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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
In their affliction, people will say, "Let us acknowledge Yahweh. Let us press on to know Yahweh. As surely as the sun rises, Yahweh will appear. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain that waters the earth."
Ephraim, what shall I do to you? Judah, what shall I do to
you? For your love is like a morning cloud, and like the dew that
disappears early. Therefore I have cut them to pieces with the prophets;
I killed them with the words of my mouth. Your judgments are like
a flash of lightning. For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and
the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Brothers and sisters, Abraham, who in hope believed against hope,
to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to
that which had been spoken, "So will your seed be." Without being
weakened in faith, he didn't consider his own body, already having been
worn out, (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's
womb. Yet, looking to the promise of God, he didn't waver through unbelief,
but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured
that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Therefore
it also was "reckoned to him for righteousness." Now it was not written
that it was accounted to him for his sake alone, but for our sake also,
to whom it will be accounted, who believe in him who raised Jesus, our
Lord, from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised
for our justification.
As Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting
at the tax collection office. He said to him, "Follow me." He got up and
followed him. It happened as he sat in the house, behold, many tax
collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher
eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard it, he said
to them, "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those
who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: 'I desire
mercy, and not sacrifice,' for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners
* 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.
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
|The beginning of our first lesson
today is from the prophet Hosea. He urges us to strive know God and says,
“Let us strive to know God; try with everything we have to know who God
is, how God connects with us, relates with us, and how we are to respond
to God -- let us try to know God.”
In each of today’s, which are actually quite short, we discover a great deal about God and about how God hopes for us to respond.
The first thing we discover is spoken immediately by Hosea himself: “God’s coming is as certain as the dawn.” Hosea is saying to us that God’s presence is as certain as the dawn. Our God isn’t a god who is remote, a god who is unreachable, or a god who is far beyond us. No, but rather, our God is as sure as the dawn.
Did any of us go to bed last night wondering if there would be a sunrise today, if the sun would come up? No, this has gone on for billions of years. We trust and believe that the sun will rise.
Well Hosea is saying that our God is very close to us and that you can be as sure of that as you can be sure that the sun will rise today, tomorrow, the next day and so on. God is right there.
So often, people will say to me, “How do you pray?” All you have to do is stop for a moment and let yourself be aware that God is here. God is right here in our midst. All we have to do is stop, become aware, and we begin to pray. We begin to relate to the God who is always present to us. We can do that anywhere, at anytime, and at any moment.
I think it’s especially helpful to do it when we come together as we do in church on a Sunday morning. We pick up the presence of God from one another. Sure we could always go off alone and pray in some remote place. God would be there, there’s no question about it. But when we come to church, others who are aware of God’s presence are with us. It’s like the energy of God moves within our community and we become more strengthened in our awareness that God is here. We begin to feel it and to know that our God is a God who is very close to us, always ready to respond to us.
Our only need is for us to stop, become aware, and speak to God.
It’s really that easy, no big secret how to pray. Simply be aware of God with you at every moment, especially, in a community of believing people.
But then, as we strive to know God, the person of Jesus, in whom God is most fully revealed, shows us something else that is so important for us. You don’t have to be a saint to come into the presence of God. In fact, it’s pretty clear from the gospel that Jesus was a lot closer to those who knew their sinfulness, who in fact were identified publicly as sinners; the tax collectors, people who were despised because they had a public role that put them outside the community of the chosen people. They cooperated with the Roman Empire and with the Roman authorities. They collected taxes for Rome. This made them excluded from God’s people. In fact, anyone similar to Jesus, who went and had a meal with them, would become unclean, unworthy to go into the temple.
But did that stop Jesus? No, he reached out to those who were looked down upon and who sometimes, perhaps, even thought poorly of themselves. Jesus reached out to them and wanted to let them know their worth, their deep goodness that God had placed within them. So our God is a God of mercy and of love; a God who reaches out to sinners, a God who forgives, and a God who heals.
It’s unusual in a way that Jesus in this passage calls himself a physician, a doctor, one who heals. He never does that when he’s doing physical healing. In fact, he tried to discourage people from always coming to him wanting miracles, wanting wonderful things to happen, making him out to be just a wonder worker. No, Jesus was interested in what was deeper. He wanted to heal us in our spirit and in our inner life. He wanted to make us know that we are loved by God.
The Pharisees objected: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus says, “Because I love them and because they are aware of their sinfulness, I am ready to help them to be healed and to grow and to be enriched with God’s life.”
Our God is a God of mercy and love. It cannot be made any clearer than Jesus makes it in today’s gospel.
And so, each one of us, if we take the time to know God, as Hosea urges us today, will come to realize how constant is God’s love and goodness and presence for everyone of us. We will also come to realize that God, in Jesus, reaches out to heal us, to lift us up, to make us whole.
But as we reflect upon these lessons and strive to know God, I think it’s important not only to do this in the context of our own personal life, which is what I’ve been speaking about to this point; how each of us can come to relate to God, to be aware that we are loved by God.
Because of what is happening in our church, I think we must also reflect upon these lessons in the light of the bishops meeting this week.
I don’t suppose any of us can be unaware that the Catholic bishops are going to meet in Dallas this week and try to confront what many people say is one of the worst crises the church has every faced; certainly in it’s history in the United States, but probably in it’s whole history.
We have to wonder, how will we come through this crisis?
The gospel lesson, I think, gives us pause and makes us wonder how well we’re going to be able as a whole church to resolve the crisis of credibility in the bishops as leaders in the church and resolve the crisis of the abuse of young people within the church.
When we think about the gospel in this context isn’t it almost automatic that we would think of the bishops, the leaders, as being like the Pharisees in today’s gospel? They’re the leaders and yet, as Jesus shows so clearly, they’re not really prepared for that leadership. It’s to them that Jesus says, “I’ve come to call sinners, not the righteous.” They were criticizing the sinners and thought themselves above and in a higher place. And Jesus says, “I came for those who are not self-righteous.”
Now I’m not suggesting that every bishop is self-righteous. You can’t make judgments about others. Yet, isn’t it true that in our church we have this hierarchy where we do have bishops who separate themselves, in a sense, from the ordinary community of the life of the church.
One very extraordinary example, it seems to me, is something I found out about just yesterday. For a number of weeks now, the victims of this abuse within the church have been negotiating with the bishops to be able to come to the meeting and speak forth their pain and their hurt. Doesn’t that seem strange that in a community of people who are supposed to be fully equal in dignity in the church that people have to negotiate as though you’re in some kind of extreme sort of litigation -- that you have to negotiate just to come and speak.
It seems to me that the Jesus who is revealed in the Gospel wouldn’t wait a moment to say, “Come.” He would go to them. He wouldn’t make them negotiate.
And then, as I found out yesterday, they received a letter saying, “No, we’re not going to allow you to speak at our meeting.” That seems so cruel and so wrong. It’s not the Jesus who’s revealed in the gospel today, who reaches out to anyone who is victimized, who reaches out to those who are hurt and to those who are the humble ones.
Our bishops say, “No, we’re going to meet among ourselves.” We’ll listen to some people, but we’re not going to enter into conversation and have genuine interaction and real deep relationships with one another.
To me, that’s a terrible failure.
And it’s also reflected in what Jesus says to the Pharisees. He’s actually quoting Hosea from the first lesson today. “Look, don’t you know I want mercy. I want love rather than sacrifice.” Now he doesn’t mean by that that he’s rejecting the idea of personal sacrifice. You know how Jesus said, “There’s no greater love than this; to give yourself for another; give your life for another, sacrifice yourself for another.”
No, it’s not that.
It’s the holocaust, the ritual sacrifice that Jesus is talking about. “I want love and mercy, not that ritual that can be so empty.” And here, too, I see how, as a church or the leadership within the church, so often we’re more concerned about the ritual, the form, and the formality.
Look at some of the regulations that just came from Rome a short time ago about our ritual. You know it seems so absurd, but they have rules like: ‘The priest at the altar should not leave the sanctuary area during the time of the greeting of peace.’ We’d be doing major mistakes every week if we abided by that. But that’s the sort of thing our leaders are concerned about -- how carefully you follow the rules.
That’s why the sinners were being rejected by the Pharisees. They weren’t following the whole torah -- the rule of God -- in all of its extreme complexities. And so they were being rejected by the Pharisees.
I almost have the sense that that’s what our bishops are like. They’re interested in the torah, the rule, and all the legalities. And their interaction with these victims is all on the basis of legalities and not mercy.
Jesus says, “I want mercy and love, not simply rules for there own sake; not ritual for its own sake. If it’s that way, it’s empty.” There’s nothing more important than love and mercy. And if the quality of your relationships is very poor and you think that because you celebrate a ritual that that makes you OK with God, Jesus is saying you’re wrong.
I’m afraid that in our church we’ve gotten to this point where our leaders too often are concerned with ritual, with torah, with law; and not with mercy and not with love.
And so as we move toward this meeting in Dallas this week, obviously, it’s very important for all of us to pray, to pray for our bishops, to pray for the leadership of our church, that there can be some sort of conversion, some change, and that we won’t simply try to deal with all of these questions and all of these cases of abuse in a simple legal way, but that we’ll do it with mercy and love and compassion. What a difference that could make in our church.
It would take, I think, a great conversion for this meeting truly to have a fruitful outcome. We must pray and we must try to pray with real faith.
Abraham gave us an extraordinary example of what it means to trust and to believe. He had no sense of how God could fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham and Sarah, but he never stopped believing that God could do it and would do what God promised.
And this week, as we pray for our bishops, I’m not asking us to have trust in them, necessarily, in their leadership, our leadership, but rather to put all of our trust in God. This is a hard time for our church. It is a real crisis and it will come to a resolution where we can be a better church and a spiritually richer church, a church more filled with the spirit of love and compassion and mercy. But it will not be because of our human efforts alone, it will because of God.
Your trust and my trust can be in the God in whom Abraham believed; the God who is always faithful and will always fulfill what this God promises. And our God, in Jesus, promised to be with us always. So even, if at first, it seems that there’s not a good outcome to our meeting this week, continue to trust that God is with us and with the church and that God will bring us to a richer, fuller awareness of who we are as a community of disciples of Jesus; that our church will be healed through that power, that goodness and the love of God.
Again, Hosea tells us, “Strive to know God.” And so I urge all of us today to try to know God, to know this God who is love and who is mercy and compassion and forgiveness; to be aware that this God is always present to us and to trust that this God will heal every one of us and also bring healing to our church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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