March 7, 2021
The Third Sunday of Lent
This past Wednesday, one of the readings assigned for the day was Matthew 20:17-28. As we read, we can picture the mother of St. James and St. John asking Jesus to bestow the most sacred positions in heaven by sitting on Jesus’ right and left in all of heavenly glory. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be seated on Jesus’ right or left? If we are being honest, most of us would, but we are far from worthy.
Then we read the Gospel for Thursday and in it, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was already living in seats of great status during his earthly life, and then is upset when he dies and seemingly goes to the fiery depths of Hell and he wants a drip of water to cool his tongue. We can’t have it both ways, but oh do we try.
Jesus goes on to ask if St. James and St. John if they are able to drink from the chalice He will drink. Of course, they both say they can, but it is apparent that they have no clue what Jesus is asking. None of His followers do until much later and in harsh manner.
As Christians, we sometimes forget that the chalice is not a matter of temporal blessings or recognition, as much as we all would like it to be. To be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is to be a servant of all. To drink of the chalice is to embrace values that the world despises, like poverty of spirit. Humility, in other words.
When we look around our world and its current state of things, it can be difficult to stay positive (as some of you who read my Facebook rants this past week can tell). Yet, in Christ, we indeed should be positive. Our trust should be in Him.
As I read the Gospel from Wednesday, my mind also wandered back in my thoughts of a couple periods in my life. Early on when I realized I was being called to be a priest, it was all very scary, overwhelming, and exciting all at the same time.
At first you get these grandiose ideas of the status being a priest brings. One time, while speaking to my spiritual advisor (the late Monsignor Richard Mouton) about entering seminary I asked him why he was not yet a bishop. He was a very holy man, loved by many, and he cared deeply about his flock. Very intelligent, but humble – very humble. He escorted the local bishop to the Vatican Council meetings in the 60’s. If anyone deserved it, in my mind anyway, it was him. His response has stayed with me all these years – “Robert,” he said in his thick accent, “one does not become a priest with aspirations to become a bishop. One becomes a priest to serve God and his people. To be a disciple of Christ. I do not want to be a bishop.” Thinking back on it, I suspect he had been asked to become a bishop and turned it down respectfully.
After agreeing to seminary and going through the processes etc, as time went by I felt I was being called in a slightly different direction. My heart and soul was a Roman Catholic – at least liturgically - but I simply couldn’t ascent to some of the harsh and antiquated teachings on some important topics that remain important to this day. I just could not see me as a “black and white” type of clergy. Gray areas must be applied sometimes. So, some of Roman Catholic theology I felt was far out of date and harsh. (That’s a debate for another time.)
In the end, I still wanted to be ordained, but I could not vow to teach every single dogma exactly as I would have had to do as a Roman Catholic Priest, so my superiors were disappointed, even mad to some degree, but I believed in a far more compassionate and loving God. Also, I wanted to be with the real people. I wanted to be what is called, “a worker priest,” which simply means having a secular job while having an active ministry. I knew it would seem strange to some, a cop-out to others, the easy way to still others, and even a heretic to more. But, I felt that by being out in the secular world, I could learn about people better. To learn what made them sad and what made them happy. To get to know the “real” person they are. When they come into the church, they act in the manner they think is appropriate which sometimes camouflages the “real” person and what they are going through in their life. I wanted to help them in their everyday life by living in the muck along with them.
I ended up being ordained as an Anglican Priest. I also knew I would always be second best in the vocation I felt God was calling me to. In a couple of years I found (or rather it found me) the Liberal Catholic Church and was incardinated into them. Independent Catholic denominations/churches have been around for a couple of centuries now, but Rome still labeled them as schismatic at best, and evil heretics at worst. However, I rationalized it to myself that many figures in Scripture were not always ones you would expect God to choose, and yet He did. Scriptures also had those chosen by God that were mistreated and maligned by others. So be it. This is what God wants. I can be a modern St. Vianney of Ars. – at least from the not being able to have the best seminary education and by working in less desirable areas. (I will have you know, St. Francis Chapel is hardly “less desirable.” They deserve better than I have given or could ever give!) I said, that’s fine. At least I will be around everyday normal people. It isn’t about me. It is about the Lord my God and the sheep He sends my way.
I know, Abbott Gentzsch, this sermon is too long already, so let me wind down. You’re the one who most wanted me for the next step I am about to speak.
Then years go by and I move to California, take over a small parish and in the years to come move up the ranks, so to speak. There was a need for a new bishop of our small denomination, and it seemed, everyone wanted me for that role. I thought (and still think) that I was not nearly worthy or cut out for it. Some would say that no one is worthy, but then I remember Monsignor Mouton, and I say there indeed are many who are worthy, just not me. In my many failures since, I have proven myself correct, but some still disagree, just as they did then.
So, what is my point to this self-deprecating story and missive? Sometimes we have to be humble. Sometimes we have to let others win. Sometimes we need to let others treat us poorly. Sometimes we have to do that which others refuse to do. Sometimes we have to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Sometimes we have to drink from the chalice that Jesus drank from.
As an example, there is a story of a high school student who went along with some people from a local church to complete some service hours for his school as part of his grade. On the way it was explained to him that they normally shake hands with the homeless that they serve, but he was not obligated to do so if it made him uncomfortable. However, when he saw the friendly interactions they had, especially people who had come to know them, he was moved to shake hands with all the people he was meeting.
What enabled that student to reach beyond the chasm that the rich man of the parable never considered bridging during his lifetime and was incapable of bridging in the afterlife? He was surrounded by witnesses. Two women who, in the name of Jesus, were embracing him in the faces of his beloved brothers and sisters, and those brothers and sisters themselves, who were welcoming his love.
Those people were touched by Jesus through the high schooler and the ladies from a church. The homeless people, feeling low in life and mistreated by many, like Lazarus in the parable, were made to feel worthy! I suppose in some ways, I feel like that high school student and have tried to make my ministry to be that example to others.
When you come up to the altar during Communion and approach the priest holding the chalice with precious Blood of Jesus and the ciborium with the Sacred Body of Christ, Jesus is asking us the same thing He asked St. James and St. John; “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” What is your response?
We occasionally hear in the news of various bishops or priests calling to deny the Eucharist to various politicians, as one example, who voted differently than the Church says they should. In those instances, those clergymen are saying that someone is unworthy. But they are more unworthy, in my mind, than the person coming to Communion. The rich man who ignored his fellow man, was unworthy. However, most of us are not like the rich man and probably not even remotely wealthy.
When we approach the communion rail and look up at the chalice, remember that the chalice is filled with Love! It is the chalice of the Sacred and Holy Blood of Christ given to you with His Body. Pure radical love. A love that cannot be matched on earth. But when we take the Body and Blood of Christ in us, we are reminded that we have drank form the chalice and must go into the world and love it just as Jesus did. He isn’t expecting us to seek the same fate at St. James and St. John; only that we share that radical love He gave us!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
As we remain closed due to the Covid-19 virus, we see some hope around the corner. I encourage you to give what you can to help us keep the church alive, especially until we can open again and worship our God as Jesus dictated at the last supper! And so, we remain beggars. God Bless you all!