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The Peace Pulpit
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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First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

For you, Lord, are our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is your name. O Lord, why do you let us err from your ways, and harden our heart from your fear? Return for your servants' sake, the tribes of your inheritance. Oh that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence, while you did terrible things which we didn't look for, such as they had not heard from of old.  No ear has ever heard, neither has the eye seen a God besides you, who works for him who waits for him. You meet him who rejoices and works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways: behold, you were angry, and we sinned. For we are all become as one who is unclean, and all our righteousness are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is none who calls on your name, who stirs up himself to take hold of you; for you have hid your face from us, and have consumed us by means of our iniquities. Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Brothers and sisters, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything you were enriched in him, in all speech and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will keep you firm until the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples,"Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don't know when the time is. It is like a man, traveling to another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, and to each one his work, and also commanded the doorkeeper to keep watch. Watch therefore, for you don't know when the lord of the house is coming, whether at evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he might find you sleeping. What I tell you, I tell all: Watch."

* 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.

As I mentioned before Mass, we celebrate today the beginning of Advent and also the beginning of the new church year. This is the day when we start to remember and review, once more, the whole cycle of our relationship with creation, with one another and with God through the liturgical year of the church. If we listen very deeply to the lessons, I think we will have a deeper understanding of what Advent is and why we celebrate this season and also about the new year that we begin today. Not the calendar year, not the new fiscal year, or the new academic year but the new year of the church. 

     Advent, as probably most of us know, is a time of waiting, a time of preparation, a time to get ready.

     But for what?

     We might first think that it’s to get ready for Christmas. That’s what our culture is preparing for now. You see it everyplace you go in the advertisements and all of the attention that is given to this holiday and holy day.

     But Advent is much more than just getting ready for Christmas. The birth of Jesus happened 2,000 years ago. Or perhaps, especially as we listen to the gospel, we might think it’s a time to get ready for the end of the world. And, in a way, Advent is that. It’s a time to be aware that the world in which in we live will come to an end. Each of us will end our lives in death. 

     But neither of these things is really what we’re waiting for. They enter into it, but what we really are waiting for is the reign of God. The reign of God, the time when all of creation, all of the peoples on the earth, everyone, will live according to God’s way, will live subject to God’s will, will live in a way that there will be justice and fullness of life for every person on our planet. The reign of God is a time when there will be genuine peace. 

     We’re waiting for that fullness of the reign of God to happen.

     And that’s what Advent is really about. That we prepare for the reign of God, that we prepare ourselves even now to enter into the reign of God as we live each day of our lives.

     And that’s why this new year is so important, because the church’s year shows us that we have a larger purpose than simply measuring time as it goes by as the calendar year does; or simply being concerned about our wealth as we measure the fiscal year; or even about our intellectual growth as we measure the academic year. The church’s year reminds us that we have a relationship to God and to all of creation. And the church year helps us to review the whole history of God’s interaction with the human race.

     From the very beginning, God was very involved with the people on earth. We know that from our Hebrew scriptures. In today’s first lesson, we have an example of how the chosen people, with whom God had made a special covenant, experienced suffering, turmoil and difficulty. In fact, they lived at a time when according to the way Isaiah describes it, “Why have you made us stray from your ways, why have you let our hearts become hard so that we do not fear you? Return into our midst for the sake of your servants. Why have irreligious peoples invaded your sanctuary, why have our enemies trampled it down? Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, the mountains would quake at your presence.” 

     The people pleaded for God to come more fully into their lives because they lived in the midst of such suffering, violence, and hate. They begged for God to come more deeply into their midst, to rend the heavens, tear the heavens apart and come be among them.

     It would not be hard for us, I think, to understand deeply their experience. We live in time of history where we, too, are surrounded by violence, hatred, and killing. We’re preparing for war. It’s almost inevitable that we will do this. But we also experience terrorism and read about it. 

     In our own nation, we experience killings every day, we have more violence in this country than any other nation in the world.

     And so we, too, like those people of old, can cry out with sincerity, “Rend the heavens, oh God, and come down into our midst.” 

     And the new liturgical year helps us to remember that God in the past has always entered into the midst of God’s people. In fact, in a very special way, as St. Mark points out in his gospel.

     Earlier in the gospel passage that we read today, Mark describes the baptism of Jesus and he uses those very words of Isaiah and says, “God rendered the heavens asunder and came down on Jesus through the spirit.” And so God entered into our world in that very special way in Jesus and that’s, too, what we review during our church year; how Jesus came into our midst, how Jesus came to proclaim the reign of God and to say that the reign of God is already happening; it’s in your midst right now. All you need to do is be converted, change your lives. The reign of God happens.

     In our liturgical year, we go through the life of Jesus and we come to understand how we are drawn into that life of Jesus through our baptism and our confirmation. We re-celebrate the life of Jesus every week when we gather for the Eucharist. The life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus are made present in our midst even as we celebrate each Sunday.

     And so the liturgical year helps us to know how God comes into our midst, helps us to understand that our lives have a time frame that’s bigger again than the calendar year, or the fiscal year, or the academic year. It’s a time frame that draws us into eternity itself, into the very presence of God as God comes into our midst.

     One of the most important things that the liturgical year reminds us of is that we’re not simply waiting for the end of the world, for the reign of God to come in its fullness. The reign of God can come into the life of anyone of us at any moment. Once we open ourselves to the coming of Jesus, Jesus will enter our lives and then we can live according to that time frame of the reign of God. And we can experience the very special blessings that come from living within the reign of God and according to the reign of God. We will experience peace and joy, even in the midst of suffering and death. If we enter into it, even now, we will find a serenity and a calmness in our lives that we would not have otherwise.

     But to enter into the reign of God means that we must follow the way that Jesus teaches. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who forgive. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers. If we’re going to enter into the reign of God, we must live according to the teachings of Jesus, “You have heard it was said of old, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ I say to you, “Love your enemy, do good to the one who hurt you.”

     Is it possible really for any of us to live this way of Jesus? 

     It might seem beyond us I think. How could you really forgive someone who acted hatefully toward you, who did violence against you or someone you love? How can you really move away from the culture of wealth in which we live, where everybody aspires to get as much as possible of material wealth? Is it possible to live the way of Jesus, to let the reign of God happen in my life? I tell you it is. It is possible.

     If we truly enter into this new church year and if we really try to understand what it means that Jesus comes into our world, that Jesus comes and proclaims the reign of God and invites us to enter into it, if we follow the whole church, through the coming of Jesus, his growing up, his public live, his preaching, his calling together the community of disciples, his crucifixion and his resurrection, if we follow this church year with faithfulness and with great fervor and faith and prayer, we will find ourselves being drawn into the reign of God and extraordinary things could happen in our lives.

     Just this past week, a friend of mine called up and this is somebody that I know has entered into the reign of God and lives this way. You know what he wanted to do or what he was asking me about? He’s published 12 books and so he has many royalties coming in.  And he’s concerned about the burden of wealth. He wants to be poor, and so he is sending a check for $100,000. He doesn’t want wealth. He wants that money to be used for services to the poor. Blessed are the poor. He’s going to try to be simple in meeting his needs and live with that kind of simplicity. I know that he will and already does experience the blessings of the reign of God.

     It can also happen, if we truly do love our enemies and forgive them. 

     I just read an article about an extraordinary woman, Mamie Till Mobley. You might remember, some of us at least, back in 1955, Emmet Till (Mamie Mobley’s son), a young black youngster from Chicago, had gone to visit relatives in Mississippi.  This was when there was extraordinary prejudice and hatred against black people throughout our country, but especially perhaps in the South. He was murdered, brutally, this 14 year old boy. It’s probably one of the things that really kicked off the Civil Rights movement back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

     But his mother, who is still living, the story I read was about her. A book is being published about the whole event and a movie.  But she says this, “I have not spent one minute hating. No,” she says, “I really have no idea what I would have done if I had not believed in God and called on God for help. I know when God’s presence filled my room and God told me that Emmet was not mine, that Emmet was God’s and that I should have been thankful to have had him, that he was down here to do a job and he had done it well. God sent Jesus so that people might have a choice between eternal life and eternal damnation. My son, Emmet, came so that people might have peace and freedom here on earth.” 

     And so she says about her grief, “I can let it go, even though I cry sometimes.” But instead of hating, she has counseled thousands of children in poor neighborhoods. She says, “The Lord told me, ‘I’ve taken one, but I shall give you thousands in these troubled times.’” 

     And so Mrs. Mobley lives in peace in spite of the horrendous thing that happened in her life. She has come to live in the reign of God.

     Now that’s what can happen to any of us. And, again, I urge us to enter fully into this new church year, to enter into the season of Advent, which is a time of preparation for the fullness of God’s reign. And we can make the reign of God begin to happen in my life right now, if I enter deeply into the new seasons of this year and go prayerfully through the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus and make it my own. Become a more full member of the community of his disciples and commit myself to change, transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. When each one of us does this, when we celebrate the new year this way, when we celebrate Advent this way, when we commit ourselves to enter into the reign of God by living according to the way of Jesus, we will come to know the peace and the joy that flows to anyone who enters into God’s reign of justice and peace.

     In a moment, we will witness Marie’s confirmation and so that’s a moment when each one of us will commit ourselves once more to be a faithful follower of Jesus and his way, to make the reign of God happen in our lives and to help bring about the fullness of God’s reign in our world.

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

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