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
MT 11:2-11
December 11, 2016

People who are not grounded in faith consider the Bible to be “ancient literature.” Those who cannot bring themselves to embrace a relationship with our God often regard Sacred Scripture as frozen in time and useful only to provide insight into what people believed and the moral code they tried to live by many centuries ago. In fact, many believers, as well, come to God’s Word with the sense that it is “written in stone.” For some unfortunate reason, many fail to appreciate that God’s Word is alive. While the core truths which it delivers from The Source of all life and love are unchanging, God has a fresh, new message for each person, each and every day, when we only take the time to listen. God’s Word is ALIVE!

In a culture that amplifies every sound and demands “real-time news,” it is important to understand that God’s Living Word isn’t always broadcast with the speed of Twitter or Instagram; nor does God always intend that a particular message spread far and wide like something that goes viral on Facebook.

Our Second Reading is helpful in understanding the mystery and miracle of Scripture. Oftentimes, the message intended for a certain period in salvation history, or for a particular faith community or parish or family or individual, is like a seed that is planted but must be nourished and nurtured and allowed to grow before blossoming. This is to say that if we want to randomly turn to a page in the Gospel in the hope of finding the information we are searching for, we will often be disappointed. GOD IS NOT GOOGLE!

We should come to God’s Word with the spirit of patience and the willingness to bear hardship that we see in the lives of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. This was even the case when, in the most dramatic, powerful, and unrepeatable of ways, God showed that His Word is alive. The Incarnation…Jesus…God’s Eternal Word made flesh walked among us to bring a message of peace, joy, hope, and love and was almost subtle in His delivery. Jesus, God’s Living Word, was delicately complex and understated.

Certainly, vision was given to the blind and the lame began to walk. Lepers were returned to their families and communities having been healed. Possibly the most significant reaction to God’s Living Word was the noticeable change in the poor and downtrodden. They began to stand taller and walk with a more determined step. Those who took the time to hear responded to Jesus with hope.

But, these things, while highly significant, were delicate ways of proclaiming the Reign of God. There was no news conference with a declaration or proclamation. Even John the Baptist, who, still in the womb, recognized the unborn Jesus as The Messiah, required confirmation. Sometimes, God’s Word is that difficult to comprehend. It takes patience, persistence, hard work, and even hardship to fully embrace what God is telling us at any given time in history, or even in our own lives.

There is no better example of Jesus’s subdued way of delivering God’s message than in the Gospel proclaimed on this Gaudete Sunday…the 3rd Sunday of the Advent Season. Rather than making some grandiose claim to the title that rightly belonged to Him…Messiah, The Christ…Jesus simply responds to The Baptist’s request for proof of identity by saying: Tell him what you see….what you hear. Explain how people are reacting!

But then, The Lord goes on, in the most sweeping of terms, to bestow a title on John the Baptist. AMONG THOSE BORN OF WOMEN, THERE HAS BEEN NONE GREATER!

You can hardly hope to top that. One would think.

But, in the very same breath, Jesus does just that. He goes on to say…in a not so subtle way….yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Put those statements side by side and we get back to the fact that The Word of God is subtle…sometimes difficult to perceive or understand…requiring spiritual acuity and discernment. In other words, to understand Jesus’s role in salvation history, we need to understand John’s role, which, in turn, enables us to begin to see what is expected of us.

Jesus is God’s Word Who took flesh to walk among us in order to announce that God’s Reign had begun, and, at the proper time, Christ will once again break into human history to proclaim God’s Reign in its fullness. But, during the “in-between times” that we live in, The Lord has made room for us to continue the work. As great as John might have been in preparing the way for the Lord, in our own way, we are just as important.

Think of just how important we are…The Son of God moved aside to give us the opportunity to bring God’s Word to life for our brothers and sisters, whether or not they are believers. In this hi-tech age, it’s not unusual to use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to share the Good News. In fact, I am doing that as I complete this very thought.

However, it seems that the most effective way to bring God’s Word to Life is subtly…delicately…without triumphal proclamations or great pomp and circumstance. Don’t you think, possibly, the best way to share the Good News and to bring God’s Eternal Word to life is by following Jesus’s example and by LIVING IT and letting the rest of the world hear and learn through our example? And the best part is…there’s no need to wear camel hair and survive on a diet of grasshoppers and honey. All we need to do to get the Advent work done is PUT ON CHRIST!

Second Sunday of Advent
MT 3:1-12
December 4, 2016

We began the Advent Season last weekend with a set of Readings that, when proclaimed against the backdrop of the current state of world affairs, raised the need for humankind to start listening…and empathizing with one another. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the target of an especially harsh greeting by John the Baptist, directed towards “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were coming to him for baptism. The negative spotlight he directed at them would be enough to make any self–respecting person turn around and go back to where they came from. This might be the exact reason why John called them A brood of vipers, trying to escape the wrath of God.

By way of background, both were sects of Judaism that were not unlike contemporary political parties. Both had a “vision” as to how things should operate and pushed their agendas. The Sadducees were the “conservatives.” They opposed change in the religious/political order. This is understandable in that they were the “1%.” They distinguished themselves, in particular, by rejecting the resurrection of the dead. Of course, by denying an afterlife, this group of privileged and powerful aristocrats relieved themselves of the fear of punishment for their sins. Unburdened by a concern for judgment day, they basically could live the good life without thought of consequences.

By contrast, the Pharisees were not from the “priestly class.” Today, we would call them “laity.” Since they were much more open-minded than the folks on the other side of the aisle, they were given both to study and to the possibility of change. Still, like their counterparts, they suffered the scorn of The Baptist as well as Jesus. The Lord often greeted members of both sects with the words…Woe to you hypocrites!

For one thing, both made their living off of the Temple economy. In short, their lifestyles were supported by the contributions of the faithful…often “the widow’s mite.” Moreover, in the Gospel, reports of their various interactions with Jesus, it does not seem that they were interested in listening to, or empathizing with, either Him or any of the poor, downtrodden, marginalized common folk that gathered around Him. Accordingly, when they presented themselves for John’s baptism by water, he challenged their motives. Were they mingling with truly repentant sinners simply for the publicity? Were they sincerely seeking forgiveness of their sins? Did they come with the intention of changing their ways? Or would they submit to the ritual bath and then simply turn around and go back to where they came from?

Regardless of their intentions, they serve a purpose. They help us to understand the distinction between John’s ritual bath and Jesus’s Baptism with Fire and the Holy Spirit. If they truly understood what The Lord’s Baptism was all about, regardless of how good the publicity might be, it is doubtful that they would submit.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit means dying to one’s self and rising again with Christ to a new life in the Spirit. It is literally a spiritual re-birth. As a “new creation,” those Baptized in the Spirit are called to walk as children of the Light…the Light of Christ, that is.

So then, as we begin the second week of this Advent Season, it might be good to ask ourselves whether we truly understand what Baptism by Fire and the Holy Spirit is all about. Would we willingly make a conscious choice to “put on Christ” and walk “The Way” if we fully understood that it involves personal sacrifice? Would we come to the Living Waters if we comprehended the fact that baptism is a “call to action”? Would we want to have our babies baptized if we sincerely appreciated that Christian disciples are called to be agents of change…committed to take the action necessary to build the Kingdom of God according to the plans laid out in the Gospel?

At first glance, this examination of conscience might seem more appropriate to the penitential season of Lent than the joyful season of Advent. But, in fact, those Baptized in Christ are called to share the mission and ministry of the brilliant Advent figure…John the Baptist!

We are called to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! We do this by living out our baptism…Baptism by Fire and The Holy Spirit!

First Sunday of Advent
MT 24:37-44
November 27, 2016

The division within our country can’t be denied. LET US PRAY for a spirit of empathy, so that Americans at least attempt to see what makes “the other side tick.” That might be the best way to start the healing process…empathy!

More painful to me, however, is what appears to be a growing and increasing public division within the Roman Catholic Church. There is a certain element within our Church, particularly here in the U.S., that is gravely concerned by implications to be found in Laudato si, the Holy Father’s second papal encyclical, and Amoris laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis. The critics appear to come from a position of legalism, fearing the Holy Father’s tone is often too lenient. There are also negative comments floating around such things as His ecumenical efforts as well as his reluctance to “judge” those who some feel should be condemned…marginalized…excluded.

All this is somewhat ironic since the “legalist critics” of Francis seem to be overlooking Canon Law, which provides that the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis) has supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction. In the not too distant past, this power has been used to silence opposition. At least at this point, the Holy Father has not taken repressive action. Hopefully, he will remain pastoral and patient. Whether in the civil arena or within the Church, efforts to bury opposition often prove to root it deep and firm within good soil, where it thrives. This does not lead to resolution, but continues the conflict.

These are certainly turbulent and unsettling times. The protests, the demonstrations, the violence and terror, the wars…even the climate and natural disasters fuel the argument of “survivalists” that humanity is …as the song form the ‘60’s goes…on the eve of destruction. Our Second Reading doesn’t help lighten the mood. Paul warns the Romans: The night is advanced, the day is at hand. This is not a good way to begin a new liturgical year!

It might enhance the joyful spirit of Advent to skip ahead and consider how Paul continues his letter. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Romans 15:4-13)

In order to “think in harmony,” isn’t it necessary to listen to one another? “To think in harmony,” don’t we have to try to get into…rather than under… each other’s skin? That is certainly what God has done through Jesus. The Divine has taken on human skin, and, in turn, has asked us to do the same…put on the Lord Jesus Christ! (Romans 13:14)

If we begin this new year with a new wardrobe and wear Christ to work, to school, to parish meetings, to family gatherings, then the day might come when two people with conflicting opinions might come to really empathize with one another, even as The Creator, through Jesus, empathized with human nature. The opinion that supports tender mercy and loving kindness (the Divine attributes) will be taken up…and the other left behind. As we begin the Season of Advent, LET US PRAY FOR A SPIRIT OF EMPATHY. Our survival depends on it!

The Feast Christ the King
LK 23:35-43
November 20, 2016

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!

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 21:5-19
November 13, 2016

Last Sunday, through Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gave us a glimpse of what awaits those who are redeemed in the Blood of Christ. We bring this liturgical year to a close on this 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2016, listening to Jesus offer a rather grim description of events to come. In fact, approximately 30 years later, the Roman Empire did as Our Lord foretold. The great Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Chosen People were driven out of Jerusalem, were forced to abandon the Promised Land. But, the passage also applies to things STILL to come.

A little over a year ago, three of the greatest minds of our times, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates joined other scientists and engineers at an international conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss rising concerns among many in the scientific community over what is referred to as “artificial intelligence.” Basically, what they were discussing was computer technology, especially as it is used in warfare. Many people might not know this, but there have been recent advances in research and development in the area of “autonomous and self-aware robots.” It is hoped that these machines will eventually take the place of human soldiers on the battlefield. In an open letter, the participants in the meeting express their belief that artificial intelligence has the potential to become more dangerous than atomic weapons. The concern centers on “the ethical dilemma of bestowing moral responsibilities on robots.”

It is interesting to consider that, in addition to his concerns about “artificial intelligence,” Hawking warns about the very human tendency toward aggressive behavior. He has been quoted as saying: The human failing that I would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory, or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all. Unfortunately, while science and technology might well find ways to monitor and control artificial intelligence so that it is only used for the good of humankind…there is no way of eliminating aggressive behavior. It is a consequence of the original sin. Not even Stephen Hawking can “fix us.” Only God can!

In her book, “Love Unknown,” Carmelite nun Sr. Ruth Burrows writes: The more highly developed a people, the wider their knowledge and ability to control worldly factors, the greater the danger. Science and spirituality seem to intersect here. We still harbor the aggressive nature of “cavemen,” except now, the weapons of choice are not sticks and stones. We have indeed advanced to the point that we have the means to destroy the entire planet. Even our children know this. This reality makes a great case for hopelessness…which, in turn, fuels aggression.

Sr. Ruth Burrows and all people of faith share the concern for the planet and for humanity that brought the greatest minds of our times to a meeting in Argentina. While few enjoy the same depth of scientific knowledge as those in attendance, many have been gifted with spiritual wisdom that brings with it the ability to see beyond the edge of the universe…beyond time…and into Eternity.

Christians should not fall victim to hopelessness, even in the darkest of times, because we know that “time” and the “material world” were never meant to go on without end. Even most scientists agree that our universe is moving…unfolding…evolving. What WE KNOW (which they might not) is that the direction we are moving in…is TOWARDS CHRIST!

Christ is The Beginning and The End…The Alpha and the Omega.

When the Risen Christ returns in glory, He will usher in The Reign of God. From that point forward and for all eternity, there will be no more aggression, war, hunger, envy, injustice, or hatred. It is God’s plan to destroy all that is CONTRARY TO GOODNESS, PEACE, AND LOVE! It is God’s will that all The Chosen dwell in harmony in the New Jerusalem…in the promised land that can never again be invaded or destroyed.

The exact cause or the nature of “the end” might be something we talk about and speculate over. But for people of faith, it should be of little consequence and certainly nothing to worry about. What comes after “the end” should be foremost on our minds and anxiously awaited. What comes “after” is what we celebrate next weekend…CHRIST THE KING!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 20:27-38
November 6, 2016

A new sit-com aired on network television this fall. It’s called “The Good Place.” I’ve only seen the first episode so I’m not an expert on the program, but it appears that the plot involves a young woman who is quite beautiful on the outside, but not so attractive on the inside. The audience doesn’t know how, but she died. Through some “administrative error,” she was sent to “The Good Place” although the glimpse we see of her earthly life makes it clear that she doesn’t belong there. While the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used, we are given enough of a glimpse of her life on earth to appreciate that her destination should have been “the other place.” She is completely aware of the fact that she is not where she is supposed to be, and is extremely concerned that the mistake will come to light and she will be evicted. We can’t blame her for staying undercover because “The Good Place” is very, very nice.

The show is filmed on a set that brings Fantasy Island or Disneyland to mind. It is a beautiful little town with ice cream shops, candy stores, bakeries, and cafes where everything is free…you never get full…and best of all…you never gain weight. Everyone is given a wonderful place to live. No one wants for anything.

The reason I’ve only seen episode 1 is because, although it is somewhat entertaining, I am concerned that it might be “harmful to our spiritual health.” The show offers such a simplistic image of what is obviously The Kingdom of God that people without a mature faith, grounded in Sacred Scripture, could very well develop an extremely limited view of paradise. Even though the program means no harm and is merely light entertainment, it really does demean the reality of resurrection from the dead.

I am not trying to be a TV critic or to discourage folks from tuning in. I’m only making the observation that the show is terribly misleading because it reduces the reality of The Kingdom of God to a fantasy world reflecting the most pleasant aspects of this world. In fact, The Reign of God is infinitely greater than the most pleasant of earthly experiences; to the point of being beyond the ability of the frail and finite human mind to even begin to imagine.

But it’s not just Hollywood script writers who try to shrink eternal life into some sort of good dream. Most of us do it whenever a loved one dies and those left behind are forced to deal with the harsh and painful emotions that come with grief and loss. As a coping mechanism, we tend to envision our beloved dead surrounded by the people and the things they treasured and enjoyed most in this world.

We often do the same thing when we consider our own passage out of time and into eternity. Imagining heaven as the perfect “here and now” makes our own death a little less threatening. We are in good company in approaching the end of our “earthly life” in this manner. After all, the 23rd Psalm paints a picture of green pastures and mouth-watering picnics when we pass on to the other side. Certainly, this is an effective way of helping children through loss and grief; calming their fears about death. A mature faith, however, should approach the thin veil between time and eternity without fear and with an eagerness to see more of what REALLY awaits those who have loved and served the Lord. In this week’s Gospel (Luke 20:27-38), Jesus invites us to do just that. This passage which immediately follows our celebration of All Saints and All Souls Days broadens our horizon and gives us a lens to enjoy a glimpse of the infinite beyond.

What awaits us in the Kingdom of God is far more than a reunion with our loved ones, which, of course, is something we hope for. In dealing with a question intended to make Him look foolish, The Lord makes religious leaders appear immature and childish in their beliefs. There is a cautionary lesson set within His response. Jesus is warning us not to trust our own imaginations when it comes to resurrected life. It limits us when we try to describe something that is, in fact, beyond description.

What the “final outcome” will be is too far beyond us to grasp until that part of us which is eternal has shed our earthly bodies; flesh and blood always intended to be “disposable.” The Good News which Jesus brought to us, however, assures us that we are each unique and intimately known and treasured by our God. This means that once we leave all that is temporary behind to enjoy the total freedom of timelessness, we somehow retain our identity. We don’t fall out of existence. On the contrary, we become part of the pure and everlasting existence of God.

Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner suggests that those anxious or worried about the inevitability of death might find it helpful to ponder what awaits us BECAUSE OF DEATH, rather than wondering about what to expect AFTER DEATH. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our hearts are no longer plagued with uncertainty and fear, but finally know the perfect peace and freedom that is to be found in union with the Resurrected and Glorified Christ.

Back to the sit –com.

In my view, if there is anything worthwhile about “The Good Place,” it is that all residents find their perfect soulmate. The idea is that each couple will enjoy unconditional love with another for all eternity. That part of the TV show is accurate. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our souls are reunited in perfect harmony with the Cosmic Soulmate….Christ.

For those who need more details about what to expect BECAUSE OF DEATH, strive to be more loving and charitable in all earthly relationships. That is the best way to get a glimpse of our final reunion…our eternal union with The Sacred Mystery of God!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 19:1-10
November 30, 2016

I was invited to some friends’ for dinner. Shortly after I arrived, their young son asked if I wanted to see some pictures he had recently taken. I said that I would like that very much. He quickly produced his iPad, which serves not only as his “album” but is also his “camera.”

He began to scroll through a number of different photographs of the kind that you would expect to be the product of an adolescent photographer…ballgames, friends, family, cars, and so on; when, out of the blue, came a series of aerial pictures. After the second or third, I realized that they were pictures of his street and his home. So I asked: “How did you take these pictures? Were you in a helicopter?” It seemed like the logical, if not the only, explanation. His answer came with a tone that the “DUUUHHHH!” was implied. “No! I was in a tree.”

Looking up, I saw the expression on his parent’s faces and knew that was how he was able to capture the images of the roves of his neighborhood. With that, he pointed out the window to the tree where he and his iPad were located when he snapped this series of photographs. I was amazed by the distance between the ground and the first “climbable” branch. I had to step outside to get a sense of the overall size of the tree. IT WAS A BIG TREE!

So, I asked him how high up into the tree he was when he took the amazing photos. He pointed to the very branch and then estimated that it was about 54 feet up into the tree. There was still about a third of the tree to go before it became too slim to support him.

We then sat down for dinner, and I was paid the honor of saying Grace. I was inspired to include in my prayer special gratitude that my young friend has not been injured in climbing so high up into trees; also asking God to give him the wisdom not to attempt anything higher than 54 feet (which I still thought was way too high). His parents gave an enthusiastic “AMEN!” and shot me brief nods of appreciation.

Still, as I drove home, I thought about my own tree-climbing days. The exhilarating feeling of being above everything and everybody else. The view. The sense of solitude and privacy, hidden among the leaves and branches. And, most of all, the urge to climb higher and higher in order to intensify all of the other feelings. Sitting in the branches of a tree, a kid easily loses track of time; forgetting about and simply present to the moment.

Although his motivation was only to “see over the heads of the crowd,” I wonder if, from his perch in the giant sycamore, Zaccheus enjoyed all of those feelings that tree-climbers experience?

Eucharist is like that!

When we gather, as Jesus instructed us, to remember and celebrate, we are, in a way, climbing a spiritual tree. It takes effort and determination, strength, and energy. But, once we begin to rise above worldly things….we are able to leave behind on the ground all of our cares, concerns, worries, and even temptations that are part of life.

Having chosen to gather with our sisters and brothers in Christ to remember and to celebrate, we really do set ourselves apart from the rest of the world. Even though Eucharist is a shared Meal, at the same time, it offers the opportunity to enjoy a sense of solitude. We stand together, shoulder to shoulder, remembering and celebrating. But, at the same time, we are also alone with the Lord.

Eucharist breaks the power of time and permits us, for an hour or so, to experience the overwhelming peace of eternity. And it is in this sense of timelessness that we find ourselves eager to climb higher and higher into the Sacred Mystery.

When I led a family in prayer before our shared meal, I asked God to give a young man the wisdom not to press his limits and to stop his assent at 54 feet. Before Eucharist, my prayer is entirely different. I pray that God gives us the wisdom, the courage, and the strength to keep climbing until we are able to catch a view of the Kingdom, and then, to be able to share what we have seen with everyone we meet once we are back on the ground.

Don’t be afraid to keep climbing!

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