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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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
September 26, 2021

During the first year of my theology studies, preparing for ordained ministry, at the conclusion of a lecture, a fellow student turned to me and said: “That passage reminds me of you!”

The focus of the class happened to be the parable about the generous vineyard owner who went out at different times of day to hire more day laborers. Having moved those who had worked only a few hours to the front of the pay line, he gave them the same wage that was given to those who labored all day in the hot sun. I was stunned. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t ask what he meant by his remark.

Clearly, as a “late vocation,” I was coming into “the vineyard” of Church ministry during the second half of my life. Did he think I was undeserving of the same “pay”? Was he suggesting that I would be contributing less to the work of ministering to God’s people? Was he accusing me of being of less value?

I did not ask for clarification, nor did he offer any. Still, after 30 years, the remark has stayed with me. And, for all that time, I took it as criticism, even though a negative remark would have been out of character for this young man.

My reflection on this week’s Readings, together with the experiences that accumulated as a parish priest over these past decades, has left me with some profound insights.

Certainly, my life leading up to Ordination was not without value…or service to the Body of Christ. Not only were the various experiences and challenges that I encountered useful preparation for ministry, but, hopefully, there were at least SOME THINGS that I said, or did, that helped others encounter Christ…even though I wasn’t then working in the Church.

In fact, when a “graced moment” comes from an unexpected source, very often, it has a special impact. Think about it.

We expect “Church folk” to send us off with a “blessing.” But, on those occasions when the cashier at the grocery store…or the letter carrier…or the bank teller…ends the transaction by saying:

Have a blessed day.

Don’t you feel it? Don’t unexpected blessings ignite something especially rich and exciting within you? Isn’t there something “super-graced” about an unexpected blessing from an unexpected source?

Of course, this is not to suggest that ordination, credentials, training, ritual, community worship, and all the rest that makes us “Church” are not important; they definitely are. But so are you!

Through Baptism, all Christians are called to new life in The Holy Spirit. In fact, together, the three Sacraments of Initiation are a motherload of grace. To hoard that grace places one in the crosshairs of today’s Second Reading.

We can’t put a leash on the Holy Spirit and place it in the hands of professional ministers.

While it is true that The Holy Spirit dwells within the institutional Church, by nature, The Spirit defies all efforts to be contained or controlled. The Spirit roams freely throughout creation, choosing how and through whom to bestow “unexpected blessings” and “surprising graced moments.”

What I took as a criticism so many years ago might well have merely been the astute observation that, in the eyes of God, length of service isn’t the measure of value. Whenever or however we respond to the invitation of The Holy Spirit to bestow an “unexpected blessing” or make the effort to extend a “graced moment” to another, our work has great value and earns a great reward.

Consider today’s Readings as an invitation to you extended by The Holy Spirit. You have been invited to get to work. Surprising as it might be to you…or to those who will benefit from your good efforts…you have been given all you need to convey blessings and graced moments.

If you listen carefully, you will hear a loving voice whisper to your heart:

You too go into my vineyard…there is lots to be done and you are needed. You are important!

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:30-37
September 19, 2021

Spiritual author Fr. Richard Rohr talks about “see(ing) the text with your available eyes” and hearing the Gospel “from your own level of development and consciousness.” That’s a mouthful. But, upon reflection, it compliments Bishop Ken Untener’s suggestion that preachers prepare their homilies with the newspaper in one hand and the Scriptures in the other.

The goings-on in our world affect the vision with which we read God’s Word.

Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Doesn’t this mean that The Good News should inspire good works? And if that is the case, isn’t the daily news the place to look for ways to give life to our faith? Isn’t it helpful to use current events as a tool to dig deeper into Sacred Scripture?

As I sit with this week’s Gospel, I have an image of Jesus wrapping His loving arms around a little kid. “Available to my eyes” as I ponder this passage is a press release from Bishop Gruss.

As I heard Jesus say:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me…

my own “level of development and consciousness” was elevated by the knowing that our Bishop is “encouraging people of faith and good will to put aside political differences and focus on the needs of the children.”

The press release begins:

“Calling for the compassionate treatment of young children who have migrated to the United States from Central America and Mexico, and, most recently, Afghanistan, Bishop Robert Gruss is encouraging people of faith and good will to put aside political differences and focus on the needs of the children.”

He continues:

“For so many of us, our hearts are torn as we learn of unaccompanied children who are fleeing all kinds of trauma, only to find themselves caught in the middle of strong emotions, hostile attitudes, and opposing political positions.”

These statements are very much in keeping with recent, urgent teachings by Pope Francis, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

And so it was gratifying to learn from the press release that:

In the Diocese of Saginaw, there are conversations underway regarding a youth refugee center in Alma, which would shelter children who are between 12 and 17 years old and who crossed the border alone. The shelter would operate with federal funding and the children would remain there for an average of 40 days as staff work to reunite them with their families.

Unfortunately…

A request to rezone a vacant nursing home to be converted into the shelter was denied in early August. The issue will now go before Alma’s city commission for a final decision.

I am unaware of all the issues and concerns that will be placed before this commission. But, hopefully, the decision-makers will have “available to their eyes” this week’s Gospel. And, as they evaluate the arguments for and against offering a safe haven to these children in dire need, they will approach the issue with a “level of development and consciousness” that includes these words:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me!

Who would want to zone out Christ?

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 8:27-35
September 12, 2021

We concluded last Sunday’s Liturgy of The Word with a resounding endorsement of Jesus:

He does all things well!

The double-healing miracle of restoring a person’s hearing and speech…earned The Lord the kind of “approval ratings” that politicians yearn for. So the exchange between Jesus and His leading advisor reported by Mark in this week’s Gospel is especially jarring.

Wow!

GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!

Pretty harsh.

What we have here is much more than a clash in strategies between Jesus and His inner circle. At the risk of embarrassing, or even alienating, Peter, the Lord is making a definitive statement.

Salvation is not political

The Messiah is not a title or office won through the popular vote.

Rather, it is a “once, and for all time” promise fulfilled by our Creator. AS PROMISED, Jesus, The Son of God…The Christ…The Messiah…was sent to heal creation from the ravages of sin.

The Lord’s mission was to voice the cosmic challenge to all persons and all things…all beliefs and practices…all thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to the will and ways of The Father. And, in order to empower people of good will to meet the challenge and to “think like God” when The Messiah’s time on earth came to an end, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell among us.

In accomplishing His mission, it can truly be said that:

He (did) all things well!

But as theologian Monika Hellwig points out:

Every challenge carries some pain and demands some renunciations.

For the Messiah, Who challenged the world to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” the pain was unparalleled. He was to suffer greatly…endure rejection…and be brutally murdered.

The renunciation for Jesus…was worldly ambition.

Ephphatha!

With that one powerful word, Jesus OPENED the ears and the mouth of a disabled man…and the cure was immediate. The miracle we witness this week was to OPEN THE MINDS of His disciples. But the response was not “immediate.”

Even after this “definitive statement,” the confusion, fear, doubt, denial, and even betrayal continued. It wasn’t until Easter morning that The Lord’s followers began to, ever so slowly, open their minds and their hearts to the meaning of Christian discipleship.

So then…

Ephphatha!

Be open to what God is asking of you. Pray for the graces to meet the challenge in spite of the inevitable “pain, demands, and renunciations” that come with living the Gospel. And don’t become discouraged if you are not immediately successful. Salvation is a slow-moving process.

On the other hand, should you reach a point where you think:

I HAVE done all things well!

It’s time to ask yourself:

Now, how can I do things even better?

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:31-37
September 5, 2021

The three tenses are there…PAST…PRESENT…and FUTURE. But the order is scrambled.

The Old Testament Reading, rather than describing how things WERE, spins an image of how things WILL BE when the reign of God is in full bloom.

The Second Reading speaks to how things WERE in the early days of The Church. But, upon deeper reflection, aren’t we given a brief description of how things remain in THE PRESENT? Don’t the privileged still muscle their way to the front of the crowd? And, for that matter, doesn’t the crowd oblige them? Envy them? Hope to be part of them?

Our Gospel reports a “double-healing miracle.” This was a single moment in the PAST. But it also offers us a glimpse of the FUTURE…a future that will never end.
When Christ returns in glory, all creation will look on “astonished” as the universe is healed. This miraculous transformation will cause all humanity to shout out with one voice: “HE HAS DONE ALL THINGS WELL!”

But within the “double miracle,” there is also an undeniable “double challenge.” To those of us living in the PRESENT, this miracle should be appreciated for more than enabling an individual to enter into a normal life. There is a timeless lesson and a challenge underlying the Lord’s compassionate response to the man’s double disability. The challenge begins at Baptism.

Honoring this particular healing miracle, the Church provides the option of a special prayer during the Baptism of an infant. Towards the conclusion of the ritual, the minister of the Sacrament touches the ears and mouth of the child and intones the prayer referred to as Ephphetha.

The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.

With that gesture, and those words, Christians are graced with the ability to hear that to which God is calling them. Moreover, disciples are challenged to speak out and give witness to the Gospel.

The precious few courageous enough to fully embrace this challenge, in a spiritual sense, shrug off the three tenses…PAST…PRESENT…FUTURE…and exist in the timelessness of the Infinite Christ.

Those who look on “astonished” by the strength and courage of committed discipleship are given a glimpse of how things should be, and will be, when humanity is finally freed from the prison of time.

Through God’s infinite compassion and mercy, the crippling disability of sin will at last be healed. All creation will hear the Voice of Love…and will respond by giving God glory and praise. Then we will truly live a “normal life,” the life our Creator intended for us at the very beginning.

Turn down the volume of your day-to-day lives. Sit for a minute in prayerful silence…isolated from the noise of the world. Overcome your deafness by listening with an eager ear. You might well be blessed to hear “Christ sounds” approaching in the distance.

That far off sound of redemption and healing encourages us who wait…to “do all things well” so that we can enjoy Eternal Life and Love.

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