Being the principal of an inner city Hispanic Catholic Grade school has many challenges. Some of the parents do not speak English so help with home work is problematic. Some of the student's older siblings are in gangs so responsible role models for the younger students may not always be there. The budget is not balanced with having a bake sale or a car wash---even bingo is not the answer. With that in mind Jean did the "speaking tour" of local parishes to reach out to the more financially secure to elicit their help. After one of her presentations on a Sunday at a large wealthy parish she received a phone call from "Matt". Matt and his wife (Patty) wanted to come to visit the school where Jean was principal. Jean had them come on the day they had Eucharist with the children doing the readings. After Eucharist Jean took Matt and Patty on a tour of the building---the old boiler room---the bath rooms where at times the toilets did not always work---the office with old out dated office supplies and a copy machine. They ended with Matt and Patty in Jean's Principal's office-a small cramped space with one broken chair. At the end of their discussions Matt asked Jean, "So how much do you need to balance the budget for this year?" Jean said, "$30,000". Matt responded, "I can take care of that". He reached into his suit coat pocket, pulled out his check book and wrote a check for $30,000.
One can not imagine what Jean felt like---unless you have been in a similar situation. Matt and Patty had inherited his father's business which had done very well financially. Matt told Jean that when he dies and goes to heaven he expects Jesus to ask him one question, "So what did you do with it?"
Matt and Patty's response to their wealth certainly was in contrast to the warning from the author of our second reading from St. James where we heard today: "Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 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."
Is it not always a challenge to asses the many gifts we each have received to see what we can share with those more in need that we. Perhaps we have received gifts not of a financial nature. Sharing those gifts may have just as great an impact on some that sharing financial assistance may have on others.
The theme of both the reading from the book of Numbers and the Gospel of Mark seem to center on selfishness and not recognizing the empowerment of God and the Holy Spirit. These readings address the notion that one person or group might enjoy a monopoly on the Spirit. The Israelites had come to believe that God spoke through Moses. But when the Spirit was made manifest through others they questioned their right to prophesy. The Spirit was moving and breathing among the people in a way they were not expecting and thus they became suspect.
In the Gospel of Mark we see a similar pattern. "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us". "Do not prevent him". "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who at the same time can speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us."
In an effort to broaden their horizons and open their hearts, Jesus encouraged his disciples to look beyond the parameters they had set for themselves and for him. Gradually they began to learn that God was willing to work through all people, even sinners, even gentiles, even the poor, even women and children, the blind, the deaf, the enslaved and the outcasts. I am sure each of us could add to this list. The Spirit of God can not be contained as hard as
we may try.
In the spirit of openness and honesty I wish to share the following with you. I have known from about my freshman year in high school that Jesus had called me to priesthood. I had known from 1972 that I did not have the gift of celibacy and was also called to marriage. I am no longer a married priest---but now a "widower priest"-a new term you heard here first! During Jean's last weeks of life we discussed what my future may be after she died. Following intense discernment and prayer as well as consulting with many whom I respect I decided to make an appointment with the local bishop to discuss my returning to full active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church. On September 10th I met for an hour one on one with the bishop to discuss this with him. We had a very cordial and respectful discussion. I told him of my ministry as a chaplain for 21 years. He asked how many I had anointed with the sacrament of the sick during that time. I told him hundreds. He had heard of my wedding ministry and asked how many weddings I had officiated-about 70 was my response.
At the end of our discussion he told me he could not reconcile the ministry I was doing with returning to full priestly ministry in the church.
The readings for the Sunday before my meeting tell of Jesus curing the man who was deaf and mute---"EPHPHATA---BE OPEN" Jesus commanded. I was thinking there may be a chance the bishop had reflected on the message of Jesus and he may be open to a new model of ministry. There was no openness to the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel for today also speaks to the topic!! "But Master he is driving out demons in your name and he is not a part of us". It became obvious to me that the bishop's view of his role was to ensure conformity to canon law which is set to exclude rather than include. The ministry of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels we hear week after week was not a part of his world.
It was and is obvious to me that my ministry as priest is to those people God sends into my life. My directives come from Upper Management-Jesus rather than middle management; those who interpret canon law to exclude people from the sacraments. Jesus has told us, "Feed my lambs-feed my sheep". That I will do as best I can. Jesus did not say, "Turn them away".
We have heard some very powerful messages today from God in Scripture. To use the language of today we have been asked by God to "Think outside the box". Or to put it another way; how big is your box? Is it big enough to include all people as God asks to do? Do you try to restrict the movement of the Spirit to only ways that you can understand? Do you set up preconceived barriers---not set up by God---to control the movement of the Spirit? As Moses said, "Would that all the people of God were prophets. Would that the Lord might bestow his Spirit on them all". By our baptism the Holy Spirit has been given to us.
We all have been given a variety of gifts. What are your gifts? How will you answer the question from Jesus, "So, What did you do with it?"