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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Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 23, 2017

A fair number of years ago, when I was much younger, healthier, and more fit, I was in a convenience store fairly late in the evening. As I was making my way through the aisles, I saw a very unkempt man. His chest-length beard and shoulder-length hair were filthy. The mismatched layers of clothes hanging from him were little better than dirty rags and were completely unsuited to the warm summer night. His shoes were so worn out they barely covered his feet. To complete the image, he was staggering around and mumbling to himself. I confess that I quickly distanced myself from this person. Before I did, however, I managed to get a glimpse of his face. The identifying characteristic was a deep depression and scar on his forehead. Clearly, sometime in the past, the poor man had suffered an obviously severe head trauma.

Having paid for the few items that I was there to buy, I stepped out of the brightly lit store into the dark parking lot. It was then that this man jumped out at me from the shadows, blocking my path to my car. I couldn’t see his face but I certainly heard him speak. He said: You are gonna see Jesus!

Quite honestly, I do not ever recall having been so panicked in my entire life. I was certain that there was a gun, a knife, or a tire iron in his hand. In that moment, although my life did not pass before me, I truly believed that I had come to the hour of my death. I was frozen. Even though I was in far better physical condition than today, it didn’t even occur to me to flee or to somehow defend myself. I just stood there, electrified.

And then the man went on: …and someday, so will I, and Jesus is gonna touch my head and fix me and I’ll be like everybody else…and everything will be OK!

In an instant, the panic and terror left me, replaced by shame, compassion, and an overwhelming feeling of…yes! LOVE. While it was my arm that was extended, my hand that rested on his shoulder, and my voice that spoke, I am absolutely certain that the gesture and the words were motivated by Someone else. I heard myself say: Yes…someday, you will see Jesus and Jesus will touch your head, and He is going to say “I am so sorry you were hurt! But I don’t want you to be like everybody else…I love you just the way you are!” And everything will be OK!

When I think back to that most terrifying moment of my life, I also see it as a great blessing. I have recalled and reflected on that encounter over and over since that hot, dark summer night, especially at Easter time, when Resurrection is very much a part of our Readings, our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. That experience is especially meaningful and powerful for me on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

No one can be certain of what it means to share in the Glory of the Risen Christ. Many, like Thomas, have doubt. But many more can never bring themselves to believe.

Others, like Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the disciple who Jesus loved are slow to recognize…slow to enter into the fullness of the mystery of eternal life. Some, like the Emmaus couple, are privileged in a special way and come to understand Eternal Life through the Word and Sacraments.

Those who do “walk by faith and not by sight” try our best to imagine the thing we most hope for but cannot see, for that poor, broken soul who blocked my path on that dark summer night, Resurrection means healing…being restored…being touched by Jesus so that everything will be OK!

And there is the purpose for and lesson of Divine Mercy Sunday. Someday, each of us will stand before the all-loving and merciful judge. And Jesus is gonna touch that part of us that was injured and scarred by sin, making us less than what we were created to be. The touch of Christ will fix us and everything will be OK!

The Resurrection of the Lord
JN 20:1-9
April 16, 2017

We began this Lenten Season marveling at the fullness of Jesus’s human nature as He withstood the temptations of the flesh. He showed the power of the human spirit, when fortified by The Holy Spirit, to withstand every assault by Satan.

The 2nd weekend in Lent, we moved from the desert to the mountaintop. There, like Peter, James, and John, we were privileged witnesses to a display of Jesus’s Divine nature. We were given a glimpse of the glorified Christ as Jesus was transfigured. Even His clothing was electrified…as were the three eyewitnesses. The experience was so profound that Peter didn’t want it to end. But, while in this world, even on mountaintops, we can only get a brief glimpse of God’s Glory. Jesus led His friends back down the mountain to the real world. Still, it’s amazing to think that after what they saw and heard, they still asked: What does it mean to be raised from the dead?

We’ve completed the Lenten journey, and now we are standing outside of the empty tomb. STILL…the questions, confusion, and even doubts persist. What does it mean to be raised from the dead?

As the Easter mystery unfolds, Mary Magdalene fails to recognize The Risen Lord. Peter and one other are met by an angel who is waiting for them inside the empty tomb. There seems to be an air of frantic confusion and shock. We are given the sense that the Apostles and disciples were rushing around in haste, sharing the bits and pieces of information as they were reported, wondering what might be false news and what is reality. Resurrection is like that; it is way too big for the human mind to absorb.

Fear runs high within the community. They remain behind the locked doors of the Upper Room. The Easter Story even contains a very definite note of doubt, and doubt is contagious, especially when confined to a closed-in space. So, over the next weeks, The Risen Christ lovingly and gently exposes His followers to just exactly what it means to be raised from the dead.

The centuries have passed and the question persists: What we do know with certainty is that Resurrection, like Transfiguration, is not part of the material world. The beautiful post-Resurrection stories we will be hearing during the Easter Season could not go on and on. The Risen Christ could not remain in this world indefinitely. He had to leave the prison of time and return to Eternity. And, like the Apostles and disciples, we have to move out of the Easter Season into Ordinary Time and the ordinary world. But, the Lent and Easter lessons should have fortified our spirits so that as we cross “the barren desert,” we are not tempted to relegate Resurrection to indulgence of our appetites, wealth, and riches, or power and control.

What does it mean to be raised from the dead? All we can say with complete certainty is that it is the passage from sin and death to Eternal Life in Christ. For believers, the end to the story is Christ, Who IS Resurrection and Life. That is all we really need to know. Alleluia!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
MT 26:14—27:66
April 9, 2017

Early in my ministry, when I still found preaching more nerve-provoking than delightful, (BTW, after over a quarter of a century, I do experience the delight, but have not shaken the nerves) I sat down to prepare my homily for Palm Sunday. It was overwhelming. How can one, in the course of a few short minutes, break open The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a meaningful way? How can any preacher do justice to the grand finale to The Lord’s ministry and mission? For me, the most daunting prospect about preaching on Palm Sunday is the celebratory way in which it begins. How can you bridge the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the Paschal Mystery?

Bishop Ken Untener was one preacher who seemed to always find great delight in the enormous privilege of preaching the Gospel. And he was always eager for others to enjoy the same positive experience. Moreover, he was anxious that God’s people be truly inspired by God’s Word broken open in a meaningful way. And so, he was continually passing on “preaching tips.”

So it happened that after a few days of fruitless struggling, I heard Ken’s voice in the back of my mind: step out of your comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks! Inspired by this pearl of wisdom that Palm Sunday morning over a quarter of a century ago, after the Reading of the Passion, I pointed to the folks on the north side of the church and simply said: Say I love you!

Now it was the people’s turn to step out of their comfort zone…especially the men. There was a lot of shifting in the pews and a low ripple of laughter. So, I repeated…Seriously folks! Humor me. On the count of three, everyone say, “I LOVE YOU!” Here we go! 1…2…3…

With that, a mixture of voices, men, women, and children (the latter being the more dominant) basically whispered: “I love you!”

I didn’t give the south side of the church much of an opportunity to think about it. I simply turned to them and said: Now, you folks say, “Crucify Him!” 1…2…3…

A roar went through the church, echoing off the walls: “CRUCIFY HIM!”

I went on to explain that even as a child, I was confounded by the people of Jerusalem. How could they have given Jesus such a loving, joyful, and triumphal welcome into their city: Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! And then, less than a week later, be screeching: “Crucify Him!”

Even to this day, it baffles me.

There is something in human nature that makes it easier for us to shout: CRUCIFY HIM! LET HIM FRY! GET THEM OUT OF HERE! LOCK HER UP!…than to whisper, I love you.

Maybe that’s the challenge.

Maybe that is the broken link between the Lord’s triumphal entry into the Holy City and the barbaric way He was driven out just a few days later.

Maybe it’s the difficulty we seem to have in bringing ourselves to whisper, I love you, and the ease with which we bellow out, Crucify Him, that is the broken link that we call divorce, bigotry, discrimination, and even war.

Maybe if we had the courage to step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit… take risks, and proclaim love with the same gusto as we seem to be able to so easily belt out slogans of anger and hate…well, maybe then our world would be a better, more just and peaceful place for everyone to live.

Maybe if we were less nervous about being vulnerable to “others,” we might experience the joy that is to be found in all of God’s children.

Maybe that is the lesson that is to be found in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…step out of our comfort zone…trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit…take risks!

Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 11:1-45
April 2, 2017

This is the third Sunday in a row that we’ve been given powerful images on which to ponder and reflect. First, there was a dramatic encounter between Jesus and a woman by a deep well. Thirst was the obvious theme. Jesus asked for a drink of water from the well. What He was truly thirsting for, however, was the woman’s salvation.

His acceptance, forgiveness, and love struck the woman in such a way that “Living Water” came pouring out of her stone cold heart. In spite of her reputation as a sinner, the people of her village listened to her and came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It would appear that the entire story unfolded next to a deep, dark well. The symbolic value should not be overlooked.

Like so many, the woman was living her life in a deep, dark pit. Escape seemed impossible to her. And then, Jesus drew her up from out of the dark pit that was her life into the light of day. Like a bucket pulled up from a well, she brought with her Living Water to share with all who suffered from thirst.

Then, last Sunday, continuing the movement from darkness to light, Jesus interacted with a man who had been born blind. The story features a number of people who suffered from spiritual blindness. Religious leaders and even Jesus’s disciples assumed that the poor man’s condition was the result of his personal sin, or that guilt inherited from his parents brought on his affliction. Here, the obvious theme seems to be a miraculous event. But hovering close under the surface is the significance of faith.

True faith brings with it the ability to imagine God for Who God is. People who should have known better imagined God as punitive and unforgiving. That spiritual blindness also cost them the opportunity to witness and understand what God is telling us through Jesus. God is a good, loving, forgiving, and compassionate Parent. The man who benefited from God’s tender mercy and loving kindness was raised up from darkness to the light of faith slowly and gently, like a bucket filled with fresh, cool water raised from a deep well.

When questioned, he first acknowledged a healing, but nothing more. He did not understand how this wonderful thing could have happened. But, as he continued to ponder and reflect on the gift of sight, his interior vision became more and more acute. Eventually, he was able to see and acknowledge Jesus as a powerful prophet sent by God. The story ends with the incredible insight that Jesus is The Messiah!

All of this brings us to today’s Gospel on this Fifth Sunday of Lent. No one can overlook the obvious image of a burial cave, a massive stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, or the binding clothes that encase the body, even covering the face. The story screams oppressive darkness and finality. But, Jesus orders the stone rolled back, and even as He called forth life from the woman at the well and from the man born blind, The Lord calls Lazarus back to the light and life that sickness had taken from him.

These three key players most likely never met. The location and surroundings of the events were different, and the beneficiaries of The Lord’s compassion and power have little in common…beginning with a public sinner, moving on to an innocent man presumed to be guilty, and concluding with a much loved friend. Jesus gifts each with the same thing…LIGHT AND LIFE!

Of the four Gospels, John’s reports the fewest miracles. But what is contained in the 4th Gospel is extremely powerful and described in great detail. These three stories that lead us into Holy Week work together to help us better understand that no matter who we are, how low we might have sunk, how deep in darkness we might find ourselves, how impossible our circumstances, He stands ready to call us into Light and Life…His Light…His Life! All we need to do is respond when He calls!

Fourth Sunday of Lent
JN 9:1-41
March 26, 2017

On this 4th Sunday of Lent, our Readings are filled with physical things that are brilliant communicators IF one takes the time to notice them…and listen to their message.

In the First Reading (Sam. 16), the Lord commands that David be anointed with oil. Oil was key to survival in the ancient world. It was back then, and continues to be today, extremely important in many different ways. Especially critical to the lives of our ancestors, it was an important source of nutrition, fueled lamps to provide light, was used as a medicine, and served to enhance one’s appearance. It’s remarkable how such an ordinary thing could be elevated to a place of extreme importance. How appropriate, then, for God to use oil to elevate an ordinary shepherd boy to king. Still, without water, there would be no oil.

Then, in the Gospel, John tells us how Jesus used spit…basically water…to make mud while giving sight to a man born blind. But this was no ordinary spittle. This came from the mouth of God. It was, in every way, like that which all human beings are capable of producing, except Jesus’s saliva was a transmitter of the Holy Spirit…the same Spirit that God used to call life into ordinary mud in the creation of humankind. The same Spirit that God breathed into the ordinary body of a young woman who became impregnated with The Eternal Word of God. The same Spirit that calls us to a new life in the waters of Baptism…and entitles us to share in the ministry of Christ…Priest, Prophet, and King, when we are anointed with Sacred Chrism in the Sacraments of Initiation.

As we begin the second part of our Lenten journey, we are reminded of how often in salvation history God has elevated the most ordinary of things so that they might serve as brilliant communicators of Divine Mercy and Love. But, in this passage of the Gospel, we are also reminded of how often we fail to see, understand, or appreciate what God puts right smack dab in front of us. Even the religious leaders of His time failed to recognize The Christ…because God placed Jesus before them in an ordinary human body.

Jesus’s decision to use mud made from the Living Water that came from the very mouth of God brings to mind the Creation of Adam and Eve. This healing miracle should, likewise, alert us to how our ordinary lives are elevated through our re-creation in Baptism. Through our Sacraments, God takes our extremely ordinary lives…sin and all…and elevates them so that we can be brilliant communicators of God’s abundant mercy and love.

The problem is…so few of us actually take the time to see just how extraordinarily important we are to God in the work of salvation. We have the power to nourish people with The Word of God. We are called to bring the Light of Christ into the darkest of lives. We are healers! And when we put on Christ through the Sacraments, there is nothing more that could enhance our appearance.

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