The National Academy of Sciences recently published the results of a study by economists from Princeton University which demonstrates that death rates among white Americans ages 45 to 54 is increasing dramatically, even as life expectancy among other identifiable groups increases. The majority of these seemingly untimely deaths are attributed to things other than “natural causes,” including drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Simplifying this alarming and credible study, one might suggest that within this demographic grouping, there is an epidemic of hopelessness. These statistics are certainly tragic. But especially alarming is the possibility that “hopelessness” will metastasize, spreading down to and infecting our kids.

Close in time, the Pew Research Center published its study concerning attendance at religious services. This group suggests a “change in the religious landscape” in the U.S. Approximately 36% of those polled claimed that they attend church services at least once a week. That statistic holds for American Catholics and Sunday Mass attendance. All we need to do is look around our parish church on any given Sunday morning to know these numbers are right.

Is there a connection between these two studies, I wonder? Is there a connection between “epidemic hopelessness” and the reduced numbers of worshipers in our church services?

We Christians know this much for certain: We enjoy a “living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Peter1) This “living hope” means that no matter what is happening in our lives, we have every reason to believe that it will end well if it ends in Christ. This “living hope” enables us to walk through dark times guided by The Light of Christ, confident that Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice has ensured for us the happiest of endings…as individuals as well as humankind.

It seems that the question of just exactly when the end will come has always lingered on the minds of people, regardless of whether they enjoy a faith life or not. Possibly, that concern triggers hopelessness. For people without a “living hope,” the end is something to be feared. But, for Christians, “the end” does not evoke an image of endless darkness, but rather the Eternal Light of Christ…The infinite Glory of God. Still, “The End,” whether of our world as we know it or our individual lives, is something for which we must prepare. And, in many different ways, that has been the message of Mark’s Gospel, with which we began this liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent 2014 and which we conclude this Sunday.

We must remember that, like all living things, “living hope” needs to be nourished, fed, and exercised in order to grow, develop, and mature. And so Jesus has given us the gift of the seven Sacraments, the Gospel AND ONE ANOTHER, so that our hope might sustain us. And the best news of all is that “living hope” is contagious. When we face the challenges of life with Christian hope, we can share our belief with others that “THE END” is, in reality, “THE NEW BEGINNING” of something wonderful that will never end. Let’s get out there and spread the hope!

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