My friends, we’re back in Ordinary time!
And this week our Gospel reading is one that’s rarely heard.
Due to when Easter falls most years, the 10th week in Ordinary Time usually gets missed, covered up by Pentecost, Most Holy Trinity, or Corpus Christi.
This important reading couldn’t come at a better time as we continue on our path to becoming the ordinary, living saints Pope Francis is calling us all to become.
But to do this, we must resist our seedier human instincts and heed Christ’s voice calling us to a holier path.
We live in a time of great divide in our nation.
We were all reminded this past week of another time of great divide in America: 1968.
50 years ago this week Bobby Kennedy was assassinated moments after winning the California Democratic Presidential Primary. Two months earlier that very same year we lost Martin Luther King Jr. to an assassin’s bullet. Riots and social unrest dominated news headlines then.
As a kid, I remember my dad debating our next door neighbor on those hot summer nights in ‘68. The two rarely saw eye-to-eye and their arguments could be heard all over our small neighborhood. But my dad and our neighbor were still great friends and would always tip a few beers while debating the news of the day.
How is it that we’ve lost our ability to engage in civil discourse and debate without it getting personal, hurtful or hateful? This is even a problem in our families today. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about -- especially in this time of great political division.
Social media is exacerbating our polarization.
It’s always a best practice to be open to hearing the viewpoints of others. I had one of those opportunities shortly after ordination. A friend wanted to talk to me about my Central American pilgrimage with Maryknoll. This person was concerned and wanted to see me in person to talk about it.
When we met, he told me, “You know, Maryknoll is socialist!”
I’ll admit to being taken aback by his assertion. Perhaps there were others who thought I was “out of my mind” for going on such a trip.
After listening to his perspective, I shared with him my own experience with Maryknoll. The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers I met on pilgrimage were all over the political spectrum (some liberal, some conservative, some in between).
Then, my friend told me about a website where he gets most of his news about the Catholic Church. He encouraged me to visit this site if I wanted to know the truth. I was unfamiliar with this website and promised to take a look.
What I saw shocked me. The host focused his hate-filled rants on Catholics he deems not to be in lock step with the faith. He’s quick to label others as heretics.
Satan’s voice always condemns, confuses and breeds hate. God’s voice always encourages, enlightens and engenders loves.
Fast forward a few years, and this same host has been condemned by several of America’s Bishops for fomenting hate and division, and he now stands accused of not being in lock step with the full breadth, depth and beauty of our Catholic faith.
In fact, in 2015 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (under the direction of Archbishop Charles Chaput) put out this warning: “XXXXXX XXXXXX (has) proven once again that they are not interested in presenting information in any useful way…. The sole desire of … XXXXXX XXXXXX is to create division, confusion and conflict within the Church. Actions of that nature run contrary to Christian tradition. Their reports are not to be taken seriously.”
I’ve always seen the various tribes in our Catholic Church as colors in a mosaic. Some have a passion for tradition. Some have a passion for sacred liturgy. Some have a passion for the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Some have a passion for Catholic Social Teachings and social justice. All of these tribes in our Catholic faith reflect their own unique color and together form a mosaic that makes up the face of Christ.
Catholic journalist John L. Allen wrote about these many different tribes in the Catholic faith in his book “The Future Church,” saying “Diversity is wealth, but division is impoverishment.”
We may not always see eye to eye in our Church family. We may not always see eye to eye in our own families. We may not always see eye to eye in our circle of friends. But we all called to keep our eyes firmly affixed to Christ and imitate what he did to build up the Kingdom. That’s how we become holy.
This is what Jesus is teaching us today. Jesus is seen by his family as “out of his mind.” The religious Scribes are demonizing His actions. But “Jesus has the ability to overcome evil without becoming like it.”
As Seattle’s new Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg says in his book on Mark’s Gospel: “Evil destroys communion and is made evident in division.”
Isn’t it true -- that all of us can sometimes misinterpret the good actions of others by attributing evil motivations?
Bishop Daniel says “(Today’s) passage cautions us to interpret good actions with a principle of charity that seeks to give others the benefit of the doubt rather than rashly concluding sinister motives.”
Pope Francis cautioned against the destructive power of demonizing others in our Catholic faith, especially with what is found online and in social media today.
In his latest Apostolic Exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad” or Gaudete Et Exultate, the Holy Father had this important message for us all, “Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. James 3:6)” (§ 115).
As a priest friend reminded me this week, “Jesus' ministry was of love, healing, compassion, reconciliation. His opponents were of anger, division, jealousy and exclusion.”
Whichever path we choose will either draw us closer to, or distance us from the will of God in our lives.
Just as Adam turned his back on God, and even pointed a finger of blame for his sinning on his partner Eve, may we not be tricked by the serpent into fomenting hate and division in our communities by demonizing each other.
May we be guided by the Holy Spirit to forgive those who demonize us and our motives. And may this forgiveness become the cornerstones that build up the Kingdom of God.
May Jesus, our true eternal brother, guide our hearts, guide our lips, guide our online actions as we strive together to become ordinary, living saints in a troubled and divided world.