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 Advent
MK 1:1-8
December 10, 2023

A celebrity interview (movie stars, pop singers, politicians, billionaires, etc.) very often concludes with the question: What do you hope your legacy will be? Or: How do you want people to remember you after you are gone?

If Oprah had been around to interview John the Baptist, she probably would’ve ended with that question. She might even have suggested the response. Something to the effect of: John, you are well known for calling people to repent. Is that how you see your legacy? Do you want to be remembered for shouting out: REPENT…REPENT…REPENT?

After spending a lot of time reflecting on all that the Gospels tell us about John the Baptist, I want to suggest how I think he would have replied.

Don’t get me wrong, Oprah, I believe that repentance is very, very important. But, in order to repent, you have to look backwards. My job as a prophet was to direct people’s attention to the future…a future that will unfold in and through The Christ.

Obviously, sometimes, a guy has to clean up stuff from the past in order to be able to imagine a better future. It is important to clear away bad memories…or feelings of guilt…or doubt…or regret…so that you’re better able to envision a future filled with hope…and peace…and justice…and love. But in the end…isn’t all about the future!

So, to answer your question…NO! I do not want to be remembered as the voice in the desert yelling REPENT…REPENT…REPENT!

To be perfectly honest, Oprah, I would just as soon not be remembered at all.

My mission was simply to introduce the Messiah. As far as I’m concerned, once I had pointed Jesus out, introducing Him as the Lamb of God Who has taken away the sins of the world, my work was done…and I became totally forgettable, because Jesus Christ is The Future! IT’S JESUS CHRIST WE MUST REMEMBER!

But, of course, we know that John the Baptist is anything but forgettable. Over 2000 years have passed since the events at the Jordan River, which are reported in all four Gospels, and he is still very much remembered and honored. Jesus, Himself, insured that the generations would never forget His cousin’s contribution to salvation history when He remarked: …among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist. (Matt. 11:11) That certainly is a compliment that makes one sit up and take notice.

So, just exactly what was it that makes John so great and so memorable? What is his legacy to us? What should we remember about him, doing our best to model?

While it’s impossible not to hear the echo of his voice shouting out: REPENT…REPENT…REPENT, the fact of the matter is, almost anyone can do that. I would suggest that what makes John the Baptist so unique as to be greater than anyone else born of women is the fact that having introduced Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ…The Son of God…The unblemished Lamb Who has taken away the sins of the world…The Messiah…he simply stepped aside. The Baptist permitted himself to become less in the eyes of the people, so that Jesus could become more. Simply put, John made room for Jesus.

If, in fact, that is the legacy of John the Baptist, it is an extremely valuable one…an inheritance we should put to good use. And there is no better time than Advent. This is the Season when Christians are called to push back against our own wants and perceived needs and desires, and ambitions…even our own fears and pains and sufferings…so as to make more room for the Christ-child, not only as we celebrate His birth, but as we look to the future.

John the Baptist has taught us to see Christ in our past, to feel His presence, and to make room for Christ in our lives…NOW…and to be confident that Christ is our future! And THAT is something worth remembering.

First Sunday of Advent
MK 13:33-37
December 3, 2023

It’s hard to believe, but preoccupied by holiday preparations, many people were totally unaware that the day before Thanksgiving…one of the busiest travel days of the year in this country…there was an incident at the Rainbow Bridge connecting the U.S. with Canada at Niagara Falls.

Within minutes of a car bursting into flames and exploding in the immediate vicinity of the Customs and Immigration booths, the “gatekeepers,” whose responsibility it is to BE WATCHFUL…BE ALERT…sprang into action. Four U.S.-Canada border crossings were immediately closed as local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies got to work. The Department of Homeland Security around the country was on “high alert,” anxiously awaiting the initial reports from the First Responders on the scene. And, of course, the media voiced the suspicion that was on everyone’s mind…TERRORISM!

When the FBI Buffalo found that there were no explosive materials or “terrorism nexus,” I for one…and in spite of the tragedy…felt a great deal of relief.

The whole thing quickly disappeared from headline news as well as from people’s minds and conversations as we focused on celebrating Thanksgiving, watching football, and shopping online. I want to suggest that is part of our human frailty. We are easily distracted. Once we are no longer threatened or inconvenienced, we just go on with our lives. We so quickly forget the things that terrorize us. Maybe that’s a good thing. We certainly do not want to move through our time on earth constantly filled with fear…always on “high alert.” That’s no way to live.

However, just as we quickly forget those things that threaten our safety, security, and well-being, once a crisis has passed, it seems that we tend to forget as well WHO has saved us.

This Sunday, we begin The Season of Advent, and with it an entirely new Liturgical Year.

I say it again: It’s hard to believe, but preoccupied by holiday preparations, many people are completely oblivious to the great significance of these coming weeks. Focused entirely on making this the “BEST CHRISTMAS EVER,” many are completely distracted by preparations for a holiday, without giving a single thought to the preparations for the HOLY DAY!

Advent is not a penitential season. It is a time of joyful anticipation.

Still, the proper observance of Advent is a means of building awareness of, and appreciation for, the Holy Day as it approaches. It offers the opportunity to focus on the meaning of The Incarnation…. God’s Eternal Word made Flesh. Celebrating Advent BEFORE we begin to celebrate Christmas enables us to better comprehend this Sacred Mystery, whereby The Creator extends the ultimate expression of love by entering into creation, as One like us, in all things but sin.

Another way of thinking about The Birth of Jesus Christ might be to imagine that a bridge connecting heaven with earth has been opened, and nothing that anyone or anything can do will ever destroy that link. What is tragic, however, is how little attention or importance is given by so many to this wonderful gift from God. Although this expression of unconditional love is certainly worthy of celebrating, we tend to focus on the party and forget the reason for the joy we feel during this time of year.

Another, and possibly even greater, tragedy is that we have lost sight of a promise that has been made. The Christ will, once again, pass over that Bridge of Love to declare that the Reign of God has arrived in all its fullness. This season of Advent reminds us that we are a people waiting…not just for the annual celebration of something wonderful that happened in the past, but for the fulfillment of God’s Promise of eternal peace that will come someday…in the future.

The Scriptures proclaimed during this very brief Season are meant to reawaken an awareness that God’s plan for creation is still unfolding. “THIS” is not all there is. At the appointed time, “THIS” will come to its conclusion and Christ will return to renew the face of the earth. Then, there will no longer be a need for a bridge connecting “THIS” reality with The Kingdom…because THERE WILL BE NOTHING BUT THE GLORY OF GOD. And that is something to celebrate, not just once a year, but every day of our lives.

Unfortunately, just as we forget threats once a crisis has passed, it seems we also forget about promises of wonderful things to come. And so, The Lord Himself encourages us not to get distracted by “THIS.” Rather, Jesus cautions us to be watchful and to prepare to rush out to greet and welcome Him with joyful hearts when He returns in all His Glory.

It might well have fallen out of the minds of most folks, but I can only assume (and actually hope) that the “gatekeepers,” charged with the responsibility of protecting us, will continue to investigate just exactly what happened at the Rainbow Bridge last week. How effective was the response? How can a repeat of the incident be avoided?

Disciples who are not overly distracted by “THIS” have the responsibility of protecting The Gospel, which is The Bridge that connects “here” from “There.” Baptism brings with it the duty to offer a fitting and proper response to God’s GREAT EXPRESSION OF LOVE, and to search for ways to overcome the forgetfulness of others. Advent is a time for disciples to be especially watchful and alert for ways to keep the Christ Light burning until Christ returns in all His Glory.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Mt 25:31-46
November 26, 2023

Knowing that Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I did not stay for “coffee and donuts” provided at the parish where I celebrated Mass this past Sunday. (Although the kind hostess sent me off with a “care package,” and in the end, I had the calories without the fellowship!) So, I was one of the first out the door and into the church parking lot.

I immediately saw that every vehicle had a large, white flyer tucked underneath the windshield wipers. I just assumed it was some sort of advertisement and tossed it into the car and headed home (to eat the donuts in the “care package” with my morning coffee.) It was then that, almost thoughtlessly, I opened and examined the 11×17 inch card stock that was waiting for me after Mass.

What I encountered can best be described as a “collage of sin.” Someone had meticulously cut and arranged together quite a few headlines and images that were clipped from newspapers and magazines, each speaking to some situation or event that makes the times we live in so filled with stress, uncertainty, and even danger. Actually, there were many more things that were not mentioned…the most recent mass shooting, Gaza, the climate crisis…the culture of lies…and the division and mistrust that is so prevalent these days.

Someone had gone to the expense of reproducing this little poster of gloom and doom…and then made the effort to place their work on every car in a church parking lot. I can only guess at what motivated this anonymous individual to do all this. Maybe they intended a warning to Christians to be wary of any one, or anything, that might draw us into darkness and out of The Light of Christ. Possibly, they meant to encourage us to BE PREPARED to resist those things that are contrary to our Baptismal dignity. Whatever their purpose, it occurred to me that the creator of this “apocalyptic collage” harbors feelings of fear and possibly even hopelessness in the face of so much undeniable evil.

In fact, the flyer was very much in keeping with the Readings we proclaim at Mass during the final weeks of every liturgical year. As we look forward to Advent and Christmas, The Liturgy of the Word serves to remind us that THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS NOT YET FULLY BLOSSOMED. However, through Jesus, it has already dawned, and we are called to help announce and live it here and now.

What is most important to remember is that no matter how much darkness a “collage of sin” might contain, it will never withstand THE POWER OF CHRIST! And so, we conclude Ordinary Time with THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE. The message behind this Feast is crystal clear: God is in control.

And when at last The Reign of God is upon us in its fullness, there will be no more darkness, or evil, or lies, or division. All that will remain is the Peace of Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

The Opening Prayer of this Feast is something worthy of further reflection.

Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

And so, we move forward into a new year, resisting all fear, and facing the challenges ahead, with hope in the power of Christ our King.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 25:14-30
November 19, 2023

I feel like I am repeating myself…which, of course, people my age often do. However, this is a situation where I think I am completely justified in saying the same thing that I just said last Sunday.

In my reflection on last week’s Readings, I pointed out the “plain meaning” or the obvious lesson of the parable Jesus told. I went on to offer my opinion that: If you give no further thought to this Reading, the plain and obvious meaning will certainly be a worthy and important takeaway. Just so today!

Pairing the Old Testament Reading with the Gospel leads to an obvious lesson. If you act on an opportunity, and take a risk, whether investing your love and life in a relationship with a worthy spouse, or investing your money in a sound business opportunity, you will be rewarded. If, on the other hand, out of fear, you hold back, you might well lose out.

The plain meaning of this parable has inspired many a sermon encouraging disciples to take our God-given talents and opportunities and put them to good use, so that they pay spiritual dividends. This causes me to repeat exactly what I said last Sunday: If you give no further thought to this Gospel, the plain and obvious meaning will certainly be a worthy and important takeaway.

However, if you dig deeper…mine this parable, so to speak…you might just discover a pearl of wisdom that will bring an even greater spiritual return…holding its value during these volatile and violent times through which we are living.

Let me explain.

The “wicked and lazy servant” was quite honest in explaining his investment strategy to the master. He told him to his face! You have the reputation of being “demanding.” The poor guy went on to suggest that the master was even unethical. (Remember, he was the kind of guy that harvested where he did not plant and gathered where he did not scatter.) Of course, the servant was reluctant to take a risk. Fear dictated the most conservative path. He hid what was entrusted to him to protect it, as well as himself. The conclusion of the story demonstrates that he was, indeed, justified in his fear.

I wonder if fear also motivated the so-called “good and faithful servants”? Maybe they understood what would be expected by their “demanding” and possibly unethical master. Maybe fear led them to the conclusion that the best strategy was an aggressive one. After all, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by showing a profit.

I suggest that fear is very much at play in this little story. Furthermore, I STRONGLY SUGGEST that fear SHOULD NOT…EVER…be at play in the lives of good and faithful Christians, who are trying their best to live as Jesus calls us to. Why am I bold enough to make such a suggestion? Because The Lord, Himself, on numerous occasions, told His disciples: FEAR NOT!

Nevertheless, as we heard in last week’s Gospel, repeated today, Jesus also encourages us to BE PREPARED!

I have one last suggestion.

It occurs to me that The Church, in her wisdom, opened this Liturgy of the Word with the little passage from The Book of Wisdom to help us look beneath the plain meaning of the parable. Often proclaimed at weddings, as well as the funerals of good and loving wives and mothers, the passage encourages men to invest their love and their lives when they find a “worthy wife.” The Reading goes on to describe how a hardworking and industrious spouse brings a lifetime of good…and not evil. What we are not told, however, is the motivation for such commitment and effort. In most cases, it is LOVE!

Good, faithful, committed, and self-sacrificing spouses (wives as well as husbands) do all they do…OUT OF LOVE…NOT FEAR…BUT LOVE!

And so, it should be for us, whom, through Baptism, have been enlightened by The Holy Spirit. We should prepare for The Day of the Lord, but not because we fear a “demanding master.” Our preparations should be motived by the desire that things be as perfect as possible on that day, when He comes either to call us as individuals, from time and into eternity, or on the Last Day.

We should prepare to go out to greet our Christ…with joyful and loving hearts…free of all fear and anxiety. That, I believe, is a pearl of wisdom that will hold its value, even during these volatile and violent times we are living through…when there is little peace in our world, and nothing seems secure.


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