Spirit’s Work

On any given issue, the people of Holy Redeemer Catholic Community know that there are people sitting next to us every Sunday who will disagree with the way we see things. We’re okay with that because most of us have come from denominations where that kind of diversity was not only unwelcome, it was outright condemned. We have so much diversity that virtually everyone feels welcome here, but that also means that we are always having to explain how we are “Catholic” in terms of the larger institution and Tradition, yet offer sacraments and fellowship to all.
This openness might be misunderstood by some to mean that it doesn’t matter what anyone believes as long as they agree to get along with everyone else. I don’t think that view is correct: it DOES matter what we believe. But only when it comes to the core, foundational truths of our Catholic Faith.
It doesn’t matter what our favorite hymn is or whether there is organ accompaniment or prerecorded CDs. It doesn’t matter how much you tithe so much as it matters that you give faithfully and regularly. It doesn’t matter whether you take the wine or the grape juice at communion. It doesn’t matter whether you vote Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cradle Catholic, a convert to Catholicism, or whether you’re content in your particular denominational status while you worship with us. What matters is your commitment to Christ.
The disciples didn’t quite get this concept because they discover a man who is performing healings in Jesus’ name who is outside their group. Notice that they’re not angry at the man because he isn’t following Jesus: they’re annoyed because he isn’t following THEM. It didn’t even occur to them that someone might follow Jesus in another way.
Earlier in this same chapter of Mark, the disciples are unable to cast out demons and they had to have recourse to Jesus, who told them that they were powerless in this instance because, “this kind takes prayer.” So it is no coincidence, in my opinion, that they find this other healer annoying. They themselves couldn’t perform healings because they were trying to do it “their way”, and they were outraged that someone else WAS successful at his healing ministry, apparently doing everything HIS way.
I think these events are connected because I’ve seen other examples of the same kind of jealousy. One contemporary example is the status of immigrants to America. We, as Americans, are generally not eager to do menial labor, but our society is often quick to condemn the immigrants who come here very willing to do the things we prefer not to do.
Another good example comes from the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures where God’s spirit descends on the leaders of the people of Israel. But two of the leaders are in the camp, rather than outside the camp with Moses and the others. Those who hear them quickly run and tattle to Moses—who is unimpressed. “I wish everyone would experience God’s power all the time and in every place,” he responds (Nu 11:29, my paraphrase).
Another example relating to this parish is when the Roman Diocese, after receiving numerous calls asking for healing Masses in their own parishes, felt the need to condemn Holy Redeemer because we weren’t doing things “their way.” The history of the Church is one long saga of condemnations of those who do what we can not or will not do ourselves.
The difference in our text for today is that it isn’t the actions that are being questioned. Everyone agrees that demons are being cast out (Mk 9:38). Nor does it appear that they are concerned about the method of doing it. They don’t offer a ‘correct’ formula for casting out demons – after all, they didn’t know how to do it themselves!
What is being challenged is their motivation. Why are they casting out demons? It’s an affront to their perception of their own importance. If they’re not one of us, they have no right to be casting out demons. If they don’t follow us, they must be wrong. So they tell him to knock it off!
Like so many Christians today, the disciples were acting as if they were the only followers of Jesus. There were no others in their minds.
You may not have heard about it, but a few years ago there was some controversy at the World Council of Churches over the use of the word “Church” in their title. There are Christians in the world who believe they are the one true church. Everyone else is either false, misguided, or not a church. For them to continue participating in the World Council, they were asking for a change of titles. One proposed title was the World Forum of Christian Confessions. This might seem trivial to us now, but the reason there are so many “flavors” of Christianity today is due to the fact that people would rather split over minor points than embrace diversity of belief.
This can only happen, of course, when we lose sight of what really matters. And what matters if following Jesus. What matters is our commitment to Christ.
Controversy and disagreements have always been a part of Church politics. That’s the way it’s been at least since Peter and Paul wrestled over how to include Gentiles in the Church, and the controversies continue still today. All the Christian Churches are losing members in huge numbers and within our lifetime, some denominations will cease to exist. Rather than put aside the historic differences and work together, most are content to go down with the ship. Maybe we are fast approaching a time when the ordinary layperson has the courage to demand that her or his denomination lay aside silly differences and recognizes our agreement on essentials. Maybe it’s time someone says to the larger institutions, “Knock it off!”
There comes a time when all of us need to remember that God is bigger than our understanding. God is bigger than our Tradition and our Scriptures. God is bigger than our infighting and our bickering. And God can—and does—work through other people, many of whom are very different from ourselves.


About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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