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 of Advent
LK 3:10-18
November 16, 2018

From the way he is described in the Gospels, one wouldn’t expect John the Baptist to be the grand marshal of the Christmas parade. He is not portrayed as particularly jolly. If you happened to find yourself in a one-on-one conversation with him at a Christmas party, you would most likely be looking frantically around for an excuse to free yourself. It doesn’t seem like he was the type to engage in a little light-hearted conversation. Yet, the Church has chosen to make him the spokesperson for this third Sunday of Advent. What’s that all about?

The first two Readings certainly set the right tone for Gaudete Sunday, which is meant to be an expression of the mounting sense of JOY as the arrival of our Savior draws closer. But JOY…is NOT the reaction one would typically expect to this harsh voice crying out from the banks of the Jordan River. Some might even consider The Baptist a “killjoy.” It makes you wonder why The Church decided to proclaim this particular passage from Luke’s Gospel, even as excitement builds and anticipation intensifies. This is not a penitential season. Our first two Readings are certainly in keeping with the spirit of Advent. So, why complete the Liturgy of the Word with John the Baptist on Gaudete Sunday?

To better understand this unusual pairing, it might help to go back to the beginning. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is in harmony with the Prophet Zephaniah, because each, in its own way, points out that when we place all of our trust in God’s mercy and love, we find that our lives are much more JOYFUL. Underlying that message is the observation that when our spirits are JOYFUL, we are inclined to share that JOY. Think about it for a second. Don’t you feel more generous when you are happy? And doesn’t that sense of satisfaction, contentment, peace, JOY intensify when you share the good things with which you are blessed?

Keeping that in mind, take another look at John the Baptist — certainly an unusual pick to lead the Christmas parade. But the fact is that is exactly who God chose to announce the arrival of the Messiah. The Baptist was the grand marshal, leading all humankind in the most JOYFUL of all celebrations…welcoming Jesus Christ as Savior.

While he might not be the kind of person you seek out for some light conversation at a party, our Gospel begins by telling us that he attracted a crowd. The passage concludes by explaining why: He preached good news to the people!

And what is this “good news” that enabled him to capture and hold the attention of his audience? Simply this: “Pay it forward!” When you place your trust in God’s mercy and love, you will find JOY. And when you are filled with JOY…”Pay it forward!

Second Sunday of Advent
LK 3:1-6
December 9, 2018

I was nursing my third cup of “morning joe,” getting a very slow start to what I knew would be a very busy day. Just as I was about to get up and get moving, I glanced over at the Township Times that had been sitting on my kitchen counter all week. Glad for yet another reason not to get up, I began to page through the little local newspaper. It didn’t take me long to find another “good reason” to delay the work of the day.

Across the middle of page 2, in big, blue letters, was the invitation: “LET’S CELEBRATE WORD SEARCH.” Below the bold print were 20 rows of letters, 20 letters deep. Underneath this alphabet maze were the instructions: Find the words hidden, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and backwards. Running down the right-hand side of the page was the list of 36 words that were camouflaged by the 400 letters, each word having to do with what is referred to as THE HOLIDAY SEASON. (That has become the politically correct way of referring to Advent and Christmas…”The Holiday Season”

Almost immediately, I spotted and circled the words: shopping, snow, friends, food, and gifts. I was hooked. I thought to myself: This is easy! I’ll just blow through this while I finish my coffee, and then I’ll get ready and get to work.

An hour later, now seriously late, there were just two words left on the list that I absolutely could not find. I was getting more and more frustrated, but I didn’t give up. And then, I looked over at the clock and realized that there was no time left. I had to get to work. So, I quickly flipped to the “solutions” section. But it still took me a few minutes to find where these two elusive words were concealed. When I finally located them, I turned back to the puzzle so that I could circle these last two words. Even though I knew exactly where to look, I still had trouble finding these two words: CELEBRATION and FAITH!

Advent is the shortest of the liturgical seasons, only four weeks long. While it is technically not like Lent, which is penitential in tone and purpose, no fasting or abstaining is required during Advent, nevertheless, it is a time to prepare. Moreover, all three Readings for this 2nd Sunday of Advent convey a sense of urgency. The Season flies by fast. There is no time to waste. And while the work is urgent and extremely important, our Readings also tell us to go about the preparations with a sense of joy!

Like the headline that caught my attention, we are preparing to CELEBRATE THE WORD. But no search is necessary. We have no need of clues. There is nothing concealed or hidden in a scramble of letters. John the Baptist brushed aside all obstacles in the way of God’s Eternal Word made Flesh. The message stands out…plain and simple and on its own for those who are wise enough to look. A SAVIOUR IS BORN, CHRIST OUR KING…WHO WILL RETURN AGAIN IN GLORY!

Our spiritual preparation to welcome Christ at Christmas, at the conclusion of our own lives, and at the end of the world, deserves our immediate attention. It should not be delayed or put off. So as we light the second of the four Advent candles, “LET’S CELEBRATE (THE) WORD….NO SEARCH REQUIRED!”

First Sunday of Advent
LK 21:25-28, 34-36
December 2, 2018

There are three elements to the Advent wreath, each with its own message, all working together to remind us that over the next four weeks, we are preparing for more than a winter holiday. Advent is a season of spiritual preparation. It is a time to make ourselves ready to celebrate in a special way the truth that God once walked among us…as one just like us…in all ways…in all things…but sin. And a good way to prepare is to take a moment and listen carefully to what the Advent wreath has to say to us.

The circle of evergreen branches is a symbol of everlasting life. That is the promise that Christ brings into the world: EVERLASTING LIFE! The shape of the bright green branches renews that promise.

Then there are the colored candles and ribbons. Purple is to remind us that we are awaiting the arrival of royalty. CHRIST THE KING! This King, however, unlike earthly kings, will never disappoint us, as did the kings who ruled over Israel. This King will fulfill all of God’s promises, ushering in a reign of peace, justice, and love. And so, on the third Sunday, there is a rose-colored candle (some might call it pink) signifying that the event we are preparing for is so incredibly wonderful that we can barely contain our joy. The Advent wreath reminds us that this is truly a season of JOY!

The final element in the Advent wreath is the growing light, increasing with the passage of each week. Even as the earth moves further away from the sun, the increasing light of the candles assures us that The Son draws closer to earth, pushing back against darkness with The Glory of God. This Light of Christ enables us to HOPE that we will find our way home. The Advent wreath, with its living branches and four colored candles, is a symbol that has a great deal to say if we simply take the time to listen.

But there is a single, white candle that has a much more personal message. The Baptismal Candle that is entrusted to parents and Godparents during the celebration of an infant’s Baptism, or handed to an adult who has come into the Church at the Easter Vigil, brings with it a message of JOY and HOPE. It is a vivid and dramatic reminder that, through Baptism, we are invited into the Eternal Circle of Divine Life and Infinite Love, which is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through this first Sacrament, we become part of The Royal Family, and as such, are called to be ambassadors for the Reign of God. Long after that single white candle is extinguished, the flame of faith continues to burn brightly in the hearts and lives of those who recognize Jesus Christ as Sovereign King. Turning our attention for a moment away from the Advent wreath to focus on our Baptismal Candle sheds light on how to best prepare for the “Day of the Lord” during this season, as well as throughout our lives.

As the flame from the Paschal Candle ignites the Baptismal Candle, the Priest offers this challenge: This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of the light. May you keep the flame of faith alive in your heart. When the Lord comes, go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

HELPFUL HOLY DAY HINT: Listen closely “to the candles” and discover what you need to do to bring new energy, greater light, and more warmth to the flame that burns within you!

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
JN 18:33B-37
November 25, 2018

The Good Friday exchange between Jesus and Pilate is reported in each of the four Gospels with varying detail. What is made quite clear by each, however, is that Pilate is not attempting to establish Jesus’s identity in order to honor Him. What we hear in the four passages is an interrogation tactic during a criminal investigation. Today’s Gospel could easily be taken from an episode of “Law and Order.” Pilate is trying to gather evidence.

Again, although offering slightly varying detail, the Gospel witnesses are totally consistent in their report of Jesus’s motives and actions in His public life, as well as His reply to His interrogator. His mission and ministry was definitely not to overthrow “The Law” or to disrupt “The Order.” Throughout the Gospels, we see The Lord validating and observing “The Law of Moses” and living perfectly and unconditionally “The Law of Love.”

As to “The Civil Order,” Jesus had already publicly declared His position: Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He had no designs on the throne. He was not a threat to Caesar in this respect.

He was, however, very concerned about “The Religious/Spiritual Order.” There is overwhelming evidence of abuse of power among religious leaders. Hypocrisy was rampant. Temple authorities were more concerned about “their special places at banquets” than how starved the people were. Jesus addressed this situation head-on. His motive was to RESTORE order, not to disrupt it. He was not working to overthrow but to reform. And the backlash by those in power was immediate and lethal. Even still, the Lord was not a threat to the office of high priest or the Sanhedrin. He was, however, a severe critic of the way the people in office at the time were dispatching their duties to God, as well as the people God entrusted to their care.

Speaking truth to authority should not pose a threat to leaders if they are dispatching their duties and responsibilities in the best interests of the people they serve. But, obviously, Jesus was considered a threat to both the Roman Empire as well as religious leaders. They did not belong to the truth,” and so they did not listen to the voice of the Messiah as He called them to repent and reform. Instead, They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)

Considering that Jesus specifically rejected a crown, it might seem surprising that Pope Pius XI would institute The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The year was 1925, and the world was still recovering from The War to end All Wars…World War I. Recognizing Christ as the Universal King might well have been seen as a way to encourage the restoration of order to a war-torn world. Submitting to the ultimate sovereignty of Christ would certainly promote the reforms needed to ensure that WWI was The War to end All Wars. With Christ as King, the law would be The Law of Love, which, when observed, promotes justice and peace among all people.

But even as today’s Feast was being celebrated for the first time in Catholic Churches around the world, evil forces were working to impose laws contrary to God’s will and God’s ways in hopes of establishing a world order that left no room whatsoever for Christ. That effort failed, but the evil forces have not been eliminated.

Today is about committing to truth. Christians, reborn in The Spirit through Baptism, are called to testify to the truth. And the truth is simply this: WE HAVE NO KING BUT CHRIST! Christ, Who imposes a law of love and restores an order of peace and justice among all peoples.

33 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 13:24-32
November 18, 2018

Last week we saw some of the wealthiest of Americans fleeing their mansions. With little more than what they could carry in their arms, they fled a wall of flames from the California wildfire. Some only had a few minutes’ warning. I wonder if, in the midst of this disaster, they thought of the words of the Prophet Zephaniah?

Near is the great day of the LORD,
near and very swiftly coming.
A day of wrath is that day,
A day of distress and anguish,
A day of ruin and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of thick black clouds.
(Zephaniah 1:14-16)

No doubt, the raging inferno that claimed a yet-to-be-determined number of lives must have seemed like “the end of the world” to those directly affected. So, too, for those who are the victims of mass shootings, or tsunamis and hurricanes, or drought, epidemics, famine, or war. Every generation has lived thorough horrific crisis that must have left them feeling like the end had come.

On this final Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Old Testament Reading as well as the Gospel is apocalyptic in tone; that is to say, they both speak of the end times.

Blissfully ignorant of things such as atomic bombs and chemical and germ warfare, the ancients nevertheless anticipated “the Day of the Lord” as a final reckoning. Drawing on the memory of the most horrific of human experiences, their image of “the end times” involved wrath, distress and anguish, ruin and desolation, darkness and gloom, and thick, black clouds. Possibly the most frightening thing of all, however, was the inevitable call to judgment.

Jesus certainly reinforces the image of a cosmic event. But, for those who have tried to live a good life, the image of a terrifying, catastrophic conclusion from which there is no escape fades. The notion of a gloom and doom ending is overpowered by the promise of The Son of Man…Christ…returning in glory to announce the conclusion of time and a new beginning…The Reign of God…which will never end.

Our Psalm today should serve to calm all fears about “The Day of the Lord!” Whether we are speaking about the destruction of Planet Earth and the entire human race or the conclusion of our own earthly life, Christ is the Source of all hope for a happy ending.

You will show me the path to life,
Fullness of joys in your presence,
The delights at your right hand forever.

God has kept this promise.

Through Jesus Christ, God has shown us THE PATH to life. Jesus is the path. Jesus is THE WAY! And when the end comes, those who have tried their best to follow THE WAY…will eagerly abandon their homes and belongings, taking with them only their good deeds.

When the end comes, the righteous will not flee in terror from a wall of fire, but rather will hurry forward towards The Eternal Light. When the end comes, those who have tried to live in love, justice, and peace will not be fearful of the judgment seat. All of their hope rests in Christ, whose sacrifice has redeemed the world. Through His holy Cross, Christ has won forgiveness for those who seek to be forgiven.

As we bring this liturgical year to a close, it would seem that the last word about the final times is simply Christ!

As we make our way through the coming week, let us recall that next Sunday, we welcome Him as our Sovereign King.

32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MK 12:38-44
November 11, 2018

We are nearing the end of this liturgical year. The week after next is the Feast of Christ the King, and then we begin the cycle of salvation all over again with the Season of Advent.

One might consider the Sunday Readings of these final weeks as a “survival guide.” In truth, the entire Gospel is rightly considered a “survival guide.” That was the primary purpose of Jesus’s mission and ministry. The Father sent The Son into this sinful and dangerous world so that humanity might see and learn how we can survive our journey through darkness and arrive safely home to Eternal Light. Jesus, Himself, explained that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Those who follow His ways and live in His truth will survive and enjoy eternal life and light.

Last Sunday, you may recall that in response to a very sincere question posed by a good and faithful person, Jesus declared “The Truth.” And “The Truth” is that the first and greatest of the commandments is: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Through this week’s Readings, The Church offers us two dramatic examples of The Way to live The Law of Love. The Old Testament widow of Zarephath, and the widow that Jesus pointed out making her contribution to the Temple treasury are more than sources of inspiration. We remember them and learn from them, not because they obeyed the laws of hospitality, or tithing, but rather, because they are examples of unconditional love for, and trust in, God.

Each responded to what would seem, to most, as unreasonable demands with extravagant trust. Each is an example of the kind of self-sacrifice which can only be motivated by love. In this way, both women are like GPS…offering guidance and directions to keep us on course…so we can survive the dangerous journey through time. And when we look towards the direction they are pointing, we see Calvary far off in the distance. I wonder if the courage, trust, and love of these two women helped Jesus stay the course as He followed The Way to The Cross?

In any event, their stories are important chapters in the “survival guide.” They remind us that there are times in each of our lives when we will be faced with what appear to be unreasonable demands. When we experience these Calvary moments, if we are true to the Law of Love, and respond with total self-sacrifice, we will survive!

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