Homily 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

It’s been an exciting week for Catholics in America with Pope Francis in close proximity. As I mentioned last week, the security for this one person is amped up to a level previously unseen. But Pope Francis is a person whose concern is 100 times greater toward bringing the Gospel message of Jesus to the faithful and those without faith, rather than having a greater concern for his own life.

            Whenever a Pope is in town, a few hundred miles down the road, the level of excitement and anticipation is extraordinary. Pilgrims will stand on the side of the street, like they did in New York and Washington, for many hours simply to get a glimpse of the Holy Father riding by in a small Fiat or the Pope mobile. Their view of him, if they can see him at all, may last about five seconds, if that, after waiting for hours on end. And they will consider the wait to be worth it.

            Whenever the Pope is in town, I pray that we all realize how blessed we are to be Catholic. If that’s not registering with us this week, then our lives are either way to busy, or we’re simply indifferent to the joy that identifies who we are in faith and how we’ve been raised in our families. It’s a great grace to be Catholic, and the presence of Pope Francis reaffirms the valuable treasure box of our Catholic faith. Watching him this past week, and seeing the many reactions of people in his presence, tells me unequivocally that God is among us in this holy servant who is the Successor to St. Peter.

            In the Gospel today, Jesus is gathered with his disciples as Pope Francis has gathered with his people and Bishops. A situation arises in their midst. Someone, not of their group, is using the name of Jesus to drive our demons. His name is not even known to the other disciples. This complete stranger has invaded their territory of discipleship by using the Lord’s name for good purpose – to make the sick whole again. But, he forgot to check in with Jesus and the disciples first to ask their permission if he could use the name of the Lord. John and the rest of them are offended by this brazen attack on their being disciples of Christ.

            What we learn about ourselves and about our fellow neighbor in this Gospel is that Jesus does not begrudge a kind and loving act under any circumstances. John wanted Jesus to say, “Stop that man! Stop that woman! Stop them because I gave them no authority to use my name to drive out demons and cure the sick.”

            What John wants is for Jesus to say, “Stop that unknown disciple from making the lives of men and women more peaceful and comforting! They shouldn’t do those good things unless I instruct them to.” Those are not the words of Jesus. Nor are they the words of Pope Francis.

            {John is complaining to Jesus that we don’t know this person who’s using the name of the Lord. John’s thinking, “Heaven forbid, Lord, he may be using your name like a golfer who misses a 3-foot putt…meaning, in the worst of ways.” I’ve never heard a golfer take the Lord’s name in vain before. Have you?}

            Pope Francis has come to us many reasons. To draw Catholics back to the practice of their faith at a time when so many are away from having a relationship with the Lord and it affects the salvation of their souls, even if they don’t know it.                                                                He’s here in our country to draw greater attention to the needs of the poor among us, and for all of us to participate in alleviating some of the poverty among us, instead of being focused on our own world of family, home, and work. Where and how can we make a difference? Where can our Catholic faith come alive rather than be dormant on the very real issue of poverty? And he’s making a lot of people uncomfortable in the meantime, just like Jesus did.                                                                                                                                                            He’s here to remind us of the dignity of all human life, and to challenge Catholics who believe that all life does not have dignity to reflect deeply in their hearts and come to the truth.                                                                                                                                                             He’s here to teach that God’s mercy is available for all people, and not just a few.

            But I believe one of the Holy Father’s biggest messages in his Pontificate is that the name of Jesus Christ can be spoken by all people from all backgrounds for the building up of each other. And, because there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved, the name of Jesus Christ is the one and only name that all people may use to bring peace, comfort, and healing to others.

            This is a hard truth for some Catholics to accept. It was a hard truth for John the Apostle, the same Apostle who stood at the foot of the Cross watching his Teacher die. Jesus opens his name to all people of goodwill. To all who will use his name for acts of love and kindness.

            “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s a very ecumenical message that allows us to see Christ in others. For any act of love, any act of kindness, finds its origin in the name of Jesus Christ.

            Allow yourself to see Christ in others as Pope Francis does, even if they don’t see it in themselves. For whoever is not against us is for us.

Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 20, 2015

Our Holy Father Pope Francis is coming to America this week, in case you haven’t heard by now. Every person who works in security between Washington, D.C. and New York City is on edge. They’re quite nervous, first of all because he’s the Pope, and second, because Pope Francis is someone who does not stick to routine. He’ll say, “Stop the car! I want to go speak with that person over there in the wheelchair!” And it’ll be done as there are thousands of people cheering, clapping, and in a state of euphoria, as the nervous security people look out for any threats.

That’s called a security nightmare. But ask him if he cares. He has a job to do, and the forces of evil he will not allow to get in the way of bringing the message of Jesus Christ to a world so desperately in need of hearing it.

Abraham Lincoln did the same stuff. Except he was really bad! He would wander off on his own during the night, especially on the day of a battle, walking from the White House to the War Department and Telegraph Office to check in on any incoming messages from the field of battle. It was usually bad news, but not always.

Pope Francis, if he could get away without security, he’d be all for it. And it’s not that he has a callous disregard for his life. He wants to live as much as you and I do. But, once again, he will not allow the forces of evil that are constantly after him – and us – to put the message of Christ into any sort of reverse mode. Or quiet mode. That’s exactly what the Devil wants. Instead it’s full steam ahead, with or without threats. To pull back in any way is to hand a victory flag to the Devil. And the only flag our Good Pope is going to hand to the Father of Lies is the Devil’s own flag of defeat…in the form of a Cross.

This is pretty much where we find Jesus in today’s Gospel. In a manner that sounds an awful lot like threats directed at Pope Francis as he comes to the United States, Jesus says that the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after he will rise. On the surface it sounds like Jesus has an attitude of indifference concerning his own life. Like Pope Francis, or Abraham Lincoln.

But that’s not the truth of his words. Jesus loved his life as much as you and I love ours. This is such an important part of understanding the fullness of Jesus’ humanity. To embrace in its fullness the fundamental truth of living; that all life is precious to our God…including his own. But, after that truth has been established in human hearts, that’s when all the bad stuff will try to alter the beauty of human life. That’s when the Devil tries to convince us that all life is not so important. He has many supporters.

Stuff like jealousy; they will be envious of Jesus that he is such a perfect teacher; “He does all things well” the crowd says. Those words would drive a competitor to perform acts of evil. How many times a day does one person or one company try to undermine another person or company because they are doing things well? It happens every day. We cannot do that and call ourselves Christian. That is not living our lives for Christ.

Or stuff like greed and control; the religious authorities at the time of Jesus, or many of them, want all the people under their thumbs. To suffocate them with rules and regulations that are human in origin. Jesus came to free us. He frees us from the Oppressor who wants to crush us. Jesus frees us from the burdens and heaviness of life, giving us hope that goes far beyond our Funeral Mass.

So when Jesus informs his closest 12 Associates that Jerusalem awaits and when he arrives the picture is not going to be pretty, he does so from the perspective that his life and all life is held to the highest and loftiest height by his Father in heaven. And that, my friends, will never change, except in the minds of human beings who try to cheapen life.

The alternative for the Lord is to give up the game. “Yes, boys, I’m going up to the Holy City to be killed. Why? So I can cheapen my life and yours. So I can get out of this God-forsaken world as quickly as possible because I can’t stand hanging out with you smelly slobs who fight about who is the greatest. I got news for you; none of you are great…to me or to my Father! When I get up to the city I want them to kill me because I’m weak and I cannot handle the assignment handed to me by heaven. I want them to take my life because this is all a waste of time because that Dirty Dog in the Downstairs Dungeon called the Devil is going to win anyway! I’m going up to Jerusalem because I want out! And after I’m gone…I wish you guys the luck of the Irish during the Potato Famine. You’re on your own!”

Who wants to worship someone like that? Who wants to worship someone who has such a cheap and callous regard for human life, including his own? Yet, there are Catholics who worship people with that unbalanced and un-Christian attitude toward human life. Especially in the world of politics.

While the 12 fight over greatness in their petty, meaningless quarrels, our Lord is fighting on our behalf. He’s fighting that you and I will be with our families in heaven. His life is so generous and valuable that he will offer it for our eternal good. Follow him and his ways. Avoid the cheap and ugly ways of our culture and world, and call them out for what they are as Jesus calls out the disciples on the misleading topic of greatness. And bring the message that all life is gift.

Pope Francis loves his life. He may lose it in an awful way one day. We pray that does not happen. But the message of Jesus Christ is greater than even his life. The message of Jesus Christ and holding to it is the true and lasting greatness.