Several years ago, I attended a large Catholic conference in Anaheim, CA. approximately 25,000 people were in attendance, and the workshops were given by well-known presenters from all over the world. There was one presenter that really surprised me, though. The keynote speaker for that particular year was Pastor Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, and author of the book The Purpose Driven Life. When I read this in the conference guide, my first reaction was “This is a Catholic conference- why are they inviting an evangelical Pastor to speak at a Catholic conference?” I very quickly got a dose of humility, though, when I realized that I took more away from Rick Warren’s talk than I did from some of the other presentations I attended. Even though he is not Catholic, he has a deep respect and admiration for the Catholic tradition, which shone through in his talk, and helped us all to relate to the words he spoke. Had I chosen not to attend that session simply because of who was presenting, I would have missed out on a valuable lesson.
Jesus addresses a very similar occurrence in today’s Gospel. John wants to discredit someone who is driving out demons in the name of Jesus, because he is not a “regular” follower. He doesn’t live by all the rules we have to live by, so why should he be able to cast out demons? And yet, if that person didn’t have faith in Jesus, they would not be able to drive out demons in his name. In reminding his disciples that “whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus reminds us that God’s grace often works in ways that we do not expect. If we allow jealousy to creep in, and dismiss a person because they don’t follow Jesus the “right” way, we may well miss the chance to see God’s grace at work among us. At the end of the day, what unites us as Christians is far stronger than what divides us. If we were to truly focus on what unites us as Christians, imagine the difference it would make!
How do we accomplish this, though? How do we work for unity in the midst of so much division and hatred? Jesus gives us the answer at the end of today’s Gospel, when he tells us to “cut off” those parts of ourselves that cause us to sin. The challenge here is to recognize what leads us into sin. Is it judgmental attitudes? Envy? A lack of concern for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? From there, we can ask God for his grace and help to amend our lives, so that we can experience God’s mercy, grow in holiness, and become more open to the presence of God in everyone we meet.
Fr. Steven Huber, CSB