"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us." -Mark 9:38-40
I found it somewhat coincidental that this was the gospel reading this week at church. I've seen my share of harsh criticisms and judgments of Catholics and the Catholic church this week on social media. All of it somehow correlating to Pope Francis' visit to the United States.
I'm not a stranger to the bristling and judgment certain Christian denominations have when it comes to Catholics.
My first exposure to it came when I was just 10 years old. I was playing with two friends -- who happened to be cousins -- one Saturday night when I mentioned something about attending Mass in the morning.
"What's a Mass?" the younger of the friends asked.
"It's church service for Catholics," the other said.
A look of disgust formed on the younger friend's face. "You're our enemy."
While the older friend told the younger to cool her jets, I began to wonder, How can I be your enemy if we both love Jesus?
Over the years, I learned more about the difference in beliefs (and common misconceptions) that perpetuate the estrangement between Protestants and Catholics.
There's the misconception that Catholics worship Mary.
Um, no. Catholics look up to Mary because she was chosen by God to be the mother of Christ. But the opening words of the Hail Mary prayer are taken directly from Luke 1:28, and the closing words are simply asking her to pray for us. It's no different than the average person asking a friend to pray for him/her.
There's the idea that Catholics are not born again.
Catholics are born again. First in baptism. Second in confirmation.
There's works righteousness: "Catholics believe they have to do stuff in order to get into heaven."
That's not exactly true. Catholics believe we are saved through faith; faith that is a gift of God. But we also believe that faith without works is dead. In other words, a person whose faith in the saving power of Christ's sacrifice will motivate him to live his/her life in the image of Christ's example.
Pope Francis' speech to Congress was viewed by many as a socialist political statement. Not so. His speech to Congress was an emphasis the on corporal and spiritual works of mercy that were the basis for the ministry of Jesus Christ.
If all Christians would open their eyes, they might see the reason Pope Francis is making such an impact on non-believers and those who have fallen away from their faith is because he is doing his best to follow the example set forth by Jesus Christ.
There's the idea that Catholics believe the Pope is Jesus.
No. Just no.
There's the idea that Catholics worship the Pope.
We believe the Pope is the successor of Simon Peter, the rock on whom Jesus built His Church.
There's the idea that the Pope is a Satanist because there are inverted crosses on his chair.
Speaking of Simon Peter ... guess how he died? He was crucified. Upside-down. Yep, on an inverted cross.
There's the idea that praying the rosary is a sinful waste of prayer time, that Catholics don't have a personal relationship with Jesus and that Catholics believe their catechism ranks above the Bible.
First of all, the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a sort of a users' manual on how to put the inspired Word of God into practice through daily living.
Second of all, a personal relationship with Jesus is just that -- personal. It's none of my business whether or not Joe SixPack talks to Jesus on a regular basis or has given Him the silent treatment for the past five years. And my relationship with Jesus Christ is not Joe SixPack's business either.
And finally, it seems as if judging the way someone communicates with the Holy Spirit is more of a sinful waste of time than someone mediating in a manner that gives them comfort.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is Jesus said, "Whoever is not against us is for us." He also said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." He also said, "How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"
All I'm saying is, Christians can't afford to judge each other over petty differences, and it's not our job to judge each other anyway.
So knock it off.
***Kathryn Harris is a journalist, a weekend blogger, a wife, a mother of two and the author of "The Long Road to Heaven," a novel about finding faith and forgiveness in the aftermath of addiction.