“Whoever is not against us is for us!”
This is Jesus’ solemn declaration in this Sunday’s gospel passage from St. Mark. As you hear these words this Sunday, what is your immediate reaction? Would it be, “Well, sure, everybody knows that,” or might it rather be, “Wow. Jesus actually said that. I have to keep reminding myself of it, because I’m naturally suspicious of everybody”? I’m afraid that in today’s world of lawsuits and terrorist threats (I’m not equating the two), most people’s reaction would be the latter, not the former.
We teach our children early on “Don’t trust anyone!” And for those youth and young adults venturing out on their own we shutter in fear of those who would have a bad, if not permanently damaging, influence upon them.
As a pastor, my question then is “In such an atmosphere, how do you build community?” The Holy Eucharist that we are celebrating likely began with a greeting that included “the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you” and several times before the end of Mass we will here mention of “the unity of the Holy Spirit.”
Well, first of all, we should always test the challenges and the hard questions of Christianity in our own homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. So if there is anything from a modicum of unity and trust to an admirable level of unity and trust in any of these places, how was it achieved? I would imagine that the answers might vary from “it’s the way we were brought up,” “it happened over time,” or “we went to a workshop where they made us fall backwards blindfolded into someone else’s arms.” Then, of course, a similar question could be asked of life experiences in which trust was broken and unity destroyed: “How did THAT happen?” The answers in this case are almost too hurtful and heart- wrenching to repeat. I don’t even want to create the list. Surely it will wind up, in the case of the Universal Church, too close to home!
For me, this past weekend was one of the most powerful experiences of community here at St. Rita. Besides “Dancing Under the Stars,” it was Catechetical Sunday, “Pack the Church Sunday,” and Capital Campaign/Master Plan Sunday. I was privileged to celebrate all of the weekend Masses with you and I pray it was as much of a “being-Church booster shot” for you as it was for me. Truly we were enjoying being one in God’s Holy Spirit. It just felt like everyone was FOR us, and no one against us. We must never take this precious description of St. Rita for granted—every act of drawing together, whether it be a Ministry Fair, Harvest Festival, or just coffee and doughnuts after Mass, we are living our Holy Communion and we are being FOR each other in Christ.
And this astonishing note: as this Bulletin homily is going to press, I will be concelebrating The Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra with Pope Francis on the campus of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. While we enjoy being the Roman Catholic Church in Sierra Madre, this is a most special time of appreciating that we are also a Universal Catholic Church in the world. Let us pray sincerely that Our Holy Father’s visit will draw people to us, so that we may celebrate and enjoy once again the knowledge that far more are happy to be FOR us, not against us. Pope Francis’ mission of reconciliation and return to Christ is nothing short of this Sunday’s Gospel passage come to life in our times. I will carry St. Rita Parish in my heart to Washington!