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 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.  By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 8, 2004

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

This week's readings **

Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Luke 5:1-11
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered and said, " Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets." When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed 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.

If we listen, even casually, to today's lessons, it is very difficult to miss the message. Especially if we remember -- as I pointed out last week -- that when God's word is proclaimed in our midst, it is a living word. It is not just something that was spoken 2,000 or 4,000 years ago. It is God speaking now. And the message is overwhelmingly clear: God is calling us. God is calling us, through Jesus, to be disciples, to be his followers.

In the first lesson, Isaiah was in the temple worshiping and had this profound experience of the presence of God. In the midst of that presence, he heard God saying, "Whom shall I send?" He responded, "Send me, Lord. Here I am. Send me." God called, and Isaiah responded, ready to go wherever God needed.

In the second lesson, Paul recounted how Jesus appeared to so many. One time, 500 people saw Jesus. Then others. And finally Paul said, at the very end of the list, in a sense, "Jesus appeared to me. Jesus called me to follow him." Paul could hardly believe it. He had persecuted the church, and now, suddenly, Jesus was saying to him, "Follow me."

The message in the Gospel is also utterly clear. To Peter, James, John and their companions, Jesus said, "Come, follow me. Be my companions. Be my disciples."

That, then, is what God is saying this morning to each one of us: "Follow me." God speaks through Jesus. Become the disciple of Jesus. Last week, when we heard about God calling Jeremiah, we also heard that Jeremiah was hesitant to respond. Any one of us, I would guess, would be hesitant to say, "Yes, I will follow Jesus wherever." Jeremiah offered an excuse: "I am too young." God said, "You are not too young. Don't worry. If I want you and call you, you can do it."

In today's readings, the people who heard God's call offered different excuses. Isaiah said, "I am a sinner. My lips are unclean. I live among a people whose lips are unclean. How could I be your prophet? How could I go in your name? I am a sinner." Paul said the same thing: "I am a sinner. I persecuted the church. I am the worst of all people. How could God be calling me?" Peter fell at Jesus' feet and said, "Lord leave me, I am a sinner. You don't want to be near me. You don't want me to be one of your followers."

Every one of us, I am sure, would say the same thing. "Lord, I am not worthy. How could I be your disciple? How could I be a companion of Jesus?"

Why do we hesitate? Jeremiah said, "I am afraid. I am too young." Isaiah and the others said, "I am a sinner." We might have different excuses, but we would still hesitate. Why?

I think it is because responding to that call is going to demand changes in our lives. If we are really going to follow Jesus, then we cannot keep going along as we always have. We have to change. Peter, James and John had to change dramatically. Their whole lives were about being with their families and being fishermen, which was their trade. All of a sudden, Jesus said, "Follow me," and they left everything. They walked away to a different life as Jesus' disciples, his companions.

If we are going to follow Jesus, we are going to have to change our lives to be faithful to that call. Maybe we are not called to such a dramatic change as Peter, James, John and the other disciples, but still we are called to change. If we open ourselves to God's love, goodness and power, God will change us -- just as he changed the lives of Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John -- and we will be able to follow Jesus. For those who hesitate, remember what Jesus said to Peter: "Do not be afraid." God will do what is necessary to help us change, so that we can say without fear, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

One of the reasons God calls us is because God wants us holy. God wants to sanctify us, to save us, as we say very often. Jesus saves us. So God is calling us to personal spirituality, personal holiness. But it is also more than this. God is not just calling us to be individually, personally saved. Jesus calls us to join his work of changing the world, of proclaiming the good news. This is what Paul said: "I want to remind you of the good news I proclaimed in your midst when I first came among you."

And what is the good news? Paul said it all: "I preached to you the death and the resurrection of Jesus." Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus was raised from the dead, and he lives now in our midst. Death is conquered. We don't have to be afraid of death, because Jesus was raised from the dead. Yes, this is good news. This is the good news we are supposed to be spreading.

There is more, of course, to the good news. It is also God's love -- unending, limitless, unconditional love. Jesus loved those who were torturing him and putting him to death. He loved his enemies. It is the power of love -- the kind of unconditional love that reaches out even to those who hurt us and who are our enemies -- that can change the world. If we experience that love ourselves, we will be able to spread this message. It truly can transform the world.

While I was reflecting on this, I was thinking about different times when people, through love, have dramatically changed terrible situations. We are in Black History Month, and so, among other things, we continue to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "Do to us what you will, bomb our churches early in the morning, kill our little children, and we will still love you. We will still love you with no limit." Love changed a hateful, unjust situation in our country as no other way could have. Nelson Mandela, after 27 years of imprisonment, said, "I now know that I must work as hard for the liberation of my oppressors as for the oppressed. I have to love those who have been oppressing me all these years." And the system of apartied was dismantled.

Love can change situations of hatred. It is the only way such situations can be changed. Hate for hate will always bring more hate. Violence for violence will always bring more violence. Love is the transforming power. This is the good news, Paul tells us. This is what you must proclaim first of all as you live it in your life.

You do not have to go a long way geographically to be a disciple of Jesus. All you have to do is look to the person next to you. Do you really love this person? In your own home, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in our world, anywhere -- Love. This is what will change everything. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

The good news is that God loves us without limit. So we are healed. We are made holy. We are made whole. We can become fully what God wants us to be, because God loves us into that fullness if we open ourselves to it.

Once we accept that good news, then we can become disciples of Jesus and spread the message. It will change our family into a family of love. Our parish family into a parish family of love. Our neighborhoods will reach out to the poor, the homeless and the hungry. We can even end war in the world. We can do all this if we put aside our excuses and our fears and accept this call by saying, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

This morning, then, as we celebrate Holy Eucharist, we do hear God calling us. Accept the good news. Live the good news. Proclaim the good news. Spread love everywhere. I hope as we hear that call today, we will offer no excuse. Do not say, "I am too young. I am a sinner. I don't have the talents."

Hear the call deep in your heart and respond, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

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

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