Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Sunday September 27, 2009

God’s breath is everywhere.

“The Spirit is a-movin, all over, all over the land!” is the name of a folk ‘hymn’ that dates back to the hoot’nany Mass era. Although I appreciate church folk music, I do not yearn for a return to the ‘folksy’ venue of the sixties and seventies. It may have been lively but in hindsight much of the music was trite and the lyrics anemic.

Nevertheless, it was an honest attempt to synergize the community and energize the congregation to sing. It was also a wake up call to participate fully in the life of the Church at worship as well as in the streets. The theological point to be made was that all who are baptized into Christ become members of his body in the Church and are empowered by the same Spirit not only to be in grace but to act in grace.

That having been stated, the Book of Numbers echoed by the Gospel of Mark seems to be suggesting, however, that the Spirit of God is not restricted just to the baptized , certainly not just to Catholics.

In fact, the Spirit of God breathes where it wills and can find ways inside and outside the Church to activate goodness and unleash positive energy at any time in any place. Someone said somewhere that goodness lies just beneath the surface everywhere. In the face of so much evil in the world — totalitarian governments, oppressive leaders, and exploitive politicians — this statement may seem naïve or at least simplistic. Jesus faced the same reaction to much of what he preached and he paid dearly for it.

The popular scriptural commentator and editor of “Celebration,” a homiletic resource published by NCR, Pat Sanchez, supplied this reference to Mohandas K. Gandhi, a Hindhu in whom the Spirit of God dwelled and which “compelled him to befriend victims of injustice, discrimination and political greed and to make their cause his own.” This is what he wrote:

“I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is, underlying all that change, a living Power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates — and recreates. That informing Power is the spirit of God. In the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that the Spirit of God is Life, Truth and Love.”

But Ghandhi was not the only non-Christian in history to have manifested the same charisma as did Medad and Eldad or those referenced by the disciples of Jesus. Pat Sanchez brought to my attention several other philosophers, poets and social activists such as Pandurang Athavale of India who said that “the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, is not anchored to the steeple of a church; it is truly free, active in all of creation and in the lives of people everywhere!”

Here’s another. “Chief Seattle was a Native American in whom the Spirit of God was truly alive. He called the spirit of God ‘Great’ and declared that same Great Spirit was the God of all peoples, whether they be red, white, black or yellow. Whether acknowledged or not, all were created by the one Great Spirit; all were made to be free to have land, to have sufficient food and shelter from the cold and the rains.”

An appreciation for the many ways God is manifested in other cultures and faith traditions does not necessitate any lessening of our religious convictions or commitment to our own tradition. Not every maverick leads us astray and those who are not with us are not necessarily against us! Indeed they may stretch our imagination and help to appreciate better the perennial truths to which we adhere.

John Paul II affirming the teaching of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans recognized the need for true religion to be enculturated, i.e., to recognize in the diversity of world cultures, certain underlying values that are inherent in nature and creation and therefore, in Christianity. As Roman Catholics, we are traditional, not traditionalists and therefore we remain open to other voices that may even help to broaden our understanding and appreciation of our own heritage.

There are numerous others outside the walls of our Church — the Dali Lama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, and voices within our Church who speak a different language or who have looked at life within the Church through a different lens: Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day, Hans Kung, Leonard Boff, Charles Curran, Joan Chittister, and Edwina Gately, to name only a few. Each of them are from different cultures, social and educational backgrounds but there is a common thread which runs through every word they spoke and every action they performed: the abiding goodness of God and the expectation that the kings and princes of the earth as well as the most lowly servants within society honor the demands of God’s justice as expounded by the prophets of every religion in every generation. The letter of James is only a preface to the ‘Gospel of Justice’ and indeed applies to every age.

Wars continue to be fought over religion and the closed minds of many have led to the slaughter of the innocent in many lands, but violence is ultimately the venue of cowards and weapons of the tongue are the most vicious weapons of mass destruction.

God’s hands cannot be tied and or a governor placed on God’s grace.
But the voices that most challenge us may be the voices of those under our own roof as it were. These may be the folks who stretch our minds the most—children, many of them. They may help us to discover that there are more ‘both / ands’ than ‘either / ors’ in this world and in our Church. We would do well to focus on complementarities that unite rather than absolutes that divide.

So you see, it’s not just through Eldad and Medad or all the big wigs throughout the ages that the Spirit of God speaks loud and clear. It is through the little people who touch our lives day in and day out — grandmas and grandpas, teachers and coaches, “The Spirit is A-mov’n All Over…”

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