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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
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Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
* 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
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
As I reflected on the scripture lessons for today, I began to think (again) about the words Pope John Paul II spoke when he visited Spain in the early part of May this year, very shortly after the second war in the Persian Gulf seemed to have ended. John Paul at that time was very sad, and it was notable in his appearance, because he had tried so hard to block that war from happening. He was so aware of the terrible suffering of the people of that country.
But when he spoke to the young people -- and there were hundreds of thousands of them -- he pleaded with them to reject what he called "inhuman hatred, violence, and war" and he begged them to become what he called "artisans of peace."
I have spoken about this before, but I remind you again of that marvelous phrase. Imagine how peace would come to our world if every one of us became an artisan of peace. An artisan is a person who is creative, who dreams about what could be. A sculptor sees a block of marble but within that marble he sees -- I'm thinking of a person like Michelangelo -- a figure of David. He chips away the marble until David emerges. A statue emerges because the artisan dreamed, envisioned what could be.
John Paul is telling us to dream about peace. Dream about it. Be an artisan. Be creative.
It reminds me, and probably reminds many of you, of Dr. Martin Luther King. He dreamed that all people could be brothers and sisters, that we could love one another no matter race or ethnic group. He dreamed that everyone could be fruitful. He dreamed the night before he died: "I have been to the mountaintop. I've seen the glory of the world -- what can happen." When you have a dream like that, you commit to it until it does happen.
I thought of all this because that was exactly what was happening with Baruch, the prophet, who gave us the first reading today. He lived in a time and situation that most people would call hopeless. Jerusalem had been demolished -- leveled. The great city of the chosen people was burned down, destroyed. The people were driven off into exile, and Baruch was with them. Yet he never lost his vision of how God would transform the situation into one that would provide hope and joy for the people.
He spoke of Jerusalem. Now, remember, the city was demolished, but he had this dream: "Jerusalem! Put off your garment of warring and unhappiness. Put on the splendor and glory of God forever. Wrap yourself in the mantle of holiness that comes from God. Put on your head the crown of glory of the eternal one where God will show you your splendor through every being under heaven. God will call your name forever. Peace and justice and glory in the fear of the Lord. Rise up, Jerusalem! Stand on the heights."
He was not filled with despair. He dreamed of what could happen, even how the chosen people would return. "Look towards the East and see your children gathered together from the setting of the sun to its rising by the voice of the Holy One, rejoicing because God has remembered them.
He had the dream and he was committed to teaching and working to transform the situation into which he and the chosen people had been put. Their dream would be realized when their city was restored and the people returned in glory. Baruch was an artisan who had a dream and made it happen.
I think St. Paul, in a way, was doing the same thing when he spoke from jail, a situation where most of us would be depressed and demoralized. He had been preaching the gospel, and what does he get for it? He gets thrown into jail. Yet he never lost hope. He still dreamed and he wrote to the people: "When I pray for you I pray with joy. I cannot forget all you shared with me in the service of the gospel."
He dreamed that he would be free and that the people would be free. He told them: "God knows that I love you dearly with the love of Jesus. In my prayers, I ask that your love may lead you each day to a deeper knowledge and a clearer understanding of Jesus." He dreamed of what could happen, and he would work until it did happen.
Look at the gospel and see how John the Baptist does the same thing. Notice how Luke made so clear the context in which John was called to be a prophet: "the 15th year of the rule of the Emperor Tiberius, the Roman emperor." The Roman army had captured the holy land. These people lived under an occupying foreign army. It was cruel, and the people suffered terribly.
Luke also mentioned Pontius Pilate. We all, of course, remember immediately Pilate, the one who had Jesus on trial for his life, Pilate who was cruel to the people of Jerusalem, and Herod the evil king who ruled over part of that domain under the Roman emperor. Luke wants us to realize that this is a time of struggle, a time of suffering and a time of violence. It was at that time that he says: "The Word of God came to John, the Son of Zechariah, in the desert. And John then began to preach."
So John was called to be a prophet. What did he preach in the midst of all that violence? He preached that God was going to change everything. "I hear a voice crying in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.'"
John told how everything would be made ready for Jesus to come to transform this world by bringing about the reign of God, when justice, peace, love and joy would reign. That is what John dreamed, and he was committed to proclaiming it. He preached it right up until he was put to death by Herod (John had preached against the evil that Herod was perpetrating). Even threatened with death, John never lost his vision, his dream. And he kept preaching it.
Furthermore, Luke suggested that this message would go down through the ages until every mortal person comes to know the same love of God. So that brings it down to us. Like the word of God came to John in the desert, the word of God comes to us now. We are the disciples of Jesus, followers of Christ. The word of God has come to us. The word of God calls us to be prophetic, to proclaim the Good News, to dream about how we can change our world. It calls us to be committed to that dream, to follow the way of Jesus until it happens.
Today, we live in a world like the world of John the Baptist and the world of Baruch. There is violence. There is injustice. There is cruelty and exploitation. We have to change all of that. The Second Vatican Council produced a document called "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World." That document defines the task we must undertake:
The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or oppressed, are the joys and the hopes, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts, in our hearts. We are the followers of Christ and every person who is anguished, who is suffering, who is poor who is exploited or afflicted is a concern of ours because their suffering, their anguish, their joys and their hopes are our suffering, our anguish, our joy and our hope.That is the dream we must get hold of. If that dream can be realized, then our world would be transformed and every person would come to know the saving love of God.
We, first of all, have to have that dream and envision ourselves living it. Then we can begin to change our lives, give up violence, give up any kind of vengeance and retaliation; act against the culture of violence and greed in which we live. It's going to mean changing our lives to come into harmony with the dream. That's how the dream can change the world.
The Word of God has come to us just as it came to John in the desert. We're being called now to go out and proclaim the Good News, but to proclaim it by living it, by following the way of Jesus. This will help us then enter into God's word transforming our world. St. Paul reminds us today that God has begun to work in each of us and what God has begun in us, God can bring to completion. We open ourselves to that power of God within us.
We close our reflections today reminding ourselves of Paul's prayer: that the good work that God has begun in us, God will bring to completion; that we can go forth as prophets with the dream, a commitment to the dream and then to work to change the world. Just as Baruch saw his dream realized and John saw his dream realized in the coming of Jesus, so too, will our dream be realized.
If we are faithful to it we can become artisans of peace and make peace happen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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