Homily – Twenty-Sixth Sunday Ordinary – Cycle B – September 30, 2018
Numbers 11:25-29; PS 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 47-48
My homily at the 8:00 Mass at Holy Ghost Church on Sunday, September 30, 2018.
I have two questions for you to ask yourself today. The first is “How do I feel about people who do good works in Jesus’ name but are not Catholic?” The second is “How do I feel about other Catholics who don’t share my worship preferences, my group affiliations, or my devotional practices?”
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us that “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.”
We see in this passage that John thought something was wrong that an “outsider” was doing mighty deeds in Jesus’ name. He was casting out demons! After all, if this person was using Jesus’ name to perform miracles, why was he not a member of the group of disciples that followed Him? The fact is we simply don’t know why. All we know is that Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by this. What we are to learn from this is that no one group can claim exclusive rights to doing work in the name of Jesus. If someone has complete faith in the name of Jesus, regardless of his church affiliation or lack of affiliation, the Holy Spirit can work through him.
Perhaps this person of apparent great faith had witnessed Jesus healing a demoniac, or maybe he was healed himself. Perhaps he had family or work-related responsibilities that prevented him from traveling with Jesus and his disciples. Maybe he witnessed something in the behavior of the disciples that caused him not to want to be associated with them. After all, they had their faults, as we all do. Remember when they wanted to prevent the children from approaching Jesus? Or maybe he overheard them arguing about who would be the most important in the Kingdom of Heaven? We don’t know why this person was not a disciple, all we know is that Jesus wasn’t worried about what he was doing and was pleased that the man was not against him. There’s a lesson here for us. We need to be careful about how we think about those who are not Catholic, yet who do good works in Jesus’ name.
We also need to be careful about how we think about other Catholics who practice their faith differently than we do. We even need to be careful about judging those who have no faith at all, yet are good people who do their best to live good lives.
We certainly would love to count all people among our numbers. We’d love to see all of our Christian brothers and sisters who belong to one of the thousands of Christian ecclesial communities, come into the Catholic Church and experience the fullness of the faith offered here. This includes all the major Protestant denominations as well as the independent communities. The fact is that Christ came to save all of us, regardless of the depth of understanding we have about him and his Church.
As Catholics we know that we are blessed to have the sacraments to help us on our journey to heaven, and we want others to have them too. We know that the grace we receive through the sacraments provides the surest and safest way for us to draw near to Christ and truly live our lives as members of his body. Of course we want this for everyone! But we also need to understand that we often don’t give others a good reason to join us. Maybe it’s because we don’t do a good job sharing our faith. Maybe it’s because we don’t really live like Christians, consistently practicing the tenets of our faith.
Consider the horrific scandal in the Church today. In light of this, it’s reasonable that someone might think twice before converting to Catholicism. While we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to not evangelize and invite others to come into full communion with the Church, it certainly makes our job more difficult. I’m not sure I’d be eager to become a Catholic these days if I didn’t understand what I do about the Faith.
Here’s the point, we need to be charitable to others who, for whatever reason, remain outside of full communion with our one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Our personal witness may well be one of the reasons they stay away. This is why it’s so important that we get our act together before we criticize others for their faults and shortcomings. Of course the Lord wants all Christians to be in full communion with his beloved Church, but it’s our job to set an example that gives them a good reason to do so.
In addition to examining our thoughts about non-Catholic Christians, let’s now consider how we think about other Catholics who practice the faith differently than we do. I’ve personally witnessed a lack of charity on the part of some who think other Catholics are either not “orthodox enough,” or “progressive enough,” “or “traditional enough” for their liking.
The fact is that the Church is diverse and we’re free to have preferences about how we practice our faith, as long as we faithfully follow Church teaching. For example, some prefer guitar music at Mass, while others prefer organ music. Some prefer the extraordinary, or Latin, form of the Mass, while others prefer the ordinary form. Some receive communion on the tongue, while others receive in the hand. Some go to confession weekly, while others go every few months. Some like to sing at Mass, while others don’t like to sing. Some join the Knights of Columbus or attend CCW functions, while others do not. Some pray the rosary daily, while others may have a different prayer routine. Some attend Bible studies and others don’t. Some participate in our Bridge Ministry to the homeless, while others prefer to visit the sick.
None of these preferences and practices necessarily say anything about one’s faith or love for Our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t know the reasons why others don’t join our groups, so who are we to judge them? Joining this group or attending that study, or even praying the Rosary is not a requirement for being a good Catholic.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that our groups and our studies, or praying the Rosary are not excellent ways to grow in our faith and put it into practice. They clearly are! But the fact is there are many ways we can grow in our faith. Yes, it’s good and helpful to come together with our brothers and sisters to share and learn, but it’s not mandatory, other than at Mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation. Many people are simply unable to make time for more than this due to work, family, or other commitments. These are personal decisions whose intent can only be judged by God, not by us.
The bottom line is that it is simply wrong for us to look down on those who don’t share our liturgical preferences, our group affiliations, and our devotional practices as being not “Catholic enough.” Let’s not be concerned about someone else’s devotional practices, rather let’s be concerned that OUR life is pleasing God. Let us look honestly at ourselves and remove the hand, foot or eye that cause us to sin.
Our primary concern should be to remove occasions and patterns of sin from our own life. In the end, how our neighbor lives out his spirituality will have nothing to do with whether or not we enter eternal life. When we look at our neighbor, let us look to see how the Spirit is moving in his or her life. Let us try to see the good in others, rather than nitpicking at what we perceive to be their faults.
So, what are your answers to the questions “How do I feel about people who do good works in Jesus’ name but are not Catholic?” and “How do I feel about other Catholics who don’t share my worship preferences, my group affiliations, or my devotional practices?”
When we’re tempted to judge others who do things differently than we do, let us stop and ask ourselves what can I do to live my faith more genuinely so as to be a more compelling witness to Christ’s love and mercy in my own life? Perhaps then others will be inspired by this witness.
The last verse of today’s responsorial psalm sums all this up very well. It reads “From presumption restrain your servant and let it not rule me. Then I shall be blameless, clean from grave sin.”1
God bless you.
1This translation is from the Jerusalem Bible, not the NAB used at Mass in the United States.