Homily of 21 October 2018
Isaiah 53: 10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
“It shall not be so among you. Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.… For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many.”
Ever since Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope in 2013 and chose the name of Francis, leadership in the Church is seeing a paradigm shift. Not that his predecessors were evil people. Far from it. Three of the five popes who went before him in the past 60 years have been declared saints. They were extremely holy men, self-effacing, humble followers of the Jesus who laid down his life for the many.
But, I submit, leadership and authority in the Church still had about it a worldly component, or what we might call an un-Christlike element. How else can we explain the rise of a Theodore McCarrick or several of the bishops in Chile and elsewhere; or how else can we explain a high official in the Vatican lashing out at the Pope seemingly – seemingly – because he was not granted a Cardinal’s hat? Many other leaders in the church have come under fire for being too attached to their power and authority — or to their perceived image of the church as spotless?
Before we mount a high horse and look down in judgment on others, let us eat our own humble pie and cry out: Lord, have mercy. Following Jesus, Francis is leading the way. When was the last time you saw a leader in the church be the first one to go to the sacrament of reconciliation in a communal rite of penance? It was so unprecedented that Francis had to abandon his own Master of Ceremonies to find a priest to whom he might confess his sins and sinfulness.
Timothy of Gethsemani and of the Generalate has always been a strong proponent of the tough words of Jesus in today’s Gospel. When I asked him how I should respond to Abbot Francis’ request of me to accept ordination to the priesthood, his simple words were, “If you are willing to be crucified with Christ, you may.” The implication was clear: anything less than to be united to Jesus in his utter self-emptying was not a valid reason to be ordained. Lord, have mercy!
Servant leadership is to be the new normal. Ministers with the odor of the sheep are those whose unction is life-giving and life-enhancing.
Let us not expect a general embrace of such a demanding choice. We have only to listen attentively to the Gospel to know the desire for the first place goes back to the very foundation of the church. Not just James and John who made their bold request to sit at Jesus’ right and left. What does the Gospel say, “When the other ten apostles heard this they were indignant at James and John.” They wanted those places at the right and left of Jesus just as much as the two brothers. Do not our own unredeemed hearts echo the same? Let us not be the first to throw a stone.
Yet if servant leadership is what Jesus asks of us, then the Spirit of Jesus must be present within us to accomplish it. God never asks something of us that does not come with the grace to fulfill it.
For our monastic community, I think, this is especially poignant. As we move forward to new leadership, much will be asked, not only of our chosen superior, but of each one of us. As I said five short weeks ago — and knowing nothing of what would transpire — if this transition in our community life is to work and be fruitful in the Spirit, if we are to be faithful to the grace we have received as monks of Mepkin, each one of us has to die in some way, shape or form. Each one of us has to renounce something, change something, give up something. At least that is how I hear today’s Scriptures.
Each one of us….We have to move forward as a community. Together. Not as a group of buddy-buddies who agree on everything and never step on one another’s toes. Our two community meetings made this clear. But as a brotherhood called together to follow the crucified Lord Jesus as monks of Citeaux. Our greatest grace is that we have each other. Together we can make this transition work. In this way we will continue to show forth the face of Christ to all who come under the influence of Mepkin.
But for this to happen the seed must fall into the earth and die. For this to happen we must take on the form of a servant and give our life as a ransom for the many.
The center from which such servanthood flows is Jesus’ own paschal mystery. Let us gather, then, around this altar and celebrate the Lord’s death that his new life in the Spirit may be ours as well.