Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jesus' response to Lady Gaga (hint: it's in today's Gospel)

I don't know about you, but I would not mind putting a "divisiveness" filter on my web browser. Any posts or pages which play up divisions, put people into ever-smaller camps or write off entire groups of people would go "whoosh" like a toilet. It was sad to watch the winnowing of the Republican field of Presidential candidates. No one was my ideal candidate, but there were a few who did seem qualified enough for the job, and whose platform overall was not half-bad. But a swarm of piranhas ate away at every one of them. This one or that wasn't "conservative enough" or "a real conservative" or was a "RINO" or "soft on immigration." And now the Republican party is left with... (When I was in Italy and people asked me what was going on with the American elections, I simply said, "I really don't want to talk about that.")

It's not just on the right that this stuff happens. A pro-LGBT writer had the temerity to write an article questioning institutionalized forms of respect for persons who do not identify with their body's sex. The combox was filled by people who were enraged that the author did not "have the backs" of those persons, and the publication quickly disavowed any approval of the content that had passed editorial muster days earlier. It was simply not acceptable that a writer should have a nuanced critique of events that are going on in society. You must be "all in" or "all out." If you are not with us, you are against us.

This kind of marginalization and hostility is not limited to political or social issues. It happens in church circles, too. It's not a sign of spiritual health.

On Mother's Day, celebrity performer Lady Gaga (public confession: I have never actually witnessed a performance of hers, but my understanding is that she is incredibly talented) went to Mass and paid attention to the homily. She even quoted it in an Facebook post, along with a picture of the priest.

When I saw the post (someone "shared" it), my first thought was "Wow. She's outing herself as a Catholic. That takes guts!" But deep down, I knew: She won't survive long. (Sister Theresa Aletheia writes about what happened, and offers some really good perspective.)  I don't intend to address the several points that people made; many of them are valid enough, but not (according to Paul's recommendation) "gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one" (Col 4:6).

Today's Gospel addresses a somewhat similar situation. Thankfully, along with the example of John's inappropriate (if well-meaning) zeal, we have Jesus' own reinterpretation and set of directions. 

Here's the complete text of Mark 9:38-40 from today's Mass:
John said to Jesus,
“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.”
This is a Gospel that St Paul lived in the flesh. Imprisoned and vulnerable, he realized that his chains offered believers a chance to tell others about Jesus. But Paul had enemies, too. Real enemies. And they began to preach about Jesus in a way that made Paul's harsh circumstances even more difficult. I know what I would have done in that situation: point out all the inconsistencies in those enemies' lives and teachings. I would have worked to undermine their efforts. Not Paul! Just as Jesus said "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me," Paul wrote, "What does it matter what their motives are, as long as Christ is being proclaimed? In that I rejoice!" (Phil 1: 18). 

That rejoicing reminded me of another joyful Apostle--not one of the Twelve, but Paul's fellow missionary Barnabas. Word had gotten to the leaders of the early Church that "Greeks" (non-Jews) were joining the Christian community in cosmopolitan Antioch. This was beyond acceptable, even if Peter had baptized the Roman Cornelius. That was clearly an exception that had been mandated by a heavenly vision. Someone needed to investigate and set things right. So they sent the trustworthy Barnabas. He was an ideal envoy, being from Cyprus (and so bi-cultural) and also a Levite, a minister of the Temple of Jerusalem. 

Luke tells us what happened: "When [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart... And a large number of people was added to the Lord" (Acts 11:23-24).

Barnabas can be our model of how to live today's Gospel (and foster the growth of the Church, too!): look for the grace of God (even in the most unlikely of people) and give encouragement. I think this is what Pope Francis does as a matter of course, and our polarized society keeps trying to align him with the "side" he has most recently engaged with. It may require a profound conversion on our part. That is the grace I asked for in this morning's Communion: Jesus, give me your way of thinking; put your thoughts in my mind; let me offer hospitality to you, so that you can reach out through me to praise the grace of God wherever it may appear and encourage people to walk in it.

No comments: