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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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 20:1-16a
September 24, 2023

I bet the ears of Catholic auto workers attending Mass this weekend perked right up during the Liturgy of the Word. As this parable unfolds, it certainly appears to be the makings of a major labor dispute that will most likely be resolved in favor of the workers. But this passage is definitely not something auto workers would want to take to the bargaining table next week as they continue to negotiate a new contract. The ending of our Gospel is not “pro-labor.”

No matter which side of the bargaining table your sentiments might lie, this little story just doesn’t sit well. This parable not only offends our sense of justice, but it also brings personal experiences to mind. From childhood on, there are times when our accomplishments or contributions are discounted or even ignored. Everyone has a memory of working hard on something, only to have someone else push us aside and “take a bow.”

On those occasions when we feel that we’ve been slighted, treated unfairly, or overlooked, whether in the workplace, at school, in the parish, or even at home with our family, it’s very difficult not to feel bitter.

However, this Gospel is about much, much more than perceived injustices we suffer in this life. This Gospel is about salvation.

In truth, no matter how many prayers we say, or Masses we participate at, or Holy Hours we make, or candles we light, or acts of charity we are credited with, no one is ENTITLED to a place at the heavenly banquet. We enter into Eternal Life and Light by invitation…not because we’ve purchased a ticket through acts of piety or numerous good works.

This is NOT to suggest that prayers, the Eucharist, or any devotions or Christian service are not important. We should worship God because it is right and just that we do just that…WORSHIP GOD. We SHOULD give our Creator glory and praise because that is God’s due. We should respond in charity to those in need, not to better our place in line at the Heavenly Gates, but because that is what The Lord asks of His disciples.

Just because we have been faithful or devout does not mean we are ENTITLED. To think that way is to apply an earthly sense of justice to spiritual matters, which is a tragic mistake that can lead to frustration, anger, and even hopelessness.

If we EXPECT some kind of special reward over and above a deeper and more intimate relationship with God just because we are doing what we should be doing…WORSHIPPING THE MOST HIGH…I think we are setting ourselves up for a serious disappointment.

A deeper and more intimate relationship with God is reward in and of itself, certainly something worth working towards, and definitely something to be very GRATEFUL for.

One of the many benefits to be had from a more intimate friendship with our Creator is that we come to understand that God’s ways are not our ways! Moreover, we come to a deeper appreciation for the wisdom behind Divine justice, whereby the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Our Readings this week offer us a lens that helps those wise enough to use it to better see the world through the eyes of our Creator. God sees what each and every person needs, and, at the right time, provides for us. Moreover, everything God sends us is a pure and unearned gift. Ours is not to question the timing, or the amount, but rather to be grateful for what we are given.

If and when we are enlightened enough to appreciate that our thoughts tend to be self-centered and even selfish, whereas God’s thoughts are inspired by pure love and infinite generosity, we are pleased to find a place at the back of the line and patiently wait our turn. There, we will find ourselves in the best of company, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Saints!

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 18:21-35
September 17, 2023

When I left parish ministry and moved into my own home, some friends surprised me with a great big houseplant. It was in such a large pot that three people were needed to carry it out of the van and into my house. We put it in the window that gets the most sun, and my friends explained how often and how much water the plant needs. It was a terrific housewarming gift.

As I said, we put the plant in the sunniest window of the house. The problem was that other than to water and care for the plant, I rarely use that room. As a result, there have been times that I have forgotten my duties. When I eventually remember to check on it, the poor plant is literally collapsed, dropping over the side of its container.

The first time this happened, I was really upset. I was certain that the plant was dead. But I decided to see what would happen if I were to give it what it needs to live…WATER! A day later, the plant was as healthy as ever. IT FORGAVE ME!

Actually, our Creator has designed the entire universe to be FORGIVING.

If it hasn’t already begun, eventually, the hills surrounding Lahina, Maui, will spring back to life, and the black char left from the fires will return to brilliant green. The same thing will happen in the Canadian and California forests.

Remember how FORGIVING the ozone layer was, literally healing during the pandemic, when the world stood still and allowed it the time it needed to FORGIVE. Sadly, we began to assault it again. Our skin FORGIVES and heals after a minor cut or burn so quickly that we almost forget how we were injured.

There are countless examples of nature recovering and returning to life after some life-threatening blow. That was God’s design…that when injured or afflicted, the universe should FORGIVE AND HEAL, in many cases, literally erasing evidence of the hurt.

Jesus gave voice to this universal healing inclination from The Cross, when He prayed:


We human beings might be most in need of FORGIVENESS from God when we act against this natural inclination to FORGIVE AND HEAL. If we allow ourselves to be frozen in the past, obsessed with some offense…our spirits and our emotions poisoned by anger and desire for revenge, we can’t return to life as we knew it before we were injured.

When we do not allow ourselves to FORGIVE, we miss the opportunity for something new to happen. Failure to forgive prevents a return of life.

Maybe one way of thinking about our Reading this weekend is this: Hanging onto anger and resentment is unnatural and contrary to the laws of nature…and THE LAW OF GOD!

A FINAL THOUGHT: As the U.S. marked another anniversary of the terrorist attack on our nation, I am reminded of a comment I recall, although I have forgotten the source.

After 9/11, almost the entire world was “on our side.” Tragically, rather than focus on HEALING and the power of FORGIVENESS, all our attention was focused on anger and revenge. As we began to aggressively avenge our horrific injury, we lost much of the sympathy and support from other countries.

We also lost the opportunity to show the rest of the world how the universe as well as the Gospel tells us to respond to injuries inflicted by others. The best “self-defense” against further injury is the determination to HEAL…and the path to healing involves FORGIVENESS!

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 18:15-20
September 10, 2023

Most “regular churchgoers” are at least aware that Pope Francis has called the universal Church to a Synod. This meeting or assembly of the global faithful will convene in the Vatican next month. Leading up to this event, there have been ongoing preparations in the Roman Catholic Diocese around the world. The hope is that “listening sessions,” which began at the parish level in 2021, will enable participants to arrive at the Synod better prepared to have fruitful discussions about our Church.

Considering that this century in salvation history has begun with war, violence, social upheaval, and ideological divisions that seem to run deeper with every passing day, there’s lots to talk about.

But, while this call to gather together in The Name of Jesus Christ has inspired a great deal of enthusiasm, it has also aroused an unfortunate amount of criticism. Certain US Church leaders have been especially vocal about their concerns that this gathering together in The Name of Jesus Christ is an opportunity for evil to attack and erode very basic truths of our Church. Rather than an opportunity to chart an aggressive course into the future, it has been suggested by some that the coming Synod could well bring about a schism.

I do not dismiss these concerns. Still, as I read the dramatic warnings against the Synod, I find it very difficult to justify them with the Gospel we heard proclaimed two Sundays ago. In Matt. 16:13-20, The Lord assures us that the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it (our Church).

Clearly, those who are so opposed to the upcoming gathering together in The Name of Jesus Christ feel that their resistance is necessary to protect and defend Church teaching. But does a gathering together in The Name of Jesus Christ really necessitate such extreme defensive and threatening warnings?

Are we to imagine that those who are traveling to The Vatican for the Synod are not gathering together in The Name of Jesus Christ? Or are we to discount The Lord’s assurance that when disciples: gather together in my name …THERE AM I IN THE MIDST OF THEM?

My prayer and reflection on this week’s Readings have led me to these personal opinions…for what they are worth.

Our First Reading makes it quite clear that the duty of a prophet is to WARN those who are in danger of acting in a way that is displeasing to God. Those who have spoken out against the upcoming Synod are definitely WARNING against the possible dire consequences of assembling the universal Church to discuss the burning issues of our times. But I wonder if these WARNINGS have gone beyond what The Holy Spirit intended?

Our Gospel, for example, encourages dialogue…even when it is confrontational or unpleasant. Moreover, if initial efforts at “conflict resolution” fail, the Lord Himself tells us to continue the efforts by bringing in mediators. The objective of the process is to uncover truth, to rest disputes or disagreements, and to restore harmony and peace. After all, PEACE is the precious gift that Jesus left us.

To defer to the warnings of those opposed by canceling or refusing to participate in the Synod seems inconsistent with Matt. 18:15-20. Nevertheless, to proceed without giving due consideration to the WARNINGS against eroding the “basic truths of our faith” is to ignore what God is saying to us in Ezekiel 33:7-9. Possibly, the impasse can be resolved though our Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10.

Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the Law.

If those gathering for the Synod next month strive to go about their work in the Spirit of Love, then God will certainly be The Guiding Presence. And possibly, some new and exciting insights into how we can be faithful to basic Church teachings while still being faithful to The Law of Love might result. Let us pray!

I do know this much to be true: It does not take a prophet to see and WARN AGAINST the toll this discord is taking on all of humanity. Division and discord seem to be the flavors of the day. In every aspect of life, a cordial meeting of the minds is a rarity. Within families, parishes, the workplace, governing bodies, and certainly among nations, meaningful and fruitful dialogue and conflict resolution seems all but impossible.

This Synod is our Church’s opportunity to give the whole world an example of how to heal. Love is the answer!

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt 16:21-27
September 3, 2023

St. Paul urges: Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God.

This very sage advice is especially relevant today.

We are literally being bombarded by a variety of influences that grab our attention and cause us to lose sight of what God has planned for us.

For example, Time Magazine published an article on January 12, 2023, describing some extraordinary research being done at the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School.

Briefly, very credible medical researchers…THIS IS LEGITIMATE SCIENTIFIC DATA…NOT FAKE NEWS…CREDIBLE RESEARCHERS claim to have made enormous progress in developing the means to reverse the aging process. In terms of treatments and therapies, it is hoped that this research will lead to such things as restoring vision, healing diseased hearts, and renewing deteriorated joints.

I, FOR ONE, WOULD LOVE TO GET RID OF THIS CANE…AND THESE TRIFOCALS…and be able to walk down the street without huffing and puffing. Who wouldn’t? BUT ultimately, the objective OF THIS VERY CREDIBLE RESEARCH is to offer the possibility of extending a person’s earthly life indefinitely.

If this research can bring about HEALING and reduce suffering, then it is undeniably a very good thing. However, our Scripture passages this week raise the question as to whether the objective of unlimited earthly life is actually good news for ANYONE? Is this part of God’s will?

Our Gospel reports how Jesus began preparing His followers for His own suffering and death. Of course, out of love and concern, Peter resisted the idea that The Lord must die.

Jesus responds: Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it.

This would suggest that those who hope to defeat aging, and, ultimately, death, are dangerously short-sighted.

Jeremiah inspires an intriguing image of the inner workings of the human body. We are filled with The Eternal Word of The Lord. The cells of the human heart burn with this spark of the Divine, leaving us with a feeling of restlessness and a longing for something more than we can ever hope to find in this world.

God’s presence is imprisoned within each cell of our bones, eager to energize our movements and set us on a path that leads out of time and into eternal life. The human body simply cannot contain this powerful force. That part of us that is eternal cannot be “held in.” Eventually, that which is infinite must burst forth from the finite and fragile vessel that contains it.

It is certainly true that, moved with compassion, Jesus performed countless miraculous healings, even raising the dead. And so, advances in medicine that heal and relieve suffering are very much consistent with God’s will as revealed by Jesus Christ.

But The Lord’s mission in this world was to do the will of The Father. And, ultimately, the will of The Father was that The Son should sacrifice His life in this world so that all who believe might enjoy eternal life in The Kingdom.

So then, the takeaway from our Readings certainly seems to point to the need to resist the ambitions of the present era, CERTAINLY CONCERNING THE AMBITION TO REVERSE THE NATURAL AGING PROCESS…even to the point of extending life in this world indefinitely.

Rather, Jesus is encouraging us to “reboot” our trust in The Creator, Whose will it is that we do enjoy eternal life, not just in this world, but in The Kingdom of Heaven!

Now, you might well be thinking that this is the stuff of a science fiction movie that does not belong in a reflection on Sacred Scripture. To that, I would reply that this is the “stuff of the present age.”

We must not allow this “stuff” to transform our minds and our lives. Rather, we must continue to look to the Gospel for guidance, so that we can properly discern God’s will.

And it is God’s will that we live forever…but not in this world!

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