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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Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jn 14:23-29
May 22, 2022

Our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles offers us today an extremely valuable lesson on how to resolve the social/spiritual crisis that is so prevalent in every aspect of our lives.

Who can dispute that we live in a time of enormous change brought about by rapid advances in science, technology, and communications? While there are great advantages to progress, there are also challenges, many of a social/spiritual nature, like those faced by the fledgling Church.

The Early Christian community was, of course, Jewish. But, as the Apostles and disciples intensified their efforts to evangelize, the numbers of Gentiles attracted to the Good News increased substantially. This created a social/spiritual crisis as intense and critical as any we face today.

Jewish religious law controlled every aspect of day-to-day life, including “table fellowship” (who you could eat with and what you could serve). “The Law” was settled and was to be strictly interpreted and strictly observed. Disobedience, oftentimes, resulted in swift and severe punishment.

So, the Apostles and disciples found themselves in a conundrum. How could they be “in community” with people whom “The Law” forbid them from sharing a meal? Weren’t they required to “stand by things that had been decided” for generations?

As they searched for a resolution, they must have recalled the Lord’s words: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law…” (Matt. 5:17)

At the same time, however, they most certainly enjoyed vivid recollections of the numerous times when Jesus seemed to…shall we say… “relax” The Law.

The Gospels offer multiple examples of The Lord appearing to back away from rather than “standing rigidly by things decided” with the same strict, judgmental, and punitive manner of the religious leaders of His times. However, there is one Law that, to Jesus, was not merely unshakable, but one which He embodied. Jesus Christ gave Flesh to the Law of Love.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31).

The manner in which they negotiated this first social/spiritual obstacle to unity and peace within the Christian community proves that the Advocate sent by God to help them to learn and remember had truly come to dwell with them. Respectful of and standing by the long-established Laws regarding table fellowship, our ancestors in faith came to an acceptable compromise.

They remembered how Jesus met every social/spiritual crisis with patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and above all…LOVE! And they learned that when they trusted the Holy Spirit to guide them, they would somehow come to a deeper understanding of God’s will and God’s way…and in that way, find PEACE!

There are so many issues disturbing our PEACE, dividing us and depleting our hope for the future. We really need to REMEMBER how the Apostles and disciples negotiated social/spiritual crisis by looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance. We need to LEARN from their example. When we are, first and foremost, obedient to the LAW OF LOVE, interacting with one another with patience, forgiveness, and tolerance…we will once again live in PEACE!

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
May 14, 2022

On the Sunday after Easter, our Gospel Reading took us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We heard how The Risen Christ had breakfast ready for Peter and several of his companions, who had an unsuccessful night of fishing. The Bible passage is packed with meaningful details, beautiful imagery, and powerful symbolism. But most folks only remember what happened at the end of the meal.

The Lord asked Peter the same question 3 times:

Peter…do you love me?
Peter…do you love me?
Peter…do you love me?

Now, over halfway through the Easter Season, the Church gives us a Gospel that carries us back to Holy Thursday. The passage begins with a very brief detail, but without a whole lot of imagery or symbolism. Nevertheless, that detail is of enormous significance.

When Judas had left them.

The very name of this individual conjures up a recollection of the most vile of betrayals, almost too raw to shake off before turning to and reflecting on The Lord’s discourse about GLORY…DISCIPLESHIP…AND LOVE!

John does not report any exchange between Jesus and the betrayer, as The Lord is about to be arrested and led off. But imagine for a moment how such a conversation might have gone. Possibly something like this:

Judas…when did you stop loving me?
Judas…why did you stop loving me?
Judas…did you ever really love me?

One might well question why the Church, at this point in the Easter Season, elects to take us back to The Last Supper. Moreover, why are we reminded about this tragic act of betrayal?
Maybe because, for most folks, the joy of Easter morning has begun to fade as we resume our day-to-day lives. By returning to the Upper Room, we have an opportunity to refresh our memories and deepen our understanding of, and appreciation for, The Paschal Mystery.

This is also a good time for us to ask ourselves a few questions…questions like:

Do I feel the call to conversion with the same intensity that I experienced during Lent?

Am I as focused on what discipleship asks of me as I was on Holy Thursday…as I recalled how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples?

Am I as mindful as I was on Good Friday, of all that Jesus endured in order to pay for our sins?

Have I continued to feel the excitement and joy of Easter morning?

The vile betrayal of Judas was a once-and-for-all event that can never be repeated. But, in our own small ways, we often betray our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is wise to remember that conversion is not a seasonal thing that we do during Lent…and then go back to business as usual. Conversion is a lifelong effort.

While we can measure our progress in a number of ways, how well we love and serve others, especially those in greatest need, is one of the finest ways to gauge how Christ-like we have become.

Thankfully, we are not left to our own devices in this work of conversion. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is both the Source and the Summit of our faith. The Lord Himself gave us the Eucharist so that we might join our hearts, our joys, and our sufferings…even the betrayals we endure…to His.

In this way, we give meaning and value to the challenges we face in this world, and at the same time are given the strength and courage we need to sustain us in our efforts to be more holy.

When we do as Jesus commanded on Holy Thursday…and break the Bread and share the Cup in memory of Him, our appetite for the eternal banquet is awakened. We are given the slightest glimpse of what those who have gone before us…those who embraced the challenge of lifelong conversion…are now experiencing…THE GLORY OF GOD!

We become excited about the possibility of joining them.

And so here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Do you love Christ? IF SO…

Continue to nourish yourself with the Eucharist…and your love will deepen and increase…and bear great fruit.

Do you love Christ? IF SO…

Love and serve others…especially those in greatest need.

Do you love Christ? IF SO…

Keep moving towards the glory through the process of conversion.

Do all of this in memory of Him Who died so that we might live in eternal Glory!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jn 10:27-30
May 8, 2022

This Sunday’s Gospel Reading is one of the shortest, but one most powerful proclaimed at Eucharist. It offers a lesson that our world today, is in desperate need of relearning…. assuming that humankind ever fully understood what Jesus is telling us here.

Let’s start with the ending.

We believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God.
This passage concludes: THE FATHER AND I ARE ONE! This declaration of unity helps us to better understand what it means for us to be created in the image and likeness of God.

God created us to reflect that unity…. that Divine ONENESS…by living together in peace and justice. We are led by the Good Shepherd, to move TOGETHER as one flock, one Body, towards a deeper union with our Creator. No one can separate us…or divide us…EXCEPT FOR US!

We have free will, and we ourselves can make the decision to leave the flock and move in a different direction. Sadly, many do choose to break away from one another…away from peace and justice…away from God. And tragically…that seems to be the direction many are choosing at this time. Rather than coming together as God’s people…as one… human family…. with mutual respect…care…and concern…AND TOLERANCE…we are becoming more and more judgmental and divided.

The tragedy in Ukraine should not come as any great surprise.
Countries all over the world are separating themselves from the human family, and going their own way. The very predictable result is…WAR….VIOLENCE…GREAT INJUSTICE AND SUFFERING.

Civil strife…and even civil war is epidemic. We Americans are not immune from this terrible spiritual disease. We are more divided in our opinions and views…maybe almost as divided as we were during our own civil war.

Way back in 2002, Catholic theologians (Franciscan) Fr. Richard Rohr and (Cistercian) Fr. Thomas Keating co-authored a book in which they wrote:

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from Being itself, and from being one with everyone and everything. When we don’t know we are connected, we will invariably resort to some form of violence to get the dignity and power we lack. Contemplation of the gospel message gradually trains us not to make so much of differences, but to return to who we are—our True Selves in God—which is always beyond any nationality, religion, skin color, gender, sexuality, or any other possible labels.

If you spend some time contemplating this very brief Gospel passage and then dare to ask yourself: Do I hear The Lord’s voice?

Yes? But are you listening…really, really listening?

Do you understand what He is telling us?

Can you accept the call to be part ONE HUMAN FAMILY…caring for, listening to, tolerating and loving one another…even those who are different? Even enemies? If you can, you are indeed part of the flock that will never perish.

Third Sunday of Easter
Jn 21:1-19 or 21:1-14
April 24, 2022

We’ve all heard the expression: My whole life flashed in front of my eyes! It’s used when someone has had a close call…or a narrow escape.

Actually, there has been a recent medical report that scans, taken on actively dying patients, register inordinate activity in the areas of the brain where memories are stored moments immediately before and after the heart ceases to beat. This suggests to researchers that there might well be a surge of memories prior to clinical death. Could there be some truth to the old saying? Interesting!

With that thought, let’s take a look at the Gospel…another description of a post-Resurrection encounter with The Risen Christ.

Early in the morning on a spring day, after a disappointing night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee, several of Jesus’s inner circle looked to the shore and saw something remarkable that must have caused a flood of memories. Peter, in particular, was profoundly affected by Who they saw sitting at a campfire…waiting.

The moment he heard the other Apostle say: It is the Lord! Peter must have remembered that day he and his brother and two of their friends left their boats, and nets, and catch, and even their families to follow Jesus to become Fishers of men! Yet, here he was, back doing what he had been doing when he received the call to discipleship.

Was this morning a “close call” for him? Did he “narrowly escape” returning to his old way of life, forgetting…or at least neglecting the responsibility that Jesus had entrusted to him?

Every detail of this encounter with The Risen Christ should have been a trigger, firing off a memory in Peter’s mind. Jumping out of the boat, like he once leaped into a raging sea, he made his way towards The Lord. We can say this much for certain: He was self-conscious. He felt exposed and took steps to “cover himself.”

Maybe this surge of embarrassment was brought on by the memory of how his lack of faith had once caused him to sink. Or possibly he was recalling other moments of doubt, impulsive behavior, silly comments, and even denial that he was known for as he journeyed with Jesus of Nazareth. Who can say?

But Christ did not dwell on the past. Nor did The Easter Jesus accuse Peter of neglecting his duties…regressing from Apostle to fisherman. What The Lord did do is remind Peter of the most important way to express love for Him…love for God. Service!

Lent was a time to draw closer to Jesus through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Then, on Easter morning, we celebrated. Now, as we move through the Easter Season towards Ordinary Time, there will be more and more “close calls” and “narrow escapes.” The opportunities to regress and resume our old ways are always there…luring us…tempting us…tricking and trapping us. Like Peter, we need to be reminded of how best to express our love and commitment to Jesus Christ. Service!

On that day when our heart finally rests, if our entire life does pass before our eyes…there will be countless reasons to feel self-conscious and embarrassed. Most people will suffer memories of times when they lacked faith, or suffered doubts, or acted impulsively, or made silly comments. Some will even remember moments of denial.

But hopefully, the Just Judge will look beyond those reasons to be embarrassed and ask only…HOW WELL DID YOU SERVE?

Second Sunday of Easter
Jn 20:19-31
April 24, 2022

Let’s begin with a question.

If you found yourself marooned on a desert island, which “attitude” or “frame of mind” would be more helpful…CERTAINTY that you would be rescued…or DOUBT that help will ever come?

Take a minute to chew on that.

Are you CERTAIN of your reply? Or could there be some room for DOUBT?

CERTAINTY and DOUBT are woven throughout Scripture and are very much present in the Gospels. Think about the DOUBT in Mary’s voice when the angel brought God’s invitation. She CERTAINLY desired to do all that God asked of her. Remember her words?

Behold the handmaid of the Lord…Be it done to me according to Thy will!

Nevertheless…there was the slightest note of doubt in her voice when she asked:

How can this be since I have no relations with a man?

Fast forward from the very beginning to close to the end. At The Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the overwhelming mood in the Upper Room was all about CERTAINTY. Those at table were certain of Jesus’s power to heal and drive out demons…even to raise the dead. They saw for themselves His power over nature as He calmed storms and walked on water. Don’t forget about changing water into the finest wine. They observed the reaction of great crowds as He taught and preached with “amazing” authority (the Gospels frequently describe how “all who heard were amazed”)…feeding this mass of humanity with a few fish and loaves before sending them home.

Very publicly, He shut down His enemies with a few brilliant words. They were there and witnessed all of this. He was indeed “other worldly.” That much was definite…of that much, they could be CERTAIN. Nevertheless, The Last Supper began with DOUBT.

There was doubt and confusion over why Jesus would wash their feet. There was doubt and uncertainty about who the betrayer might be. There was doubt and contention over which of them was most important. They even argued about that! There was doubt concerning where Jesus was about to go…and whether they were up to the journey.

The room was filled with CERTAINTY…but…there was space enough to accommodate DOUBT.

Then came Good Friday. The only thing certain about that day was the injustice of it all. That, together with the shocking brutality, total humiliation, and agonizing death. They were there…some at the very foot of the Cross, while others kept a safe distance. They witnessed all of this. And the experience triggered a rush of fear and doubt that sent them scurrying back to the Upper Room for safety.

Now, the atmosphere was thick with doubt. Until Easter morning, that is.
Mary Magdalene was the first, and then Peter and John, then later in the evening the couple from Emmaus. They all witnessed the Risen Christ, and their shock and grief gave way to the CERTAINTY that Jesus was alive. Trusting them, others believed.

Some might well have been of the opinion that it is possible…but wow…it is hard to imagine. They might not have fully doubted, but they had reservations.

And then came Thomas. He did not hold back. He was full of DOUBT, and he let it rip! His outpouring of DOUBT didn’t impact the CERTAINTY of those who had personally encountered the Risen Lord. In fact, responding to Thomas gave them an opportunity to relive their Easter experience, and, in that way, shore up the others who believed even though they did not see.

Enter Christ!

Now Thomas had a first-hand experience and all DOUBT gave way to CERTAINTY and a beautiful profession of faith. It is important to notice that The Lord did not admonish Thomas. In fact, He invited Thomas into the most intimate of contacts…touch my wounds!

DOUBT and CERTAINTY are woven throughout Sacred Scripture, and in this Upper Room encounter, the importance of each is very much evident. For this reason, Pope Francis counsels that:

Doubts are “vitamins of faith.” They help strengthen faith and make it more robust. They enable faith to grow, to become more conscious, free, and mature.

So, if you found yourself marooned on a desert island, which “attitude” or “frame of mind” would be more helpful…CERTAINTY that you would be rescued…or DOUBT that help will ever come?

Wouldn’t you want both?

If you hang onto the CERTAINTY that help is on the way, you won’t fall into total despair and “give up.” But if you season that CERTAINTY with a healthy dose of DOUBT, you will take the steps necessary to care for and protect yourself.

As an Easter people, we can be totally confident in the power of Resurrection and CERTAIN that, by His Holy Cross, Jesus had saved the world. But when we temper CERTAINTY with a little “Thomas DOUBT,” we are more inclined to take the steps to care for and protect ourselves while we wait to be saved.

Simply put, TAKE YOUR VITAMINS!

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