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 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 notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 3, 2003

Thomas J. Gumbleton

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. "I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'" In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.

Ephesians 4:17,20-24

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; You did not so learn Christ! -- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

John 6:24-35

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat." So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

* 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.

To begin to absorb and truly understand the full impact of today's scriptures, I think it is very important that we remind ourselves of a tradition within the Roman Catholic church that is especially important to us, and that is the sacramental tradition. Sacraments are signs, material things that we can see, touch, smell or taste. But those signs have an underlying reality to them. In a few moments, we will have a baptism; we will pour water over a tiny baby. Water is a sign of refreshment, of bringing life, of growth. We can all see that sign and understand it easily. The underlying reality is that the sign of water makes something extraordinary happen. With that sign in baptism, the life of God is poured forth into that tiny infant. That child becomes a child of God with God's life.

Of course, the sign that we are especially concerned with today, besides baptism, is the bread of life. "Give us that bread," the people in the gospel said. "Give us that bread that will cause us never to be hungry again." Jesus responded, "I am that bread."

We all know how at the last supper with his closest friends, he took the sign of bread and wine -- food and drink -- and said, "This is my body. This is my blood." When we see those signs of the bread and the wine, we know there is a deeper reality. It is really Jesus. John's gospel especially focuses on this reality. Jesus is present in a very special way, a continuing way, under the form of bread and wine. When we celebrate each Sunday, when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus is present. The underlying reality is Jesus. It is not just bread and wine any longer. It is Jesus.

The sign of bread and wine, though, offers more: eating and drinking. What happens when you eat and drink? When you eat, you take bread into your body. That bread is transformed to nurture you, to become a part of you. You grow. You develop. You have health and strength and life.

Clearly then, when we eat and drink the bread and the wine that have become the body and blood of Jesus, something extraordinary is supposed to happen, and it will happen. We begin to be transformed not just because of the physical bread or the wine, the food and the drink, but because Jesus becomes more deeply alive within us and begins to transform us. Just as food is transformed into our bodies, Jesus living within us changes us, makes us more like him.

In our second lesson today, St. Paul instructed the people at Ephesus about the real effects of what can happen through baptism through the Eucharist. "You must give up your former way of living, the old self whose deceitful desires bring self destruction. Renew yourselves spiritually from the inside." Paul says that you must have a revolution in your mind, in your thinking, so that you can begin to have the mind and way of thinking of Jesus. This is what the Eucharist can do for us. It can transform us and bring about a revolution within us. When we change our thinking, that helps us to change our way of acting. The Eucharist then can helps us to become fully alive with Jesus so that we can carry on his work of making the reign of God happen in our world.

Today's lessons offer us two or three ways that we can begin to change ourselves so that we can be alive with Jesus. With his presence within us, we can begin a transformation and bring about a revolution.

One of those ways is demonstrated in our first lesson today, and in the interpretation that the Jewish people gave to what happened in the desert. They understood that the manna and the quail, even though they were natural phenomena, were food from God. They said, "God feeds us. God takes care of us. Everything we have is a gift from God." That is an attitude that we need to begin to develop within ourselves, an awareness that we are blessed. We take for granted many things in our everyday lives; we have so much, and it is all gift from God.

So often we think, "I have earned this. I deserve this, or I deserve that." Well nothing would be possible for us if God had not given us the gift of life, the gift of this world and the gift of everything that we have. So we should become people filled with thanks. In fact, the word "eucharist" means thanksgiving. So the Eucharist should remind us that we must always be thankful for the gifts God is giving us every moment.

Every day of our lives, we receive gifts from God. If God ever stopped giving, we would be nothing. The life of each of us is a gift, and everything we have is a gift. If we could only get a deeper realization of that, we would be filled with the spirit of thanks always. We would be more like Jesus.

Another detail of that first lesson that we might have missed is how Moses instructed the people: "All of this is here for you." But then he said: "Let each family take only as much as they need so that there will always be enough for everybody." That is a real revolution in thinking for most of us. We are constantly encouraged to get more, to accumulate material goods and worldly wealth, to get the newest, the latest, the best, the biggest.

Enough. The first reading tells us to take only enough. It tells us to leave some so that others can also share in the bountiful things that God has put in this world for everybody.

If we had more of that attitude, our world would change. We would not have a world where a billion people lack water, lack food, and lack proper education; we would have a world where everyone would have what he or she needs to realize their full potential as a human person.

Some of us, though, try to have much more than we need. If we let Jesus change our thinking, perhaps we will understand this lesson that was taught to those people in the desert so long ago. Yes, God gives to us everything in great plentitude. All of this, this planet, the universe, is a gift from God, but we ought to strive to not have more than we need to give us a full human life. That will require us to act in some ways against the culture in which we live. With Jesus transforming us and transforming our thinking, it could begin to happen.

There is another element to this lesson. When God provides this bounty of good things for the people, he does it for people who are not all that good. They are grumbling and complaining, speaking out against God. God does not hold that against them. God loves without condition. God gives to them in spite of their lack of goodness. This is a lesson that is important for us to learn also. We do not deserve what God gives to us. We are sinners. In spite of that, God continues to pour forth blessings upon us. God never stops loving us, no matter what we do or how we act. That is a tremendous change that must come about in our own thinking and in our own hearts.

We need to always act with that same kind of unconditional love for every person. Share what we have, in the same spirit that God shares with us. Let our love be overflowing for every person in our families, in our parish family, in our communities, in our country, and in our world. Jesus never stopped loving anyone no matter what they did or how they acted. If we would begin to have that spirit of God, which was revealed to us so fully in Jesus, a tremendous transformation wouldtake place within us. If we acted with generous, unconditional, unlimited love for every person, our whole world would begin to change.

As we look into these lessons today, it becomes clear that there is much for us to reflect on, to pray about, to continue to contemplate in order that we may more deeply understand the kind of revolution that has to take place in our thinking and in our action so that we can be genuine followers of Jesus.

How will that happen? We might be asking the question that those people asked Jesus: "I want this. What must I do?" Jesus said that they must do just one thing: "You must believe in the one whom God has sent." That is the work you must do.

So today, let us pray and stir up within ourselves a genuine faith acceptance of Jesus as the one whom God has sent, who can show us the way, who can transform us as we take his body and blood into ourselves. Believing that Jesus is the one sent by God to change us will enable us to change our world. When we believe, it will happen. Transformed by the body and blood of Jesus that we take in as we celebrate this Eucharist today, we will leave our church more fully clothed in Jesus who is the one whom God has sent to change us and to change our world.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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