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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come
down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it
fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the
one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word
shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for
which I sent it.
Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present
time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at
length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed,
some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell
on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because
the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered
for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew
up and choked it.
The disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them
in parables?" He said to them in reply, "Because knowledge of the
mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them
it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and
he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken
"But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because
they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
"Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is
the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and
the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed
sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once
with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When
some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately
falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears
no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the
word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or
sixty or thirtyfold."
* 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
obvious from the scriptures this morning that God wants us to understand
about Godís word. How effective is that word? First of all,
as Isaiah tells us, ďItís like the rain that comes down from heaven, waters
the soil, softens it, and prepares for the plants to break forth to grow
up.Ē And just as that rain cannot come down without soaking the earth,
so Godís word isnít proclaimed without having its effect. Itís a
And Jesus, of course, compares it to that seed that was sown very abundantly and almost carelessly and falls in many different places. But then some seed falls on the good ground and grows and produces fruit in an amazing way. Ten times would have been more than any farmer would have expected, but thirty times, sixty times, and one hundred times is more than we can imagine. The word of God is a very important powerful gift in our lives -- if we let it be that.
I thought, perhaps, that in order to help us understand the importance of the word of God, we might remind ourselves of what that word of God is intended to do. It is to make us into a people, a church, and a community of Godís people.
In the paschal letter that the Catholic bishops wrote almost twenty years ago about peace and how to build peace in the world, they reminded us in the last part of that letter of what the church really is and what we are as the people of God:
ďMembership in that body has for its source a particular call united with the saving action of grace. Therefore, if we wish to keep in mind this community of the people of God which is so vast and so extremely differentiated, we must see first and foremost Jesus proclaiming the Word, in a way, to each member of the community.
The word Jesus says is, ďFollow me.Ē And it is the community of disciples, each of whom, in different ways at times, very consciously and constantly, and at other times, not very consciously and very constantly, that is following Christ. It is the community.
In the following pages of this letter, we should like to spell out so of the implications of being a community of Jesusí disciples. In a time when our nation is so heavily armed with nuclear weapons and is engaged in a continuing development of new weapons together with strategies for their useÖĒ
What we were saying in that paschal letter is that all of us are the community of the disciples of Jesus in a particular time and in a particular place and, therefore, with a very particular work that we must do., But we only become that community of disciples of Jesus through the word proclaimed in our midst.
I remember when I was growing up, and some of you will remember this too, that we used divide the Mass into the part that was at the beginning and then what we called the three principle parts. And if you didnít get there for the three principle parts, which started at the offertory, then you missed Mass. But you could miss the whole first part, all of the scripture readings and everything, and you still heard Mass. We so underestimated the importance of the word of God. Now, we highlight the liturgy of the Word and we all are invited to hear that word, because itís so important in making us the community of disciples of Jesus; that is, if we listen to the word, let it form us, let it guide us and, if, as we prayed in the opening prayer, we donít reject anything that comes to us from the gospel but, reject everything that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus.
In the first lesson today, Isaiah was proclaiming that word of God at a time when the chosen people were in exile. They had lost everything. In fact, thereís a prayer in the book of Daniel that described it so well. This is during the time of the exile when the people had been driven out of their own land. Daniel prays, ďLord, see, we have become the least among the nations in all the world, we are humiliated because of our sins. At this time, we no longer have a king or priest or leader. We cannot offer you holocausts, sacrifices, offerings or incense. We have no place to present to you the first fruits of our crops and so obtain your favor. But, at least, when we present ourselves with a contrite soul and humbled spirit, may we then be acceptable to you.Ē
The only thing they had was the word of God. Their synagogues, their temple, all their ritual sacrifices, everything was gone. But the word of God was still in their midst. And it was that word of God that Isaiah was talking about when he said, ďGod pronounces his word and God is going to regroup us, reform us, bring us back. And you can believe in that and trust in that because Godís word never fails.Ē
The word of God. We as a church must open ourselves and hear that word proclaimed week after week. If only we would do this with consistency, this word of God would form us into the community of disciples that we are called to be. I can think of a couple of examples in modern times where the church had the opportunity to be really formed in the word of God. In one case, it totally failed and, in the other case, heard that word and became a vibrant community of Godís disciples.
The failure happened back in 1933, a very important moment in the history of our world. Itís when Hitler had just taken power in Germany. At that point, he had no legitimacy and he could have been stopped -- with all of the ideology of Hitler that was so cruel and violent and so destructive of everything that is human.
But in 1933, Cardinal Pacelli, who was the secretary of state at the time and later became Pope Pius XII, entered into a concordat with Hitler. It was like a treaty between the Vatican state and Germany. And the reason the Vatican did this and why Cardinal Pacelli did it was because Hitler promised that he would not destroy the churches, buildings like this. He would let the catholic schools continue to exist and even be funded by the state. So in order to keep those structures, churches, buildings, schools and properties, the Vatican entered into this concordat which then legitimized Hitler and really allowed him to begin to take control of Germany and move on toward World War II and all of the violence and killing that that brought.
The failure was to think that the church couldnít exist without buildings. But, it could. You donít need buildings to be the church. You donít even need schools to be the church. What you do need is the word of God. But when you enter into a concordat with Hitler like that, itís almost like your saying we wonít challenge you. And the church did not challenge.
And so the German Catholics went along. It was a terrible failure. But it was all because, somehow, leaders in the church thought: We need buildings, we need wealth, and we need schools and so on. But we donít. What we need is the word of God. And if communities would gather together every week and listen to the word of God, and let that form them, guide them, and direct them, we could become the community of disciples that weíre supposed to be.
Now, on a different occasion when a leader understood this was in El Salvador back in the 1970ís and 1980ís. Archbishop Oscar Romero refused even to rebuild his cathedral which was falling down. He said, ďThatís not the church. The people are the church. And the people need those resources. Iím not going to put them into a building.Ē Archbishop Romero allowed for the formation of what we call base communities, small groups of people gathering together with what they called a delegate of the word. They would reflect upon the scriptures. And it formed them into small communities of Christians who understood what God was saying to them through Jesus and through the word of God. It became a very vibrant church.
El Salvador is a tiny country and so, every Sunday, when Archbishop Romero preached in his cathedral, which was falling down, his word went out through the whole country over the radio and everybody listened. They were being formed in this word of God and became a vibrant church that understood that they had to be a community of Christian disciples of Jesus. And they knew what that meant.
One of the Jesuits who was murdered in 1989, proclaimed it this way. He said, ďWhat we are is a people of the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that proclaims the reign of God and that calls us to transform this world into as close an image of that reign of God as possible.Ē They understood what it meant to be disciples of Jesus. You proclaim Godís reign, justice and peace and goodness and love and you give your whole life to try to transform the world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.
Look at Archbishop Romero with no human resources -- they had no wealth. They were the poor of that country. But they were the church, they were formed by the word of God and they were bringing about justice and trying to bring about an end to the violence that was destroying so many people in that country. And, eventually, it happened. They did find peace.
I hope we can learn from those two examples in human history. One, where there was a terrible failure of the church, where we thought we needed wealth and resources and earthy power. The other, where people understood, ďNo, we need only Godís word.Ē Thatís all we need to become Godís people.
But, of course, this puts a responsibility upon us doesnít it. You heard what Jesus says in the gospel. You have to be the good ground, you have to be open, and you have to be ready to listen. And you have to do that consistently and regularly.
We canít come for one Sunday and miss for four and expect to really be formed by Godís word. If we canít come, we should at least reflect on the word during the week so that as a community of people we all grow together in our understanding of Godís word. And that will make us then disciples of Jesus.
And it doesnít take much imagination for us to realize how important it is that we become a real community of disciples of Jesus in the world in which we live. As was mentioned in that pastoral letter, we live in the midst of a nation that is heavily armed with nuclear weapons, developing strategies for their continued use; the most terrible violence that could ever be perpetrated. We live in a world that, as we understand so clearly now, is overwhelmed with greed and goes totally against what Jesus says. Our whole economic system is in jeopardy because of greed. Weíre not really formed in Godís word; the word that is written in the scriptures, but also the word that is Jesus.
I hope that as we reflect on the scriptures today and the power of Godís word and what it can do, if only we open ourselves to it, I hope that we will make the commitment, each of us, that we will try every week to listen deeply to Godís word. To let it be the formative influence in our lives; not the things we hear on television, not the things we hear from the movies, not the things we hear on advertisements, not the things that come from our culture all around us. But that we listen to Godís word consistently and let that word enter deeply into our hearts and be that good soil. And then you can be sure because Godís word canít lack effectiveness. You can be sure that that word will begin to form each of us individually, but also as a community of disciples. And we can begin to transform this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. It sounds like an impossible task and yet, as Jesus said, ďThe word of God will produce fruit, not just ten times but thirty times, sixty times, one hundred times.Ē Thereís no limit to what can happen if only we listen to the word of God and let that be the guiding influence in our lives.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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