Sunday, June 9, 2024



His relatives set out to seize him, for they
said, “He is out of his mind!”
Mark 3:20-35


Today, Jesus seems to be getting criticism from two directions - from his family and from organized religion! One of the things about Mark's Gospel, the first to be written down, is that it is so blunt and straightforward. He tells it like it is! Those who write later, when the apostles were rising in admiration by the Church, clean up a bunch of stories so that his family and disciples don't look so rude and crude.  


First, we read about the family of Jesus showing up to take Jesus away because they felt that he had lost his mind!  Here is what it said: 

Jesus came home with his disciples.
Again, the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, 
                                                       for they said, "He is out of his mind."


It sort of shakes our usual ideas about Jesus and his family. To have them show up to "seize" him, thinking that "he is out of his mind" is really something else indeed!


Second the religious authorities show up and they were so "out of their minds" with jealousy, they accused him of being "possessed."  Here it what it says about them.

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said,
"He is possessed by Beelzebul,"
and, "By the prince of demons he drives out demons."


What we have here, with the religious authorities, is an example of pettiness and jealousy in ministry that has been around since the beginning. This gives me a chance to tell you about one of the things I addressed in the retreats for priests I gave around the world - over 150 of them in 10 countries!  Pettiness and jealousy in ministry, unfortunately, is not restricted to the clergy. Anyone of you who has ever been involved in lay ministry knows that it can happen there as well. So, what I have to say about priests can apply to lay ministers and even family members as well. 


There was one thing the religious enemies of Jesus, even some family members, could not understand and that was his popularity and success in ministry.  Since it was obvious that he was doing good things, the only tactics they had left to fall back on was to discredit his success by accusing him of losing his mind or attributing his success to the fact that he was in cahoots with the devil. Since it was obvious to all that he had power to cast out demons, the religious leaders attributed his power, not to God, but to the devil. Jealous of his power to do good, they slander him by telling people that his power to do good came from evil itself.


Jealousy and competitiveness have been the dark side of clerical culture for a very long time and is alive and well today - even in families! When the apostles, James and John, were caught making a move to grab the best seats in Jesus’ new kingdom, they had to face the jealous indignation of the other ten apostles as well as a stern reprimand from Jesus. We may remember the story about John trying to put a stop to someone who was driving out demons in the name of Jesus because he was not “a member of the inner circle.” Then there is the story about Joshua doing pretty much the same when he complained to Moses that Medad and Eldad were prophesying even though they had not been “in the tent” with the others when the spirit came to rest on the other prophets.   Snubbed by some Samaritans while on their way to Jerusalem, James and John asked Jesus if it would be OK to call down fire from heaven and burn them up! 


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests dedicates quite a bit of space to the subject of clerical envy and competition. Whether you liked his work or not, the late Father Andrew Greeley made a similar point in one of his books. He talks about the leveling that goes on among priests, whereby they are reluctant to applaud the work of other priests for fear that it will take away something from themselves.


Father Greeley wrote that, in the clerical culture, “to be a member of good standing, a priest must try not to be too good at anything or to express unusual views or criticize accepted practices or even to read too much. Some ideas are all right, but too many ideas are dangerous.” “When a layman mentions that Father X is a good preacher, the leveler priest’s response might likely be, ‘Yes, he preaches well, but he doesn’t get along with kids.’” Or, “He’s really good, but all he does during the week is prepare his sermon.” Or, “everyone says that, and it’s probably true, but he’s not an easy man to live with.”  One famous Protestant minister once said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but.”   


In my August transition class with the deacons, when I was working at St. Meinrad, I always ended with a class on the spiritual practice of blessing people. Blessing people is not about waving crosses over them, but about looking for goodness in them to affirm. For some reason, this does not seem to come naturally to ordained ministers. It is a spiritual discipline that must be intentionally cultivated.


Not too long after I retired, when I was cleaning out my files, I came across my notes for former student, Jorge Gomez of the class of 2011. Fr. Jorge from Mexico and his diocesan seminarian brother, Stanley, from Kenya, were killed in a car wreck in Tulsa a week or two after Father Jorge's ordination. Here are the last words I said to Deacon Jorge to bless him on his way out of the seminary. “You have not forgotten that you do not have a vocation to the seminary, but to serve the People of God. You have a deep love and respect for your country, your family, your people and your community. You are very dedicated to “the people.” You seem to know instinctively that, as priests, we are “called from the people, to live among the people, to serve the people.” I also told each one of them which saint they reminded me of. For him I selected St. Luke, whose heroes are always the underdog, the foreigner, the disaffected and the left out.  I am very happy I took the time to bless him with these words while he was still alive! It makes me happy that I even made a donation for his ordination celebration because his whole town was invited and his family was poor! 


Brothers and sisters, our sins may not be so much about “what we have done,” even the mean and nasty things we say about each other, but “what we have failed to do,” our withholding of clear and unconditional compliments when we have the chance!


St. Cyprian, in the Office of Readings for the feast of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, put it this way. His words could be applied to religious women, lay ministers and fellow family members as well.  “Why should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him?  What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happenings of its brothers wherever they are?”


One famous American Protestant preacher, as I mentioned earlier, described our sin best when he said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but!” "My sister may be a good cook, but her house is always a mess!" My brother may drive a nice car, but he is in in debt up to his ears!" "My neighbors have a nice house, but they don't mow their grass very often!" "My husband may be good at sports, but he is always late for work!" "My wife may hold down a full-time job, but she needs to lose some weight!" 

Brothers and sisters, we need to get off our "buts" and give each other clear compliments, focusing on what's right with them, not just what's wrong with them! 







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