This week Jesus is critiquing our human politics. He’s calling us out for allowing politics to warp his message.
In this week’s Gospel, the apostles are getting all huffed up because others are curing people in the name of Jesus. These feelings of jealousy come from our human desire for power and control.
Jesus is commanding us to let go of these feelings. And follow him and his example.
This week Pope Francis created quite a stir in Catholic circles with comments about EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network) based in Irondale, Alabama.
EWTN, especially its opinion hosts, and articles in its publication National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency have been openly critical of the Holy Father.
For the most part, Pope Francis has ignored these U.S. critics. But this past week on a trip to Slovakia, in a meeting with fellow Jesuits, he reportedly said, “There is… a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve the attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. (These attacks) are the work of the devil.”
EWTN caters to a traditional Catholic audience, some who view Pope Francis as heretical or at the least confusing in his teachings.
What Jesus did confused his followers, too. One disciple found Christ heretical enough to exchange him for 30 silver coins.
EWTN and its many holdings are supported financially by powerful, wealthy political operatives, people who do not see eye to eye with the Holy Father.
In fact, during the pontificate of Francis, the network has regularly become antagonistic to the message of a pope for the first time in its history. EWTN also articulates a partisan political focus in some of its opinion-based content that is reflective of its benefactors’ sentiments.
These wealthy financial backers of EWTN also exert a lot of influence over U.S. Bishops.
Our second reading from St. James was an indictment of the rich and entitled. This reading resonates with the message of Pope Francis this week.
These wealthy benefactors of EWTN were first taken aback by Pope Francis when he declared the Catholic Church “a poor Church for the poor” at the beginning of his pontificate.
Their resistance and critiques increased in volume with the release of his encyclical Laudato Si on Care of Creation (or the environment). And his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia following the Synods on the Family in which a controversial footnote opened the door to divorced Catholics receiving communion.
In the Gospel, Jesus chastises the apostles for exhibiting the human tendency for power and control.
The critics of Francis’ are exhibiting the same tendency.
This is dangerous spiritual ground on which to trod.
Jesus reminds us today, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”But with an ever-growing polarization in the Catholic Church, who is for us? Who is against us? Who is us?
The managing editor of the website Where Peter Is shared a painful story about how polarization around the teachings of Pope Francis created a rift with his devout Catholic mother in the months before she died.Mike Lewis said his mother regularly watched EWTN and was a big fan of opinion host Raymond Arroyo who pulls no punches on Pope Francis. So was her circle of like-minded friends at Church.
Now to be honest, there are many good things about EWTN. Its daily Mass is watched by millions of Catholics in the U.S. and has been a comfort for many during the pandemic.
I don’t believe for a minute Pope Francis was condemning everything EWTN does as being “the work of the devil.” He was likely targeting shows such as this because they foment so much division in the Church.
Lewis said this about his personal journey with his mother: “I experienced this division in a personal way. The impact of public defiance against the pope is… doing real damage to the body of Christ.”
Lewis says, “Certainly, there are difficult disagreements to resolve, and not every division will be healed on this side of heaven. But we cannot lose sight of who we are as Catholic Christians. By our baptism, we are united as brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Jesus entrusted the care of his sheep to Peter and his successors. The church teaches that Pope Francis is the visible foundation of communion for all the faithful, and the healing of these wound can only begin in unity with him.”
Pope Francis has said in the past, “There are always those who destroy unity and stifle prophecy.”
As Catholics, we should welcome Pope Francis’ thoughtful insights into our human behavior and critiques of when we Catholics fall short or are not aligned with the mind of Christ.
This is how we grow in our faith.
As many of you may know, I just returned from a two-week vacation, the first real vacation since the pandemic hit. On it, I read Pope Francis’ latest book “Let Us Dream,” a book that will be the topic of an upcoming Deacon Convocation with its co-author.
In it, the Holy Father said this, “In times of peace and prosperity, there is always a risk that people might dissolve into a mere mass, with no unifying principle to bind them.
When this happens, the center lives at the expense of the margins, people divide into competing tribes… Indifference, egotism, a culture of complacent well-being, and deep divisions within society, spilling out into violence – all of these are signs that a people has … ceased to believe in itself.”
But Pope Francis says, this pandemic can be a wake-up call and chance for us to make a new path, one forged by the Holy Spirit, to a place of peace and harmony.
There is nothing confusing about what Pope Francis says or does. But his prophetic voice sometimes upsets our American sense of entitlement and exceptionalism.
Jesus cautions his disciples today to be aware of their unhealthy thirst for power and control. Jesus is calling us all to turn away from this same impulse. When we do so we foster unity, not division. We prevent politics and polarization from infecting our lives and our Church. When we turn away from this impulse, we better live out the Gospel of Jesus to the world.