26 Oct 2008
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news …” (Matthew 9:35) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
At the end of this week we celebrate Halloween. I was doing some math and it was kind of scary to me to think about the fact that I am now the age of Bp. Gnat when I first came to serve in Manchester as his assistant back in the summers of 1983 and 1984. Now that I’m that age just shy of half a century when people can say politely, “Well he doesn’t look his age,” I can give the bishop and his family a lot more credit than I did then. I cannot imagine telling my wife and daughters that we will have this Seminarian living with us for the summer. And that was long before this parish built the beautiful and spacious complex next door with a bishop’s residence and a pastor’s apartment. I lived up on the second floor of the rectory in a room between Joseph’s and Bp. and Mrs. Gnat’s. I was with them all the time. I ate with them, I spent all day in the bishop’s office, I traveled with the bishop. And after those two summers together, I have to wonder why the bishop, I don’t think, ever had another live-in assistant.
Now today as we gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ordination and the 30th anniversary of Consecration of Bp. Thomas Gnat, I have been asked to preach on this solemn occasion. I’m honoured. I could tell you of the first time I met our bishop. Our brand new pastor in Westfield, Fr. Robert Nemkovich Sr., now Prime Bishop Nemkovich, came over to my parents’ house one summer afternoon with our brand new bishop for a cookout. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember the occasion, but the bishop does, and when appropriate he reminds me of it. I was a college-kid planning on attending the Seminary after graduation. I have my pastor and bishop at my house, what’s the smart thing to do college-boy? Sit down and talk with them. What do I do? I wave a quick hello and leave with my friends. That’s why I’m not going to tell that story.
Now jumping ahead from my first encounter with Bp. Gnat, let me move to my last one. It was the final day of our diocesan synod three weeks ago. The bishop asked me to offer the closing prayer of that gathering. One of our last orders of business that day was a discussion of our desperate need for Sacred Vocations, that we simply do not have enough priests to grow our diocese and that something needs to be done. After the longest discussion of our Synod which was on this topic, about how we have to encourage, cajole, support and nurture any sign at all of a priestly calling, I tried in my closing prayer to compare that with the life-long dedication of men like Bp. Gnat and also Prime Bp. Nemkovich. We don’t have to go seeking their service; they have given of it freely and sacrificed greatly as priest and bishop. Bp. Gnat probably won’t like that I mention it, but last Sunday he was taken from this building by ambulance because he became weak during Mass. To the attending doctors who were trying to figure out what happened, our bishop says in the midst of all the commotion at the hospital, “I can’t stay here today doctor, I have a Seniorate meeting at 2:00.” In my prayer at the end of Synod, I tried to contrast that kind of dedication to the office of pastor and bishop with all of the pleading we have to do today for people to even consider Sacred Vocations. Some need to be asked to try and hear the calling, but others can’t be turned away because the calling is so real. I don’t always agree with out bishops, sometimes I hardly ever agree with them, but I always respect them because they are honourable men who serve Christ faithfully and tirelessly.
Our bishops begin their road to Consecration by being elected by a General Synod. I know all of the theology inherent in the sacred tradition of bishops passing on their office to successor bishops at Consecration, but I find far more telling the election of a bishop. A priest is elected a bishop because his peers, and by that I mean the clergy and laity of our church together, see in that person the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the personal traits, skills and history of the individual, who they are willing to trust and follow as bishop. Again, 50 years in the priesthood and 30 of those years being served as a bishop speak of the fact that our bishop is an honourable man. And I think by this point in my sermon, I need to mention that our bishop is also a married man. In the Seminary I was told that no matter how good a priest you are, a priest’s wife can either make or break your ministry. We in the diocese have also been blessed with Katherine Gnat. She has served in many ways in your community, your parish here, our diocese and our national church, and her service, her ministry, has always added well to that of our bishop’s.
Matthew tells the story that when Jesus heard of the execution of John the Baptist, in the words of the Gospel, “[Jesus] withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (14:13) He gets out of the boat and there are 10,000 people waiting for what only He can offer. Jesus was exhausted and was looking for a place to mourn, and He couldn’t even have that. I think about our bishop’s schedule. I know one time he and Mrs. Gnat had come out to South Deerfield on a beautiful fall weekend for Confirmation, and they planned to stay one extra day and spend Columbus Day at a bed-and-breakfast and take a little break. The bishop got a call that had to be dealt with, and Bp and Mrs. Gnat’s plans for a quiet weekend turned into another hectic time of travel and added responsibility. That must happen all the time. And those are the examples of unheralded dedication that help to define the priestly and episcopal office of our bishop, and for that matter the dedication of his wife too.
The Gospel Bp. Gnat chose for today speaks of Jesus teaching and proclaiming. Teaching has come to refer to the instruction of those already in the faith, and proclamation has come to refer to the church’s outreach to those not yet of the faith. Both of these ministries are principal parts of the office of bishop. And again, this is where the office carries a heavy weight. Our bishop spoke to the teenagers at this summer’s Youth Convocation. He was speaking about growing up in Milwaukee, and he said that one day his brother shot a pheasant. Well, these kids nowadays have earphones stuck in their heads for umpteen hours a day listening to their i-pods, and I think their hearing is suffering because of it. One teenager asked, “Why did Bp. Gnat’s brother shoot a peasant?” A bishop has to be careful what he says and even about what others think he may have said.
At a meeting, the bishop mentioned about the music for the English translation of our Church Hymn. We’ve tend to sing it, “Through the years unto Thee, O Lord,” where we’ve slurred the word “Thee.” Bishop with all of his years on the National United Choirs stressed to us that it should be, “Through the years unto Thee, O Lord,” with the two notes falling on “Lord.” The way the bishop said it to all of us was, “Make sure and slur ‘Lord.’” So I got to tell Mrs. Gnat later, “Did you hear that the bishop wants us to slur the Lord.” A bishop has to be careful all of the time because of the dignity and the authority of his office. And it is a great testimony to our bishop that after 50 years in the Ordained ministry of our church, after nearly 30 years a bishop, that the only scandals I can think of are the facetious ones I just mentioned.
The Gospel says the “labourers are few,” and I think that’s because the responsibilities are great, and the pay is only wealthy for those who count the riches of the Spirit and of the Community to be worth far more than the wealth measured by dollar signs. Bp. Gnat has served Christ, church and us as one of those few for half a century, and he has done it as an honourable man. Bishop, may Christ keep you, your ministry and your family in His care and protection. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)