By the time Pope Francis reads this Sunday’s gospel to a congregation attending his mass in Philadelphia, he will have toured the U.S. Capitol and met Americans of every belief system—all of whom hope his teachings reflect their beliefs. Some will be divorced Catholics hoping for an easier path to a second marriage, others will have been involved in an abortion and hoping for forgiveness or at least liberalization of teachings governing this process, and still others hope he makes the Church’s guidelines on these matters bolder and more definitive so there is no doubt as to what Jesus intended. These issues and more will be the subject of a synod over which Pope Francis will preside in October, attended by 250 bishops from around the world. This Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) has resonance for him and every successor of Peter. In fact all of us raising a family should pay special attention. In it, Jesus sends a strong message to those who take up the awesome responsibility of spreading his teachings to God’s children:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Talk about pressure.
Although Francis is human, we have faith that he and all who preach the word of God are guided by the Holy Spirit. The Psalms read at this Sunday’s mass should be on the lips of all God’s teachers, particularly this one (Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14):
“Who can detect trespasses? Cleanse me from my inadvertent sins. Also from arrogant ones restrain your servant; let them never control me. Then shall I be blameless, innocent of grave sin.”
Jesus had great faith that those who would carry on his work would do so in the name of the Father AND the Son, AND the Holy Spirit. That faith is demonstrated in the same gospel reading, when John tells him:
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. 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 gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
That exchange is remarkably similar to the one in Sunday’s first reading from Numbers (Nm 11:25-29) in which Moses’ aide, Joshua, warns him of Eldad and Medad prophesying without being part of the gathering of elders who had received the Spirit together.
“Are you jealous for my sake?,” Moses asks. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
Imagine the wisdom that would result if the Holy Spirit were to make his presence known in a similar way at the upcoming synod! Let’s pray those participants receive such a benediction and that their subsequent teachings testify to that blessing. As James tells us in our second reading (Jas 5:1-6), the absence of the spirit also speaks loudly and clearly in the way all of us interact with our fellow souls—or more importantly, don’t interact.
“Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you,” James writes. “It will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
Whether we teach by our words, our actions or our lack of action, let’s pray to receive the same inspiration we hope will continue to guide Pope Francis along Peter’s pathway.