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

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

This week's readings **

Hosea 2:16, 17, 21-22
"It will come about in that day," declares the LORD, "That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.
"For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, so that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
"It will come about in that day that I will respond," declares the LORD. "I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth, and the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Mark 2:18-22
John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. "But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."

* 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.

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 that’s 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 that’s ever been our attitude -- because we have fail at times, because we’re sinners, we’re afraid of God -- if we think of God as a terrible judge who’s 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.

Dear Reader of Peace Pulpit,

We need your help. We are pleased to make available -- at no charge -- Peace Pulpit. But we cannot do all we need to do without your financial assistance.

Please take a moment to consider contributing to the Friends of NCR campaign. National Catholic Reporter is a nonprofit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible in the United States.

Contributions may be sent to:
National Catholic Reporter
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO   64111

Make checks out to: NCR

If you wish, you may print a form for submitting your donation. You may also use this form for credit card donations.

Print a Contribution Form


Donate Now Online

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 what’s 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.” It’s 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 we’ve ever been afraid of God -- and I’m 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 God’s wrath and the New Testament is the testament of God’s love. Not so. The Old Testament shows us a God of infinite, unbounded, unlimited love, and love that always reaches out to us first. That’s 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 don’t have to go just to the Old Testament. I mean, clearly, we turn also to Jesus. And today’s Gospel lesson -- we could easily have missed the image because we’re 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 God’s 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 God’s love.”

Don't miss a homily
      To receive an e-mail notice when The Peace Pulpit is posted every week, sign up here.
      Click on the link at the top right of this page to send the column to a friend or colleague.

If we just remember what we’ve read in the Gospel of Mark as we began ordinary time this year, it’s so clear that Jesus is God’s love in our midst. That Gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus where Jesus shows his solidarity with sinners. He’s 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 shouldn’t be here.” And Jesus says, “No, I belong here.” He has solidarity with sinners. He reaches out. And that’s 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. It’s God in our midst showing us love, healing.

But then there’s also the challenge. See, that’s the part of today’s 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. Christ’s 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.

That’s what we’re called to be. But it does take a continuing renewal on our part, doesn’t 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, that’s 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 haven’t 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 we’re 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 we’re the followers of Jesus.” He draws a couple of examples from the traditions of the church that make very clear what we’re 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.” That’s 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 church’s 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 church’s treasures.” He had gathered together the poor and the outcast, those who were rejected by society. “Those are the church’s treasures.” A community of love, that’s what we’re 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 what’s happening within the church right now, that we’ve 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 it’s 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. That’s all they’re really asking, “Draw us back! Heal us.” Be reconciled. They have experienced a tragic betrayal that has affected them very deeply. I’ve come to know this from so many. They’ve been wounded in a way that’s almost indescribable, because it is not just a psychological or emotional wound that could come from any abuse, it’s 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 they’re 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. They’re a corporation and they act like most corporations act: “We need to guard our assets, guard our profits.” And they’ll give all kinds of reasons why it’s so important. “We have to remain as a Catholic hospital. If we can’t compete, we’ll disappear. Then who would protect the Catholic ethical principals in medicine?” And so they sacrifice the people, supposedly for this better purpose. That doesn’t seem to me to be a community of love where we welcome one another whether you’re a janitor or a person who cleans the bedrooms in a hospital or whether you’re a corporate executive of the hospital. We’re 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 God’s 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.

Top of Page   | Home 
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