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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The Baptism of the Lord 
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
January 13, 2019

THE WALL!
These days, in the USA, those two little words evoke some powerful and vivid images, not to mention emotions. “The Wall” are two little words that are politically charged and deal with the issue of border security.

For generations, in The Holy Land, those words, THE WALL, has, likewise, aroused powerful emotions. The image, however, was and continues to be more than a plan or proposal for a future structure. To the Jewish people, THE WALL brings instantly to mind what remains of The Temple of Jerusalem.

One of the wonders of the ancient world, The Temple, is equally as significant to Christians as to the Jewish people. It was the setting of many of the most dramatic events in the life of Jesus Christ.

Joseph and Mary, when the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22)

When He was 12 years old, The Holy Family traveled from Nazareth to The Temple to celebrate the Passover. Without telling anyone, Jesus remained behind, as the rest of His family set off on the journey home. His frantic parents returned, searching for Him, and expressed their concern to Him when He was finally found. His response should enhance our appreciation for The Temple and for what remains of it: THE WALL!How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Toward the end of His earthly life, Jesus repeated those words as He drove money changers from The Temple.”…stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:16)

The Temple was the site of much of Jesus’s teaching and preaching and the place where He performed many miracles. And so, THE WALL most certainly deserves the reverence and respect of Christians and Jews alike. On the other hand, Jewish people believe that The Spirit of God dwells within the stones of THE WALL. That might well be the case. But, as we bring this Christmas Season to a close with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we would do well to consider where else the Holy Spirit dwells. The events at the Jordan River direct our attention away from The Temple, first to Jesus, and then inward, to ourselves. Consider what Isaiah the prophet tells us in our First Reading: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end. In Baptism, our service begins!

Through our Baptisms, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in each and every one of us. Moreover, we are called to continue the mission and ministry of The Lord, Who was the cornerstone that the builders rejected. (Luke 20:17) On top of that foundation, The Lord placed Simon Peter, The Rock on whom our Church was built. And then came us!

Those two simple little words: THE WALL, conjure up different images for different people, evoking powerful emotions. For me, they offer a perfect image of discipleship, and a reminder of what it means to share in The Baptism of the Lord.

We are not the remains of something once built by human hands and then destroyed by human aggression. We are a LIVING WALL that continues to grow and stand firm because our foundation is Christ. Each of us is like a stone, thoughtfully placed by The Master Builder so that we can add to the strength and beauty of THE WALL. The purpose of this WALL is not border security, but rather, spiritual protection, preventing an invasion by “godless ways and worldly desires….and lawlessness.”

But at the same time, God does not intend that we be a barrier to prevent people from entering; rather, within our confines, there is an atmosphere of peace, justice, and love which we should be eager to share with those who are eager to be part of what we stand for. We are living Temples. We will continue to stand and grow until Christ returns in Glory, because within us, The Spirit of God lives!

The Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 6, 2019

There really and truly was a King Herod. Historical documents as well as archeological ruins of the opulent palaces he built in and around his capital city of Jerusalem are solid and convincing evidence of Herod’s existence. We have a pretty reliable picture of the kind of ruler he was…and it isn’t pretty.

He was chosen by a foreign power to rule over his people, quite likely because the Roman Empire knew that he would do their bidding in exchange for his throne. He was brutal to the point of being bloodthirsty. Even his own family was not spared his treachery. He was extraordinarily self-indulgent. Over 2,000 years have passed, and what remains of his homes allow us to imagine a lifestyle that today’s billionaires would find impressive; this, in spite of the extreme poverty and suffering of the people he governed.

He was paranoid, conniving, and fast and loose with the truth. When he heard of something which he considered threatening or offensive, he became greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt. 2-1-12) While a good deal of information has survived about this despicable despot, there is nothing that supports the Gospel report of the slaying of the infant males of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, what we do know about him with historic certainty is consistent with that kind of crime against humanity.

Not a very good image to begin our reflection on this Feast of the Epiphany. Still, this is who the Three Magi encountered first, before finding The Christ-child. What is even more unnerving to the point of being frightening is the fact that Herod still lives! Clearly not the same person, governing the same impoverished country, but all over the world, there are heavy handed, authoritarian rulers who wield power with the same brutality, even to the point of murdering children.

By contrast, other than the Gospel, there is no solid and convincing historic evidence that there really and truly were Three Magi. It’s ironic that we keep good records of evil, but when it comes to goodness…heroic figures tend to be lost to the passage of time. Over the centuries, some details have been ascribed to these three mysterious figures, but the fact is, even though it is not in great detail, Matthew tells us all we need to know.
They must have been aware of God’s promise to send a Savior. They must have believed in God’s goodness and faithfulness, because they kept watch for the signs that the promise was fulfilled. They were definitely wise. First, they recognized the sign when they saw his star at its rising and came to do him homage. They were discerning in that they saw Herod for what he was. However, their lasting brilliance is that they recognized the Infant Jesus for Who and What He IS.

We have no idea of what happened to the gold they brought. But, this gift proves their understanding that they would be welcoming a King. The fact that the encounter we celebrate was not in a royal palace was of no consequence to them. Possibly they were aware at the outset of their journey that they were looking for a King who would put humanity first…a Servant King.

Although the encounter was in the most humble of circumstances…far removed from The Great Temple, the three seekers appreciated that they were in the presence of the Almighty. And so, they reverenced Him with frankincense.
And because they were aware of the fact that God had chosen to share fully in our human nature, in every way but sin, they came prepared with the gift of myrrh. They anticipated His death. Could they have known that His death was the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world? Hard to say, since there is so little detail left about them, other than the act of faith that motivated a dangerous journey. And then, of course, there is the fact that they still live! Clearly not the same three persons, but all over the world in the bodies of women, men, and children who seek Truth, Justice, and Love.

The three we honor today live within you who continue to follow the star. And your journey has carried you to Matt. 2:1-12…a story of faith, courage, wisdom, and generosity, rewarded with an encounter with The Eternal Word made Flesh.

COME! Let us adore Him….Christ the Lord

Feast of the Holy Family
LK 2:41-52
December 30, 2018

Last fall, an old friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I asked if they were going to have a party. She explained that they decided to just get together with their children and grandchildren.

Now, I know this couple to be devout Catholics, and I am also aware of how proud they are that their children are passing on our faith to their grandchildren. The sacraments mean a great deal to this entire family. So, I offered to do a special anniversary Mass, and they were delighted. But, it was difficult to find a date where everyone was free. After a few tries, my friend called and very hesitantly asked: I know you will be exhausted from the Christmas Mass schedule, but is there any way we could do the Anniversary Mass on December 26? Everyone was going to be home for Christmas, but not for long. I was happy to oblige and so we began to plan the liturgy.

I suggested “the Readings of the day.” It’s my experience that God had some special message within the daily Scripture passages, fitting and appropriate and meant to be heard, regardless of the occasion. So, there was no need to look for anything “special.” She seemed fine with that.

However, as the date for the celebration drew near, she sent a text message: Have you read the Readings? (The Readings the Church assigns to 12/26…of course I had) Can find Readings on a happier note? In truth, the Readings for December 26, The Feast of St. Stephen, are not what you would call “cheerful.” St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles and describes his death. The Gospel (Matt. 10:17-22) is Jesus’s warning that to follow Him means sharing in His persecution and death. We agreed to look to the suggested Readings for Christian Marriage, and more “celebratory” passages were chosen.

I still felt, however, that “the Readings for the Feast” were appropriate to the occasion. Martyrdom is about giving up your life out of love! And, in reality, Christian Marriage is all about giving up your life out of love. Although it would be the rare occasion that marriage demands the sacrifice of St. Stephen, Christian Marriage involves dying to one’s self in order to commit fully to the marriage covenant; whereby there are no longer two, but one.

I would imagine that within the first few days of a marriage, the all too human inclination to put “self” first is tested. And, while it might take 50 or more years to get it right, Jesus assures us that whoever endures to the end will be saved! (Matt. 10:22…a pretty happy note on which to conclude a golden wedding anniversary!)

So what does St. Stephen’s martyrdom and a 50th anniversary have to do with The Feast of the Holy Family…or the Christmas Season for that matter? Easy! One simple word: RELATIONSHIP! It’s all about relationship.

The Christmas Season focuses on God’s relationship with humankind. The mystery of the Incarnation is all about our Creator-God’s radically Self-less act of taking on human form, in order to relate to us in the most personal of ways.

The Feast of The Holy Family highlights the roles of Joseph and Mary in the work of salvation. Imitating God, they put aside their own interests and concerns and selflessly responded to God’s invitation to help bring The Living Word made Flesh into the world. Like all good parents, Mary and Joseph committed their lives to the protecting, caring for, and nurturing The Christ-child.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus, Himself, as a brilliant example of Divine Self-limiting. God made human “listened to and asked questions of” the teachers in the Temple, about God. Possibly the greatest example of how God, through Jesus, humbled the Divine Self is the fact that He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Creator submitting to the authority of creatures, in order to build a more loving and intimate relationship is certainly an idea that takes an entire season to wrap our minds around.

And so, the Feast of the Holy Family is appropriately placed within the Christmas Season, when we ponder the extreme lengths which God has taken in order to participate in a loving relationship with humanity.

RELATIONSHIP!

Today, like this entire Christmas Season, is all about relationship…certainly the relationship between God and us, but more still. Today, we ponder our relationships within marriage, family, parish, county…and even world. And the lesson should be clear. We are called to be gentle, even humble with one another. We are called to imitate God by making ourselves less, so that our relationships can be more…stronger…lasting…eternal! Remember: who ever endures to the end will be saved!

Fourth Sunday of Advent
LK 1:39-45
December 23, 2018

I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow evening…CHRISTMAS EVE! But, as I reflect on the Gospel proclaimed on this final Sunday of Advent 2018, I find myself looking back…not all that far, really. The powerful story of The Visitation, The Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, reported by Luke sends me back a mere two weeks to the Second Sunday of Advent.

As I prayerfully imagined the encounter between these two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth, I remembered the Psalm that was sung at Mass in my parish. When the cantor stepped up to the ambo and introduced the refrain, I sensed a current running through the church. The tune was especially upbeat…truly joyful…”catchy.” I could see folks “perk up.” And, although he did his usual excellent job singing the verses, it seemed like everyone was almost impatient to join in. I was, anyway. In fact, even though two weeks have passed, I still catch myself singing/praying…

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

I remember that when he finally lifted his arms, signaling the community to “join in”…join in we did! From the presider’s chair, looking out over the community, I could see just about everyone’s lips moving…and the church was filled with those words…

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

It was great.

While the message was powerful and the tune “catchy,” I don’t think that is what has me looking back to Psalm 126 and the Second Sunday of Advent, when just about everybody else in the world is most likely looking forward to Christmas Eve. There was something else about that Sunday celebration that has raised that memory in my mind and in my heart as we close this Advent Season.

As I was singing along with the community, enjoying a moment of full, active, and conscious participation in the Eucharist, which the Psalm ignited, I noticed a young woman in the front row. She was just a few feet away from me, so I had a good view of her. Like everyone else, she was singing. And, like everyone else, she had a look of happiness on her face, as we filled the church with that proclamation of faith:

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

But what made her particularly unique and caused her to stand out in the crowd was what might be thought of as her “prayer posture.” Obviously pregnant, the young woman had her hands placed on either side of her “baby bump.” It was if she was cradling her unborn child. That gesture seemed entirely fitting at that time and place, and gave special meaning to those words:

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

The memory of that young woman came to my mind as I began my reflection on today’s Gospel. I envision Elizabeth rushing out to greet Mary, their eyes meeting and exchanging knowing glances. I see them stopping for a moment, just before they hug…both cradling their unborn babies…just like the expectant young mother in the first row. The soundtrack that plays in my mind as I reflect on the scene surrounding the meeting of these two heroic women is:

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

God had definitely done “great things” for Mary and Elizabeth. God filled them both with the Holy Spirit. But then, God asked great things of them. Both were invited to play a full, active, and conscious role in salvation history. Both accepted God’s invitation. Because of their willingness to cooperate with God’s grace, tomorrow, voices will be raised all around the world, singing a new song:

CHRIST OUR SAVIOR IS BORN!

As we take a final glimpse of the Advent wreath, it is good to remember that the Christmas Season is fleeting. In no time, Christmas 2018 will be a memory. The decorations will all disappear and the music will change. LOOKNG FORWARD, however, there is one song that those of us who have been Baptized in Christ Jesus should continue to sing…even if only in our minds and our hearts:

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

Like Mary and Elizabeth, we have been impregnated with the Holy Spirit. Each of us cradles Christ within our bodies. Each of us has been invited to take a full, active, and conscious part in the work of proclaiming the Reign of God. So, looking forward, give some serious thought to how you might go about “giving birth” to the Good News. And should you doubt how important you are to The Story of Salvation…remember the song:

THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY…WE ARE FILLED WITH GLADNESS AND JOY!

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!

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