Back in the 80′s I went back to school. I started a doctoral program in ministry. It was an ecumenical course; there were twelve of us from six different denominations. It took me five years to finish. On one occasion Cardinal Carter was visiting St. Gabriel’s. He asked me if I’d learned anything by going back to school. I said, “Yes your eminence I have. I’ve learned that the Roman Catholic Church does not have a corner on idiocy.” He was not amused. But listening to the stories the ministers of other denominations told about the struggles and conflicts in their own congregations I realized there is no such thing as a perfect parish, a perfect congregation or perfect leader.
Reading today’s scripture that conversation with the Cardinal came back to me. Just as we don’t have a corner on idiocy neither do we have a corner on either the Holy Spirit or the Spirit’s gifts. We are all gifted with the Holy Spirit, as was Moses and the others. We don’t own the Spirit, we don’t control the Spirit.
Responding to the jealousy of Joshua, Moses wishes that all the Lord’s people were gifted with prophecy. Remember prophecy has nothing to do with foretelling the future, it has everything to do with seeing the present for what it is, celebrating its goodness and naming its sins.
Just as Moses would not hinder Eldad and Medad from prophesying, Jesus would not hinder the person who was driving out a demon in His name. Jesus teaches us that no one has a monopoly on the ability to do good for others.
One of the challenges for all of us is our ability to live with differences, to accept and respect those who believe in ways different from our own. In every denomination there are those who believe themselves to be the ‘real’ believers, good people, but people who can’t see the goodness in those whom they consider to be “outside the camp.”
Last Monday we celebrated the feast of St. Matthew. Remember him? He was the tax collected whom Jesus invited into the band of the apostles. Imagine the shock of Peter, James and John and the others when Jesus made His choice of this tax collector, this crook, this running dog of the Romans, this traitor to his own people. How could they accept and work with such a person? From what we know they did accept and respect Jesus’ choice. The apostles had to learn to accept the fact that everyone of them was ‘called – chosen’ by Jesus. That was the one thing they had in common. They were chosen for who they were and what they were, with their personal gifts and limitations. They were invited to work with Jesus as He proclaimed the good news of God’s love for the world. They had to learn to live and work with others to do the work for which they were chosen. It is the same with all of us.
In our time we’ve had a strong ecumenical and inter-faith movement. In working with other Christian denominations of people of other faiths we cannot water down our difference in matters of our faith and morals, nor can we deny the way the Spirit works in these communities of faith. But as human beings we have common ground on which we can work together to better the world in which we live. Churches, mosques and synagogues have a common task to work for such things as affordable housing, a living wage, care for the aged, facing the blight of bigotry, welcoming of immigrants, protecting the environment and the integrity of creation. These are the areas in which we all have a common task.
This past week at meeting at the United Nation we heard the leaders of many nations speaking about global issues, especially the issue of climate change. If we read between the lines we can see that no nation really wants to bite the bullet and make decisions that will demand a simpler life style on its people.
As with the Holy Spirit, so with the care of creation: no one has a monopoly, we are all in this together. Religious leaders, Christian and non Christian will be attending this year’s session of the UN prophesying – telling it like it is – to world leaders of the need to make definite, even painful steps toward the healing of the earth.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves and for each other that we be open minded enough to recognize the Spirit of God working in all those who try to better our human condition and all those working toward the healing of Earth. We pray that religious leaders of all faith community have the courage to prophesy regarding the integrity of creation – affirming the goodness and naming the sins of our time.