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Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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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.
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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord 
February 2, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Malachi 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.  But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire, or like the fuller's lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by. 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same, that through death he might bring to nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For most assuredly, not to angels does he give help, but he gives help to the seed of Abraham. Therefore he was obligated in all things to be made like his brothers and sisters, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

Luke 2:22-40

When the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. He came in the Spirit into the temple. When the parents brought in the child, Jesus, that they might do concerning him according to the custom of the law, then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

"Now you are releasing your servant, Master,  according to your word, in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."

Joseph and his mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn't depart from the temple, worshipping with fastings and petitions night and day. Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem. When they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. The child was growing, and was becoming strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

* 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.

God has truly come to bring salvation of God's saving love into our lives.  And if we listen carefully to the lessons today, that love of God in our hearts will surely grow.

     Actually I always find it a bit of a distraction when a feast day like this interrupts the cycle of Sunday readings.  As you go from Sunday to Sunday and follow the readings carefully, it builds up a message for us each year in the three different cycles.  And so, as I said, when it gets interrupted by some feast as this one, I find that kind of distracting or disheartening. 

     But, as I took the time to really reflect on this Feast Day of the Presentation of Jesus, I realized how important it is that even now, 40 days after the Feast of Christmas, before we, in a sense, totally conclude our celebration of that feast, that we do once more what Mary did (as Luke remarked so often in the Gospel about the birth of Jesus)- ponder all these things in our heart; that we take the time again to try to ponder the deepest meaning of Christmas; of the coming of God into our midst as a tiny infant. 

     One of the things I think you become aware of almost right away when you listen to the Gospel message today is what it takes to be really aware of the coming of God into our midst. You know, obviously at that time, the temple of Jerusalem was a busy place.  There must have been hundreds of people there and many of them were the priests and officials, the scholars of the Scriptures, but the ones who noticed Jesus, and could see who this infant was, were two people who would be among what in the Scriptures are called the “anawim” - the poor or those who don't have power, don't have prestige.  They are the common, ordinary people, if you will, but people who have deep faith. 

     It is said about both Simeon and Anna that they spent their time in prayer. They were in touch with God within their spirit and so they could be aware of Jesus coming into the temple, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi, which makes up our first reading today: "God will come into the temple and you will see God's presence." 

     Simeon and Anna were people of faith and that's what we need to be if we are going to understand and ponder, once more, the meaning of Christmas.  Unbelievable paradox! God, the creator of the entire universe is a tiny infant, most vulnerable, weakest but most lovable of creatures, a tiny baby.  This is God and God does this--becomes human for our sake--as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews:  He had to be like his brothers and sisters in every respect in order to be merciful to them.  And having been tested through suffering, he is able to comfort those who are tested.  What that is telling us is that God comes into our midst so God can really understand us; our pain, our suffering and our hurt.  And what a bond that can create between God and us, if we know that this is a God who understands us, understands our hurt.

     I saw that happen, as I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Iraq and the people who had suffered the loss of their family members on 9/11/2001 bonded with the people in Iraq who suffered the loss of their family members.  They could really understand one another; the pain, the hurt, the loss, the grief.  And it brought them very close in a deep bond, a real bond of love.  And that’s what happens when Jesus, when God comes into our midst as Jesus, and can accept our sufferings, know our weaknesses, know our fears, and be bonded with us as we share those sufferings, those failings, those weaknesses with Him, with God. 

     So the depth of our relationship with God is deepened and strengthened.  We are bonded to God because Jesus, the Son of God, has become one of us.  And we need to take the time to really explore this relationship with God, those times when we are at a loss or in grief or in pain of some kind, or when we are puzzled or 
confused.  We can go to Jesus who understands us and know that it is God who understands us.

     Another point about this feast day that again is a deepening of our understanding of what the birth of Jesus means for us, is the reality of Jesus, Mary and Joseph with Him, carrying out all the rules of the law in order that Jesus be presented in the temple--be given back to God. 

     And this reminds us, if we examine what is happening here carefully, of how everything we have is a gift from God.  That is why Jesus is presented in the temple.  That is why the Jewish tradition had this custom that the child was taken to be given back to God -- to acknowledge that all life, all gifts come from God and we must at times acknowledge that and offer ourselves back to God, knowing that everything we have is a gift. And it is so easy for us to forget that, to think we have worked for what we have, that we have earned what we have, that we deserve what we have.  No! It is all gift. And it is a fragile gift, the gift of life that enables us to have all the rest of the gifts we have. 

     How clear that was made yesterday.  One minute the space shuttle is moving along, everything is okay.  The next minute, it is gone and seven people have lost their lives.  All life is fragile like that, but so often we forget that every second we are dependent upon God -- God is giving us the gift of life, the gift of our being. Everything depends upon God, but how easily we forget that. 

     And so today is the time to remind ourselves that God is generous to us, has gifted us and we must turn to God in thanksgiving and offer ourselves back to God just as Jesus was offered to God in the temple forty days after his birth.

     Now there is another aspect of this feast that is also very, very important and it continues our pondering on the meaning of Christmas because God comes into our midst as Malachi points out:  “Suddenly, God, for whom you long will enter the sanctuary to bear witness against those who swear false oaths, who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the orphan, who do not respect the rights of the foreigner. They do all this and have no fear of me,” says Yahweh.

     So we are reminded that God comes into our midst to judge us, to hold up for us the standard by which we are to be judged; how we treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, those who are vulnerable; whether we respect the rights of the foreigners, those who came into our midst from outside.  God comes to judge us, to judge our hearts, whether we have hearts that reach out to others in love or whether we hold back, refuse to gather people together in our midst. 

     I mentioned the “Blue Triangle Newspaper,” before Mass.  It is about people who have come into our midst, but whom we put into jail, totally out of touch with their families.  No one knows where they are.  They have no access to the outside world because they happen to be Arab people, Muslim people. So we push them away, treat them as though they have no rights.  God judges us for things like that. 

     And, finally, as we reflect on today's feast and the Gospel lesson, God makes it very clear through the words of Simeon that Jesus is going to be a sign of contradiction, which means that Jesus is going to stand up against many of the things that we would take for granted; that Jesus will show us how God brings about a profound reversal.

     “Those who are mighty will be deposed.  Those who are rich will lose their riches.”  God has a standard of love, a standard of openness that is expressed in Jesus where God reaches out to the poor - where God shows that power and violence are not the way to transform our world - that only love will do that.  God has a whole way of showing us how to act through Jesus that stands in contradiction to so much of what we think of as human wisdom. 

     And, right now, we are at the point of war once more, where our leaders are telling us that we must wage war in order to change the world for the better.  Everything that Jesus stands for and shows us through his life is in contradiction to that.  The only way to change our world, Jesus shows us by his life, by the ways He lives -- is love.  There is no other way.

     Clearly Jesus is a sign of contradiction.  And as we celebrate this feast today and hear those words of Simeon and recognize that they are true, the challenge is for each one of us to determine if we will accept the way of Jesus which contradicts, so much and so often, the way of the world or whether we will reject the way of Jesus that stands in such stark contraction.  The choice is ours. 

     Jesus comes into the temple and is presented there to show us that God is in our midst.  He comes to show us that God understands us and welcomes us.  He comes to be a judge and to see if we live up to the standard that he proclaims. But most of all, he comes as a sign of contradiction.  Will we accept his way or reject him?  That is the question that this feast presents to us in a very powerful way.
     We pray God that as Jesus comes into our midst today in this Eucharist, we can accept Him and all that he shows us about the way we can bring peace, justice and love into our world.

     In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


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