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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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 The First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2001 

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.  All nations shall flow unto it, and many peoples shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths."   For out of Zion shall go
forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And he will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they train for war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. 

Romans 13:11-14

Knowing the season, it is now the  time for you to awake from sleep. For now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and wantonness, not in rivalry and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the desires of the flesh. 

Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For, as in those days which were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark.   They knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.  So shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men shall be in the field; one is taken, and one is left.  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left.  Watch therefore, for you know not on what day your Lord will come.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken into. Therefore, you must be ready; for in an hour that you think not the Son of Man will come." 

* 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).


Of the three meanings of Advent in todayís scriptures, we hear especially about the final coming of Jesus, a moment that could happen when we least expect.  But also, and I think itís a special emphasis of todayís reading, we hear about how important it is to make ready for the coming of Jesus into our own hearts, to become alive again with Jesus born within us.  Itís understood most effectively in the words of Saint Paul when he tells us, ďPut on the Lord Jesus. Be ready to be filled with him.Ē 

     Paul is thinking of how people at the time of the early church were baptized by going down into the water, being submerged, and then coming up and putting on fresh and new garments.  That was a sign that they had put on the Lord Jesus. 

     Today, as we reflect on our scriptures, I hope that we will come to a deeper realization of what it means to put on the Lord Jesus, to make it happen that Jesus comes alive again in our hearts, and that we become fully committed to him and follow his way.  This can happen if we begin to reflect deeply on the lessons of today. 

     We start with the passage from Isaiah, when he proclaimed a message about peace and how there would be no more war.  People would give up their weapons and not just set them aside with the expectation that they might be used again, but that they would transform those weapons into instruments that would be for giving life only, that is, where making peace really happens in our world.  Swords would be turned into plowshares; weapons would be turned into pruning hooks and instruments for building up life. 

     Isaiah proclaimed that message at a time when he and his people were living in the midst of terrible violence.  Itís about eight centuries before the coming of Jesus. The Northern Kingdom of the chosen people had been overrun by the Assyrian armies and there was a great threat to the Southern Kingdom that they, too, would be overrun.  So people were saying, ďWe have to arm ourselves.  We have to prepare for war.  We have to respond to violence with violence.Ē And Isaiah said, ďNo, that is not Godís ways.  That is not the way God wants us to go, into the way of violence.Ē  Instead, Isaiah invites everyone to come to Godís mountain where God will teach Godís ways, the ways of peace. 

     Certainly, this is a passage that speaks very directly to us.  The time in which we live is a time of crisis, a time of violence, a time of extraordinary killing and destruction. The important point of that lesson as we put it into the context of our own time is whether we are going to go to Godís mountain, to hear Godís word, to learn Godís ways, to give up our violence, our intention to go to war, and follow only Godís ways. 

     It seems so clear to me that we have taken a great amount of time and effort to learn the ways of war.  We have become the nation that has the most sophisticated weapons that have ever been created, ever built to wage war.  We have weapons of extraordinary destructive power.  We have an armament or an arsenal of weapons that surpasses anything that has ever happened in all of human history.  We have surely learned the ways of war and we can wage war with great exceptional ability.  Weíre very good at waging war, but have we learned about the ways of peace? 

     What has happened because we have learned to wage war?  Have these ways of wars really brought us peace? 

     We built up this arsenal over many years.  Yet, the result, I think, is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in that famous sermon he preached in Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he died.  He warned the people of the United States.  He said, ďAny nation that continues to build up arsenals of war and weapons of destruction instead of using their resources for programs of social uplift is a nation approaching spiritual death.Ē 

     We are coming close to destroying ourselves spiritually and, with the kind of weapons that we have, we are also coming close to destroying our whole world. 

     Back in 1983, as you know, the Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter about nuclear weapons.  In that letter, we point out so clearly how we are approaching spiritual death as a people.  We point out that with the weapons we now have, we are in a certain way making a declaration against God.  Because with these weapons, we are saying to God who has made the whole universe and made this beautiful planet of ours out of Godís creative love, ďWe can destroy everything you have made.Ē 

     Thatís a kind of arrogance, an assault almost against God that brings us very close to spiritual death.  Does it not seem so to you?  For any people to do this and say to God in a sense, ďWe can reverse your power of creative love.  We can destroy it, all that you have made.Ē 

     One writer has pointed out that even if you donít believe in God and you donít believe that youíre approaching spiritual death by what you are doing, remember this: This beautiful planet that took four billion, six hundred million years to come to the point of itís fulfillment in beauty where we are now, all of it could be gone in a half hour. 

     So, as we approach spiritual death, we also make it possible that we could end human life and the world as it has come to be. 

     Clearly, it seems to me, we must begin to think about unlearning, if we could, those ways of war.  Or rather more positively, learn the ways of peace. 

     Thatís what Isaiah is inviting us to do today.  Thatís what God is inviting us to do through the words of Isaiah. ďCome to God, come to the mountain of God where God will teach you the ways of peace and how to build a world that is not self-destructive, and how to build a world and a nation that is not approaching spiritual death. Learn.Ē 

     And if we go to that mountain and learn, we will learn most of all through Jesus.  God sent Jesus into this world to teach us Godís ways of peace. 

     Jesus has done it.  In his words, heís made it so clear, ďThou shall not kill.Ē  Even beyond that, have not anger or hatred in your heart for a brother or sister.  Love not just those who love you, but love your enemies.  Do good to those who hurt you, return good for evil. 

     Jesus has shown us the way to peace.  Itís a way that rejects any use of violence.  But we have not listened.  It is time that we begin to listen to the way of peace that God shows us and most of all through Jesus. 

     Thatís why Saint Paul makes it so clear today.  We must recommit ourselves to put on Christ Jesus, to be clothed again with our original baptismal commitment, and to follow the ways of Jesus, the only way that can lead to peace in our world. 

     Shortly after the terrible events of September 11, John Paul II, as you may remember, was in Kazakstan, a country that was a part of the former Soviet Union.  He spoke many times during that short visit.  One of the things he said so clearly, as soon as he heard about what had happened in New York City, Washington, and in Pennsylvania, he pleaded that the response not be war.  He was in a sense urging us to put on Christ Jesus, instead. 

     Of course, itís not very easy to suddenly give up violence.  Weíve been raised in violence; weíve been raised with the notion that our nation has to be the strongest nation in the world and that we have to have this arsenal and so on. 

     But in putting on Christ Jesus, Pope John Paul gets to something that is perhaps the basic thing that we need to do if weíre going to change our hearts and then change our way of acting.  He was speaking to young people and in that presentation he said, ďIn your beautiful Kazak language, ĎI love youí is men senen jaske korejmen which can be translated as ĎI look upon you well, my gaze upon you is good.íĒ  And then he goes on to say, ďHuman love, but more fundamentally still, Godís love for humanity and creation stems from a loving gaze, a gaze that helps us see the good and leads us to do what is good.  God saw everything God had made and found it very good. (Gn. 1:31). Such a gaze allows us to see all that is positive in things and leads us to ponder far beneath the surface the beauty and richness of every human being we meet.  Spontaneously we ask ourselves: What is it that constitutes the beauty and greatness of the human person?  Here is the answer I give you: What makes a human being great is the stamp of God that each of us bears.  According to the Bible, a human being is created Ďin the image and likeness of God.íĒ (Gn. 1:26). 

     And so John Paul is drawing from their own words saying that what it means to love a person is to gaze upon that person and see the good in that person, to see that that person is made in the image and likeness of God. 

     How easy it is for us to do just the opposite.  We demonize those we want to be our enemies.  We dehumanize them and take away any dignity that they have.  Instead, John Paul is saying, ďThe beginning of nonviolence, the way to begin to overcome the tendency to violence and war, is to think of every person and gaze upon every person deeply and see God present in that person.Ē 

     Itís true that none of us probably can suddenly give up all of violence.  But isnít that something we could begin to do?  Not just toward other nations, but in our everyday life?  If in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, our workplaces, if we really looked upon every person, gazed deeply upon that person until we saw God in that person, would we ever use violence?  I think not. 

     And so thatís where we can begin.  Clearly, thatís what Jesus did in his life.  He always looked upon every person, those most marginalized, the ones everybody else called sinners, public sinners, no-good people.  They despised them.  But Jesus looked upon them, gazed deeply and saw the image of God in every person.  He then reached out in love to all. 

     I think thatís the way you and I will begin to become nonviolent, to let go of our hatreds and our vengeance, our spirit of retaliation, our spirit of domination, and to become people who will build up peace. 

     And so today I invite all of us to come to Godís mountain, come to hear Godís word, come to put on Christ Jesus. 

     Learn to gaze on every person until you see deep within that person the very presence of God.  That will be the way to begin to build peace in your own heart, in your own community, and ultimately in our world.  We will come to the point where there will be war no more and all of us will turn our weapons into instruments of peace. 

     Godís reign will begin when you and I follow Godís ways and put on the Lord Jesus. 

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

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