Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on September 26 and 27, 2015 at the 6:00pm (vigil), 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
There are so many groups to which we can belong. Now that the Pirates have clinched their third consecutive playoff berth and won again yesterday, the group of people that call themselves Pirates fans is growing. It used to be so much smaller. On Friday nights many of us part of the group of people that have a favorite football team and/or band that we support and root for. Some of us are an alumnus of a college or university. We also might be members of a club, support a charity or cause, and be registered as a Republican or a Democrat. We all have reasons why we chose one group over another and why it is better than another group we could have chosen. Even groups for which we belong and had no choice of whether we are members or not, like our family and our nationality, we have strong feelings about them and why they are so important to us.
In today’s readings we see men with very strong feelings for their groups, Joshua and John. In today’s first reading from the book of Numbers, Joshua was upset that Eldad and Medad were not part of the small group that had received the spirit of the Lord and yet were prophesying anyway and so he asked Moses to stop them. But Moses had no problem with it and replies, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets.” Moses hoped the group of prophets would grow to include all the people.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, John was upset that a man was driving out demons in Jesus’ name and he told Jesus how the apostles tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Jesus had no problem with it and replies, “Do not prevent him…Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus knew that his message had to spread to all of the people. For Moses and for Jesus it did not matter what group an individual belonged, what mattered was that they were doing the right thing.
I believe that is summary of the message that Pope Francis brought with him on his pilgrimage to the U.S. this past week. In his speeches to Congress and the United Nations he is telling leaders, political parties, and all other groups to put aside their agendas, ideologies, and platforms, and come together as one to do the right thing. Pope Francis himself at times has been labeled as a progressive, liberal, leftist, socialist, Communist, and one very passionate and conservative Catholic woman I saw interviewed called Francis a “dangerous radical who is ruining our Church.” But Francis dismisses labels and says, “I am living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Francis came to the U.S. to remind us that we are “one nation, under God” and that “In God we trust.” In his speech to Congress apparently Pope Francis skipped a part of his speech about the Declaration of Independence. I don’t know what he was going to say, but it might have been to remind us about what it says. That the people of this nation have been guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because (and I quote) “it has been endowed by their Creator.” Despite what many would have you believe today, our nation was founded on the principle that we have rights and freedoms, not because the government, political party, mob of protesters, or any other group said so, but because they were granted by God himself.
Francis asks us to consider, “What is the Godly thing to do?” He came to the U.S. not with his personal agenda, but simply to ask us to look at the issues facing our nation in the light of the Gospel.
There was a very poignant moment when Pope Francis was speaking to Congress that illustrates this very well. Pope Francis began talking about protecting human life and one party stood up and began cheering very loudly as the other party remained seated and quiet because both parties believed that Francis was talking about abortion, which he was, but when the parties realized that he was also talking about the death penalty, the party cheering suddenly went silent and the other party quietly clapped and murmured unsure what to do. I think it was in that moment that both parties realized that their stance on abortion conflicts with its stance on the death penalty. Each party is pro-life, but only for one of the issues, but not the other.
Pope Francis is asking us to put aside our personal thoughts, feelings, and agendas, our secular ideology, our party platforms, and all our disparate groups, so that we can again come together to become one people, one nation under God.
During his trip Pope Francis reminded us that almost every one of us in this country is either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant. Most immigrants to this country have been poor and marginalized, coming here for the opportunity to have a better life for themselves and for their families. Hardworking people laboring in the mines, steel mills, and factories working to build this nation – separate groups of people from different nationalities, races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs who came together as one nation under God, who trusted in God, and under whose guiding hand we became the greatest nation on earth.
As we come forward to receive our Lord in the Eucharist today, let us reflect on how we can again all come together as one people, one nation under God. Let us remember that we are all followers of Christ, who for our sake came down to earth and became (as Pope Francis reminds us) a poor and marginalized immigrant like ourselves, that we immigrants in this life can make the pilgrimage to a better and eternal life in the greatest nation in the universe, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Rejoice and be glad!