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.)
Second Sunday in Lent
February 20, 2005

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

This week's readings **

Genesis 12:1-4a
The LORD said to Abram: "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you." Abram went as the LORD directed him.

2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

* 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.

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The first reading today is the first time in the scriptures where God calls someone to follow God in a very specific and clear way. It is a very important passage, because this call of Abraham is a model for any call that any of us receives from God. There are a couple of things that we should note about this call.

First of all, Abraham is called to move. God's call always asks us to move. Sometimes it is a physical move, from one place to another, but more often the move is psychological or spiritual. God is always asking us to move on, to go forward. Yet, as we notice with Abraham's call, there is no clarity about where Abraham is to go or what is to happen.

God wants us to leave our places of security that we have built for ourselves, to move out of those in a spirit of total trust in God. It is a very demanding thing when God calls us to let go of what we've been used to, what has given us comfort and security, and go wherever God leads trusting that God is always leading us because of his love. Wherever God leads us, it will be, as God promised Abraham, "a blessing."

Sometimes we might think, "God would only call someone who was very holy. Why would God call me if I'm a sinner or if I'm weak and not very faithful to God's ways?" But that's not so. Look at the second lesson. St. Paul tells us, "God saved us and called us, a calling which proceeds from God's holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on God's generosity and God's own initiative."

So we can't say, "Well, I'm not holy enough. God's isn't going to call me." God does call us, and God calls us even in our lack of holiness. God calls us, and then God will make us holy. When we look at the call of Abraham and put it in this context, we see that it is the beginning of something that is very, very important.

The Book of Genesis, before chapter 12 where today's reading comes from, is the history of God having created the world and then for a long period of time -- of course we don't know for how long -- the human race developing and moving on, but falling away from God's love and God. The first 11 chapters of Genesis is a history of the human race before there was a chosen people, before there was a group of people called by God into a special relationship with God. During that time, God, as we read in the creation myth in the scriptures, God made the world, all of the universe, out of love. God loved everything into being. But then, as recorded in those first 11 chapters, we discover Adam and Eve and their rebellion against God, and then Cane killing his brother Abel. Violence and hatred came into creation. Then we discover how the people in the time of the flood were arrogant and rebellious against God. Then there's an incident of one of the sons of Noah shaming Noah, and you have the tower of Babel where the people thought they were more powerful than God. All of these incident show how creation had turned away from God; people had turned away from God. Hatred and evil, violence had come into God's creation.

Now at the point in today's lesson, God is entering again into human history to recreate it, to make something new happen, to bring creation back to its original beauty and goodness and love. This begins with Abraham, but then it goes on down through human history until we come to Jesus.

In the gospel lesson today, we get an understanding of Jesus that is perhaps a bit different from what we would otherwise think. Jesus, we're shown in this experience of his, is shown in all of his glory. He's with Moses and with Elijah. Moses is the one for the chosen people who symbolizes the law, all of the scriptures that make up the law of God. Elijah is the symbol for all of the prophets, all of those who have spoken in God's name. Jesus is there with them showing that he is continuing what has gone before, but now Jesus sums up all of the past. And God says, "Listen to him." Drawing on the past -- Moses, Elijah, the law, all of the prophets -- gathered together, Jesus now is the one of whom God says, "Listen to him."

As we reflect on Abraham's call, we should recognize that God continues to call people even as God called Timothy and God called Paul, and God is calling us. The main point of today's scripture is to make us recognize how God calls each one of us -- not because we're especially holy. God will make us holy. God calls us because God chooses to call us to continue the work that God began with Abraham.

When God established that covenant with Abraham and the chosen people -- God became their God and they became God's people -- it was to heal creation, to change creation once more, bring it back to the goodness and the love that God had intended. To put that into the terms that Jesus taught, "making the reign of God happen," transforming our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. And when we are called, as God calls each of us now, the heart of that call is to listen to Jesus, to try in our own lives to make the values of Jesus our values, to follow his way and only his way.

As we reflect upon the transfigured Jesus, we discover that when Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah, he was speaking about his coming death and resurrection. This is the way that Jesus was to bring God's love into the world in a way that would transform the world. Jesus would make love the all encompassing quality that would change everything. Jesus would give his very self, in the midst of hatred and violence, give himself in love to transform hatred and violence once more into the goodness and love of God. Our task -- understanding that we're not necessarily holy but God will be with us -- our task is to try to listen to Jesus, follow his way and make his values our values.

During this past week as I was praying with the little black book that most of us have, I read the passage on Wednesday that I thought was very appropriate. I would suggest that you might go back to it later in order to understand what is at the heart of the call that is given by God. It's a passage that's called, "Forgiveness isn't for wimps."

"People who think forgiveness is for wimps haven't tried it," says Marietta Jaeger. She admits it wasn't easy to forgive the man who kidnapped, abused and killed her seven-year-old daughter Susie during a 1973 family camping trip in Montana. But Marietta says that God intervened in her pain and anger and one day she experienced an intense wave of love. Fortified in her desire to do God's will she asked God to help her to, "learn to forgive the man with my lips and love her with my heart." And then on the eve of the first anniversary of her daughter's disappearance she told a reporter she wished she could talk to the kidnapper and forgive him. All she wanted was her little girl back.

The next day the kidnapper called. "What he hadn't counted on was the spiritual journey I had been on to move me from fury to forgiveness," she says. "When he called he was so undone by my response that he wound up staying on the phone for over an hour, revealing identifying information about himself." After his arrest she flew to Montana and met face to face with him, "to tell him I forgave him and that God forgave him." I had to let him know that I completely forgave him and that God loved him as much as God loved Jesus," she said, "I really felt no hatred, only love for this man and it was only through the Lord that I could have received the gift of forgiveness."

That's an example of someone who has made the values of Jesus her values. She has lived those values. She forgave the man who murdered her tiny daughter. This is what we need to try to do, make the values of Jesus ours. We experience today through the word of God, God calling us just as God called Abraham, as God called Timothy, as God called Paul, as God called Marietta Jaeger to follow Jesus. And so we try to listen to Jesus deeply during this season of Lent and try to follow Jesus and make his values our values.

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

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