26th Ordinary Sunday: “There are no exclusive rights to Jesus”

September 26, 2021

The Roman Catholic Church does not have an exclusive contract with God, to talk about God or to let everyone know the secrets of God.

At one time, we did teach that we were the one true Church, that we had figured everything out, through specific words describing dogmas, and rituals claiming to be the only ones to deliver God’s presence, truly and fully.

At one time, we were very sure who was a heretic and who would be burned at the stake.  For centuries, the Church and European states were one.  Both the Church and the state enforced and controlled how people thought and how they acted.

Years ago, especially in the U.S., the Church and state separated.  The early settlers to American lands left their home countries because of bigotry and religious persecution.  There would be no church and state collusion here.

What happened in the Second Vatican Council of 60 years ago was to renew the Catholic Church in the Spirit of Jesus and in the spirit of the New Testament gospels, and to [find again] the roots of the practice of the Catholic faith… To change many of its modes of operating.

So today, there remains a clear and forceful tension between those Catholics who want law and order and clearly defined doctrine and those who desire freedom, spiritual growth and a greater sense of community.  Dogma versus theological creativity and liturgical renewal; decisive doctrine versus social justice; the Latin mass of Trent and the simple vernacular of the modern liturgy.

We do not talk about ourselves as the one, true Christian Church in the sense of being exclusive or intolerant.  We realize the multiplication of different Christian communities as an outgrowth of good Christians who have wanted to express their faith in different ways over the centuries.

There is always a tension between being upper-handed and imposing rules and order, not able to listen to (and to change) legitimate spiritual needs, forcing others to leave and form their own groups.  There is always a tension between uniformity, diversity, and creativity.

Even Moses in today’s first reading recognizes that God wanted him to share his role as a spokesperson for God, his role as a prophet, as a spiritual leader.  So, he begins to call others, sharing his spirit and “know-how” with 70 others.  But there were literalists among the group who could not understand how two of the chosen by Moses who were missing could receive the same outpouring of the Spirit when they were in a different place.

Moses corrected their exclusive thinking: “Would that all the people of the Lord were Prophets.”  A prophet speaks for God — not foretells the future.  Would that all Catholics today were prophets.  That’s what Pope Francis would like as well.

We have come from a long history of a Priesthood and church leaders as ordained to do specific tasks and no one else could do them.  But look what has happened since the Second Vatican Council and the development of lay leadership in so many ministries in the Church today, [and look to the future.]  Will married men be ordained priests?  Will women be ordained?  I am sure that it will come as God is both masculine and feminine.  In time, the people of the Church will understand that gender does not determine who ministers.  What matters is who the Holy Spirit is calling.  The real question is what Jesus would do today if he was starting out today.

To his own followers who could not believe in or trust someone who was driving out demons in the Name of Jesus because he was not a part of Jesus’ group, Jesus says that he welcomed his help, tapping down the exclusive, partisan, close-mindedness of his own disciple: “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.”

Anyone who does good is a collaborator with Jesus even though the person may not know Jesus.  There are no exclusive rights to Jesus.

Just as Moses told his new helpers, “you don’t have to be jealous for my sake,” Jesus says the same thing to us.

How all these changing ideas and realities of religion and spiritualities and spiritual movements will play out is not clear.  Those who want everything to be precise and clear become very nervous.  Many people have left the Catholic Church because they have not found the Catholic Church to be spiritually fulfilling.  Will seeing Jesus in a new way (being in sync with others who are not in sync with us) be watering down our faith tradition or change it radically?  The prophets of doom would say yes, but the Holy Spirit says “no” as Jesus said: “I am with you every day to the end.”

Practice what is good.  Do what is good and Jesus will take [care] of the rest and Jesus will lead the Catholic Church into the future.  We do not find salvation in our doctrine — only in Jesus and doing the good.

Jesus has tough words for those who lead others to sin.  Each of us who follow Jesus need to practice humility, integrity and unconditional love, and so does: the Pope, the Bishops, the Priests, the Deacons and all Lay Leaders.  If we listen to one another and work together with each other, the essence of our faith will remain and will develop into forms as our culture develops.

St. James reminds us of the great danger of materialism, the corruption that comes from wealth and being over satisfied, the corruption that comes from unjust thinking and practices in our personal and commercial lives.

Pope Francis proposes now that each diocese around the world begin to sit down, to pray, to share, to reflect, to talk about what it means to [be] a Catholic in the Oakland Diocese today.  We do not need Rome to tell us, we must begin to understand it ourselves.  So, let’s begin the process of the Synod — the Greek word that means to come together and to talk.

Our future will not come from Rome, but from our discovering it together, here.  Jesus could see beyond his little band of followers and he noted the good that many others were doing who did not know him who were practicing “the good” on a different spiritual path.

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has made us think that we have to nail down every detail about how to follow Jesus.  The gospels give us very few details: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  If we reflect and mull this detail over and over again, we will discover more than enough details.

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