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The Peace Pulpit
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.
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.)

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March 2, 2003

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

* 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.

NOTE:  Bishop Gumbleton was unable to provide a homily for Sunday, March 2, and offers the following note and reflection in its place.

Dear Friends,
     I am confident that most of us long ago were able to judge that Hitler's war of aggression was evidently evil.  And we may have wondered how Christians in Germany could have supported it.  But with few exceptions, German Catholics and other Christians decided they had to accept their government's decisions to go to war.  One of those who did chose to serve in Hitler's army was an Austrian peasant, Franz Jagerstatter.  Because of his refusal, he was executed by the German government on August 9, 1943.

     Today, I will join with Bishop Maximillian Aichern and others in celebrating Mass in Franz's village of St. Radegund.  The special occasion is the 90th birthday of his widow, Franziska.  Over the past 30 years or so I have come to know Franziska and her family quite well.  I have the greatest admiration for her.  With great courage she managed to withstand the hostility against her and her family because they were looked upon as "unpatriotic" or even as traitors.  It also took a lot of determination and hard work to raise their 3 children.  And I am sure none of us can even begin to comprehend her suffering at the loss of her husband whom she so dearly loved.

     Over the years, Franz and Franziska have been a model for me of what the cost of discipleship might be.  They and their children have been "martyrs" in the truest meaning of that word: "witnesses".  I believe their witness needs to be invoked at this time especially.  Our own country is poised to begin a "preemptive" war against Iraq.  Pope John Paul II and religious leaders and theologians around the world have insisted that such a war of preemption would in fact be a war of aggression and could never be morally justified.  How many of us will have the courage to resist?  How many of us will be willing to pay the cost of genuine discipleship?  

     I am honored to be invited to participate in the ceremonies of St. Radegund.  I hope that I will draws strength and courage from Franz and Franziska and follow their clear living out of the way of Jesus.  

     Please pray for me and for all of us.

Bishop Gumbleton

Franz Jagerstatter
May 20, 1987

I am honored to be in this cathedral city of Linz to celebrate what would have been the 80th birthday of Franz Jagerstatter.   I am grateful to Bishop Aichern for inviting me to this public commemoration, and I thank the people of St. Radegund and most especially, Franziska Jagerstatter and her family, for welcoming me into their homes again.  I return here as to a holy place.

In Latin American cultures it is a custom when the Litany of the Saints is recited to respond with the word presente.  In English it is translated literally as present, but, in fact, the word says so much more than that.  It means that the person named — perhaps an officially canonized saint, perhaps one we know to be a person of God — is truly present to us, is among us, truly with us.  Presente means that the person’s spirit is here, right now, at this moment.  His soul and mind and heart and conscience are with us.  It means that we are not alone in our own struggles; we stand with the saints, and the saints (we hope) stand with us.  I feel very strongly that the word presente is a fitting response to the name of the man we remember today.  I return here as to a holy place because, for me, Franz Jagerstatter is truly presente.

Franz Jagerstatter’s story is so compelling for us – for all of us – because it is at once such an old story and yet such a modern one.  His story is old because it repeats the story of all the holy men and women our tradition has taught us to revere.  We know what is common in the narratives.  A man or woman begins, somehow – through love of other human beings, or from hearing the Gospels preached, or by seeing believing people live the Gospel (the story varies as it does in our own lives) – a man or woman begins somehow to know God, to see things (insofar as this is humanly possible) as God would see them, and something happens to that person.

Life becomes both very simple – it is wonderfully charged with God – and very complex.  For us to know God is to know where God is not.  And knowing God impels us to bring our knowledge to those places where God seems absent.  To know God means we must refuse allegiance to those persons or structures or places where God does not abide.   To know God is to know that we must choose, as honestly as we can, to live where God is…where the life of God is…where the wisdom of God is.

No holy person seeks martyrdom; a holy person seeks the grace of God and the peace of his people.  But we know – our tradition tells us this over and over in the lives of the saints – that in some times and in some places, to know God and to speak God’s name is to risk one’s life.

When I read Franz Jaggerstatter’s prison letters, when I come back to his story, I am struck every time by one incident.  It is the moment when he receives a photograph of his three daughters holding the sign, “Dear father, hurry home!”  I try to imagine for myself how deeply lonely and exhausting his wrestling match with God must have been.  It wasn’t only that he had to stand up to the military establishment, or to the power of the state, or even to the advice of people of good will who told him that he was going too far, that he could serve with Hitler’s army in good conscience.  His own martyrdom surely occurred when he knew that the wisdom of God demanded even this, his absolute separation from his wife and daughters in death.

To live through the execution of the heart and still have the executioners to face – what an almost unspeakable thing it can be to know God and try to act in God’s name!

Franz Jagerstatter’s death is like other martyr’s stories.  And yet it is a modern story, and it is therefore new, with implications for our own time.  Franz Jagerstatter did not die a victim, rounded up with other victims because he was Catholic or Christian.  He did not give up his life in a struggle with a single attacker who would have him deny or act against his faith.  He didn’t die as a missionary taking his faith to an alien culture, and he didn’t die saving another, all good acts, which the Church reverences.

Rather, he gave up his life in resistance to sin in the public order.  It is not enough, Franz Jagerstatter came to know, to be privately, individually moral, in the face of evil embedded in the very structure of the social system.  It is not enough to be a good husband, a good father, a good citizen.  When the public authority leads us away from truth into nightmares of human destruction and then persuades us that they are doing good, the believing person says, “I will not blind myself.”  The believing person says, in the company of other men and women, “I will try to find out the truth about this evil, however uneducated I am, however inarticulate I am, however much I will not be paid attention to, however much I don’t count for much.”  The believing person says, “I will try to speak God’s name into this madness and stop it.”

That is what Franz Jagerstatter came to know.  That is what his life and death spoke to.  His story is new.  His life takes root in our own imaginations because he confronted social sin so clearly.  Perhaps that is where holy men and women are made – where the ancient truths of revelation and the demands of the time or the age intersect within a person’s heart.  Franz Jagerstatter knew that collision, knew the cost of adhering to the Word of God in the face of evil.

What, then, is his significance for us, for those who gather here?   I think that we also are compelled to confront the civil powers of our time.  And it is on an issue of profound moral significance.  As the American Bishops Pastoral, The Challenge of Peace, reminds us, we live in nations “heavily armed with nuclear weapons…and engaged in a continuing development of new weapons together with strategies for their use.”

Over forty years ago, the Vatican Council with great clarity declared the arms race “an utterly treacherous trap…which will eventually spawn all the lethal ruin whose path it is now making ready.”

And yet we live in nations whose public policies support an ever-accelerating arms race.  The offensive potential of the next generation of kinetic and directed-energy weapons is staggering.  The “surgical” precision of such weapons would make the temptation of a first strike much harder to resist.  Even more frightening is the extraordinary speed with which space-based weapons could attack.  In fact, space-based weapons will reduce the present half-hour warning of nuclear attack to a mere two or three minutes.  A more hair-trigger world is hard to imagine!

But we plunge madly ahead, determined to develop and deploy these weapons as quickly as we can.  And we do so in a world where 50,000 nuclear warheads are already poised, waiting for the command to destroy us.

Such policies are wrong.  More than wrong, they are evil.  Worse yet, they mirror the evil that is in our souls.  It is clear to me that we carry in our hearts the clear intent to use these weapons of horror.  It will not be an accident.  We are making the conscious and free choice to do so right now. 

To resist such evil is not simply a matter of being responsible citizens.  It is a matter of saving our souls.  I am convinced that there is a certain point when public policy, which cannot be changed, must be resisted, if that public policy is evil. 

Three weeks ago I joined with several hundred other members of Pax Christi to protest at the United States Nuclear Weapons Test Site in the desert of Nevada.  Other men and women have been doing civil disobedience at the site for several years, and a week after we were there, 1000 persons protested.

Many of us in the Pax Christi group were arrested for crossing over a line in a highway many miles from the actual testing site.  It is an arbitrary line, really; one chosen by the authorities as the point beyond which citizens may not express their opposition.  Except for the police there to arrest us and our friends supporting us, it could seem that we were just out in the middle of a desert jumping over a crack in the highway.  I’m sure many who read about it would call it a silly act, and indeed, it seemed at times a futile gesture event even to us.  Frankly, I would rather not have been there.

But those of us who were there experienced a compelling call, which we could not ignore.  We could not remain silent.  We had to say, in whatever symbols and direct discourse were available to us, with clarity and finality, “no” to nuclear war, “no” to the arms race, “no” to the testing which makes the arms race possible.  We had to say “yes” to authentic peace – a peace built on trust in God who sees what is in our hearts.  We had to say “yes” only to the peace of Christ, “who, though He was God, stripped Himself of glory and by shedding His Blood on the Cross, brought his peace to the world.”

Did anyone notice?  Does anyone care that several hundred people went out into the desert and tried to let God speak to their hearts?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the spirit of Franz Jagerstatter was there, in the desert, in my heart.  He was presente.  His example helped to lead me there and he gave me courage. 

And I truly believe – because his story has taught me this – that if what we did was of God, it will be known and it will bear fruit.  Franz Jagerstatter died a solitary witness, terribly alone, probably with doubts about what he was doing.  Indeed, his life has come to be known to us almost by accident – Gordon Zahn seeing a short reference to him while pursuing other research, then following up on it until Jagerstatter himself became the subject of a book; other scholars (George Bergmann, Donald Moore, Erna Putz) taking up the story.

Daniel Ellsburg, whose publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 helped end the Vietnam War, has said that he was influenced to act as he did by Franz Jaggerstatters’s moral resistance.  And, more than forty years after his death, the fact that we are gathered here is testimony to the power of Franz Jagerstatter’s life. 

He tells us, I think, that a single act of conscience is like a seed in the ground, that whatever is done for the truth will make a difference, and that it is God that will make that difference acting through us.  However small or large our acts of courage, it is God who acts through us and makes the seed grow.  Franz Jagerstatter was a farmer.  He knew that.

And then Franz Jagerstatter’s life tells us, somewhat paradoxically, that believers of God’s Word should not let other believers act alone.  In the fourth section of the American Bishops’ Peace Pastoral, the community of disciples is exhorted to be ready “to move beyond where they are…to act against the commonly accepted axioms of the world.”  The true community of Jesus’ followers must be ready “to take up the Cross,” but if it does so, the pastoral warns, the community must come “to accept as normal the path of persecution and martyrdom.”

Yet, I also firmly believe that the community of disciples shouldn’t ask one another to bear the burdens of resistance alone, however right it is.  Franz Jagerstatter might be here celebrating his 80th birthday in the presence of his family and friends if other Christians had joined in his act of resistance.  His death reminds us that we all ought to be there, God’s people together, resisting together what we know to be evil.  And then, we hope and pray, God will act through all of us, and the madness will stop.

There is one more thread in Franz Jagerstatter’s story that I think is significant for us, and for a Church in search of models of the Gospel life truly lived.  The witness for which we honor Franz Jagerstatter was a joint witness.  His decision to resist to the death was made with Franziska.  It was not made without pain or terrible soul-searching for both of them, but it was made with humble clarity of conscience.  His was the dramatic action; hers to live out that act of resistance.

I suggest that the Church might look here for an example of the deep graces of the sacrament of marriage.  If marriage is, finally, to bring two loving people to sanctity, as the Church tells us, here is a marriage that seems to have been about that.  It was short – only seven years – but it is a marriage that has lived on.  Last year would have been their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  I hope that anniversary was celebrated, because theirs is a marriage that never broke the communion of life -- the active resister with God; the woman of faith and endurance, struggling to live daily in the presence of God.  It is a marriage consecrated to the work of peace.  It is another element of Franz Jagerstatter’s life that gives us courage.

I speak, finally, not only for myself, but also for many more whose lives have been touched by the faithful witness of Franz Jagerstatter.  It is in their name, too, that I celebrate his life and death, and it is in their name that I return to this holy place.  And it with their voice that I say, simply, Franz Jagerstatter, presente!  Franz Jagerstatter among us, truly with us!


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