Watching Pope Francis this past week and listening to his words – above all his address to the United States Congress – I could not help but recall something Servant of God Isaac Hecker said to Blessed Pope Pius IX on December 22, 1857. In response to Pius IX’s concern about social and political conflict in the United States, Hecker answered, "there is also the Catholic truth, which if once known would come between these two parties and act like oil on troubled waters; and ... sustain our institutions and enable our young country to realize its great destiny."
Watching Pope Francis in Washington and New York and Philadelphia, I almost felt as if Hecker’s hope for the Catholic faith’s positive impact on American culture could be coming true. Speeches alone don’t solve problems, of course - much less accomplish the kind of conversion of heart that solving our country’s and the world’s problems calls for. But a speech can be an invitation to listen to a new note, to hear in a new way, and to open a new door (or, better, to use the image Pope Francis used yesterday in Philadelphia, to break down some walls).
That was what Jesus did in today’s Gospel [Mark 9:38-43, 47-48] in response to his disciples’ narrow-minded reaction to the unnamed “someone” they had caught casting out devils in Jesus’ name. That was what Moses did in the earlier Old Testament instance of Joshua’s jealous reaction to Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp [Numbers 11:25-29]. I think we can all recognize some of ourselves in the behavior of the disciples and Joshua. Jesus’ response – like that of Moses before him – challenges to listen to what this kingdom of God he keeps talking about is really all about, to hear him in a new way, and to open a new door to a hurting world (or, again as Pope Francis has suggested, to break down some walls).
Like members of any adolescent club or any adult society, the disciples were obsessed with distinguishing who’s in from who’s out, who’s rich from who’s poor, who’s native from who’s foreign, who belongs from who doesn’t. And, of course, our world – the world we human beings have become increasingly comfortable with – our world is all about building barriers and borders, walling ourselves off from one another. But there is an alternative as Jesus showed his disciples, as Pope Francis has invited all of us (even the Congress of the United States) to rediscover.
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, September 27, 2015