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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 Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2001 

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Isaiah 7:10-14

And the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, "Ask for a sign of the Lord, your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above."  But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord."  Then Isaiah said, "Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it not enough for you to weary my people, will you also weary my God?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel."

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised before through his prophets in the holy
Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him we received grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake; among whom you are also called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be holy: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Matthew 1:18-24

Now the birth of Jesus Christ came about in this way.  When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, decided to divorce her quietly.  But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife.  For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shall call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins."  Now all this took place to fulfill that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son.  And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means 'God is with us.'"  When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

* 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).


[Editorial Note:   During this Sundayís liturgy, the sacrament of reconciliation was celebrated.  Bishop Gumbletonís reflection as a preparation for receiving the sacrament is offered at the end of todayís homily.  Also, Bishop Gumbletonís Christmas homily will be made available on Friday morning, December 28.]

The lessons of today, I hope, will serve as a framework for us as we look deeply into our hearts to discover the ways we need God's forgiveness, God's healing. 

     The first lesson in the gospel points out to us one of the first things we must look to as we try to examine our relationship with God.  The first lesson from the readings and the gospel are both concerned with incidents about people who are challenged in their faith, in their willingness and ability to trust in God, to really believe in God and trust in God and God's way. 

     It is so clear with Ahaz, the king.  Isaiah is telling him, "Look, it's wrong to form an alliance with the Assyrians, to raise an Army and go to war.  God has a different plan.  God has a different way."  Ahaz, the king, refuses to accept.  He can't trust God's way as being the right way, the good way, the way that would really bring peace to his people.  Isaiah says to Ahaz, "I will give you a sign."  And Ahaz, because he knows what he is going to say, replies, "No, I won't tempt the Lord God."  He does not want any kind of a sign because he knows he is going to go to war.  He can't trust in God's way.   

     Now a totally opposite example of one who does trust is found in the Gospel.

     As we hear the lesson or as we read the description by Matthew of how the birth of Jesus came about, it all sounds very simple and very clear cut.  It seems that it would be very easy for Joseph to say, "Yes, of course, whatever you say." 

     But it could not have been that easy.  He really had to struggle with what was going on.  He did not know about God's plan for the one who was conceived by Mary.  He loved Mary and he trusted her, and suddenly there's this situation where she's already pregnant before they live together.  And by law he should have had her stoned to death.  The very least he had to do was to divorce her. 

     But Joseph, because he was obviously a very humane, decent, gentle, good person, and he loved her so much, he did not want to discredit her.  Then in his prayer, somehow, he experiences God saying to him, "It's going to be all right.  Trust, believe.  It will all come out O. K." 

     Joseph does believe.  He does trust and accept God's way, even though, I'm sure, he could not understand what was happening.  But he knew God was at work in his life and in the life of Mary and he was willing to trust and accept whatever happened. 

     And that's something we need to look to ourselves.  How well do we trust in God?  When a sudden sickness comes into our lives, life threatening even?  This is a very real challenge.  Can we trust in God that somehow from this good will come.  God loves us no matter what happens. 

     So many other things can go wrong in our lives.  Lose a job maybe.  Be out of work wondering, "What's going to happen next?"  Can we trust that somehow, no matter how bad things seem to be going, that God is still at work in our lives and accept God and God's ways and follow God in God's way. 

     Earlier today, after we said the Rosary, we always pray the prayer:  In a Time of Terrorism.  And I thought the first part of that prayer was such a beautiful way for all of us to see whether we trust in God or not.  "O God, I do not know where to turn in a time of terrorism.  I have no easy answers or solutions to acts of terror against the innocent when buildings explode without warning, when the defenseless are murdered without reason.  I am tempted to retaliate with vengeance.  I am tempted to place the flag above the cross and put my faith in the state rather than in the Sermon on the Mount.  I'm afraid to face my deepest fears of suffering and death, both for myself and those I love." 

     That's the challenge, is it not?  We are afraid and we do not know what to do in circumstances like this?  So, at least, we can do this.  "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and understand my weakness, my lack of trust."  I lift my heart to a God of peace.  And so we try to believe and to trust, even in circumstances like this, to accept the way of God and to follow that way of God.  That's the challenge of faith, is it not? 

     We have to ask ourselves how deeply we believe or celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, into the world.  Is it going to be just a time of lots of external celebrations, festivities, and all those things where we are having fun at Christmas time, exchanging gifts and all of that?  Or are we really going to enter more deeply into the feast, trying to get a deeper grasp of what it means that the very God who is the creator of the entire universe comes into our midst as Emmanuel, God with us?  That's the challenge of faith:  Emmanuel, God with us.  Do we believe that and are we willing to act on that? 

     Then as you go on into the second lesson today,  Saint Paul, as I mentioned before, introduces himself to the church of Rome and says first of all, "I'm a slave of Christ."  Then he says, "I'm an apostle."  And finally he says, "I'm set apart for service."  Now that's about as good a description as you can find of a disciple of Jesus that youíll see anywhere.

     You see, first of all, a slave of Christ.  I have a sense this was hard for Paul to say because he was a Roman citizen and the Roman citizens really cherished their independence.  There were lots of slaves in the Roman Empire, and they were looked down upon and despised and treated as slaves, as nothing. 

     But Paul could say, "I'm a slave of Christ," which means he's ready to be owned by Christ.  If you're a slave, you're owned by someone.  And he wants to be owned by Christ, to be willing to do whatever Christ orders him to do and whatever Christ shows him is the way he should act in his life. 

     Paul says I am the slave of Jesus Christ. 

     It reminds me of that incident in the Gospel where a person comes to Jesus and says, "What do I need to do to be saved?"  He recites how he has kept all the commandments and so on.  And Jesus says, "If you really want to be my disciple, here's what you do.  Go, sell everything.  Take up your cross and follow me and get rid of everything else and just follow me." 

     Become a slave of Jesus, that's a challenge.  Paul accepted it and was willing to follow Jesus, to give his whole life to Jesus. 

     And, again, we ask ourselves: How deep is our commitment?  Am I really willing to be a slave of Christ, to follow Him completely?  Or do I have other allegiances, for example, in material things?

     I have heard of churches where there have been disputes about having a flag in church.  People say we need to show that we are Americans.  That would be wrong, I think, if we're really a slave of Christ.  We cannot put the state on a par with Jesus.  We belong to Jesus Christ, not to the state, not to anyone else.  How deep is our allegiance? 

     To be an apostle means to be someone who is sent to carry a message.  That's what it is to be an apostle. 

     What's the message that the apostles of Jesus carried?  All you need to do is look into the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter sixty-one.  Jesus used these words about himself when he was preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth.  "The Spirit of God is upon me and God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor." 

     In order to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, you must carry a message and more than anything else reach out to the poor, to those who are marginalized, to those who are rejected and, in fact, this is the majority of the people on our planet.  If you are really going to be an apostle of Jesus, you have to reach out.  And that's one thing, I think, as a community and as individuals, we do. We are being an apostle. 

     During this past week, our Christian Service Commission has been engaged in reaching out to the poor in our neighborhood, providing Christmas packages for all of the children who have come to us in need.  Yesterday afternoon, there was a marvelous party here, not sponsored by us but we cooperated with it.  A couple of our ministers who are jail ministers arranged for this party to happen here.  I thought it very pointed really.  It was a party for kids who have parents in jail.  Think of that.  How would it be at Christmas time if your mother or your father is in jail? 

     The sheriff of Wayne County and the people from the jail ministry invited the children of all the people in Wayne County jail to be here yesterday for a party.  I think that's a very beautiful sign of being an apostle, of proclaiming a message, the message of Jesus reaching out to those who could so easily be overlooked and neglected.  That was happening here.   But we have to, all of us, continue to discover the ways that we will carry this message of Jesus, to be an apostle proclaiming the message. 

     It won't be so much what we say, will it?  It will be how we act.  If we act as we did during this week, yesterday, then as a community we are proclaiming a message.  Or as individuals, too, our lives proclaim the message of Jesus.  And finally, being set apart for service as Paul describes himself.  And, again, this is reaching out to the poor, bringing that message, visiting the sick, being of comfort to those who are suffering in any way, ministering every way we can every day. 

     That is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus.  You don't have to look very far into the Gospel to find out that that's what Jesus was doing every day, all day, being of service and ministering to those in need. 

     So now as we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, we will look more deeply into our hearts to see how strong is our faith.  And if we are failing in any way, we will be asking God for healing power and strength.  We will also see how well we are living as disciples of Jesus, slaves of Jesus, apostles of Jesus, set apart for service of others. 

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

Bishop Gumbletonís reflection in preparation for receiving the sacrament of reconciliation

     The circumstances of our lives influence the way we live our faith.  We may not like the word slave, but it refers to one who is devoted to the service of another.  This is precisely what Christians are called to be and to do, to be devoted to the service of Christ. 

     So we ask ourselves: 

     Is my primary commitment to Jesus and to the way of being human that he has taught us?  Am I committed to what enriches life and not to what diminishes it?  Am I committed to the good of people and not to the hoarding of things?  To be a slave of Christ means we will be decent upright women and men, people of integrity.  Is this the kind of life I am leading? 

     The apostle is one sent to deliver a message. All Christians are called to be apostles. 

     Do I proclaim my faith and the way I live my life in the kindness with which I treat others?  Do I proclaim my faith in the honesty of my business transactions?  Do I proclaim the Gospel by standing for justice?  Do I forgive those who have offended me?  Do I proclaim the Gospel by showing compassion to those who suffer? 

     At Baptism, we were all set apart for service.  When we love, it is not difficult to serve the loved one.  Friends, spouses, and parents do this without question.  Service to others is perhaps the most common way of living out our faith. 

     So we ask ourselves:  

     Am I generous in serving others? Do I take seriously our responsibility to serve our children by teaching them?  Do I take time to nurture my primary relationship?  Do I visit the sick?  Do I care for the elderly? 

     As we have remembered in our hearts the ways we have failed to be slaves of Christ, apostles and ministers, we ask God's forgiveness.  Amen.

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