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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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 Feast of the Holy Family
December 30, 2001 

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother's authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard.  Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins --a house raised in justice to you.

Colossians 3:12-17

Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if one has a complaint against another; even as the Lord forgave you, so also must you do.  And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.  And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.  And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Now when the Magi had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  For Herod will seek the young child to destroy him."  Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.  He was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called my son." 

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead that sought the young child's life."  And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  And being warned by God in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that He should be called a Nazorean. 

* 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).


When you think seriously about having the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, serve as our model for family life, it might seem quite intimidating and seemingly a model that is way beyond us.  After all, according to our Catholic teaching, Mary never committed a sin.  Jesus, of course, was God.  And Joseph, we all know, had to be a tremendous saint too. 

     So how can we imitate them when we know that we are sinners and that we have lots of failings? 

     We know from the experience of our families that it just isnít like we think the Holy Family had to have been.  Yet, the feast is not one thatís impossible for us to reflect on and draw some very important lessons for ourselves. 

     First of all, I think itís very important to emphasize that by recalling that Jesus was a member of a family, like anyone of us, is that his humanness was real.  This is something that is difficult for many of us get a hold of -- that Jesus was truly human in every way like us. 

     We can imagine Jesus as a tiny child.  We have lots of children sometimes running around the church, different ages and so on.  Well Jesus looked like any one of them as he grew and developed and became a mature person.  He went through all those stages of childhood like any of our children go through.  He was fully human. 

     And so I think we need not to so exalt the Holy Family that itís beyond our reach. 

     There must have been times, to say the least, where they got a little impatient with one another.  There were times when they rubbed each other the wrong way, just as it happens in our families.  So itís not really beyond our reach. 

     Then, also, when you consider, as we heard in todayís gospel, Jesus had to flee and Mary and Joseph had to take him because he was going to be killed.  He lived in a real world, a world filled with violence just as ours.  He lived as a refugee, homeless, and suffered as tens of millions of people suffer in our world right now. 

     So he really did have solidarity with us and with our experience.  And we can draw from that and come to know Jesus better as we reflect upon that experience of his as a real child, in a real family, in a real world, in a world filled with violence and sin -- just as in our world. 

     Of course, Jesus had to grow and fit into that somehow and try to change it.

     But, probably, the most important thing for us to reflect upon today, as we celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family, is to make ourselves aware of what Matthew is really doing in this Gospel. 

     Matthew is setting the stage for helping us to really know who Jesus is.  Thatís why he describes this flight into Egypt and how Jesus came back from Egypt in fulfillment of those words from Hosea where God says, ďI have called my son out of Egypt.Ē  What Matthew is doing is showing that Jesus is, in fact, the new Moses. 

     Just as Moses had been threatened with his life by a terrible ruler and had to flee out of Egypt, so does Jesus.  Just as Moses traveled back through the desert to the holy land, the Promised Land, Jesus is going to be the new Moses who will lead us out of slavery into freedom.  Not just the physical slavery, but of the slavery of sin into freedom as sons and daughters of God. 

     There are so many parallels that Matthew goes on throughout his gospel to show how Jesus is the new Moses. 

     Moses fed the people in the desert with manna.  Jesus goes off into the desert and there he feeds the people by multiplying the loaves and the fish.  Later on, he makes clear that thatís a symbol of how he continues to feed us through the Holy Eucharist.  Moses was the great lawgiver.  He brought the Commandments down from Mount Sinai.  Jesus goes up a mountainside and begins to give a new law.  Heís the new Moses with the new law.  ďYou have heard that it was said of old thou shalt not kill.  I say to you, and so on . . . ď 

     All those powerful ways show how his way and his teaching go beyond anything taught before.  He is this new Moses.  Just as Moses had established a covenant between God and the chosen people, Matthew wants us to understand that thatís what Jesus does too. 

     As we say in the Eucharistic prayer:  He stretched out his arms between heaven and earth in the everlasting sign of the covenant of love.  The new covenant between God and the people was a covenant of love and forgiveness -- the covenant that brings new life to us. 

     Jesus is the one who is the new Moses who establishes for us this new covenant with God.  We are bound to God as Godís sons and daughters and God is bound to us.  Thatís what a covenant means. 

     Covenant of love -- unbreakable, unconditional, unlimited love is the new covenant that is given to us through Jesus. 

     And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we donít just think about Jesus as this tiny child growing up in a family in Nazareth, we think about what Matthew is telling us who Jesus really is, the new Moses with the new covenant, the new law. 

     As we reflect on this feast day, we ask ourselves, ďHow do we respond to Jesus who is our new lawgiver, who is the one who set this new covenant for us and enables us to enter into it?Ē 

     First of all, it seems very clear we need to make sure that we commit ourselves to Godís covenant of love.  Itís a day when we can give special praise and thanks to God because we have been born into Godís family.  All of us, through our baptism, are members of the family of God.  Through this covenant of love, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus.  And, because we share the same spirit life of Jesus, we are in a deep and special way brothers and sisters to one another in our human family. 

     But here, especially, we think of ourselves as a parish family.  Weíre joined together, bonded together in Jesus and we should give thanks and praise to God for that.  But, also, we must be challenged by the new law that Jesus gives to us.  Thatís how we will enhance, develop, and make strong the bonds of family love.  If we really listen to the new law Jesus has brought.  ďYou have heard that it was said of old, and so on . . .  ď

     Probably, for today, itís summed up best in those words that Saint Paul proclaimed to the Church of Colossae, ďClothe yourselves then as is fitting for Godís chosen people, holy and beloved.  Put on compassion.Ē 

     Nothing marked the life of Jesus more than compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, all those qualities we need in our human family, in our own personal family, and in our parish family. 

     Bear with one another.  Forgive one another whenever there is any occasion to do so. 

     Forgiveness is always at the forefront.  ďJust as God has forgiven you, forgive one another.Ē

     A very important measurement of how much we need to forgive is as God has forgiven us.  And each of knows how much God has forgiven us and has done so unconditionally.  Thatís how much we must forgive one another.  Let all this be done with love and through it everything is united. 

     Paul then goes on to say how the result of this will be the peace of Jesus in our hearts, in our homes, in our family life, in our parish, in our community, and in our world.   Thatís an important point for us to think about. 

     All those qualities that will make peace come into my heart and into my family are the same qualities that will bring peace into our world.

     I have here Pope John Paul IIís message for the World Day of Peace for this year, January 1, 2002.  Itís very appropriate for the time in which we live and itís obvious that Pope John Paul has thought very carefully about whatís happening in our world and how the human family is being torn apart because we have neglected the message of Jesus. 

     By sharing parts of this message, it will help us to see what each of us must do if we are to truly celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family.

     He starts by saying, ďThe World Day of Peace this year is being celebrated in the shadow of the dramatic events of 11 September last.  On that day, a terrible crime was committed.  In a few brief hours, thousands of innocent people of many ethnic backgrounds were slaughtered.  Since then, people throughout the world have felt a profound personal vulnerability and a new fear for the future.Ē  Then, a little further on, he says, ďThe hope which sustains the church at the beginning of 2002 is this:  That, by the grace of God, a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand will, in fact, be transformed into a world in which the noblest aspirations of the human heart will triumph, a world in which true peace will prevail.Ē 

     Thatís our hope. 

     It might seem impossible to many of us.  But then John Paul goes onto say how this could happen.  He says, ďRecent events, including the terrible killings just mentioned, move me to return to a theme which often stirs in the depth of my heart when I remember the events of history which have marked my life.Ē  Heís talking very personally here.  He says, ďÖespecially, my youth. The enormous sufferings of peoples and individuals, even among my own friends and acquaintances, caused by Nazi and communist totalitarianism, has never been far from my thoughts and prayers.  I have often paused to reflect on the persistent question, ĎHow do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?í  My reasoned conviction, confirmed in turn by Godís holy word, is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness.  The pillars of true peace are justice and that form of love which is forgiveness.Ē 

     Heís making it clear that that form of love which is forgiveness is the only thing that can bring healing in our personal family, in our parish family, and in the human family. 

     Iíll share just one more part.  Further on, he explains more clearly what he means by forgiveness.  ďForgiveness is not a proposal that can be immediately understood or easily accepted.  In many ways, it is a paradoxical message.  Forgiveness, in fact, always involves an apparent short term loss for a real long term gain.  Violence is the exact opposite.  Opting, as it does, for an apparent short term gain, it involves a real and permanent loss.  Forgiveness may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual strength and moral courage both in granting it and in accepting it.  It may seem, in some way, to diminish us, but, in fact, it leads us to a fuller and richer humanity, more radiant with the splendor of the creator.  So my ministry of the service of the gospel obliges me and, at the same time, gives me the strength to insist upon the necessity of forgiveness.  I do so again today in the hope of stirring serious and mature thinking on this theme with a view to a far reaching resurgence of the human spirit in individual hearts and in relations between peoples of the world.Ē

     I think thatís a very powerful message for us to reflect upon ? forgiveness as the form of love that can transform our world.  Think about what it could really mean within our family, personal family, parish family, and the family of nations?

      If we, as those who follow this new Moses, Jesus, really live up to his teaching and influence the direction of our nation, then that hope that John Paul has for genuine peace in the world would happen.  But I think itís going to require a very deep conversion on the part of everyone of us to truly accept this way of Jesus, to follow him. 

     Matthew presents him as the new Moses, the one leading us to the Promised Land, the land of peace, justice, and love.  Itís up to us to make the choice to follow Jesus and to make his way of transforming the world a reality.  Itís an extraordinary challenge, but itís one that with Godís help each of us can accept and can live out. 

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

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