Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Being catholic

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the October 18, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Would not it have been just wonderful to have been one of the original disciples of Jesus?! Imagine the excitement of traveling the dusty roads and rocky paths of the Holy Land, witnessing the marvelous miracles, hearing the testy confrontations with opponents and feeling the press of the crowds of those who hungered to hear the Word of God or to be touched by the loving hand of unconditional grace. I sometimes sense a subtle jealousy in our contemporary spirituality about this privileged moment in time. If only…..

Should the fulfillment of that fantasy even come close, we would have to guard against a serious temptation: the temptation to self-satisfaction and arrogance that comes from being part of the “in crowd,” or at “having arrived.” Add to that the next temptation of looking down our noses at others who have not been so privileged – or who have rejected the privilege. Such temptations are those of triumphalism which can settle into any individual or community of faith when it takes inordinate pride at having a hold on Truth or enjoys a privileged historical position in relation to the work of the Lord. The Pharisees in the Gospel narratives evidently had succumbed; so could we. So do we?

The Sunday Gospel from a couple of weeks ago is a clarion reminder to protect ourselves against this persistent temptation. The reading gave us a glimpse of Jesus in the course of his ministry, making his way to glory in the city of Jerusalem. The moment is one of building excitement as people become more and more caught up in his movement of grace and salvation. Certainly there must have been a growing sense of awareness of significance among the disciples – and especially the apostles – as they made their way up from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Scripture scholars observe a certain attitude of comfort, if not self-importance, that subtly develops among the apostles at being the privileged few who are “in the know.” After all, Jesus is the one who called them (and not someone else); to them has been confided insights into the Kingdom of God. They have been the direct witnesses to the life and ministry of the Son of God. They have been transformed by the truth of God’s saving Word. What a privileged position!

This particular Gospel scene finds these very same apostles reacting against a few individuals who “are not part of our group” and who have been working miracles in the name of Jesus. The apostles, of course, had told them to cease and desist; in their eyes doing the work of Jesus was their own domain of responsibility! Perhaps they even considered the unauthorized work of these outsiders a bit phony, self-serving or contrived. Maybe they would even have qualified it as evil and God-less.

Jesus responded to the apostles that they had no right to deny or squelch the activity of God’s Spirit outside their comfortable confines. His words echo poignantly: “No one can work a miracle in my name and speak ill of me. The one who is not against us is for us.”

This month’s celebration of the golden anniversary of the Second Vatican Council certainly must remind us that there was a time when we Catholics sequestered ourselves in a bastion of truth from which we saw and judged the rest of the world’s struggle for life in God’s Spirit. We often evaluated others from a perspective of either being with us or being up to no good – or certainly in heresy and error. Unfortunately, I find as a seasoned pastor now that such a mentality continues to exist in certain quarters. Every once in a while I recognize that it still creeps into my own heart. This fear or rejection of God’s presence and obvious work among other Christian denominations – and even among other non-Christians – mystifies me.

Jesus seems to be instructing us that a truly catholic vision is one which cherishes truth as it comes more clearly into focus. (The word catholic is spelled correctly here, using it in the same sense of universality we confess every Sunday in the Profession of Faith.) There is truly a sense which we denominational Catholics can claim a unique and privileged heritage among the body of Christian churches and other faith communities. But that position is a gift. It is a resposibility to which the Lord has called us. To the extent that we have “arrived,” nevertheless, a truly catholic vision of life would recognize and affirm the work of God’s Spirit wherever and whenever we find it.

Examples? I think of Blessed John Paul II, who stood among the clergy in Brazil, describing the pagan worshippers prevalent in the culture of that nation as engaging in a “silhouette of true faith.” I think of one of his predecessors who stood at the rostrum at the United Nations and affirmed the work of atheist nations in their pursuit of human rights. I think of the Catholic who is not afraid to kneel around the coffee table of a Protestant neighbor and pray for their family needs. I think of a parent who affirms her son’s or daughter’s discovery of God while walking in the woods. I think of the mom and dad who can see through the adolescent rejection of religion and find a genuine search for the living God.

The points of God’s disclosing grace are multiple and innumerable. If we are truly Catholic, Jesus seems to be telling us, we will see and affirm the work of God all around us. God leads everyone to the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. There is no doubt about it. Historically, some of us have been more blessed than others with opportunities and graces which have brought us to more explicit faith. Others have not been so privileged or historically blessed. But all have been and continue to be blessed because, as the Church itself teaches us, the Spirit of God moves in the heart of everyone. Our responsibility to our Christian journey is to treasure our blessings, to look for the abundance wherever, and to affirm the work of the Spirit which calls us to unity and fellowship in the goodness of God.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and serves as the diocese’s Moderator of the Curia.)

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