|[Editorial Note: Bishop Gumbleton
is traveling to Peru this week and was unable to preach at St. Leo Parish
Church in Detroit this past Sunday, January 6, 2002. He is visiting
with Lori Berenson and will be pursuing efforts with government officials
for her release. The homily presented today is one that Bishop Gumbleton
preached a year ago on the Feast of the Epiphany just before he traveled
to Iraq, his sixth visit there.]
There are three ways in which we might reflect
on todayís scripture.
The first is that Matthew is trying to make
us more aware of who Jesus really is and what Jesus means for all people.
Matthew was very aware of the words of the prophet Isaiah, those we hear
in the first lesson taken from the sixtieth chapter. When you read
those words that Isaiah proclaimed about the chosen people, you easily
recognize that people might well have laughed at him because it was so
Here they were a people driven out of their
own land. They were homeless refugees living in foreign territory.
They were suffering from hunger and every other kind of need. They
were totally dispersed and not a nation at all. Yet Isaiah could
proclaim, ďLift up your eyes round about and see. They are all gathered
and come to you, your sons from afar, your daughters tenderly carried.
This sight will make your face radiant, your heart throbbing and full.
The riches of the sea will turn to you. The wealth of the nations
will come to you.Ē
At the time he proclaimed those words, anyone
who heard him would have said, ďThatís impossible. It could never
happen. These people have been destroyed. Thereíll never be
a time when other nations will be coming to praise them, to glorify them,
to bring them gifts from all over the world. It would never happen.Ē
But what Matthew does is tell the story about
When Matthew composed the story, he had in
mind these words of Isaiah. He sees Jesus as fulfilling that word,
the promise of Isaiah. Matthew has wise people from the east coming
to Jesus, bringing their gifts to dramatize that from all over the world
people would come and acknowledge Jesus as Son of God: God coming
into our midst, God with us.
In a way that went very far beyond anything
Isaiah could have glimpsed -- the words of Isaiah are fulfilled.
But Jesus is the one in whom they are fulfilled.
Jesus is the one to whom all the nations will bring their gifts, their
worship, their homage. Jesus is the one who brings together all of
the chosen people. It is in him that the chosen people have been
restored to a glory that they could never have dreamed of -- that the Son
of God would come to be in their midst and then to be in the midst of all
And so Matthew is really helping us to understand
the importance of Jesus.
As Saint Paul tells us in the second lesson,
Jesus comes to bring to fulfillment a mystery. Paul has grasped a
part of the good news that was a mystery before, something that was not
made known to past generations. He says, ďTo him it has been revealed,
the non-Jewish people share the inheritance in Christ, the non-Jews are
to enjoy the promise.Ē
Paul is telling us that every person on the
planet, all of us, everyone in all of history is incorporated into Jesus
and shares in the very life of God. That is the mystery Paul tells
us has been kept secret for so long but is now revealed in Jesus.
We really are brothers and sisters and there
is one God who is the God of us all.
Tremendous truth, beautiful truth, one we celebrate
today as Jesus is revealed to these wise people from the east.
But even as we reflect on this and rejoice
in the beautiful truth that all of us share in the life of God without
exception, that God looks upon every one of us as a son or daughter of
God, we also must understand that, in spite of the love of God poured forth
upon us so abundantly in Jesus, there will be those who oppose that love
of God. There will be some among us who learn to hate instead of
There will be some among us like Herod.
If you go a little bit further in the Gospel, when Herod found out he had
been tricked by the wise magi, they had gone home by a another route.
Herod was furious and gave orders to kill all the children, all the boys
in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger.
This was done in line with what he had learned from the wise magi about
the time when the star appeared.
What would prompt anyone to such hatred?
Herod wanted his power. He wanted his
wealth and prestige as king. This was a threat to him that there
was supposedly a newborn king that might be a threat to his power, his
wealth, his prestige. So he lashes out in hatred and violence and
kills every child in the area of Bethlehem. You can hardly think
of an action that is more cruel. Just take a moment and think about
the mothers having their children torn from their arms and murdered.
Yet, as we reflect upon that, we have to recognize
that that kind of hatred and violence is still present in our world.
As you may have noticed in the bulletin, if you were glancing at it before
Mass, I am going to be traveling to Iraq this evening (Note: January
2001). That reminds me and makes very clear to me of where those magi came
from. If you look at your map, it was the area of Iraq and Iran,
from the east.
So Iraq is very present in our gospel lesson.
Also, as you know, because Iíve spoken of this
before, that whatís happening to the children of Iraq is that five thousand
of them die every month because of sanctions that have been imposed against
that country. By whom? By us.
Itís so easy to look back and say what a cruel
tyrant Herod was. How could he ever have done that?
I can never forget the doctor who said to me
one time when I was there, ďThe mothers come to me with their little children
and they want me to take care of those children. They want me to say, ĎYour
child will be ok.íĒ But, he said, with tears in his eyes, ďI can
never say that. I know that child will die.Ē
You know that there are only two nations in
the world that insist that these sanctions be kept, the United States and
Great Britain. If there was a vote in the U.N. assembly right now,
overwhelmingly those sanctions would be ended. Anybody in the world,
who understands what is going on over there, knows that itís a cruel destruction
Just as Herod did it for his power, his prestige,
and his wealth, itís the only reason weíre doing it. Itís a tragedy
that is almost beyond description.
So as we reflect on this event that Matthew
describes in his gospel, we must put it in terms of what is happening in
our world today. We have to try to make others aware that this is
wrong. We have to try to get a message to the new administration
in Washington that it must end and we must stop the children from dying.
Thirdly today, and finally, I ask us to reflect
on this feast and these scriptures in the light of another experience of
a person who went into the desert to find God. This is a man whose
name was Carlo Carretto. He was a successful teacher, renowned writer
and social activist in Italy, who went to live in the Sahara Desert as
a Little Brother of Jesus. He wrote this in his diary (itís very
beautiful and very appropriate for today). He said, ďThe first night
I spent here made me send off for books on astronomy and maps of the sky.
For months afterwards, I spent my free time learning a little of what was
passing over my head up there in the universe. Finding oneís way
in the desert is much easier by night than in the day. In the years
which I spent in the open desert, I never once got lost, thanks to the
stars. Many times I lost my way because the sun was too high in the
sky. But I waited for night and found the road again, guided by the
stars. How dear they were to me, those stars. How close to
them the desert had brought me. Through spending my nights in the
open, I had come to know them by their names, then to study them, and to
get to know them one by one. Now I could distinguish their color,
their size, their position, their beauty. I knew my way around them
and from them. I could calculate the time without a watch.
Kneeling on the sand, I sank my eyes for hours and hours at those wonders,
writing down my discoveries in an exercise book like a child.Ē
Heís telling us that through the stars, gazing
on those stars night after night after night, he began to understand the
wonders of God and came very close to God because of them.
Thatís an invitation to us to be like the magi
in the gospel lesson. Perhaps, itís harder for us, living in an urban
environment, to contemplate the stars, the wonders of the whole universe
and to find God. But we can do it -- like Carlo Carretto did.
Also, this is a kind of adaptation of this
idea of the stars leading us to God, but people can be stars in our life
also. They can be the light that leads us to God.
We use the term star about people in the movies,
about athletes and so on. They enlighten us in a certain way and
can be guides for us. But itís usually only to material things, to
wealth, or to be important to the press.
But there other people who can be stars in
a different way, people like Ollie Delaney, a member of our parish that
Iím sure many of us remember, but some of us perhaps did not know her.
Mrs. Delaney was a very quiet person; she lived a very simple life.
But she was fiercely dedicated to her family. She had tremendous
love for her granddaughter Jocelyn, whom she raised from her early years.
And in the neighborhood, she was known as one who would reach out and care
for other people. She was always ready to assist and help, to enter
into the cares and concerns of her neighbors and her family, and her parish
family was here. And so in a very quiet way, and if you werenít watching
you might not notice, she was a star for us that would lead us to God.
And thatís something that I think we must do
more often -- look around to one another and see how each of us can be
a star by our goodness, by our love, by our generosity, by our reaching
out to others -- and be lead by those who are stars.
Mrs. Delaney served that purpose in our community
and so we will miss her. Yet, the way she lived, the way she was
a star, is certainly a way that every one of us can be a star. It doesnít
take a lot of special effort; you donít have to be an important person
in the world. All you have to do is try to live according to the way of
Jesus, the way of love, and come to understand that everybody is my brother
and sister, that the Christ who came into the world came to share the life
of God with all, and have that in the forefront of your mind as you reach
out in love.
Thatís how all of us can be a star to one another.
Like Mrs. Delaney who was a star in our midst. We pray for her today,
but mostly in thanksgiving for what she has done within our parish community,
the way in which she enriched us and continues to enrich us even now as
she lives as a true star, a light for the world in heaven with Jesus who
came to be the light for all of us. We thank God for her life and
we continue to pray that Godís blessings will come upon her family as they
mourn but also rejoice in this family member of ours who truly was a star
for all of us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.