The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. You can sign up for a weekly e-mail that will notify you as soon as each is available. (See below.)
The Epiphany of the Lord
January 8, 2006

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 60:1-6
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will thrill and rejoice; because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, the wealth of the nations will come to you. A multitude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.

Ephesians 3:2-3; 5-6
If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Matthew 2:1-12
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

During the past few weeks, articles have begun to appear, even in the secular press, about limbo. Many of you, perhaps, never even heard of limbo, but it used to be part of what we learned from our catechism when we were being instructed in our Catholic faith. It was an attempt on the part of theologians to deal with a question that bothered many people: What happens to all of those who have never been baptized -- little children dying before baptism or people going through their whole life without ever being baptized, and they’re good people? What about all those good people of the Old Testament? Are they in hell? Can they get into heaven if they’re not baptized? Well, what happens? Theologians tried to devise a way to deal with those questions, and so they projected an idea that perhaps could give some comfort to people: “Well, they can’t get to heaven but at least they’re not suffering. They’re experiencing a kind of a natural happiness, not sharing the very life of God and the full joy and the fullness of life of heaven.”

Well, the reason limbo has been in the news recently is because Pope Benedict has asked his theological commission to look at this question. Limbo hasn’t even been talked about for the last 40 years, since the Vatican Council. In fact, in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church published by Pope John Paul II, there’s no mention of limbo. The reason is that we’ve begun to, use insights -- insights that we could have used so many years ago -- that come from today’s scriptures.

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When you read the scriptures of today carefully and reflect on them, you discover that people who have not known God through the Jewish faith or through the Christian faith have nevertheless had God revealed to them. God is worshiped by them. God is loved by them and God loves them. It’s so clear in that passage from Isaiah when he talks about how when the Jewish people go back and rebuild their temple, rebuild their city, they will be restored. “All nations,” Isaiah says, are going to come and rejoice with them. “Nations will come to your light. Rulers to the brightness of your dawn.” He suggests, “Lift up your eyes round about and see. They are all gathered and come to you, your sons from afar, your daughters tenderly carried. Those from Sheba will come bringing gold and incense, all singing in the praise of God.” These are people who come from everywhere who already know God, already worship God, already are loved by God.

I think it’s strange how the ancient Jewish tradition tried to restrict God’s salvation to a few, and even early Christian traditions to some extent restricted God’s saving love to a few select people. But Isaiah makes it clear that God loves all people, all people in some way understand and know God and can love God and worship God.

St. Paul puts it very plainly when he writes to the church at Ephesus that we heard in our second reading, “Now all the nations share the inheritance in Christ. Non-Jews are incorporated, all nations are to enjoy the promise.” All people. Paul says, “This is the good news of which I have become I have become minister by a gift of God.” It’s good news! All people are loved by God!

How could we ever have restricted God’s infinite love? Well, we did try to do it in our tradition. Many religions do it. But God is the God of all not just of a few.

In the Gospel lesson today, also, makes that so clear. It’s very clear in a sense that’s embarrassing, I suppose, for those Jewish priests and leaders, scholars in their sacred scripture to have people come from the East. They would have been coming from Persia which is the country of Iran now or perhaps of Iraq. That’s where they were coming from and they were not only people who were not Jewish, not part of the chosen people, they were even people who were astrologers or stargazers and that was condemned in the Jewish religion. And yet from nature they had come to know God and to worship God. And they had come to discover God in Jesus because God had brought them and they followed where God had led them.

And so it’s very clear from these scriptures today that God is the God of all not the God of a few. All people for all times are God’s people -- filled with God’s life, able to love God and respond to God.

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But then, perhaps, we are challenged by the question, “Well, then, what about Jesus? Why do some people today receive the sacrament of confirmation? Why have we been baptized and confirmed? If God is the God of all does Jesus really make a difference?” Well, the answer, of course, is “yes.” In one place that’s spelled out for us in the scriptures, and we heard this lesson on Christmas. “God has spoken in the past to our ancestors, through the prophets, in many different ways although never completely, but in our time God has spoken definitively to us through Jesus. He is the radiance of God’s glory and bears the stamp of hidden being.”

In other words what we’re being told by the letter to the Hebrews is that yes, God has been revealed and is revealed in many different ways to all people of all times. But the fullness of God’s revolution -- if we really want to see what God is like, to know God as fully as we can with our human minds and our human spirit and heart then God is fully revealed through Jesus: a God of compassion, a God of mercy, a God of unlimited love, a God who is raising up the poor and the oppressed, a God who is willing in his humanness to give his very life for all people of all time to demonstrate how God’s love is an unlimited, forgiving, totally generous love foreveryone. When we say we want to be part of the community of disciples of Jesus through baptism and through confirmation we’re saying yes, we know that we can discover God as fully as possible in Jesus.

But then we also say that we want to follow Jesus, we want to be like Jesus. And that is a very real challenge, to try to live according to the way of Jesus in order that, like Jesus, we will be a life to the world around us. People will be able to discover God more fully, because they will see God in the way that we are quick to forgive, are quick to be merciful, are quick to have compassion, to reach out, are quick to work for justice and peace. God came into the world in Jesus because God wants our whole world to be transformed into God’s reign where justice and peace will prevail. And so as those who understand and know Jesus we are ones that commit ourselves to be joined in his work of transforming our world into the reign of God. This is a tremendous challenge and perhaps we’ve lived as Christians, many years perhaps, without fully understanding and accepting and committing ourselves to be those who work to transform our world into the reign of God, without fully committing ourselves to be the light that demonstrates what God is like.

And so today as some members of our family receive the sacrament of confirmation in public, we make that commitment to follow Jesus faithfully, every one of us and renew our own commitment to follow Jesus.

Let your imaginations be free for a moment. Imagine what our world could be like if every one of us, a disciple of Jesus, if all the disciples of Jesus throughout the whole world, about a third of the world’s people, what if all of us really lived the way of Jesus? How quickly our world would be transformed. But each of us can begin and in the very confines of our own, everyday life can make that happen and perhaps it will spread as the light in a few moments will spread throughout this church as each of us holds a candle symbolizing the light of Jesus that spreads. And it will spread as we live fully the commitment that we make through our baptism and our confirmation. We can be the light to the world. We can be the means to transform our world into the reign of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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