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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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.)
Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
* 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 Bishops (USCC).
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
On this Catechetical Sunday, when we remind ourselves of how we have to continue to be learners and teachers of the message of Jesus, today's lessons are especially appropriate. They will guide us, but they will also challenge us.
When I was reflecting on the gospel lesson earlier this week, I happened to be in the Saginaw, Mich., diocese. I was reminded of something that happened there over 20 years ago, when the bishop for the Saginaw diocese was ordained. He was a priest from the Detroit archdiocese, a very close friend of mine, Fr. Ken Untener.
As always happens at a ceremony like that, after his ordination he was officially installed in his chair from which he was to teach, and then he stood up to preach. That is a very important sermon, as you can imagine. The new bishop wants to demonstrate to people what his role is going to be in the diocese and what they as a people of God have to be.
At the very beginning of his sermon that night, he reminded people of something that we probably all have experienced at one time or another: You are in a restaurant and a young man or a young woman comes up to you and says: "I am Christine. I am your waitress" or "I am Paul. I am your waiter." Ken said to the people then: "I am Ken. And I am your waiter." The people kind of smiled and laughed, but that was a profound way to express exactly what his role is as bishop and what the people are called to be as a community of disciples. He is to be the leader, the waiter, of all the people. As the church, they are to be leaders, waiters of the world around us, serving.
Today's gospel brings that out very powerfully. It is a lesson that those first disciples, the first church of Jesus, found hard to understand and hard to accept. Jesus wanted them to be servants of all. In fact, today's gospel marks the second time he told them how he was going to be handed over to his enemies, tortured and executed.
He had told them, too, if you want to be my disciples, deny your very selves and take up your cross and follow me; become the servant of all. They couldn't understand it. Or maybe they refused to understand it. They didn't want to accept that role, and perhaps we find it very difficult, too. But this time, to get his point across, Jesus took a little child and placed the child in their midst.
That was a very effective visual aid, because it conveyed two important ideas.
First of all, in the time of Jesus, children had no status at all. According to the civil law, they were, for all practical purposes, property. They had no control over anybody, no power over anybody. Children were sort of on the margin of the culture as far as rights were concerned. The child reminded those disciples and reminds us what Jesus insisted upon: When you are going to serve all, there has to be a preferential option for the poor. "Preferential option for the poor" is the term we use now. It is sort of a modern phrase, but it says Jesus' message very well.
If we are really going to serve all, then we have to make sure that we reach out to those who get pushed aside -- those who are marginalized, those who are looked down upon. Those are the ones we have to serve first. The most marginalized, the least of people as the world considers them: If we look around in our world, who would that be?
I can think of many examples of marginalized people. When it comes to violence, children are perhaps the most marginalized in our world. I think of war, especially. In the wars carried on during the last decade of the last century, more children than military people were war casualties. Children's lives were destroyed in huge numbers. In Iraq, who has suffered the greatest because of the two wars and the sanctions? We know that almost a million children -- think of that number, a million children -- died directly from the war or from the sanctions in a 10-year period. In our world, millions and millions of people are refugees. These people are the marginalized. They are pushed aside and hardly thought about. Tens of millions of people -- and these are the ones we should be serving.
To bring it very close to home, let me tell you about an experience I had while celebrating a confirmation ceremony yesterday at St. Aloysius Parish, which is on Washington Boulevard, one of the main streets in downtown Detroit. After the celebration, I was chatting with the pastor, and he told me about what is happening to Washington Boulevard.
At one point it was truly a boulevard, a beautiful boulevard with many shops and hotels and so on. Then a number of years ago it was changed. The boulevard was taken away. It became just a regular two-way street. After that, the neighborhood began to deteriorate. Shops closed; the hotels at either end of the boulevard closed. They have been decrepit, empty buildings for years now.
Now the city has an idea of how to redo the boulevard, make it a beautiful again, bring in new shops and reopen the hotels. But what is going to happen to the people who have, in a sense, taken over that boulevard? St. Aloysius Church has reached out to those people. There are many, many homeless people along Washington Boulevard. If you have driven down there any morning during these past couple of months, you have seen the homeless people sleeping on benches, sleeping right in front of the church, all up and down the boulevard.
Well, we can't have them there, now. The city is telling St. Aloysius Church: Don't feed them anymore. Don't have a warming center this winter where they can come in the morning to warm up with a cup of coffee. These are marginalized people, so push them away. Make them go somewhere else. Who wants them around?
Well, if we listen to today's gospel, Jesus is saying those are the ones whom we should serve: Be the servants of all, be especially like this little child who has no status, who is marginalized, who is pushed aside, who is not thought of, who is not raised up. And that is exactly what happens so often in our society.
St. Aloysius, as a church, has really been trying to reach out to those marginalized people, to serve them, to show them dignity and respect. Now they are being told they can't do that anymore. Well, they are fighting it, but they are probably going to lose. Those people will be pushed away, because, as a community, we really don't give them the respect, the love and the care that Jesus says we must if, as his church, we are going to be the servants of all.
Being the servants of the marginalized, the poorest among us, is a very real challenge. We try to meet the challenge as best we can, but we have to keep on doing better.
The other reason that the image of the child is so instructive for us today is because the child doesn't have power. A child can't order people around. Only adults can do that. Only adults have the power to coerce and dominate. Jesus says if you are going to be disciples, you have to be a servant-leader without power. If you are going to be the community of my disciples, you must give up the idea of having the power to coerce. You have to transform through love.
It is important to recognize that when you don't have power, it doesn't mean you don't have authority. Power and authority are different things. Jesus was spoken about as "a teacher with real authority." Well, authority comes from a Latin word that means "to make grow" or "to cause to increase." When you use authority through love, that's what happens. You make things grow, you cause them to increase, you transform. You don't use force and power.
So Jesus is offering up this child as an example of that -- a very good example of what is going to happen to him. He has just told his disciples: "I am going to be handed over. I will give up all power. I will be executed, but then I will draw all to myself through authority, through love."
That is very hard for us to do, but if we are going to be servant-leaders in our church, if we are going to be a church of servants, then we must give up power and violence, coercion and force. We have to try to transform the world, to serve the world and all people in the world without that kind of power, but only through love.
There are many examples of this kind of a servant-leader. Over the years, we have reflected on different examples of people who did not seek vengeance or retaliation, who chose not to use force against force or violence against violence. I was reminded of another such person this week as I was reading a book about events that took place in Algeria just a few years ago.
Algeria was part of the colonial empire of France, and there was a long struggle to drive the French out. They finally left. Then, a few years after the new government was established, a rebel force grew up that wanted to overthrow the new government. During the rebellion, foreigners came under attack. In Algeria was a Trappist monastery with community members from France who had lived in Algeria for 30 or 40 years. They really had committed themselves to the people of Algeria. But now they were under attack, as all foreigners were. Everyone told the Trappists they should leave, but the monks said: "No, we are going to stay to serve the people of Algeria. We will serve however God decides is the best way for us to serve, but we are not going to leave."
As the rebellion continued, the monks were all kidnapped and later executed. In the monastery, a testament that one of the monks, Fr. Christian de Cherge, had written for his family was discovered. This spiritual testimony was published in an Algerian newspaper after his death and moved the whole country. Here is what he wrote:
If the day comes, and it could be today, that I am a victim of the terrorism that seems to be engulfing all foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that I have dedicated myself and my life to God and to Algeria. I want them to accept that the Lord of all life was not a stranger to this savage kind of departure. I want them to pray for me wondering how I found myself worthy of such a sacrifice that they link in their memory this death of mine with all the other deaths equally violent but forgotten in their anonymity. My life is not worth more than any other: not less, not more. Nor am I an innocent child. I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around -- even that evil that might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I will hope to have the presence of mind and the time to pardon in all sincerity the one who kills me.
That is a magnificent example of being a servant of the people, of being a servant-leader. It is the ultimate example of how we are called to be a servant-church. None of us probably is ever going to be challenged to the degree Fr. Christian was, but we have to begin to build up within ourselves the spirit that would enable us always to reach out in love and service -- even to the one who is attacking. To reach out in love and service -- even to those who may be showing hatred. It is an extraordinary challenge, but that is the challenge that Jesus offers us today. His message is: If you want to be my followers, deny your very selves, pick up your cross and follow me. You must become the servant of all. Do not seek power but exercise authority through love, and reach out especially to the most marginalized.
If we can begin to do that as a church, what will happen is expressed in James' letter today: The wisdom that comes from above is peace-loving. Persons with this wisdom show understanding, and they listen to the Christ. They are full of compassion and good works. They are impartial and sincere. They become peacemakers who sow peace and reap a harvest of justice.
So when we become the servant of all, we will be sowing peace and making happen the harvest of justice.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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