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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.
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 The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
November 25, 2001 

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

2 Samuel 5:1-3

Then came all the tribes of Israel to David in Hebron, and spoke, saying, "Behold, we are your bone and your flesh.  In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you that led the Israelites out and brought them back.  And the Lord  said to you, 'You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'"  So all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them in Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

Colossians 1:12-20

Let us give thanks to the Father, who made you fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him. He is before all things, and in him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from
the dead; that in all things he himself might be preeminent.  For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to
reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens. 

Luke 23:35-43

And the rulers scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen."

The soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself." And there was also an inscription over him that said, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." 

Now one of the criminals that was hanging there railed on him, saying, "Are not you the Christ? Save yourself and us."  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not fear God, seeing you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.  But this man has done nothing amiss."  And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  And
he replied to him, "Verily I say to you, today shall you be with me in Paradise." 

* 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).


You may remember two weeks ago that I read part of a letter from a young woman in New York City whose brother had been killed in the destruction of the World Trade Towers. She described how her family went through a kind of grief and pain you cannot really put into words. She also described how they spent a lot of time talking with each other, trying to come to some common understanding of how they should react - with hatred and violence or with a spirit of forgiveness.  They couldn’t come to total consensus.  But some of them got to the point where she wrote in the letter “My youngest sister feels that in the face of this horrible evil the only way to change people is to show them love not more evil.” Christ like, yes, foolish and naïve in human terms, no, not when you really think of it.”

     Then she went on a little further, “Personally, I adamantly oppose the bombing.  I have no other argument than it is not Christ like.  I do not know what Christ would do in these current times, but I am certain that he would not advocate the bombing of anyone.  The deepest, truest part of our collective heart knows this truth. You and I and my family live in a very human world, however, so how can we reach this true place?” 

     And then she comes to a kind of point in the letter because she wrote it before the bishops’ meeting was to take place. “One stumbling block seems to be the lack of choices given the American public concerning our response to September 11.  Our country sees no other way because we have been presented with no other way.  And this is my urgent request of the bishops: Can you begin the discussion of the other way, Christ’s way?  Can you help provide moral guidance to a majority that is supporting, voicing support for a bombing campaign?”

     Well I took that letter to the bishops’ meeting and I shared parts of it with the whole body of bishops as we were discussing what should be the response of our church of the community of the disciples of Jesus to the violence that had been perpetrated against us.  And I wish could tell you that the whole body of bishops said, “Yes, we really need to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus.”  But, as you know, they didn’t do that. Instead, publicly, in a formal statement, the bishops of the United States support the bombing and the warlike response. 

     I’m suggesting to all of us, today, that if we really listen deeply to today’s scripture lessons, we will discover that what this young woman wrote is really the way of Jesus and that there is no other way if we want to be faithful to Jesus Christ. 

     First of all, and this is the real challenge to our faith, in considering these lessons today, look at what Paul wrote to that church at Colossae, a community of Christian disciples like ourselves.  He was trying to show them who Jesus really is, “Son of God empowered.”  It’s a magnificent statement about Jesus that deserves our constant reflection when we really say that we follow Jesus.  This Jesus “rescued us from the power of darkness, transferred us into the kingdom of God, in him we are redeemed and forgiven.”  Then he goes on to describe who Jesus is, “the image of the invisible God.”  Jesus, here among us, is who God is. 

     If you want to understand God in our world, if you really want to know who God is, then you look at Jesus.  He’s the image of the invisible God.  In him all things were created. Jesus is before all of the universe, before time.  Paul is saying that Jesus is responsible for creation.  All was made through him and for him.  He is before all and everything holds together in him.  He sustains all of us, every moment of our life.  “Jesus is God,” that’s what Paul is saying.  He is the first raised from the dead that he may be the first in everything. 

     And so, through faith, we begin to have a clear grasp of who Jesus is.  But can we really accept this that Jesus Christ, born of Mary, lived in our world and is Son of God empowered? 

     But then, as Paul concludes that passage, he reminds us that through Jesus God willed to reconcile all things to himself and through him.  That through his blood shed on the cross, God establishes peace on earth and in heaven. 

     That’s what we need to know about Jesus.  He is the son of God and yet he came into this world and became one of us in every way except sin.  Jesus came to establish God’s peace here on earth. 

     It reminds me of the words we say at the Eucharist in the preface:  Almighty and ever powerful God, it is well that we give thanks to you always.  In Jesus, your son, you have renewed all things and you have given us all a share in his riches.  Though his nature was divine, he stripped himself of glory and by shedding his blood on the cross he brought his peace to the world. 

     This draws us into the gospel lesson today.  And again this is a very profound challenge to our faith.  Are we going to except Jesus, Son of God empowered?  But also the Jesus who is hanging on the cross with people jeering at him and mocking him.  Jesus, who is in every human way totally powerless, being tortured, being executed as a criminal? 

     That’s Jesus Christ, Son of God.  This is what our faith challenges us to accept. 

     And as he’s hanging there, being executed, suffering indescribable agony, what does he do?  He prays, “God forgive them.”  The very ones who are putting him to death, he prays for them and asks God, “Forgive them.”  This is how Jesus, by shedding his blood on the cross, brings his peace to the world.  It’s by reaching out in love and forgiveness and reconciliation to the very ones who torment him, who do violence against him, who kill him.  He reaches out in forgiveness.

     Could it be any clearer to us?  The message that God is telling us:  If you want to establish peace on earth, the way of Jesus is the way of peace, forgiveness, love and reconciliation, and there is no other way.

     It all seems so clear when you listen to the Gospel.  The criminal hanging next to Jesus suddenly had an insight of faith which I hope all of us will have this morning, the same profound insight.  Suddenly, that man hanging on the cross recognized that this is the Son of God.  He recognized what Jesus was doing, that Jesus was changing our world dramatically, showing us a whole new way to bring peace and justice, to make the reign of God happen. 

     It’s by forgiveness and love that that man recognized the Son of God in the criminal who was powerless and yet who was demonstrating a power that goes beyond any human power, the power of love.  Jesus was showing that everything could be changed through the power of love and through nothing else. 

     Don’t we have to ask ourselves, “Why can we not hear this message?  Why do we keep resisting it?”  It seems so clear.  That criminal on the cross saw it.  He was ready to recognize Jesus and say, “I’ll follow you.  Bring me into paradise with you.”  That’s what we have to try to say this morning, that we want to follow Jesus.

     I find it so troubling that we say so readily, “Well there aren’t any alternatives.  You have to do it the way we’re doing it.” And yet we don’t always say that.  Our own government leaders who say, “We must bomb and destroy in order to bring peace,” also say to the Israelis and the Palestinians, “No more bombing, no more killing, negotiate.  That’s the only way you’re going to resolve your conflict.”  And it’s true.  It’s the only way they will resolve it. 

     We sent one of our prominent leaders over to Ireland, Senator George Mitchell, because of the violence there.  And we say to both sides, “No, don’t try to resolve your problems through bombing and killing and terrorism.  Negotiate, reach out to forgive, to love.” 

     So in other circumstances, our government leaders seem to be able to understand it.  Yet, you wonder what it is in this instance that blocks us. 

     Perhaps it is a deep sense of wanting to get even, retaliation.  Or perhaps there’s some hidden agenda about wanting to get control of another very large oil resource over there in that area, east of the Middle East. 

     Maybe there is a hidden agenda.  But whatever it is, somehow, when it comes to ourselves, we are not able to say that the way of Jesus is the only way to bring peace, through nonviolence, to forgiveness, through love. 

     There are of course others who have discovered that this is the way. 

     If you read in the Acts of the Apostles, right at the beginning of the church, Stephen imitated Jesus extraordinarily as he was being stoned to death.  He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”  Or in our own time, Oscar Romero proclaimed, “As a shepherd, I am obliged by divine mandate to give my life for those I love, that is, for those who may be going to kill me.”  The first ones he thinks of: “Those who may be going to kill me.  I give my life for them.”

     Some people seem to have heard the message of Jesus and are ready to follow it. 

     Today, I believe that our scripture lessons challenge us to discover more deeply who Jesus really is, the Son of God empowered, but also the one hanging on the cross reaching out in love and forgiveness.  We must not only, in faith, discover who Jesus is, but we also must pray for the courage, each of us, to follow him in every way possible in our daily lives, where we work, where we go to school, where we mingle in our neighborhoods. But also, as a nation, we need to follow the way of Jesus in order to bring his peace to the world. 

     The first lesson today gives us a kind of final picture to take with us of how we might be able to come up with that faith and that courage to follow Jesus.  All of those tribes who had been fighting with one another came together and discovered in each other, “You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  We unite now, we are one people.” 

     Well, this morning, we gather around this altar, we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and we become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and are united with one another in a beautiful and powerful way.  Perhaps, as we celebrate this Eucharist today and acknowledge that we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, we will be able to summon up within us the faith and the courage to follow this Jesus with whom we are so deeply united in this Eucharist. 

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

[Editorial Note:  A letter follows that was distributed by Bishop Gumbleton at his parish church last Sunday.]

Dear Friends,

     Today is the Feast of Christ the King.  This is a relatively new feast in the Church's calendar, and one that gives a very ambiguous message about Jesus.  Obviously, those who established this feast in the early 20th century felt that such a feast would be an appropriate way to honor Jesus.  Historically kings and queens are considered to be important personages, deserving of special honor.  Usually they are thought of as people with power and wealth.  But the Gospels make clear that Jesus rejected the idea of being a king, or anything like a king.  One time when, in their enthusiasm for him, the crowds were intending to declare him their king, he slipped away and hid from them.

     Jesus makes it very clear that any excess wealth is not what he wants.  He prefers to be poor and to be among the poor and to support the poor.  When it comes to power and prestige, Jesus shows us a the last supper that he chooses instead to be a servant, in fact, a slave.  He washes his disciples feet!

     And clearly he does not want to rule over anybody, or, in his words, "lord it over" anyone.  When the disciples were arguing about who would have the place of power ~ sit at his right hand ~ he become angry at them for so misunderstanding his message.  "Among the pagans," he told them, "those in authority lord it over the others, but among you it cannot be that way.  Instead those who lead must be the servants of all."  Clearly Jesus rejects any "kingship."  Why then, do we insist on calling him King and even have a feast to celebrate him as a king?

     Is it because we really do not want to hear his message?  If he is a king then, our attachment to wealth, prestige and power do not seem so wrong.  It is much easier to follow a king and to be at ease with our going after wealth and prestige and power than to be as "the servant of all" and to be in solidarity with the poor and powerless.

     Maybe through prayer and God's help we can choose to follow Jesus despite the contradictions presented by this feast day.

Bishop Gumbleton

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