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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First Sunday of Advent
Mt 24:37-44
November 27, 2022

Appreciating how essential a “good night’s sleep” is to overall health and well being, more experts are making recommendations on how to defeat insomnia. I for one, read every article and listen to every interview I come across, in hopes that I will stop tossing and turning most of the night. There are a few tips that each sleep guru seems to have in common:

1. It is important to maintain a regular “sleep schedule” as much as possible.

2. It is important to avoid those things that interfere with sleep, such as late-night heavy meals, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages and the so called “blue light” coming from electronic devices.

3. It is important that the bedroom should be dark and the mind as free from worries and concerns as possible. (Easier said than done…right?)

This is all pretty much common sense. And, if a few changes can improve overall health and well being…well why not put them into practice? It occurs to me that these common sense recommendations might also be the key to improving our spiritual health and over all sense of well being.

Consider how the Scripture passages proclaimed during Advent, are in large part, a “call to action.” Throughout the brief season we hear things like: STAY AWAKE! PREPARE! BE VIGILANT! MAKE CHANGES! ACT!

This all takes energy and energy requires good rest. You need good sleep in order to tackle big projects. What can be a bigger project than salvation?

SO….

1. It is important to maintain a “regular schedule” by being aware of, and fully engaged in, the entire Liturgical Year. The U.S. Catholic Bishops point out that:

Christmas Time and Easter Time (following their respective preparatory Seasons of Advent and Lent) highlight the central mysteries of the Paschal Mystery, namely, the incarnation, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Ordinary Time, takes us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ. Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation.

The whole of the Liturgical year is scheduled in a way that encourages us to grow closer to the Sacred Mysteries. When we stick to the schedule the Church has arranged for us, and faithfully observe each of the Seasons, we are spiritually refreshed. Being faithful to the liturgical schedule energizes us enabling us to do the work…of growing and maturing in Christ.

2. It is important to avoid those things those people, places and things that disrupt the Peace of Christ which is a rich source of spiritual energy.

Although a Season of preparation, unlike Lent, Advent is not penitential. It is a time of joyful expectation. First, of course, for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But in addition…during this brief time, we remember The Lord’s promise that He will return. This is a season when we anticipate and prepare for that great day. To properly prepare, we need to push back, as best as possible, against those things that distract us and sap our spiritual energy. After all, we want to be well rested and look our very best when we go out to meet Christ…and that takes preparation.

3.It is important that we retire for a time each day with our mind as free from worries and concerns as possible.

Meditation and prayer create the environment that is conducive to a peaceful mind and spirit. Jesus, repeatedly went off alone, by Himself, to pray…especially in the most troubled of times. On His return, He was able to continue to “do the work.” As we begin this New Year, it would be advisable to follow His example.

It really is a matter of common sense.

Advent should be regarded as much more than a brief, preparatory Season that introduces Christmas. It is also an attitude. Advent is a way of being in the state of constant readiness for the return of Christ in Glory. And this requires action…work…and focus. That all takes spiritual energy. And common sense tells us how to acquire that energy…so why not put it into practice!

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Lk 23:35-43
November 20, 2022

Last week, Charles III dedicated the first posthumous statue of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The event occurred in the city of York, England. The 7-foot, 4,000-pound limestone image has been placed on a niche above the entrance to the largest Gothic cathedral in Britain. The sculpture shows the late monarch in regal robes complete with a diadem (crown of sorts.) She is holding an orb and scepter, symbolic of her role as the head of both church and state. One of the most recognizable faces in the world for most of the last century, the monument is portrait quality.

The occasion was celebrated by a throng of cheering people gathered in the square in front of the Cathedral, now renamed in her honor. In spite of the fact that “royalty” is resoundingly rejected in this country, the event, much like her recent funeral and all other public events involving the “royal family,” was widely broadcast here. Americans seem to have a fascination with “crowned heads.”

That celebration offers a stark contrast to the Feast of Christ the King, with which we conclude the liturgical year.

On Good Friday, when Jesus mounted The Throne of The Cross, there was no throng of cheering supporters, only the jeers of a crowd unified in their rejection of, and hatred for, this prophetic activist. The message that so inflamed this diverse group of religious leaders, Jewish politicians, Roman soldiers, and even common people…raised a threat to the world view of each.

He was not clothed in royal garb, but stripped of all earthly evidence of who He was…a poor carpenter from Nazareth. His horrific wounds, inflicted by those who were determined to silence Him, were outward signs of failure. He was left to die with a crown on His head…a CROWN of THORNS. A final mockery was the written declaration posted over His Cross…His throne…to the effect that He was “King of the Jews.”

There is no video footage of Him, no detailed portrait, no easily identifiable statute. We can only speculate what a Jewish peasant in first century Palestine would have looked like.

Through the Gospel, however, Jesus has left us the perfect Self-portrait. He encourages us to recognize Him in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the homeless, the immigrant…our neighbor. “The Face of Christ the King” is not memorialized in 4,000 pounds of limestone…but in suffering flesh and blood.

Many artists have attempted to create images of what we celebrate today. Paintings and statues show Him clothed much like the royal lady overlooking the cathedral square in York. The wounds are covered in lavish robes. The crown of thorns is replaced by a jewel encrusted diadem. Christ the King is often depicted, like Elizabeth II, with an orb and scepter. (Although, arguably, it was not The Lord’s intention to propose a new religion…or to become the head of church and state. His purpose was to announce a radical new world order…a way in which the will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven.)

We have to be cautious when we look at these images showing Christ as an earthly monarch. They can be misleading. In truth, Jesus of Nazareth specifically rejected such things. His kingdom was not of this world.

His ambition was not to dominate as with earthly dictators. He came to liberate all humankind from whatever world order…world view…political system…even religious tradition that proved to be oppressive. His mission was to identify all human beings as children of God…members of the most royal of households…called to be a unified and holy nation.

Someday, that limestone lady will fade into history. Maybe time will erode her, or a natural disaster wash her away, or violence destroy her. But the Reign of God is eternal…as it was in the beginning…is now…and ever shall be…without beginning and without end.

These are the truths we celebrate as we end this liturgical year and look forward to the First Sunday of Advent. So then, why not make a New Year’s resolution?

In the coming new year, let’s resolve to work extra hard to ignore the fleeting things going on around us. Instead, let’s focus on becoming more and more fascinated…preoccupied with…totally committed to…the Reign of God.

If we try our best to do that, it will be a Happy New Year!

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 21:5-19
November 13, 2022

We are in the final days of this liturgical year. As Ordinary Time concludes, our Sunday Readings are always “apocalyptic; speaking to the “end times.” That is The Church’s way to direct our attention to Advent…the new beginning.

In truth, for some months now, the news has been as frightening as our First Reading…or the picture that Jesus paints in Luke’s Gospel. Many people, reacting to the latest natural disaster, or mass shooting, drone attack, or public health crisis…have “wondered” …IS THIS THE END?

The campaign ads leading up to our mid-term elections this past week, certainly did nothing to lighten the mood. Rather than offering “survival plans” that point to a brighter future, ALL of the candidates seem to have focused on the disaster that will result should the opposition win. The Catholic Church in the State of Michigan, was particularly concerned and prayed about the impact of Proposal 3. In fact, one friend sent me an email on Wednesday morning that read: I’m devastated over Prop 3. When God has had enough, Michigan will be the first state turned to ash. (Spoken like a true Old Testament Prophet!)

Bishop Gruss issued a press release, which, if you haven’t read yet, is well worth tracking down. The eye-catching headline is: Jesus looks over the State of Michigan and weeps.”

The Bishop does not anticipate fire balls raining down from heaven. He “acknowledges the reality that a majority of Michigan voters have embraced, as a fundamental right, taking the life of an unborn child…”

The “reality” is much greater than a ballot proposal in 2022. The mere fact that we were even called to vote on such an issue shines light on the “reality” of this world.

The “reality” is that we exist during the “in between times.” The Reign of God having been ushered in by the Person of Jesus, we now wait for Christ to return and make all things new….and perfect…and eternal. In the meantime, we must do our best to survive in this world of power, greed, violence and injustice, without losing hope. And our hope is that Christ will return in Glory and awaken us to the “reality” that God has always intended for us…PERFECT LOVE!

Turn on the television and in a split second you will know that we are living in a night mare of our own making…and not the dream that God has for us. Moreover, the “reality” is that no proposal, no vote, no law, can do what the Gospel does…and awaken us to what God intends for those who strive to live the Law of Love.

Almost 30 years ago, Franciscan theologian Fr. Richard Rohr published a book titled: Jesus’s Alternative Plan. There, he suggests that: We can never expect Caesar to do Christ’s work. In other words, no law drafted by the human hand, will accomplish what was inspired by God…THE GOOD NEWS…THE GOSPEL!

And in the spirit of the Gospel, Bishop Gruss reminds that: We are an Easter People. It looked like complete defeat on Good Friday, but the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection teaches us that, in the end, life prevails. He concludes by doing what Caesar has failed to do…Christ’s work…by offering the alternative of life…to those who might consider terminating a pregnancy.

It might seem to many that we are bringing this liturgical year to a close during terrifying times. No doubt, our challenges seem insurmountable. But our Gospel this Sunday concludes with a very powerful word: PERSEVERANCE.

When we persevere in the Gospel, God’s dream becomes our “reality.”

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 20:27-38
November 6, 2022

I gave myself quite a headache this week… ”multi-tasking!”

I was reflecting on the Readings for this Sunday. Simultaneously, I was working on a brief homily for a special 25th Wedding Anniversary Mass that I have the honor of celebrating for very close friends later in the week. The result was a spiritual collision of sorts that left me banging my head against the wall (figuratively, not literally) …hence, the headache.

Most Scripture passages recommended for the celebration of the Sacrament of Christian Marriage, along with the ritual prayers which the Church has composed, in one way or another, support the notion that the marriage covenant will survive even death. In other words, Christian Marriage offers the promise of an eternal reunion in the Kingdom. That is certainly the image that I am hoping to communicate to my friends: What began 25 years ago is, in fact, timeless and will come to fulfillment in the Kingdom.

But then it dawned on me: How credible will my anniversary homily be when my friends have just heard Jesus quoted as saying: “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage”?

It certainly appears that the Lord Himself is contradicting the hopes and dreams that we strive to instill in the minds and hearts of brides and grooms…as well as those celebrating 25 years of married love.

So, what is a multi-tasking preacher to do? What are a bride and groom to think? How should a couple celebrating a silver wedding anniversary feel about all of this? (Starting to get a headache?)

Forget reaching for an aspirin. Instead, take special note of the fact that it was members of the Sadducees wing of Judaism asking the question. Although, in theory, they were religious leaders, members of this elite, wealthy, and powerful wing of Judaism were more influenced by Greek philosophy than The Law of Moses. They were also highly political, very concerned to be in the good graces of the Romans.

Accordingly, among other things revealed by God, they rejected the possibility of resurrection. So why even ask a question about resurrection? It is doubtful that they really wanted to know what Jesus thought. Rather than the desire to learn something, they most likely hoped to make Jesus look foolish.

We can tell from His response that Jesus was aware of their true motives. He must also have appreciated that they were “unteachable.” But, in a sense, He had no choice but to “multi-task.” He had to respond to them…and at the same time, take the opportunity to teach those who really wanted to learn…including us today.

His answer does not undermine any of the beautiful imagery with which we celebrate the Sacrament of Christian Marriage; rather, it seems to take it to the next level. After first affirming the resurrection of the dead, the Lord goes on to compare the “children of God” with angelic beings. Living out the marriage covenant in fidelity and love offers spouses a glimpse of what that all means. Furthermore, married love and fidelity is also a beautiful way for a husband and wife to work together to ensure that, someday, they both enjoy what, in this life, we can only imagine.

The Lord’s answer to these hypocrites most likely gave them headaches. But His response for us…for all sincere and genuine seekers…should be a source of great comfort and peace.

What Jesus has given is assurance that what awaits those who are called to resurrected life defies any experience, hope, or dream which we might enjoy here and now. The message here seems to be simply this: TRUST IN GOD…AND PREPARE FOR PERFECT AND INFINITE PEACE, JOY, AND LOVE!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 19:1-10
October 30, 2022

The most recent postings on the web page for NASA include beautiful images of a spectacular phenomenon that has been given the name PILLARS OF CREATION.

The James Webb Space Telescope has transmitted these fresh and highly detailed pictures of this region in the Galaxy that was first “discovered” back in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope. What we see in these new pictures are the same columns of gas and dust but with much more detail and clarity. Scientists tell us that what we are looking at is the place where, over the course of millions of years, new stars form and then “burst” out into the universe. All of this has excited and energized the scientific community, which continues its efforts to explore the secrets of the Universe.

NASA is a bit like Zacchaeus in that it is climbing higher and higher to get an even better view…and to gather knowledge!

Curiosity motivated the little tax collector from Jericho to climb a tree. Just the same with scientists. Driven by the desire to solve mysteries and discover new things, they are developing technologies that will give them an even better view. It does seem likely, however, that, for scientists, there is also the hope of rewards…fame and fortune. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, already a wealthy man, appears to have been seeking “spiritual enrichment” for its own sake.

Whatever the motivation, God is eager to oblige worthy seekers. Through Jesus, Zacchaeus’ thirst for “spiritual enrichment” was satisfied as he hosted the Lord as an overnight guest. Although many involved in scientific ventures are unaware or deny it, or would even aggressively deny it, The Holy Spirit gifts these seekers with the skills and abilities that they need to progress in their work.

God does not keep secrets!

In fact, it might help the scientific community to better understand what it is they are celebrating when an intergalactic telescope transmits some new image.

Our First Reading from the Book of Wisdom offers insights that are missing from even the most advanced analysis of new data. The Creator calls all things into being out of love. God treasures every atom, every particle, every speck of star dust…and everything has a purpose in God’s Eternal plan. God’s plan is to preserve and to build, certainly not to tear down and destroy.

One thing revealed in Scripture that science has come to accept is that God works very slowly and patiently…over the course of multiple millions of years. Nowhere is God’s patience more evident than with doubters and sinners. Eventually, in God’s time, even those explorers most blind to God’s fingerprints on all things, will come to understand. That is God’s plan.

For those of us who do believe, especially during these times of so much turmoil, destruction, tearing down, and catastrophic events…the Second Reading is worth…a second reading!

St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the Thessalonians are especially important for us to hear today. As the scientific community goes about its work, the work of the Christian community is simply to give witness to what has already been revealed by God. Believers are encouraged to wait patiently for God’s plan to come to fulfillment. Disciples are called to live The Gospel while we wait.

Which brings us to this week’s Gospel.

There is something almost amusing about Zacchaeus. But his desire to learn is most serious. Also serious is the lesson to be learned from his efforts to “catch a glimpse” of Jesus. The unobstructed view he sought in the limbs of a tree earned for him the most intimate experience of The Lord…WHO SPENT THE NIGHT IN HIS HOME!

That same intimate experience is available to everyone who simply sits in the quiet of their home with Sacred Scripture. The mysteries of the universe will be open to those who seek with a sincere heart. There is no need to climb a tree. All we need do is to open “THE BOOK!”

And then…to live what we read.
When we do that, we become living PILLARS OF CREATION…our faith, hope, and love bursting out into the world around us…and shining like new stars. Those looking on do not need a high-powered telescope to see that they are looking at God’s handiwork. They see, with detail and clarity, what God intends for all humankind…PEACE! Through the faithful, others become excited and energized…and are enlightened.

And so, The Creator’s plan to “build” continues…through sincere seekers…people of good will…very, very slowly until the Day of the Lord!

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 11:1-13
July 24, 2022

In our First Reading, we marvel at how brazenly persistent Abraham is in his efforts to mitigate God’s very justified reaction to the goings-on in Sodom and Gomorrah. And he is successful in his pleas. It appears that Abraham “changed God’s mind.”

Then, in our Gospel, we benefit from the disciple’s request that Jesus teach them to pray. The Lord completed His instructions on effective prayer practice with a parable demonstrating the need to approach prayer with an urgent and determined, even obstinate attitude; simply put, like Abraham…KEEP ASKING!

Although particularly memorable in that Jesus lays out in detail the recommended content for prayer, these are not the only two references in Scripture guiding us in “how to pray.” Consider St. Paul’s brief but powerful suggestion found at 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Again, we are called to be persistent in prayer. Still, not even monks or cloistered nuns can spend every waking moment in prayer. Or can they? Should they? Can you? Is it even possible?

When we focus on the third element of The Lord’s Prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name…we find that, regardless of who we are, or what our vocation might be, it is entirely possible to pray without ceasing.

Jesus reminds us that God’s Name is Holy. In order to fully comprehend what that means…that God’s Name is Holy…we do well to join Moses on the summit of Mt. Sinai. There, Moses asked the Almighty by what Name God should be known. The Divine reply was both simple and at the same time exceedingly complex…crystal clear but infinitely mysterious. God said: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

The Almighty seems to be telling us that it is impossible to Name the Eternal Presence. And so, the Divine should remain Nameless.

This passage greatly influenced the prayer practice of the Jewish people. To this day, many believe that the Almighty’s Name is unknowable…and that efforts to Name our Creator are, in a sense, a violation of the Second Commandment. Respecting the unknowable and unspeakable statue of The Divine Name, it is not uncommon to find a written reference to The Eternal One:

G-d!

Still, even though The Hallowed Name cannot be spoken, many believe that it can pass through our lips in the form of our breath. When we exhale…we are, in a sense, whispering The Name of the Eternal One; just so when we inhale. If we are mindful of this “prayer practice,” we can, indeed, “pray unceasingly” from the moment we emerge from our mother’s womb until we draw our final breath.

Consider this: That which sustains life…respiration…is also That Who gives us life! The necessary and involuntary act of breathing, when we are in touch with The One Who gives us breath and supports our life, can be an unceasing prayer.

If this seems exotic…foreign…extreme…know that this prayer practice was “Christianized” and used to Hallow God’s Name from the early centuries of our Church. “The Jesus Prayer” is the simple practice of relying on breath rather than the spoken word to Hallow The Divine Name in prayer.

The method is quite simple. On the inhale, let the words flow through your mind and heart:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.”

On the exhale:

“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This prayer practice is founded on the belief that The Holy Name establishes a solid connection between Creator and creature, and in that sense is an extremely powerful prayer, which makes it possible to pray without ceasing.

Whether you are praying in hopes of changing God’s mind…or for some special favor…or simply to Hallow God’s Name…the very breath God gives us is a beautiful way to connect.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF, puts it this way: Let your breathing in and out, for the rest of your life, be your prayer to—and from—such a living and utterly shared God. You will not need to prove it to anybody else, nor can you. Just keep breathing with full consciousness and without resistance, and you will know what you need to know.

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