Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
26th Sunday: The Action of the Spirit!
Today’s readings lead us to a discussion of a topic that is pertinent to our present times in the United States. Although the media tries to paint a different picture, the fact is that many people in our country go to a Church or worship in a synagogue, mosque or temple, etc. The media may be agnostic or even atheistic, but the vast majority of the people are not. Just look at the area where you come from, North Pinellas or South Pasco. Consider how many places of worship you passed as you came to Mass this morning.
The plurality of various faith traditions leads us to a deeper consideration of the first reading from Numbers 11 and the first part of today’s Gospel from Mark 9. In Numbers Moses was told to summon 70 leaders to the Meeting tent to receive a portion of the Spirit he had been given. 68 did go to that Tent, received the Spirit, and began prophesying. However, the other two leaders, Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp and were not in the tent. Still they also received the Spirit and began to prophesy. So, they were not among those with Moses in the Tent but still received the Spirit of prophecy. When this was brought to Joshua’s attention, he wanted Moses to stop them. Moses wouldn’t because he could see that their preaching was authentic, they had the power, the authority of the Spirit of God.
In the same way in our own times, there are many people of many faiths whose preaching is authentic. They may not be part of the Catholic Church, they may not even be Christian, but they still have a share of the Holy Spirit.
“But Father, there is a dogma or article of faith that says that salvation comes through the blood of Jesus Christ. How can those who do not recognize the seven sacraments or those who are not Christian receive the Spirit of God? How is this possible in that we hear in John 6, ‘Unless you eat my body and drink by blood you will not have life within you?”’
Consider this: God the Father saw the condition of mankind after the fall and sent His Son to offer the eternal sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. Jesus became one of us and allowed our world to do its worst to Him, sacrificing Himself to the Father for us. After his death and resurrection, the Lord was united to his Father in heaven. Together the Father and the Son sent their Spirit, the Holy Spirit, upon people of good will. Some of these people of good will are Catholic. Some people of good will are Christians but not Catholic. Some people of good will are not Christian such as Jews, Hindus, Moslems and Buddhists. They all have a share of the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and are all in their own way doing the work of God. They should be respected and supported in their work. A great example of this in our community is the Tarpon Springs Shepherd Center which represents all of the faiths of our area. The people of these faiths recognize the urgency and responsibility of caring for the poor in our area as Christ would care for them.
So then, the question arises, is it acceptable for a Catholic to leave the Catholic faith and join a non-Catholic religion since that religion also has a share in the Spirit of God? When I am asked that question I respond, “I need Jesus Christ, and I find Him in the words and sacraments of the Catholic church.” For any of us to leave the Catholic Church would be for us to leave the Eucharist, to leave the seven sacraments. With the exception of our Orthodox neighbors, no other faith believes that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist as well as the other sacraments. For us to turn from Catholicism to another faith would be for us to turn from a truth we have been called to, the truth of the Eucharist, the truth of the sacraments.
We recognize that people of other faiths share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son and proclaim His Truth. We celebrate their proclamation and join them in works of charity. We pray with them and for them. But we also recognize that we have been given a share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son which includes the Presence of the Son nourishing us in the Eucharist, forgiving us in Penance, binding His Love to that of the husband and wife in Marriage etc. For us to leave the Catholic church would entail our leaving the sacraments.
It is said that many millennials and others have done just that, left the Catholic Church to worship in various evangelical Churches. I do not hazard to assume to know why each person who leaves the Church does so, but I do think that our teaching on the Eucharist and the other sacraments need to be strengthened so that those in the Catholic Church have a deeper understanding of the great gifts we have been given.
Fifty-six years ago, the Church concluded the Second Vatican Council which among many other acts, formally recognized the hand of God in non-Catholic faiths. Sadly, the excitement at the emergence of ecumenism and inter-religious unity often resulted in Catholics acting as though they belonged to these other faiths instead of Catholics
respecting their own gifts of faith as they respected the gifts of other Christian denominations and the gifts of non-Christians. We need to pray together and work together, but we cannot sacrifice our Catholic identity or, worse, our Catholicism. We join people of good will, people who have received a portion of the Spirit, as who we are. We are Catholic.
Eldad and Medad were not in the Meeting Tent. But the Spirit of prophecy would not be confined by the institutional structure of the time. Nor can it be contained by institutional structures of our time. Eldad and Medad proclaimed God’s Truth. We also need to proclaim God’s truth through our Catholic Church and with those who are not part of the Catholic Church. We pray today for a deeper understanding and respect for the Spirit of Truth wherever it may assert itself.