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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Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Mk 16:15-20
May 16, 2021

There is a song that comes in the middle of Act One, and then reappears in Act Two, of the musical Godspel. I love the entire play. What’s not to love? After all ….it’s based on Matthew’s Gospel. But for me, this particular song..that’s sung twice… is very special.

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day…
.

Over the years…I’ve seen the play a number of times…and I’ve got to tell you…after each performance, I find myself singing that song in the shower…where no one can hear me.

For weeks after seeing the show, I walk around unconsciously humming or whistling the tune.

Once…I bought the CD…and I would play, and then repeat that one song, over and over. These days, I simply say:
Alexa, play “Day by Day” from Godspel.
And she does…over and over and over.

At some point it dawned on me, that it was the lyrics, more than the tune that I was so taken by.

Those words:
see more clearly,
love more dearly,
follow more nearly…

are another way of saying that I want to be a better Christian. Don’t we all? Isn’t that why you’re reading this reflection?

Surprisingly, it was only just recently, that I learned that those words were not the original work of the composer. The lyrics are actually a prayer credited to St. Richard of Chichester, England; who first prayed these beautiful words during the 13th century.

“O Lord, three things I pray: to see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, to follow you more nearly, day by day.”

It seems to me that this little prayer is especially fitting to the celebration of the Ascension of The Lord.

The Acts of the Apostles reports that:
He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Human nature being what it is, “day by day” the Apostles and disciples, very likely became more and more accustomed to seeing and listening to The Risen Jesus.

They probably began to feel like things had returned to normal, just as they were before Good Friday. Jesus teaching…preaching …and doing miracles, as they simply watched and listened…little more than an audience to salvation.

But then, The Resurrected Jesus did what He had done before. He lead them up a high mountain…alone…by themselves.
Where:
He was lifted up and a cloud took Him from their sight.

Much like Easter morning, when they found the empty tomb, an angel was needed to explain that something unimaginable had happened.

The Ascension message was similar to that of Easter morning:
If you are looking for Jesus…you are looking in the wrong place.

This time however, they were told that
He has returned to where He came from.

And so,“day by day”, as we hear in our Second Reading,
the eyes of their hearts were enlightened.

“Day by day” they began to see more clearly, and they came to understand that Jesus was infinitely more than the carpenter from Galilee, Who had died, but rose.

Slowly, “day by day” they came to believe that they had encountered The Eternal Christ. With that realization, their already great love for the man from Nazareth, deepened…because they now understood that through Jesus, they had encountered God, Who we are called to love with all our heart, and all are soul, and all our mind. We owe it to our Creator to love God deeply…more deeply than anyone or anything else.

NOW….here’s the important thing, having ascended into heaven, Christ kept the promise He made. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them…and they felt the power increase within and among them…“day by day.”Day by day…They began to “follow more nearly” because the Holy Spirit was within each of them…speaking to and guiding their hearts, souls and minds. No longer observers, but now partners in the work of proclaiming the Kingdom; they set about the work that The Christ commissioned them to do.

They went out into the world proclaiming the Gospel to every creature.

Because of them…the Apostles and disciples…the first Christians, we are here today. But, they passed on more than our faith. They also handed on the great commission Christ entrusted to them.

YOU are called to do what they did: Go out into the world proclaiming the Gospel to every creature.

YOU are as important and necessary as they were. And if YOU fully commit to this privileged work of evangelization…as they did…then…“Day by Day” the rest of the world will begin to SEE MORE CLEARLY, LOVE MORE DEARLY, FOLLOW MORE NEARLY!

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jn 15:9-17
May 9, 2021

As a Catholic priest, I have not been blessed with an “immediate family” no wife or kids. However, through my ministry, I have been a privileged witness to familial love at its purest…the extraordinarily powerful love of mothers.

I have stood by and watched heroic young moms vigorously advocate for their unborn children who were diagnosed in-vitro with potentially debilitating diseases, rejecting the advice of physicians urging them to terminate the pregnancies.

I have received numerous SOS calls from moms begging for prayers that their newborn survive premature births, serious heart surgeries, and other life-threatening conditions. Then, following up, I have listened to these young women describe the days, weeks, and sometimes even months they’ve spent literally living in pediatric ICUs.

I have consoled young moms as they shed tears watching their child walk away on the first day of school.

I have done my best to help moms plan out some type of intervention in hopes of freeing their teenager from some destructive addiction. And I have obliged concerned moms by visiting their kids in jail on those occasions when the interventions failed.

Without a doubt, the most challenging thing I have done has been to “keep it together” while presiding at the funeral Mass for a mother’s child. The loss of a young life is especially heartbreaking. But the grief-covered face of a 90-year-old mother standing at the graveside of a 70-year-old son or daughter reflects the same intense pain.

On a lighter note, I have watched moms pivot and dodge the accusation of being “too controlling” while still trying to protect their kids…eager to be liberated from their mother’s protective eye…but agreeably “retying” the apron strings when some poor choice makes it necessary or convenient.

Car keys…spring break…prom dresses…and don’t get me started about wedding plans; these are just a few of the flash points that have sent many a mother into my confessional…accusing themselves of “losing patience.” As I hear these stories, it makes the sense of loss at not having kids of my own seem almost like a blessing in disguise.

How appropriate that our Church gives us for reflection on this “Mother’s Day” the Second Reading, reminding us that

God IS Love.

The Gospel choice is the perfect follow-up, commanding us to be images of our Creator, by LOVING ONE ANOTHER.

However, neither passage speaks to something that we see quite clearly when we consider what a “mother’s love” often brings with it. That would be suffering.

Great love carries with it the vulnerability to great suffering. The pain of giving birth is only the beginning. The “heart burn” that, in many cases, is chronic and is a very real symptom of this purest and extraordinarily powerful force we call “motherly love.”

Acknowledging the truth that GREAT LOVE BRINGS GREAT SUFFERING…makes this “Hallmark” occasion much more real. And the reality is simply this: When we are witnesses to familial love at its purest…the extraordinarily powerful love of mothers…what we are privileged to see is a pure and extraordinarily powerful image of Jesus Christ. A good and loving mother is a living icon of our good and loving God revealed through Jesus Christ.

So, on this Mother’s Day, we give thanks for all the many ways mothers live out their life-giving vocation. But, most of all, we give thanks for the way they reflect the face of God to us by their love…and by their suffering.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:4a, 5b
May 2, 2021

Try to put yourself in St. Paul’s sandals for a minute.

Imagine how he must have felt, fresh from one of the most dramatic conversion experiences in human history — knocked off his horse, struck blind, taken in by a believer who patiently cared for him and catechized him. The ordeal concluded with his sight restored, but there was much more. He was gifted with a profound change of mind and heart. What a high!

Planning his return to Jerusalem, he was probably bursting at the seams, eager to share his story with the Apostles and disciples. In route, he risked his life proclaiming the truth that Christ was risen. He gladly put aside all else, committing himself entirely to the service of the early Church.

But, on his return to Jerusalem, rather than a warm reception and a loving embrace, he got the coldest of shoulders from…of all folks…those with whom he shared the privilege of being a first-hand witness to the power of Resurrection.

The initial reaction of the disciples is hard to understand, unless, of course, you consider the all too human tendencies towards suspicion, fear, arrogance, and envy, all leading to marginalizing those who look, act, or think differently.

But then again, it might simply have been a matter of ignorance. Maybe the Jerusalem crowd simply didn’t grasp the core of Jesus’s teaching. Maybe they didn’t understand that The Lord introduced The Reign of God…summoning ALL creation to co-exist in solidarity with our Creator…as well as with one another…even those who look, act, or think differently.
Maybe, intimidated by Paul’s conversion story and enthusiasm, they lost sight of the Easter Message…the gift that Christ brought to them after breaking free of the tomb:

BE NOT AFRAID…PEACE BE WITH YOU!

I wonder what kind of reception Paul would be given if he were to drop in on our parish.
Fortunately for humanity, St. Paul’s determination was unaffected by the wall of resistance that threatened his extraordinary contribution to Salvation history. He was not silenced. He forged ahead in his service to God and to the Christian community. Through his preaching and writings, he gently unpacked for us the meaning of Resurrection…elaborating on The Lord’s own proclamation of Divine Mercy and Love.

By reporting the challenges St. Paul faced, and pairing that bit of Church history with the Second Reading that offers encouragement to put faith into action, we are well placed to tackle the parable found in today’s Gospel.

The image of branches sprouting and growing out in every direction from one root reminds us of our human connectedness. Despite the fact that we might look, act, and think differently, we draw on One Life Source…God.

Suspicion, fear, arrogance, and envy are like a disease that can infect and rapidly spread throughout the entire vine. But the Good News is that God’s grace is constantly flowing up from The Eternal Root, nourishing true and lasting conversion. With the help of God’s grace, we can prune away all destructive feelings and come to a profound change of mind and heart.

Then, and only then, can we live with one another without fear…and in The Peace of Christ!

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jn 10:11-18
April 25, 2021

In some parishes, during the Sunday Masses of the Easter Season, the gathered “profess the faith” after the homily, through the renewal of The Baptismal Promises.

This is entirely fitting for two reasons. First, there is an unbreakable link between Christ’s Resurrection and Christian Baptism. By the power of this first Sacrament of Initiation, we experience a symbolic dying to our “birth life,” and an authentic rising to “Life in the Spirit.” (There is nothing symbolic about “the rising” we experience in Baptism. It is pure reality.)

Secondly, the commitment made at Baptism is the foundation for The Creed…except for this one very significant difference: The formula for Baptism begins by placing the spotlight on evil…and the rejection of it in every form it takes. There is no specific mention of Satan in The Creed. But, by the same token, the details of Jesus’s earthly life are limited to the bare essentials.

He was
born of the Virgin Mary…
COMMA
…suffered under Pontus Pilate, died and was buried.

Some spiritual writers refer to the punctuation mark between The Incarnation and The Passion as “THE GREAT COMMA.”

That little mark on the page is a very poor substitute for all that Jesus said and did as He walked the earth in the flesh.

And so, as we move deeper into the Easter season, the Church takes the spotlight off the Risen Christ and His post-Resurrection presence. Today’s Gospel pushes aside the GREAT COMMA and gives us a glimpse of what happened in between Bethlehem and Calvary.

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, we look back to the “job description” Jesus gave Himself during His life in this world. GOOD SHEPHERD!

And so, when Christians “profess the faith” this Sunday, whether by one of the Creeds or restating the Promises made at our Baptisms…we should, in our minds and our hearts…replace that great COMMA with this beautiful image of Jesus. Think of it this way:

Born of the Virgin Mary…
Sent into time by our timeless God…
To live with and among us as one like us but without flaw or blemish…
To guide us into safe places…
To protect us from attack by dark forces…
To unify us as one family held together by one faith…
To encourage us toward our final destination…
To nourish us with Word and Sacrament during the dangerous journey…
To seek us out and return us to safety when we wander and place ourselves in harm’s way…
To suffer under Pontius Pilate, die, and be buried…and to rise again on the third day.

“THE GREAT COMMA” is the proper punctuation mark in that sentence in the Creed. Still, we should never lose sight of the saving work that filled the gap between Mary’s “Great Yes” and Pilate’s death sentence. And we should be ever conscious of how we fill that gap, which is our own earthly lives.

In a way, this image of “Good Shepherd” Jesus claimed for Himself affirms the message that The Risen Christ continually stressed when making His glorified Self present to His followers:

BE NOT AFRAID…I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU…EVEN WHEN YOU STRAY!

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