Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday
Happy Easter everyone. I’m quite certain that after all the additional activities that we’ve had to participate in this morning some of you are probably hoping that I will be short winded instead of my usual long-winded. Well I’m not going to tell you you’re just going to have to sit on the cushions and get your “tusshies” comfortable. 
But seriously, it is a glorious day it should be. The remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord and the salvation that that means to us is a great day indeed. What we experienced this morning is almost like a pilgrimage of sorts, and rightly so. Our spiritual centers need to be mystically recharged each year and this is the perfect day to do it.
There is a deeply traditional pilgrimage almost all Americans feel pulled to make at least once in their lives - to America's new heartland, Disneyland or Disney World.As most of you know I tend to be somewhat of a Disney fanatic, so let’s explore today a little bit with a backdrop from Disney.

Disney's role in America's modern mythology is absolutely critical, even central. Increasingly the world sees Disney as the real symbol of America. Forget the Statue of Liberty, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights - America means Mickey Mouse. The recreational mecca called Disney World has now supplanted America's historical mecca called Washington, D.C., as the nation's most popular tourist site. Some now argue that Disneyland/World is the spirit of America, the nation's key sacred space, the bearer of the images that carry American meaning and mission.

Disney's mission statement is simple and straightforward: "Provide People Happiness." In its quest to meet this goal, Disney focuses all its energies in the realm of fantasy - convincing the whole country that to find happiness involves escaping reality.

When you visit the Disneyland, its central image is the Castle of Sleeping Beauty. Its graceful, soaring storybook towers and turrets preside over the rest of the theme park below. Yet unlike all the other attractions in this wonderland it is only a hollow shell - void of content. Except for a few novelty shops along the walkway that cuts through it, and winding passageways where the tale of Princess Aurora and the evil Maleficent is toldthis beautiful symbol of Disney's fantasy world come to life is empty. The attraction opened on July 17, 1955 with Disneyland Park. The castle’s design was based on the real Bavarian castle. Guests could not actually walk through the castle’s interior until 1957. The famed drawbridge has only been lowered twice—once at the opening of the park in 1955 and again in 1983 at the rededication of Fantasyland. Its sister castle resides in Hong Kong.

But its very emptiness is full of meaning. For that is precisely the function of Disneyland - to empty us of the harsh realities of life and render us unconscious to those things which are too hard to bear. That is part of the experience of Disney - to become "unconscious" of the real world and to enter a never-never land of fantasy and fakery. Fittingly Sleeping Beauty's Castle - a monument to a trance-like sleep - serves as the portal to this plane.

If Disney entices participants to fall asleep in order to escape life, the church's mission is to urge people to wake up - in order to experience an authentic and full existence. Easter is a revival call to all believers announcing the dawning of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is a radically new reality. The message of Easter wakes us, not just from a stuporing slumber, but also calls us forth from tombs of sin, bound in grave clothes of despair, to wear robes of righteousness and hope! Easter is not an empty Disney fantasy. Easter is the rousing, transforming power of God shaking each and every one of us awake to a life in Christ, a life eternal.

But how lackadaisical the church can be in the face of this miraculous gift. We would rather slumber on in a fog than be awakened to the promise of the future. Even this morning - Easter morning! - finds us sitting here to rejoice in the Good News with eyelids heavy and attentiveness droopy as a result of late night preparations and sunrise service celebrations as you pray I shut up soon.
What galvanizes and mobilizes us more - Sleeping Beauty's empty castle or Jesus Christ's empty tomb? The mission of the church then, is to make Jesus Christ as magical and mystical as Disney has made Mickey Mouse.
Easter is that time of year when many of us who may seem aimless and on a path to somewhere we don’t know, we need to be reminded that we are not alone. We are reminded that there is a purpose for each and every one of us. It’s that time of year where we awaken to a God who is not some sort of tyrant such as some think of from the Old Testament, but of a loving God that we see in the person of Jesus Christ who took our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross through His Body. 
The Holy Spirit speaks to us like a symphony. Sometimes we don’t hear it; sometimes it’s faint and we are not sure what we’re hearing; and sometimes it’s very loud and clear. As the hymn that we will sing after this sermon tells us, when you near it, you can almost hear it. It’s like a symphony; just keep listening … And pretty soon you’ll start to figure out your part. Everyone plays a piece; and there are melodies in each one of us. When I am feeling out of place and wondering how I fit into this world, I listen to this hymn we will sing in a few moments. 
One of things that we are very proud of here at St. Francis, is the openness in which we carry out the Sacraments that our Lord Jesus Christ and the Churchinstituted. We are all different; and rightly so, and as such- just as the hymn says - in each of us is a melody. Each of us has a different melody; a different part to play, but through Christ every part is important.
Easter is that time year in which we need to keep listening. We need to keep listening to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. None of us are perfect. We are all flawed in some way. In some cases the world views us as flawed when in actuality we are not. We are just as God wants us to be. It is here at St. Francis that we remind everyone, that if you have sinned - if you come with true repentance in your heart - there is absolutely no sin that God will not forgive. 
The mercy of Jesus Christ is infinite. So, as were figuring out our part, we come here to church and we experience the Sacraments each and every one without limitation so long as we come with an earnest heart. It is Easter time when were reminded that race, nationality, gender,divorce, disfigured, ill, short, tall, thin, stout, sexual orientation – or Abbot Gentzsch’s buzzing hearing aid -nor any other thing that you could possibly add to this list will hinder the mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
As our mission statement says, “Love Christ, Keep His Commandments, Receive the Spirit. We merely need to do three things, and when we do those three things wholeheartedly and completely, we can feel confident that we are walking right with the Lord. Because the other thing that we very prominently like to say here at St. Francis is, Catholicism is not just a religion - it’s a way of life.” And the two most important commandments, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, is simply to love your neighbor as yourself and to love no other God but our God. We merely need to remember that our neighbor is every single one of the human inhabitants of this earth without exception.
And Christ doesn’t want you to stop your life merely for that, he only wants you to bring your Catholicism along with you - fore you are welcome as a guest in His house at any time. And this should be the message that the worldwide Church should have on this most glorious day.
And some of you may feel that the pomp and circumstance of the beginning of this Mass was all fluff and puff, but in reality it is far more than that. We need Easter and we need Easter to remember us. Christ died on the cross for every living creature, and we need to remember that and reawaken our spiritual sense with all that fluff and puff.

And so I say: Wake up, church! Christ is risen from the dead! Wake up to the power the risen Lord brings to your life. Wake up, church. Open up to the power of the Scriptures to speak to your life. As Jesus called Mary's name to finally stir her soul to consciousness, so Christ sends a personal wake-up call to each of us. Easter morning is an annual wake-up call addressed to Christ's own body, the Church. Body parts that have fallen asleep must be shaken back into circulation. If you are asleep or lounging about life, it is time to end your hibernation and get those tusshies” that are currently glued to your pew and get moving. Wake up, get up and sign up. Let's bring the whole world back to life!
There! I bet you thought I was going to make this twice as long as normal?! Ha. Happy Easter and don’t let it go to your head!
Let us Pray.
Father God, today we mark the magnificent and glorious resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We welcome the day with pomp and circumstance as we should, with renewal of heart, mind and spirit. 
Let us awaken today to Your great gift – that of our salvation and promise of our own resurrection – that You and Your Son gave us with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we renewed our vows and beliefs. Let us not have empty shells as that of the Disney castle, but in the mimicking of Disney of knowing that in the Resurrection, we truly can be happy and leave “reality” aka: the world, behind and fill ourselves with Your saving grace.
I ask that You bless everyone this day, with You mighty grace, mercy and love. Be with the many homeless of the world, the many sick in the world, the many suffering from terrorism and/or war in the world. Fill the world with Your peace – the peace that only YOU can give; filled with that grace, mercy and love that Your Son showed us while He walked upon this earth. We ask all of this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017
Holy/Maundy Thursday
If I were to ask each of you what was the actual last day of Christ’s life on earth, most of you probably would say Friday. And to some extent you would be correct. However, we need to take in consideration when days begin and end from the Hebrew perspective, and when we do so, it gives us some perspective on Holy Thursday. It may seem like “splitting hairs” as they say, but let’s be dramatic for a bit.
The Hebrew day always begins at sundown; the night before. As the sun set over Jerusalem, that’s when it all began; or better to say when it all started to end. Jesus’s last day began Thursday night.
And everything turned toward His suffering and death. It all began at sunset - the Passover and the Lamb. He then went out to the garden of Gethsemane where they arrested Him and brought Him to the High Priests. They put Him on trial and condemned Him to death.
At dawn they took Him to Pontius Pilate. He was then beaten, mocked, scourged, and led through the streets of Jerusalem to be nailed to the cross. He suffered in agony for hours and then said, “It is finished,” and died. They took down His body and laid it in a tomb. The sunset over Jerusalem, and the day was finished.
It all took place in that exact time, sunset to sunset.
Now if I asked you what is the “day of man” - as in mankind - you would probably be puzzled by the question. And so I could pose a question to you in this way, “What was the day when mankind was created?” And obviously you are all smart enough to figure it out, however you probably won’t think of the answer I’m looking for, because you don’t know where I’m headed with the conversation.
Mankind was created on the sixth day. God created everything in the heavens and on the earth on particular days, but mankind - as in Adam and Eve - was created on the sixth day. So going by our Gregorian calendar, Friday is the sixth day.
Thursday night at sundown, and with it ends on Friday night at sundown - from sundown to sundown, we have the sixth day.
So it all had to begin at sunset and last until the following sunset. God had accomplished it all on the sixth day, the day of mankind. So Jesus as God died for the sins of mankind, the guilt of mankind, and the fall of mankind. He did it all on the “day of man” to accomplish mankind’s redemption.
It was on the sixth day also that mankind was first given life. So now in Christ, the children of mankind can again be given life, again find life, as in the beginning - on the sixth day.
And so here we are on Maundy Thursday, where all the significant aspects of Holy Week begins at sundown - the signifying last day of our Lord. And so it is that we celebrate His last supper, and in some churches - washing the feet of someone just as Jesus did, and it is also the day in which the bishop of any given Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal diocese will bless the oils that will be used for the various sacraments within the church for the coming year.
On the night before his suffering, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane. There He surrendered His will and began to face His approaching sufferings and death. It was there, in the garden of Gethsemane, that the Temple guards came to arrest Him. Gethsemane is the place where His sufferings begin.
If we were to look at an oil press at that time; the time Jesus lived, we would see a very large stone object lying flat with a large stone wheel on top of it. The olives would be placed here on the top and the large wheel like stone would roll over them, crushing them. The crushing of the olives would release their oil. In Hebrew, the word for olive oil is shemen. And the word for press is gat. An oil press is a gat-shemen. And what does gat-shemen sound like?
Gethsemane.
Gethsemane is the oil press. And we might ask why it is the place where Christ’s sufferings began. Christ is the Messiah. And the word Messiah is linked to oil, olive oil, shemen. The term comes from the Hebrew verb meaning "to apply oil to," to anoint. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel's kings were sometimes called God's "messiah" -- God's anointed one.
Now for oil to be released there must be a crushing. Gethsemane, gat-shemen, is the olive press, the place where the crushing begins - first the crushing of His will, then the crushing of His life.
In the Scriptures, oil is linked to healing and joy, and, in its most sacred application, to anointing. Oil would be poured out to anoint kings and prophets. In our day, it would be used for ordaining of clergy, baptisms, anointing of the sick, just to name a few. So oil, in its highest symbolism, signifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible sign for an invisible grace from God.
And so, if the crushing of olives in the olive press releases oil, then the crushing of Christ at Gethsemane, would be linked to healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is in the crushing of Christ, in His death, which brings about healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It all begins in the oil press, gat-shemen at Gethsemane. (It is very fitting that we discuss this on the day we bless the Sacred Oils for the Church.)
And so it is on this day and Good Friday, which we remember Christ’s suffering. As a Liberal Catholic Church, we don’t tend to focus so much on the suffering death of our Lord Christ, because we tend to focus more on the beatific vision of our Savior ascended Christ, hence why many of our crucifixes have the risen Christ or Christ the King on them within our parishes.
However, even in our rite, at this time of year, we are called to remember what Christ did for us. It is all fine and wonderful to get the warm and fuzzies about a risen Christ, but if we do not acknowledge, remember, and contemplate what Christ did for us, so that we can have the warm and fuzzies about our ascended Christ, then we are missing a great deal of the point of Christianity.
Let’s visualize this for a moment so that we may remember.
A man is struggling up a dirt path. He struggles, and is probably too weak from the scourging that happened earlier to adequately bear the massive wooden beam that is resting on His shoulders. He falls and catches himself, takes a breath, and stands up again to continue His trek. He only has a few hundred meters left.
It’s a lonely place - a rock outcropping with a vision of Jerusalem below.  Another tall beam is already in its place standing upright buried in the dirt. He knows that when He arrives, the soldiers will fix the beam currently upon His shoulders high up onto that other wooden beam already in place on the rock. They will nail Him to it, and He will die. He knows all this while He’s making his trek. Telling the women gathered to not weep for Him, but for themselves.
And He stumbles again, but this time He has not enough strength to upright himself. He tries to stand only to fall again. The blood from the wounds on His back are still flowing freely and heavily, and He can no longer move except to barely take a breath into His lungs. And so a soldier grabs someone, some passerby that we later learn is little bit more significant than just a “nobody,” and thrusts the beam upon him to carry. Then they dragged the Man who is on His knees to His feet and pull Him forward once again. And even without the weight of the beam He still has great difficulty walking. Some of the crowd goad and jeer while gawking at Him as He eventually stumbles on.
We all know that Jesus suffered a great deal. He was tortured so much that He was unable to carry the beam that might’ve weighed roughly 100 pounds. And it’s only approximately one third of a mile of a walk, but He still had little strength to carry it and it might’ve been a struggle for someone who had not even been tortured previously to carry it.
We can only imagine the pain that He must’ve suffered. And the way the blood from the beatings ran down His back and mixed with dust from the street as He walked – we can only imagine that also. The blood dried as it ran down His legs and became sticky, attracted dust and solidified into a mess.
We can barely even imagine thinking about the agony when soldiers placed 100 pound beam across that broken flesh, on exposed muscle and bone, making every step near death.
With all that suffering the He must’ve endured, it’s not hard to see Him struggling, and then falling and rising, and doing it all over again. It would be surprising to most of us how He carried the beam at all, much less walked.
And as we approach Easter, as Liberal Catholics, it certainly would be easy to simply skip this part of the Easter story, including Jesus as He is tortured and some of the most brutal of scenes. It’s so much easier to simply look another way, pass directly from His arrest and go straight to his resurrection three days later.
Yes it would be easy to do that, but the problem is, that’s not how it happened. Like it or not, our ascended Christ suffered that we might live! People want to pass over the story because it hurts. Brutality of His suffering is just something too hard to acknowledge, but yet it will raise our compassion, especially when we stop to think that all of this torture and agony that He suffered was for our sake.
So, sometimes His suffering becomes our guilt and shame, and we would much rather just ignore it and focus on his ascended beauty in the risen Christ. But the problem with avoiding this is this, when we try to avoid all that Jesus suffered; it is merely helping us avoid the fullness of what He took on himself for us. As Saint Peter said, “By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).
It is His wounds – the torture that He endured and aided in His death - that becomes a door to wholeness and fullness in this life and to the eternal life in the next. Without this struggle and torture, He would not have risen again. Without Jesus’ pain and ultimate death, there is no healing. Without the heavy, dark middle of this story, there is no hope.
Jesus suffered and died and rose again so the people might live with Him forever in a gloriously restored new heaven and new earth. This is our hope. But His suffering also offers hope right now, if we are willing to embrace our pain as He embraced His. We all are suffering with something currently - big or small - we still suffer.
Without a shadow of doubt the pain that Jesus experienced was beyond what most of His followers will possibly ever experience today, with the exception of some areas that terrorism against Christians still takes place. Some of us have physical maladies, some psychological, some with a loss that we grieve from, and the list continues. We try to lay these aside just as we lay aside the parts of the Easter story that is too painful.
But when we see Jesus in the complete Easter story, we see that He did not avoid the pain. In fact He even seemed to embrace it. He was God! He could have called down legions of Angels at any moment. He did not. He stayed while they tried Him, while they beat Him and abused Him, and He stayed when He was bloodied and weak, and they still made Him carry that massive beam for His own death up on that hill. The humiliation that must have been! He knew that no oil comes from olives that are not crushed, and so He willingly became crushed that His oil might flow for us.
And so today, in this sermon, I am forcing us to take a little bit of a look at what our blessed Lord experienced so that we have hope. In one of our creeds of our church, it states the belief that “all sons and daughters shall one day reach his feet however far they stray.” And though this may be all warm and fuzzy, we must remember that if it were not for the Easter story - the complete Easter story - we would not be able to say this creed with any confidence, because we would not have had a Lord who suffered Easter so that we might have that hope.
Let us pray.
Father God, it is on this night many years ago, when Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ entered into His trials preceding His crucifixion. We ask that You help us to properly remember these events as we participate in the Easter Tridium.
What our Blessed Lord experienced now through Good Friday is beyond our imaginings. Most of us will never come close to the suffering that He endured. As gruesome as some of these events were, we ask that You flood our minds with understanding and be open to the events that took place; fore it is only within this understanding that we can most worthily appreciate the salvation we now are able to participate in.
We are not nearly worthy enough to enter Your Kingdom, but in Your mercy and grace, You have made us all worthy and loved through Your Son, Jesus Christ. May we truly contemplate and meditate on these mysteries as we approach and celebrate the great feast of Easter. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday
In the book of Exodus 12:3, we would read how the Lord had commanded the Israelites to remember the Passover and to remember it starting on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Most Christians are not familiar with this particular month in the Jewish calendar. On the Hebrew calendar, it is the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month (eighth, in leap year) of the civil year. Nisan usually falls in March–April on the Gregorian calendar. This year, Passover starts tomorrow.
And so hundred 10th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan a lamb was chosen. For one of the most important biblical holy days would take place - the Passover. They were to take a lamb for each house. The 10th day the lamb was chosen and was offered up as a sacrifice.
So the 10th day of Nisan is the day of the lamb, the day of its choosing, of its being taken, and of its being identified with the house that would sacrifice it.
For us Christ the Messiah is the Passover lamb and therefore he is linked to the 10th of Nisan. So what we call Palm Sunday is in reality, the 10th of Nisan, the day of the lamb.
As the people of Jerusalem were leading the Passover lambs to their homes, Christ the Messiah was being led from the Mount of olives into the city gates. The bringing in of the Messiah to the city with palms and hosannas was actually the fulfillment of what had been commanded from ancient times, the bringing in of the lamb.
By the time Jesus enters Jerusalem just before the Passover, anticipation is thick. Many fellow pilgrims and locals have heard of this man and his miracles, like raising a dead man to life. A man who could do that could surely free them from their oppression; Maybe this at last was the Messiah.
Thousands of Jewish pilgrims poured into Jerusalem for the Passover. The 0.5 square mile city was busy with preparation, teeming with people arriving to celebrate the holiday that commemorated the Exodus, when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.
Every year Passover according to Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 16), the Jewish people came to the temple at Jerusalem to offer a Passover sacrifice, eat unleavened bread as their ancestors had before leaving Egypt and remember. This remembrance is not just of a past event, but a present reality and future hope. The Exodus story is the foundational one for the Jewish people; God saving his people, freeing them from their oppression and giving them a new identity as His chosen people. While the Exodus had already happened, first century Jews long for it to continue to happen; they would have celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt with an eye to how God would come to free them from Roman rule.
Jesus tells his disciples were to go, to untie a colt, and if they were asked about it, say, “The Lord has need of it.” Jesus’s choice of steed is deliberate and prophetic. First of all, he chooses to ride rather than walk into the city. This is only one of two references in the Gospels to Jesus riding anything. Second, He is not riding a war horse but a humble beast of burden. His contemporaries would’ve known the Zachariah passage well, and the Royal, Messianic expectations attached to it. At the beginning of one of the holy city’s most crowded, holy weeks, Jesus bursts onto the scene, enacting a Messianic passage.
This was not lost on the crowd. They lay out their cloaks as a makeshift red carpet and wave palm branches. Hundreds of years before, back in the days of Jezebel, Jehu received a similar response when his fellow Israelites learned he had just been anointed king. The men around him quickly covered the ground with their cloaks and announced Jehu king with a trumpet blast. In their more recent history, when Judas Maccabeus had defeated the Syrians and purified the Temple, the people greeted him by waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10:1-9).
This crowd, gathered for the Passover in the early first century A.D., indicates what they understood and hoped for; Jesus as their liberating king. This is also evident in what they say: “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” While now, Sunday schools and Palm Sunday processions use “Hosanna!” as an expression of praise, the Hebrew word literally means “Save now!” Save us now - from Rome, from this continued state of exile; save us like God saved us from Egypt, like God saved our ancestors from the Philistines by the hand of David. The phrase “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” comes from Psalm 118. The Psalm is a triumphant one, celebrating God’s steadfast love, defeat of enemies and return from exile.
The Gospel of John points out that some of the crowd had followed Jesus from Bethany, where He and His disciples were staying, and spread the word about what Jesus had done; Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This would have been more than utterly astounding to a first century Jew. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God bringing a whole valley of dry bones back to life. Bones, or anything dead for that matter, were unclean in the Mosaic law. Ezekiel’s vision is one that symbolizes God making dead Israel live, making the defiled clean and inaugurating a new era of Spirit filled life, forgiveness and return from exile.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the prophetic words in Ezekiel no doubt came right to the mind the people at this time: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live and I will place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:13-14).
The crowd is hoping that Jesus is inaugurating this new era as the promised divine and just ruler who will finally free Israel of her oppressors and set the world to rights.
Expectation is deep; the crowd is excited, and Jesus has made His grand entrance. And just what does He do now? Mark 11:19 tells us He went and walked around the temple and then went back to nearby Bethany with the 12 disciples. He doesn’t storm into the Roman headquarters; he doesn’t gather rebel troops or even give a speech. He simply looks around the Temple and leaves. They probably asked, “What kind of messianic program is that?”
From His entrance on Sunday, Jesus constantly raises and disappoints the crowd’s expectations. He was clearly not the military victor many of them wanted. This is a king who rides a borrowed donkey, not a mighty war horse, clearly not intending to seize His throne - or His people’s liberation - by force.
So on the day when the Passover lamb was to be brought to the house, God brought the Lamb of God to his house, to Jerusalem, and to the temple. And just as the lambs of the 10th of Nisan had to be sacrificed on Passover by those who dwelt in the house, so too the Lamb of God would be sacrificed on the Passover by those who dwelt in Jerusalem. The Lamb of God had to come to the house of God so that the blessings of salvation could come. So, it is only when you bring a lamb home, when you bring him into the place where you actually live your life, when you bring him into every room, every closet, and every crevice, only then can the fullness of the blessings of salvation begin.
Let us pray.
Father God, on this day of great rejoicing, when we welcome our Lord Jesus Christ as our King and Savior, we also walk in the shadow of His cross. Hosanna we cry. Blessed are you who come in God’s name to save us. Hosanna.
Strengthen our faith on this palm Sunday so that when the time comes to carry the cross we might still call out to You with heartfelt praise. Give us the grace and the courage to follow You this holy week from death to resurrection, from darkness to the fullness of light.
Father, we come with hesitant steps and uncertain motives. To sweep out the corners were sin has accumulated, and uncover the ways we have strayed from Your truth. Exposed the empty and barren places where we don’t allow You to enter. Reveal our halfhearted struggles where we have been indifferent to the suffering of others. Nurture the faint stirrings of new life where your spirit has begun to grow. Let your healing like transformer us into the image of Your Son. For You alone can bring new life and make us whole.
Lastly father, let us enter the city of God today, and shout Hosanna to our King. Let us join the walk toward freedom, and follow Christ’s path to wholeness. Let our hearts ache for justice and mercy. And wait for peace and freedom. Let us turn our backs on the powers that grasp for control, and follow the One who brings life. Let us walk in solidarity with the abandoned and the oppressed, with the lonely and downhearted, with the refugees and immigrants, with those of different race or simply different lifestyles; and let us welcome the broken and the sick. Let us touch and see as Christ draws near, riding in triumph toward the cross.
We need you O Christ our Savior. Hosanna! Amen
God Love You +++
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
(Passion Sunday)
The ultimate wake-up call came to Georgia Lass courtesy of ... a toilet seat.

Georgia had been sleepwalking her way through life. An aimless college student who drove her family nuts with her cynicism and lack of motivation, she dropped out of school and reluctantly landed a job at a temp agency, and that only because of her mother’s ceaseless prodding.

Her life changed on a lunch break where, standing on the street, she’s instantly killed by a falling piece of the burned-up MIR Space Station ... the toilet seat.

End of story, right? Hardly.

Immediately following her fatal encounter with interstellar Soviet-era bathroom hardware, Georgia finds herself standing again on the street amid the gathering crowd. She doesn’t realize that she’s dead until a kindly man named Rube points out her remains (which are driven deep into the pavement) and tells her that she’s now a member of the Rube-led Pacific Northwest chapter of grim reapers — people who, like Georgia, died with unresolved issues and now must learn lessons that, for one reason or another, they failed to learn in life.

This quirky and darkly comic look at one possible version of life after death is the premise of Showtime’s series that ran in the early 2000’s called, Dead Like Me. Weaving its storylines through the interaction of the characters and their “victims,” the show asks some compelling questions about life and death: “What if death is not the end? What if it’s not even an escape from the issues that plagued us? What if it’s not a way to avoid accountability, but an opportunity to accept responsibility? What if it’s a wake-up call?”

A literary version of this theme is taken up by Mitch Albom, who published the novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven on the heels of his highly successful Tuesdays With Morrie. I highly recommend all of his books! In Five People, Eddie works at an amusement park in Jersey, but is killed by a malfunction of Freddy’s Free Fall. In heaven, Eddie meets five people who help him understand why what happened on earth — happened.

Georgia. Eddie. Now Lazarus.

Think of the story of Lazarus as a Dead Like Me prequel without the attendant grim reaper storyline.

When the story opens we learn that Lazarus, a friend to both Jesus and the disciples, had “fallen asleep,” his illness leading to death. Sleep was a common metaphor for death in Jewish texts and in Greek mythology where Sleep and Death were portrayed as twin brothers. Jesus tells his disciples that he will go to Bethany to “awaken Lazarus” but, being way too literal, the disciples think that sleeping is a good thing and that “if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus has to tell them plainly. “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him”. Jesus is going to not only wake up his death-sleeping friend, but also wake up his own disciples to the reality of resurrection power.

The rest of the story is a script right out of a Hollywood horror flick. Lazarus has been decomposing for four days — the odor of death is pervasive, and body fluids are spilling everywhere. Quite pleasant, I am sure!

Jesus arrives, weeps with and for the mourners, and then gets to work. (The actual Greek has Jesus as ‘angry’, in a good way, but that will have to be a sermon for another time.) Ordering the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, he prays and then calls into the darkness, “Lazarus, come forth!” Out lurches this former corpse, wrapped in smelly linen.

But what’s the rest of the story? Imagine you’re Lazarus, just awakened, standing outside your own tomb looking at a stunned crowd of people who don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or run for the hills. What was it like for him to wake up to “life after life after death?”

In television’s Dead Like Me, Georgia gets another chance to do it right while still dead. In Five People, Eddie learns what life was all about while dead and in heaven. But in the gospel of John, Lazarus has a Real Death Experience, not a Near Death Experience, and lives to tell about it. He dies once, but is born twice — from both the womb and the tomb.

We can almost imagine what it would be like to have something like that happen in our time. Percival Everett’s novel, American Desert, is about a man named Ted Street, a UCLA professor whose life is a mess and who decides to take his own life by walking into the ocean. On the way, however, his life is cut even shorter than he intended when a traffic accident decapitates him. His head is reattached with thread by a mortician so that the body will look presentable.

Problem is, during the funeral, Ted wakes up and sits up in his coffin, sparking an instant riot among the funeral attendees that spills out into the street. Ted is dead — no pulse, no body heat, but he is now conscious and aware.

Not knowing what to do with his reanimated life, Ted goes home to his horrified and confused family. Soon, TV crews are parked on Ted’s front lawn, he’s an object of morbid curiosity by the government and by the scientific and medical communities, and feared as a minion of Satan by an obscure religious cult.

But the heart of the book is Ted’s new-found lease on life — after death. He reconnects with his estranged family and finds new value in getting a second chance at life, or at least something like it.

Is it surprising in an American culture as hedonistic and pleasure-seeking as it is, that there is some evidence that we’re not quite able to pull it off? We’re not quite able to escape our Puritan and pietistic background. There is still the residue of moral and ultimate accountability that rings true.

We live for ourselves, but now we’re asking ourselves if maybe there isn’t a second chance on the other side.

John 12 tells us that Lazarus, too, became an instant celebrity with the crowd and an instant pariah to the religious establishment. As Dan Rather would have said, he’s hotter than a Times Square Rolex. The grateful dead man walking was an animated testament to the power of Jesus — living, breathing evidence of the possibility of resurrection that the people of Israel were looking for to occur “at the last day.”

John 12:10-11 says, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” But that’s where we lose track of this dead man walking in the Scriptures.

Truth is that we don’t know exactly what Lazarus was like before and after he emerged from his tomb. Christian tradition goes a couple of different directions when it comes to the rest of the story. One tradition says that Lazarus, learning of the plot against him, fled to France where he became bishop of Marseilles and was later martyred.

Another, more reliable tradition, says that he and his sisters fled to Larnaca on the island of Cyprus, where he was later ordained by Paul and Barnabas and served for years as bishop and an example of the Christian life and hope of resurrection to the people there. He died (again) at age 60 and was buried in a sarcophagus with the inscription “The four-day Lazarus — friend of Christ.” His remains were removed to Constantinople in the year 890 by the Byzantine emperor who, in return, built a church in Larnaca that survives to this day.

Whatever happened, we imagine that Lazarus spent the rest of his second life devoted to telling others about the Christ who had given him life — not just raising him physically from the dead, but giving him a new life of purpose as well. He awoke to a new reality in Christ.

Here’s a thought: Characters like Georgia Lass, Ted Street and Lazarus pose a spiritually significant challenge to all of us — to view life through the lens of death; to look backward at life from its end point rather than always forward; to recognize that while death comes to us all, we should prepare for that death not by fearing it but by facing it.

To put it another way, we don’t have to sleepwalk through life and wait for death in order to wake up and smell the malodorous life we’ve left behind. We can have a second chance, an opportunity to die more than once — to die to self, as Paul put it — to put behind us an old life and awaken to a new one filled with new adventures, renewed relationships and ultimate purpose.

Lazarus’ physical death and resurrection put him on a different path toward living out his purpose as a follower of Christ. Our spiritual death, dying to ourselves and our sleepy, sinful way of life can do the same.

Think of it as joining the ranks of the “living dead” without the lurching, drooling, moaning and horrible makeup. No whacking over the head with a toilet seat required.

Instead of being Dead Like Me, we are Alive in Christ.
Let us pray.
Father God, during the season of Lent, You call us to give our own lives a second look. You ask us to take stock of what we have done and what we have failed to do. As is often explained, our life is merely on loan to us.
In today’s Gospel we read that Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, has died and the message is sent to Jesus. When Jesus hears the message, He pronounces that Lazarus is merely sleeping. However, in that time frame, sleeping was used to indicate death, so those around Jesus did not understand. This is certainly no impediment for Jesus. As we know, Jesus raised from the dead others as well. The widow of Nain’s son – risen from the dead. Jairus’ daughter – risen from the dead. And now – Lazarus.
As we walk thru the final two weeks of Lent, help us, Dear Lord, to take that second look at our lives so that we too can see what we may have missed or could have done better. We all have regrets and bucket lists. Help us to die a little to ourselves, and be reborn a little to You. Give us the gentle push we need to not tarry on, but live life in haste so that when our time to join You comes, we may be ready for eternal life without any need to look back. Help us to know that Jesus is the life and truth of all of us, and as such, we too will be risen to life eternal. We ask this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017
Refreshment Sunday (Fourth Sunday in Lent)
Today, as everyone most likely noticed, we had a long Gospel reading again – similar to last Sunday. And after such a long Gospel, I gave an even longer sermon last week. Well, you can relax. Although, today’s first paragraph from the Gospel in itself provokes a great deal of thought in me, I decided to save for a later time for my series of sermons I plan to do on the topic of suffering and the like. So, unless I get carried away, you’re getting a tiny break today.
Each one of us decides with what kind of spirit we will go through life: critical, complaining, condemnatory, or celebrating. We are all either the glass is half full or the glass is half empty type category of people.
John's story of the healed blind man's reception among his friends, family and the Pharisees suggests that there are four different ways to respond to life. We can be nit-pickers, wound-lickers, goodness-sakers or arm-wavers. Out of the same situation, considering the same circumstances, there can be four entirely different reactions.

Let’s start with Nit-Pickers: Anyone who has ever had a child come home from school with a note proclaiming that the notorious head louse has once again made an appearance knows all about the phrase "nit-picking." Each "nit," or tiny egg of the louse, must be meticulously combed, picked or pulled from the single strand of hair it is attached to. The fact that this procedure must be carried out on a squealing, enraged, probably embarrassed six-year-old only makes the task that much more unpleasant.

Unfortunately, many people have perfected the art of nit-picking so competently that they feel compelled to demonstrate their skill on every situation in their lives. Nit-pickers are always noting what is wrong with something and someone rather than what is right. They can't enjoy anything, especially anything that has a flaw in it. With little sense of humor these pickiness-people are always looking for spiritual or theological or moral "gotchas" to flaunt at others. The nit-pickers in John's story of the blind man's healing are the Pharisees at the first inquisition. Instead of rejoicing with the man at the miracle of regained sight, they can only focus on the possible Torah infringements that might have made it possible.

An accomplished nit-picker can burst any celebratory balloon. "The wedding was so beautiful; such a shame the groom couldn't have lost a few pounds for the occasion." "Congratulations on your new promotion. But you've still got an awful lot of the ladder to climb, don't you?" "The new sanctuary looks wonderful. Of course, we'll probably never grow enough to fill it or pay for it!" Deflating joy, tarnishing triumphs - that's what nit-pickers do best. Many of us fall into this category, and we may not even realize it until we make an intended effort to be sure we don’t.

Now Wound-Lickers: Remember getting a mosquito bite or a small scratch when you were a kid and then having to listen to your parents' repeated, "now don't pick at it." Of course, they had to keep telling you because there is something self-destructively fascinating about an open wound. We are drawn to it, we want to mess with it, re-examine it, and pull off the scab a little at a time to see how it is healing. But this fixation can easily lead to infection - even to death.

Veterinarians must go to ridiculous-looking extremes to discourage this self-destructive instinct in their patients. In dogs and cats, repetitive, damaging wound-licking can undo in a matter of minutes all the work a vet has put in on a patient for days. The last surgery Bene had, I insisted on wire stiches instead of staples or thread, just for this reason. Although, the incision was on his back this last time and he thus could not reach it, I was well aware of how Mickey would take matters in his own hands – err, paws. Good thing to, because he tried, or at least until his tongue did not like the wire. Sometimes we try to help where is not needed or even could be unnecessarily dangerous.

When the Pharisees call the healed man's parents as possible witnesses against his previous condition of blindness, they are being wound-lickers. They cannot leave the situation alone, but return to it, trying to expose some imagined wrongfulness. These Pharisees do not even realize that the wound they are re-opening is the gaping hole of their own ignorance and spiritual bankruptcy.

As for Goodness-sakers: Remember the old story about the mother who had to leave her two young children alone in the house for a few minutes? Before leaving, she sternly ordered the children, "Now don't put beans up your noses while I'm gone!" Left to their own devices it probably would have taken an eternity before those kids would have come up with such a bizarre idea, but since their mother had singled it out as an especially obnoxious act, the children were inspired. Of course, when their mother returned home, she found two children rolling around in pain with beans firmly stuffed up their noses.
There is a distinct category of people who inspire similar kinds of contrary behavior in most of us. These are the "goodness-sakers" - those self-appointed crusaders for the promotion of righteousness. They consider themselves - and let all the rest of us know it - to be super-spiritual. Historian H. G. Wells complained about people he called "the goodness-sakers." These were people who stood around saying, "For goodness sake, why doesn't somebody do something." Or "For goodness sake, look at what they're doing."

Few people can be as infuriating and sin-provoking as goodness-sakers. Smart-aleck remarks and visions of dirty tricks seem to float to the top of our minds all by themselves as we listen to the platitudes and puffed-up piety goodness-sakers blow at us. The Pharisees in John's story haughtily invoke their relationship to Moses as a sign of their spiritual superiority. The healed man, who had shown great self-control up to this point, is at last driven to jab back at these upright, up-tight self-appointed guardians of do-gooding. As usual with goodness-sakers, however, they don't even get the point of the sarcasm directed their way.

And finally Arm-Wavers: Thank heaven that besides the nit-pickers, wound-lickers and goodness-sakers there are also arm-wavers. These are the people that celebrate victories and lend support in times of defeat. Arm-wavers hoot and holler when their child's Little League team wins the big game - but they also give great hugs and "it's O.K." looks when the team loses 10 in a row. It's not that arm-wavers don't see all the imperfections in that hand-knit size 98 sweater or in life. It's just that they focus on all the beauty that surrounds the flaws instead of the flaws themselves.

It is amazing how arm-wavers are absent for so long from John's story of the healed blind man. Here is a stunning miracle - a man blind since birth suddenly given sight - and no one celebrates. His neighbors are doubtful; his parents are worried about the religious and legal ramifications, while the Pharisees find the whole episode threatening and foreboding. Not until the healed man himself finally realizes who Jesus is and what his presence means do we get the first sign of arm-waving. Indeed, when Jesus' identity finally sinks in, the man offers a full body-wave - he falls on his knees and worships the "Lord".
We can all fall into one or more of these categories. It is up to us to accept the real good in the world and not expect perfection in others. It is up to us to accept the blessings and good that happens without finding something wrong with it. Accept life’s graces as they come and be grateful for the little things in life, that when accepted, can be far greater than the hurts and failures we might have.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often have miracles, graces and little blessings in life, but we allow them to be over shadowed by what we can find wrong. Help us to look at life as You would have us to.
Father, we all fall into a category of “Nit-Pickers”, “Wound-Lickers”, “Goodness-Sakers” or “Arm-Wavers.” In and of themselves, none of us who fall into this category may think of ourselves as negative Nancy’s party crashers, but we often do this with mostly good intention. However, Father Your Son wanted us to learn that this is not how it should be. We should find happiness and goodness in big and small things.
We all make mistakes and we are all flawed. Helps us, dear Lord, to accept this, but to also try to find good in everything just as You did upon creation of the world. Healing on the Sabbath may seem bad, because it is perceived work. However, Your Son showed that not all should be considered work, and even if it might be work, we must be practical and realize some work has to be done for the betterment of mankind. If this were not so, then the miracle of the Eucharist would not be here for us each Sunday. However, You commanded it, so it is not work, but grace, goodness and blessing in its purest form. Through Christ our Lord, Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 19, 2017
The Third Sunday in Lent
Today’s Gospel passage is one of my favorite passages. Over the years I have caught myself often quoting it using it as is an example for our branch of Catholicism. But given the events over the past year in the Roman Catholic Church, and especially three of its cardinals who seem to be causing the controversythe subjects on the matter of family, irregular families, irregular marriages, divorced and remarried members and the like, it has come to be a popular discussion topic in church circles. 
As you may know, Amoris Laetitia [The Joy of Love] is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis. It was released in early 2016, and it follows the Synods on the Family held in 2014and 2015 by a number of cardinals within the church. This document, in essence, gives priests the ability to hear confessions from those who have gone through divorce and thus which may lead to them being allowed to go to communion again. But, I shall get into more of that later.
Some of us are well aware that within the Roman Catholic Church, when someone gets a divorce and then remarries, so doing essentially is an automatic excommunication from the church. And thus they are no longer allowed the sacraments. Of course the largest sacrament that seems to make the news on this topic is in regard to being allowed to go to communion. 
The premise being, of course as we all know, is that divorce is considered a mortal sin. It is deduced this by the fact that one of the Ten Commandments basically says that thou shall not commit adultery. Any time you divorce someone then remarry and have sexual relations with that new partner, you are committing a mortal sin. To be in a state of mortal sin and take communion is a horrible sacrilege. 
Further the church uses Matthew 19:3-9 as its basis, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. This would certainly imply that Jesus is reinforcing this understanding of that particular commandment. No argument there. 
Now let’s look at today’s reading of the Gospel of John (4:5-42)
Let’s put it in perspective a little bit. If you were to look at geographical locations of the major players within Judaism during the time of Jesus, you would discover that you have Galilee; Samaria is located south of Galilee; and Judea is south of Samaria.
Samaritans believe they are Israelite descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. There appears to be some discrepancy between those who remain faithful Jews and those who were split up into a different land and became known as the Samaritans as to what the real cause was. However, the eventual result was that the new settlers worshiped both the God of the land and the gods from the countries from which they came, and for our purposes became known as the Samaritans. 
Now, because of the separation, those who still refer to themselves as Jews, whenever they needed to get from Galilee to Judea, or Judea to Galilee, they would not travel through Samaria. They would not do so because it would be almost like desecrating themselves by coming in contact with these people and Samaria. One must keep in mind that the Jews adhered rather strenuously to the various holiness codes that are in the Hebrew Bible.
And so we read today that Jesus, instead of going around as most Jews would, chose to go through Samaria. This is significant for a couple of reasons. As we know Jesus was not afraid to be somewhat of a radical and thus would frequently speak and meet with those who were considered outcasts. And in his travel he comes across this well. And we are told it’s Jacob’s well. And the time is high noon. Almost sounds like a Western movie.
And we see that the disciples had gone into town to buy some food, which apparently had left Jesus on his own. And while he was at the well the Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. And as Jesus is known for doing, he chooses a topic of conversation that would have some form of common denominator between He and the person he is speaking to. And so he starts up a conversation about needing a drink of water.She was coming to draw some water, and he must have been thirsty from his long trek. 
And we immediately see the prejudice between the two peoples. The woman immediately asked how is it that a Jew will ask a Samaritan for a drink of water? It’s just not something that is done! It would almost be like Donald Trump asking Barack Obama for help! 
And of course in Jesus’s usual way, he merely explains to the woman that if she knew who it was asking for this water that she would ask him for water that could come from the fountain of living water. She doesn’t appear to understand. She even becomes a little bit rude and mocks him by basically telling him that he doesn’t have a bucket, so what is he expecting to do, because surely he’s not going to share her bucket! Just where are you going to get this water?
But Jesus knows human carnal desires and tells her of the great experience one would have and get from the water that he would give. She still doesn’t quite get it but asks for some, thinking it would satisfy a normal thirst. It is quite apparent she has no clue what type of thirst Jesus is implying here.
So Jesus changes his approach. He says to her to go tell her husband. Now as we all know from reading this passage, we can tell that Jesus is very well aware of her situation, however he asks her to go tell her husband anyway knowing he would get a response that he needs. He knew her heart and everything about her. He was reminding her of her behavior and her life thus far, but in a delicate way. He approaches it much like a parent would when they’re trying to get their child to admit to doing something without actually telling the child that they already know what it is that they have done.
She responds she has no husband. This is just a scandal upon scandal. But Jesus doesn’t condemn her or belittle her; he continues in his delicate way and turns what she says into a truth. He doesn’t want her to be lying on top of the issue of how many husbands she has had, so he helps her out. And he tells her that she is spoken the truth and that she indeed has no husband, fore she has had five previous husbands, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. 
Now, the Samaritan woman, being caught in her horrible sin, does what most anyone else would do when they have been caught - she changes the topic. She changes the topic by saying I see that you are a prophet. And because you are prophet I want to know if we should worship on our mountain or should we worship in your Jerusalem?
Jesus basically says neither. Worship of the Father isn’t about whether it’s on a mountain or in Jerusalem; it’s about our understanding of who God is. That God is spirit and that we should worship in spirit and truth. God is everywhere; whether it be in our little chapel here or in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. And she tells him that she is aware that the Messiah will come and will tell them everything they need to know at that time.
So imagine how she must’ve felt when Jesus said, I am He!Let’s face it, if you are down at the local Albertson’s buying some bottled waterand some man came up to you and had a similar conversation with you as Jesus had with the Samaritan woman and then proceeded to tell you that he was the Messiah,and he had given you enough information to make you believe it- you would probably faint. What a spectacle it would be!
This encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman is actually very significant. So significant, because over the years I have felt it shows the true mercy of Jesus. It shows Jesus’ willingness to go beyond cultural norm and prejudices. Jesus complete understanding of the human condition. Even when it comes to breaking the laws the He as God made for us to follow. Jesus wants us to cross cultures and prejudices and minister with mercy.
Jesus’ disciples come back and basically are completely taken back that Jesus is a) talking to a woman and b) that it’s a Samaritan woman! But there are a few other significant things about this situation. We know she went back into town to tell others of her encounter with Jesus. But who does she go back into town to tell? She doesn’t go back in town to tell the gossiping women. No, she goes back and tells all the men!
Now course this is significant for a number of things. Some we know and some we surmise. First, we know that usually men will not take the word of a woman in this particular time in history. It was not right to listen to women in this cultural time. Secondly, we surmise she goes back to tell the men because there probably many of them are secret boyfriends. Now,granted I’m being somewhat sarcastic, but based on what we know of this story to some degree this is probably true. Instead of now leading these men into evil by sleeping with them, she leads them to good by bringing them to the Lord!
Also, wlater see that the men say to her that they now believe her after actually seeing him and listening to him, which is basically say they did not believe her at first. Why then did they follow her? Because she was the town harlot! 
We also know that she would not tell the women. We have learned that she does not have a very appropriate life. She is a sinful woman. The other women in town do not want to associate with her because of this and because she is an outcast. And this would explain why she was at the well at high noon. It’s the hottest time of the day in a very hot country. In that culture in that time, they would go to well either early in the morning or later in the evening and most often it was the women and they would normally go in a group. So the Samaritan woman was being ostracized, and she knew this. So she went to the men.
Now, as I was saying, this encounter of Jesus with Samaritan woman is very significant. I mentioned earlier the struggle the Roman Catholic Church is going through - or rather a few bishops and cardinals - over the recent exhortation for Pope Francis in the dealing with divorced members of the church. I think it is great that the Pope is telling the church to minister with mercy. Jesus tried telling his Apostles this two millennia ago. 
We all know the divorce is wrong, but we also know that no matter how wrong it may be, we know that as flawed humans, some of us are going to experience divorce. In some cases, divorce is very much warranted. 
The church over the years has always taught that you need to be sure that you’re ready for marriage before you enter into it. In many Catholic parishes if you want to be married in that particular church you normally would have to go through a six month period of marriage encounters to help prepare you for your marriage and with the expectation of you and your future spouse not living together prior to the actual marriage
Of course I’m not saying any of these things are necessarily wrong or bad because they have their value most certainly. We too have a program of something similar to a marriage encounter before a couple would normally be married by me. Marriage should be taken seriously. 
However, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, and as such it feels it has an obligation to protect the sanctity of marriage. Very noble and I will not fault with them for that. All the while almost every other Christian denomination has come to a point where they have learned to accept divorce as something relatively common in society today, and yet find value in ministering to these people still without making them miss out on the sacraments.They do not trivialize marriage and divorce; not at all. They merely know that divorce will happen, and we have a responsibility to help those who go thru it, or leave them at the curb. 
Divorce is a sad situation, yes. I don’t claim to have an answer to helping to decrease it, especially in the society we have today with the instant gratification of the internet. But I do feel that Pope Francis and most especially Jesus is trying to tell ussomething.
As I mentioned earlier Jesus did say the divorce was wrong. But we can see by his interaction with the Samaritan woman that Jesus is full of understanding and mercy. People are flawed. People are sinners. The church must do everything she can to help these people and hopefully steer them onto a life that will be less flawed and less sinful. Premarital encounters prior to marriage and counseling during are of great importance.
However, we also must keep in mind that that are various situations and circumstances within everyone’s life that are difficult to avoid and difficult to rectify. Divorces are going to happen. As such, the church needs to follow Jesus’s example and be there for them when that divorce does happen. Time in and time out, Jesus spoke of the laws, but also that we must minister to those who have not lived up to the ideal of those laws. 
The Sacraments were not created by the church or Jesus to be used as some sort of disciplinary tool to make sure everyone toes the line of every rule that may be out there. As we can see by Jesus’s treatment of this woman at the well, as well as, the woman caught in adultery earlier in Jesus’s ministry when the townspeople were chasing this adulterous woman to Jesus and basically asked Jesus if she is to be stoned as in accordance tothe law. And Jesus basically tells them, “You without any sin throw the first stone. And they all walk away. Jesus asks the woman if there is no one to condemn her, and when she says,no one sir. Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus and his interaction with these two women isn’t to say that he agrees with divorce or that what they’ve done is right, but by helping them acknowledge their sinhe basically is saying that in and of itself their humiliation is enough and the lesson has been learned. 
Now, within our branch of Catholicism, we have never excommunicated anyone over divorce. I have always allowed and will continue to allow anyone who is divorced and even remarried to approach the Sacraments of the church. If they have a serious sin on their soul, of course I have an obligation to counsel them in the right direction first, but they will not be denied the hope and help that can only come from the Sacraments of the Church.
As an example, if a couple came to me to be married and one of them was previously divorced, I would sit down with that individual to be sure that they’re in the right frame of mind to be married once again and that this marriage will be one that will last. I would not be doing my job as a pastor if I didn’t.
I am not about to tell someone that they cannot have confessionand absolution because to their having been divorced and been remarried. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was made for such as this. Christ made it clear to his Apostles, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)
Is not a divorce sin? And as such isn’t it one that should be confessed? And once confessed shouldn’t it be forgiven? The premise behind the Sacrament of Absolution for the church is that once one comes to you and confesses a sin - and they are truly sorry for committing a sin - as a priest I’m obligated to give them their absolution. And as such it should not be held. Now if the person were someone like Elizabeth Taylor and probably had been married a dozen times or something, that might be a different situation. But the average everyday individual who is going to walk into this chapel is not going to have that situation and they are not going to be like the Samaritan woman. Even if so, who am I to judge, as Pope Francis once said? It is for God to judge, not a priest, bishop or otherwise. We should counsel and correct, yes. But, never judge.That is the Universal Catholic Church. That is St. Francis. Ministering in the imitation of Christ.
And so this church will always minister with mercy. This church will always understand the human condition. This church will always welcome with open arms those people who are living in certain situations that might seem wrong or odd to other people. Jesus made it emphatically clear that we should not judge one another. That we should help one another. Medical science and psychiatric science have validated that there are certain life situations that are nearly unavoidable. And as such the churches need to learn to get with the times. 
I don’t mean to say that the church should base its teachings on how society lives, but that the church should emphasize its teachings in a manner that is in understanding with that which is very hard to change. If a woman divorced her husband because she was beaten every day of her life, I am hardly going to insist that she needed to stay in that marriage and that she somehow is now a sinful woman because she got a divorce from this obviously abusive man. And medical and psychiatric science would agree with me. 
I know this is a difficult topic for many and seems to be in contrast to what the Church has taught for a millennia, but Pope Francis feels otherwise, and frankly so do I. I am not advocating divorce, merely offering mercy to those who come to divorce because it became the only recourse they have in a troubled life. Absolutely no one should be happy in divorce, but neither should they be forced to wallow in self-hate and be in disgrace when one goes to the Church seeking help.
Let us follow Jesus’ example today, and remember that it is the Father’s job to judge; it is our job to treat everyone with mercy, love and respect following Jesus’ example. As Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible.” 
Let us pray.
Father God, You gave the laws to Moses for which we are to abide by in our living. The laws are broken down to how we treat each other and how we are revere You as our Holy God. 
In the span of our human lives, we in our flawed way of livingoften break those laws. Sometimes intentionally, but most often unintentionally. In living our lives, we often do not want to commit the sins that we commit. Yet, our impulses take over and our gratification of the moment rules the day. We look back, with despair, seeing the wreckage we have left behind wishing we could undo the wrong. You, however, offer Your open arms like that of the father of the prodigal son. 
Your Holy Church, using the words of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, has instituted divine Sacraments for the betterment of Your people. One of these Sacraments, that of Reconciliation, is an instrument in which You bring us to You, through Your priests, to confess our sins and flaws and seek guidance in life.You showed the Israelites that they must make atonement for their sins, so You have done for us today.
Father, we ask that You bless all marriages. Fill them with love, respect and endurance to navigate the challenges that sometimes enter marriages. Empower Your priests to have words needed to help support marriages when challenges arise. And when marriages fail, as some do, give them Your peace and mercy that they so need when these marriages end. Help us all to be reconciled with You and Your Church, but most of all, let us reconcile our hearts after such a tragic event. We ask all this, through Your Son, our Lord. Amen. 
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.