|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 notified as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
|Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time||
February 26, 2006
As we listen very closely to these scripture lessons today, try to enter deeply into them, I think we will find that they are both very reassuring and very challenging, and thats probably what we need as we are preparing to begin the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we look into our own lives and discover sinfulness and are intent on trying to reform ourselves. That sometimes can lead us to be fearful of God. If thats ever been our attitude -- because we have fail at times, because were sinners, were afraid of God -- if we think of God as a terrible judge whos ready to condemn us, then we have to listen very carefully to the first lesson today. It really is a beautiful example of how God is a God of love, a God of love, total love, unconditional love, love without limit.
As I explained before the lesson, Hosea the prophet, his very life was what he was preaching, and God instructed him to do this. He applied what happened to him in his life where his marriage had broken up tragically because of unfaithfulness. God tells him, Take your wife back. Forgiveness is whats all important. God applies that through Hosea to God. I am going to allure her, lead her once more to the desert where I can speak to her tenderly. Its God who takes the initiative. I will give back her vineyards. There she will answer me as in her youth. On that day Yahweh says you will call me, My husband, never again, My master. You will be my spouse forever, renewed in justice and integrity. We will be united in love and tenderness. I will espouse you in faithfulness, and you will come to know God deeply.
If weve ever been afraid of God -- and Im sure sometimes we have heard threats about how God will thrust us into hell or destroy us in some way -- we need to reflect often on passages like this. There are many of them in the prophets and throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes you hear that the Old Testament is a testament of Gods wrath and the New Testament is the testament of Gods love. Not so. The Old Testament shows us a God of infinite, unbounded, unlimited love, and love that always reaches out to us first. Thats what God is. We speak about God almost in terms we use for ourselves.
God is hoping that God can reach out to us in love during the season of Lent, draw us out into the desert where God can speak to us tenderly and deeply and renew that bond. We will be united in love and tenderness forever. That is what God is seeking to do for us.
But we dont have to go just to the Old Testament. I mean, clearly, we turn also to Jesus. And todays Gospel lesson -- we could easily have missed the image because were not always so mindful of some of the images that Jesus uses when he speaks. One image that Jesus does use often is the image of a banquet, a wedding banquet, which is a time of great joy and a time when love is very present. The wedding banquet is a symbol, a sign, of the wedding banquet of Gods love forever when the reign of God happens. God is the bridegroom at that wedding banquet. Of the wedding banquet, that is life forever in heaven, Jesus says, I am the bridegroom. Jesus is really saying, I am God in your midst. The love that is spoken about God in the prophet Hosea, Jesus is saying, Look at me. Here is Gods love.
If we just remember what weve read in the Gospel of Mark as we began ordinary time this year, its so clear that Jesus is Gods love in our midst. That Gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus where Jesus shows his solidarity with sinners. Hes not apart from us. When John is baptizing in the river Jordan, Jesus goes and joins all the people who are being baptized. John even objects and says, You shouldnt be here. And Jesus says, No, I belong here. He has solidarity with sinners. He reaches out. And thats God reaching out to us.
The Gospel goes along very quickly and Jesus begins to heal people. He has compassion for suffering people. He reaches out to the poor, those who are pushed away like the leper. He goes out and touches them and draws them back. He spends a whole night comforting, talking with people, healing them. These are all acts of love. Its God in our midst showing us love, healing.
But then theres also the challenge. See, thats the part of todays lesson that is very consoling to us if we let ourselves think about it. Because Jesus calls us to be his disciples, to be the ones who carry on his work, to continue to be the loving presence of God in this world. Paul puts it very beautifully, I think, when he talks about that first Christian community at Corinth: You are the letter. Christs letter written by us. A letter written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, carved not in slabs of stone but in hearts of flesh. You are the letters. You are Jesus -- each of us, all of us, as a community of his disciples have to be such a clear representation of Jesus that we would be like a letter of recommendation to anyone who wants to find out about God. Our very lives must show forth the love, the mercy, the compassion, the goodness of Jesus, of God.
Thats what were called to be. But it does take a continuing renewal on our part, doesnt it? As much as we try to keep on living up to this Gospel of Jesus and to the example that he is in our midst, we know we fall short. So we need to be renewed. And it has to be a radical renewing. See, thats what Jesus is talking about when he uses those two small parables in the Gospel today. The parable about the patch cut out of new cloth: you put that on an old garment and then when you wash it and the new piece shrinks, it will tear away from the old piece. You havent done anything really worth while. You need new cloth, a new garment. You have to become totally new not just a new patch -- totally new. Same thing with the wine and the wine skins. You have to be new wine in new wine skins -- totally different, radically changed.
Pope Benedict XVI, as you may know, just wrote his first encyclical letter and it applies very much to what were reflecting on today. His letter is called, Deus Caritas Est, Latin words. They mean God is love. To start off his pontificate, he sort of sets a direction by saying, This pontificate is going to be about love, about God who is love. And then he points out, in the first part of encyclical, which is rather brief and easy to read, he lays out how God is love. But then he says in the second part, he makes it practical, We have to be a community of love if were the followers of Jesus. He draws a couple of examples from the traditions of the church that make very clear what were supposed to be. He talks about Tertullian back in the third century talking about the Christian community as those who are known because they love one another. Thats what the pagans were saying about the Christians, See how they love one another.
Then he also tells the story about St. Lawrence the deacon who was commanded by the imperial authorities to bring the churchs treasure to hand over to the Emperor. He was given a couple of days to collect those treasures and bring them. But Lawrence as a deacon was already engaged in works of charity and love. He had already been giving away whatever wealth the church had. He gave it all away and then he went back to the Emperor. He said, Here are the churchs treasures. He had gathered together the poor and the outcast, those who were rejected by society. Those are the churchs treasures. A community of love, thats what were called to be. A community where we gather together the poor in our midst and we serve them; we become one with them. A real community of love.
If we look at our church today, we first start by looking at ourselves, we have to ask, Am I really reaching out in love? Am I really being a person who would be outstanding in this community of love as a very loving person? Obviously we all have to keep on trying to grow in this spirit to develop what Paul calls, hearts of flesh, instead of hearts of stone. That will be part of our program during Lent. But the reform and the renewal that Jesus is talking about, the new patch and the new garment, the new wine and the new wine skin, has to mark our whole church.
It seems to me as I reflect on whats happening within the church right now, that weve moved away from being a community of love. I think of two specific examples, one that has become very prominent in my life over the last month. As I have said before, I hesitate to speak out of just my own experience, but its been so powerful for me to be in touch with so many survivors from the sex abuse scandal -- hundreds of them. What they are experiencing from the church, and this is so sad, is a church that is a corporate reality, that turns to its lawyers first instead of simply reaching out in love to these people who have been so wounded. Thats all theyre really asking, Draw us back! Heal us. Be reconciled. They have experienced a tragic betrayal that has affected them very deeply. Ive come to know this from so many. Theyve been wounded in a way thats almost indescribable, because it is not just a psychological or emotional wound that could come from any abuse, its also a breaking of the trust in God, because the person who did it was one who represented to them God. And yet we seem to be a corporate church instead of a community of love when it comes to literally thousands of survivors in our country. That has to change. We must become a community of love.
This past week I also discovered another way -- it has come up before but -- I was contacted by some workers in Catholic hospitals who, and these are mainly the ones who clean the rooms and the service employees, and theyre treated very harshly very often by our Catholic hospitals. When they try to form a union, the first thing the hospital leaders do is go to their lawyers. Theyre a corporation and they act like most corporations act: We need to guard our assets, guard our profits. And theyll give all kinds of reasons why its so important. We have to remain as a Catholic hospital. If we cant compete, well disappear. Then who would protect the Catholic ethical principals in medicine? And so they sacrifice the people, supposedly for this better purpose. That doesnt seem to me to be a community of love where we welcome one another whether youre a janitor or a person who cleans the bedrooms in a hospital or whether youre a corporate executive of the hospital. Were all a part of the same community of love. Or we should be.
This is what it means to be called to be the church. Pope Benedict has made it so clear once more. We are called to be a community of love, the community of disciples of Jesus who is Gods love in our midst. I hope that during the season of Lent each of us will enter deeply into prayer, reflection, take the scriptures, pray them, listen to them, hear God speaking in our hearts and be changed so that I can be a faithful member of the community of love which is our church.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
|Copyright© 2006 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280|