Every year as we go through the long season of Pentecost, we have mostly a single Gospel book that is used for the Gospel reading each week. This year our readings are from the Gospel of Mark, chapters 3-13. I was just looking at the last few weeks of Mark readings and noticed how rich these have been. Mark has recorded Jesus’ teachings to his disciples and the crowds who would hear him, and they are full of clear direction on what it takes to follow Jesus and to do what He asks of all of us, too.
The latest teachings this past month:
--Inner Spirit vs. Outer Appearance: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
-- Simple & Complete Faith: "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter."
-- Faith & Action: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
-- Greatest in the Kingdom of God: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
--The Real Believers: "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Continue to look for more of this wisdom as the weeks of Pentecost continue and we read from Mark.
It seems important to me to share some observations I read about leading up to and during Pope Francis' visit to the United States this week. These are all from articles in Huffington Post the past few days.
First, from the Pope’s “Pilgrimage Through America With the 'Least of These'” on 09/21:
“While Pope Francis is in America he will be making a pilgrimage to visit with our nation's "least of these" that Jesus articulates in Matthew 25 -- and it is there that we will see the core values of Pope Francis as spiritual leader. Matthew 25 is a judgment day text within the Christian New Testament in which Jesus is explaining the decision-making process of who will inherit the kingdom of God in heaven. "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me."
The hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned, the stranger -- Pope Francis will not just be talking about these people Jesus claims, and identifies as representing himself on this earth, he will be actively seeking out their company. The pope wants to meet America's poor, homeless, and hungry. He wants to take time with the imprisoned, the immigrant stranger, the marginalized, and the outcast -- because if he didn't, he would miss his encounter with Christ on American soil. In meeting with the powerful and those who are struggling in equal fashion, Pope Francis is reiterating his hopes that even in the deeply divided country that is America today -- both politically as well as economically -- we can find ways to treat one another with dignity and respect, especially those who represent the least of these, and who Jesus called blessed.”
So, what happened? On 9/24: “Pope Francis Skips Lunch With Politicians To Be With Homeless In Washington, D.C.”
Pope Francis stepped away from the pomp and pageantry of Capitol Hill to be with the poor and homeless on Thursday. Passing on the opportunity to dine with politicians after addressing Congress this morning, Francis instead said a prayer blessing at a meal for homeless clients of St. Maria's Meals, a food program run by Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.
“I want to be very clear. We can’t find any social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever for lack of housing,” he continued. “We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person. He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help and his love. He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice. He tells us this clearly, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’"
By the way, Pope Francis also visited one of our nation’s prisons to speak with captives there, met with a gay community, some people who had been sexual abused, and led a huge communion service for 1M people in Philadelphia.
Talk about the Pope’s visit wouldn’t be complete without his visit to Congress on 9/24:
Pope's Message to Congress: Have Compassion For The Most Vulnerable Among Us
Pope Francis delivered a speech to U.S. lawmakers on Thursday morning, calling on leaders to consider the plight of the poor and vulnerable in society. "A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk," he said. "Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."
His speech touched on issues including climate change, immigration and the refugee crisis, with a shared message of compassion. It was the first time a pope has addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
His speech used this theme several times: Let us remember the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'"
Francis addressed the topic of religious extremism, charging the world is "increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities committed even in the name of God and of religion." "We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism," Francis said. "This means we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind."
On climate change, the pope called for "courageous and responsible effort" to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. The United States and Congress, he said, "have an important role to play."
Bishops in the U.S. recently called for abolishing the death penalty, a push Francis said he supports. "Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation," he said.
The pope also called for an end to the global arms trade, an industry he said is "drenched in blood." "Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?" he asked. "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem."
Francis' message is expected to resonate both inside and outside of the Capitol. The 76.7 million Catholics in the United States constitute 21 percent of the population, making them one of the largest religious groups in the country. The proportion is even larger in Congress, where 31 percent of members are Catholic.
Yes, this is political stuff being discussed from a pulpit, for those who want to make it so. But it is clearly about the most important representative of God we know of teaching clearly from the Bible that which all people should be doing to make this world a better place for everyone. The Pope’s visit this week is of unclear impact in our country that is so torn up among those of widely varying ideologies, politics, and views about their faith. But we can sure hope and do whatever we can to help his message have meaning going forward.