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 Lent
Jn 2:13-25
March 7, 2021

Housekeeping can seem like thankless and oftentimes futile work. How many times do Moms say (or possibly yell): I just washed that floor! Take those muddy shoes off right this minute. Why did I even bother?

Just the other day, I took the time and spent the money to have my car washed. I hadn’t driven an entire block when a truck went flying by and hit a big puddle of dirty slush. The entire side of my vehicle was drenched. Why did I even bother?

We are constantly putting out the effort to clean up some kind of mess, only to have someone, or something, undo all that we have just accomplished. When this happens, we often find ourselves asking: Why did I even bother?

This experience of futility carries over into our spiritual lives. How often do we sit and ponder the Commandments, examining our conscience, before walking into the Reconciliation room to confess to the very same sins we acknowledged the last time…and the time before that…and the time before that? Why do we even bother?

No doubt, as soon as Jesus left the Temple complex, the tables were righted and the animals herded back, and it was “business as usual.” One can’t help but wonder: Why did He even bother?

John’s Gospel is written in a way that demands prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection. It is filled with layers of meaning. Today’s passage, often referred to as “the cleansing of The Temple” is a classic example of the need to dig deep in order to grasp the “core” message.

Possibly the best place to begin a prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection of the Scripture passages the Church offers on this 3rd Sunday of Lent is the very last line of the Gospel. Jesus…did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

What the Lord understands is that we MUST keep making the effort…we MUST keep cleaning up the messes…we MUST keep striving for holiness…otherwise, everything collapses in ruin.

He also understands that because life is so very messy, we can easily become overwhelmed…discouraged…fatigued…frustrated…disheartened, and maybe even angry. The Lord understands that too often we find ourselves asking the question: WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER?

And so, Jesus Christ has given us the promise of sharing in Resurrected glory. That is the perfect reason to keep on…keeping on.

One last point worthy of prayer and reflection might well be: WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER?

Knowing our nature, and our propensity to continue to make a mess of our lives and our world…WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER WITH US? The answer is simple. Love! Pure, Selfless, and unconditional love.

As we approach the midpoint of Lent, it might be time to do some “cleaning up” and then recommitting to PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING. It is well worth the bother because PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING are all ways of telling God “I love You, too!”

Second Sunday of Lent
Mk 9:2-10
February 28, 2021

I am by no means a fan. However, when insomnia hits, I’ve been known to watch one of the late-night talk shows.

Well, insomnia hit last week, and I ended up watching Stephen Colbert virtually interview Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney. It was the same with each of the three guests, who were sitting in front of a computer screen in their own homes. After a little small talk, Colbert explained that he had put together a series of questions that he was going to ask each “movie star” so that the audience could get to know them better.

Not exactly a high priority for me…getting to know these people better…but as I said…I had insomnia.

Hanks was first up. He worked his way through several pretty silly questions. In case you’re interested (I was not), he prefers oranges over apples. His favorite sandwich is ham on rye. His favorite smell is a fresh baked apple pie. And, it went on like that.

As I was reaching for the remote to check out Jimmy Fallon, Colbert said: Last question! What happens when we die?

I froze. And it sure looked to me like Tom Hanks did as well. He appeared to be totally blindsided by such a serious issue at the end of a list of pretty silly questions. He tried to laugh it off. But, when he realized that Colbert wasn’t joking and was waiting for a response, Hanks began to look uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. He hemmed and hawed…and finally gave a very shallow…very disappointing answer. I was embarrassed for him.

But now I was hooked. I wanted to hear how Meryl Streep would answer that last BIG question.

When Colbert finally got to it and said: Last question! What happens when we die? She didn’t miss a beat. She seemed almost excited to share her beliefs. There was joy in her voice when she replied: Oh! We are reunited with all the people we love who have already died. And then, together, we do what we can to help our loved ones who we’ve left behind.

I was so impressed. Whether she knew it or not, her answer described what we Catholics refer to as “The Communion of Saints.”

George Clooney was the final guest of the evening. When Colbert asked him: What happens when we die? Clooney got a very thoughtful look on his face. He stared right into the camera, and in a very serious tone of voice he said: You know Stephen, like yourself, I was raised Catholic. Over the years, I somehow got away from all of that.

On national TV, he basically confessed to having lost his faith. But then he went on to say: Now that I’m getting older, I’m renegotiating things. It’s under negotiation.

I think what he was trying to say is this: I don’t know what happens when we die…but now that my own death is getting closer… I’m reaching back to what I was taught, what I believed to be true, trying to figure it all out.

Now, if you happen to be thinking, “Who cares?” Who cares what three Hollywood celebrities think about the spiritual life? What do they know? They aren’t theologians. Well, then, you’re probably thinking the same sort of thoughts that many of the people of Jerusalem felt after Easter Sunday.

When Peter, James, and John…poor, uneducated fishermen from the backwoods area of Galilee, began to proclaim The Resurrection, many folks probably just shook their heads and walked away, muttering…What do you know? Who cares what you think?

I can tell you this much: The Late Show did not help with my insomnia. When I turned off the television and went to bed, I tossed and turned for a couple more hours, doing exactly what the three Apostles did, as they walked down from the mountaintop. I laid awake, questioning what “rising from the dead” means.

And while I was tossing and turning, it occurred to me that those three celebrities had given me some very interesting insights into this Sunday’s Gospel. I really didn’t have any interest in getting to know them better. But, through their answers to that last BIG QUESTION, I feel like I got to know Peter, James, and John just a little bit better.

Tom Hanks helped me to better appreciate Peter’s reaction to The Transfiguration of the Lord. Peter was taken totally off guard by the preview of the “afterlife,” which he was privileged to witness. Like the movie star, the Apostle “hardly knew what to say.” They were both made giddy by the reality they were confronted with LIFE AFTER DEATH…THE ULTIMATE REALITY. Their responses were equally embarrassing and inappropriate.

George Clooney reminded me of the somber, quiet walk down the mountain. James and John were terrified as they watched Jesus break through to the “other side.” They didn’t know what to make of it. And, as they came back down the mountain, they began to struggle with the last BIG QUESTION: What happens when we die? WHAT DOES RISING FROM THE DEAD MEAN?

Much like Clooney, they probably reached back in time, remembering all they had been taught, all they believed to be true, all that they had learned from Jesus, in hopes of sorting it all out. The Lord’s Transfiguration became a very important part of their “negotiations.”

When the Easter morning news filled them with wonder and awe, they quite likely looked back and remembered that day on the mountaintop when The Lord shone like the sun. And it helped them “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection.

I don’t think that Meryl Streep was acting. Her response to the BIG QUESTION was too spontaneous to have been just another of her academy award-winning performances. It occurs to me that, somehow, some way, at some point in her life, she heard the echo of that mind-blowing Voice from the cloud…THIS IS MY BELOVED SON! LISTEN TO HIM. Her very profound description of The Communion of Saints demonstrates an understanding that, in the end, it is all about love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
As we begin the second week of Lent, it might be helpful to consider that whether you are a fisherman or a talk show host…an Apostle or a movie star…a believer or a searcher…a saint or a sinner…no one, while in these earthly bodies, can know just exactly what it means to be “raised from the dead.”

And so, on those occasions when we consider the stark reality of our own death, we can easily succumb to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and maybe even fear. It is then, when we are struggling to “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection, that it’s so important to remember what God has taught us through Jesus Christ…IT IS ALL ABOUT LOVE! And by these weeks of special prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are telling God: I love you, too!

First Sunday of Lent
MK 1:12-15
February 21, 2021

Anticipating Ash Wednesday and Lent 2021, a friend commented that she “always cries during the Good Friday Services.” There is no doubt that The Passion of The Lord is the most tragic episode in human history. The reality of what happened that first Good Friday should move us all to tears. But then, the whole of the Lenten season is quite somber. At its core, it is very much a death watch. We know that Lent ends on Calvary. Why wouldn’t we cry every day for 40 days?

But then, we enter this second “Covid Lent” with hearts already made heavy by living with the daily fears and frustrations brought on by the pandemic. There has already been a deluge of tears. We really do need a break in the clouds. We need some relief from all the sadness that has filled the past months…and we need it now! Odd as it might seem, just possibly, this season of penance and reconciliation might offer us that much needed relief.

We all know that Lent is the season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. On its face, there is nothing cheery about that. But Pope Francis suggests approaching these acts with a positive attitude might bring a lighter tone to Lent without losing the solemnity of the Season.   

In a homily he once delivered on the First Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father counsels: Lent is a time of repentance, yes, but it is not a time of sorrow! He goes on to say: It is a joyous and serious commitment to strip ourselves of our selfishness…and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism. 

As I understand Pope Francis, he is suggesting that we might look at the Lenten Season not so much as a “death watch” but rather as a LIFE WATCH. This is not to suggest that we abandon “The Way of The Cross.” Still, we should not be so overwhelmed by sadness that we fail to notice great victories The Lord won all along “The Way.” Each victory points towards the ultimate victory of The Resurrection and enables us to keep moving towards Easter…with hope. Each victory invites our participation. As we begin to celebrate our own “little wins,” we begin to FIND JOY IN LENT!

The first challenge is in the desert. As spectators, we watch The Lord resist and reject Satan…and all his works…and all his empty promises. As combatants, we face off against our own temptations. With the help of God’s grace, we can get control over our appetites, push back against destructive ambitions and overpower unhealthy pride. With the help of God’s grace, we can win. Our “little victories” increase our hope and enable us to FIND JOY IN LENT!

Pope Francis explains it: Only God gives us true happiness. It is useless to waste our time seeking it elsewhere, in wealth, in pleasure, in powers, in a career.  

This second “Covid Lent” finds many short on hope. More than ever, this is definitely a time when we need to chalk up some victories…and the joy that comes with winning.  

A final thought of Pope Francis: In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet, Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for us!

A final thought from me: Beat Satan and FIND JOY IN LENT! CELEBRATE THIS LENT AS A “LIFE WATCH

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:40-45
February 14, 2021

It’s going on two years since my mother died. Certainly, like myself, my family, and her close friends…especially those who showed her so much love and care during her last years here on earth…miss her. Even at my age…it’s possible to feel orphaned.

Nevertheless, over the past several months, everyone who knew and cared about her have, on more than one occasion, expressed their gratitude and relief that Mom escaped the reality of being confined in a nursing home during a pandemic.

For me, those feelings of relief were strongly affirmed as I listened to an interview of a young priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Michael Trail was only three years ordained when it became clear that Covid-19 was serious to the point that drastic measures would be necessary to try to slow the spread of the virus…actually, extreme measures…very much like the kind of dramatic precautions described in our First Reading, intended to stop the spread of leprosy.

So, Fr. Trail volunteered to serve on what is referred to as the Covid Sacramental Task Force. This is an elite group of priests…trained, equipped, and authorized to go into hospitals and other residential care facilities to anoint the sick, many of whom are actively dying.

As he shared his experience of bringing the Sacraments to people in isolation, he offered an image of what our elderly sisters and brothers, those quarantined in care facilities, and especially those infected and hospitalized are experiencing.

The sense of loneliness…the feelings of abandonment…the overwhelming loss of freedom…and total dependance on the charity of strangers.

The loss of dignity.

For many, the realization that they are facing death without the comfort of family at their beside; and, for most, the completely debilitating spiritual ailment of fear and hopelessness.

Here in Saginaw, two of our younger priests made the same commitment…and continue to take the same risks and tell the same kinds of stories. These men have given life…and meaning…to St. Paul’s words that conclude our Second Reading today.

They are imitators of Christ.

It is an easy jump from this week’s readings to the pandemic the world has been struggling with for over a year. And hopefully, hearing our readings proclaimed, and listening to stories about the heroic ministry of those priests…not to mention the stories of doctors, nurses, First Responders, and health care providers, we are inspired to somehow imitate Christ by reaching out to those who…for whatever reason….are lonely or feeling abandoned.

You see, a person doesn’t have to be infected with leprosy…or Covid…in order to find themselves dependent on others. There are any number of things that can cause a human being to experience the loss of dignity, leaving them full of fear and hopelessness.

People need help and healing for all kinds of reasons. Tragically, they are often overlooked, or, shamefully, very often, they are pushed to the side…marginalized…shunned…or quarantined.

That’s exactly where discipleship comes into play. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to be imitators of Jesus Christ. And you don’t need special training or protective clothing and equipment to imitate Christ. All you need are the graces that inspire the compassion and courage Jesus showed in healing the leper.

With the help of God’s grace, we are empowered to break down whatever barrier has folks isolated when they are in greatest need.

Lent is almost here. This is the time when we are called to make an extra effort to be faithful disciples through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving by reflecting on these readings and listening to the countless stories of selfless courage of men and women who are imitating Christ by extending healing hands to those afflicted.

I am left to wonder if the lesson to be learned from yet another “Covid Lent” is that, besides “giving something up” (which is certainly a worthy Lenten practice) we are called to “give.” Our readings certainly inspire us to “give healing” to those who might otherwise be left behind.

We are literally surrounded by human suffering. If you desire, you can reach out and touch them, and offer them relief. If you desire, you can somehow, some way, be imitators of Christ.

So here is the challenge: The coming 40 days of Lent are a little like…or at least they should be…a desert place. Desert because during Lent, we should try to step away from all the things of our ordinary lives that distract us from discipleship.

So, let’s follow Jesus’s example and escape to a desert state of mind….and wait. People in need of healing will come to us. And because we are leaving everyday distractions behind, we’ll notice them…and be moved in compassion.

If we desire, we can bring them relief.

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