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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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.
NOTE:  The homilies are available five days after they are given, always on Friday. 
March 9, 2003
First Sunday of Lent 

This week's readings **

Genesis 9:8-15

God spoke to Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, "As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every animal of the earth with you. Of all that go out of the ark, even every animal of the earth.  I will establish my covenant with you; neither will all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither will there any more be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. It will happen, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh." 

1 Peter 3:18-22

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

* 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).


Our first lesson today, taken from the Book of Genesis, is from the beginning part of that book, which we call pre-history.  We have to remember that Scripture came into being thousands and tens of thousands of years, hundreds of thousands of years, after creation began.  No one really knew that early history.  There was nothing written.  But the sacred writers, using various myths and stories that were created in various parts of the world, used some of these stories to help us to understand what had happened at the beginning.  And one was the story of creation, a story of how out of nothingness, God's love drew into being all of the universe.  God loved into being every creature.

     It is described in the Scriptures as there being chaos everywhere and the Spirit of God comes forth over that chaos and brings forth order and peace and tranquility.  But then, almost from the beginning, as we read in that early part of Genesis, human creatures began to rebel against God. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and then leading up to the story of the flood, the arrogance and violence of the people were horrendous.  Sin was rampant everywhere, and the flood was a symbol of the chaos and the destruction that was brought about by creatures rebelling against God.

     We probably don't have the same sense of what the symbol of the flood was for the people in that ancient period of pre-history.  Remember, people only lived in a very circumscribed area.  They didn't know any other part of the world and when a flood came, it destroyed everything. So floods were the most potent symbol of the chaos and the disorder that came back into creation after God had brought the peace and the tranquility and God's love.

     For those ancient people, the flood was the symbol that would be comparable to our thinking of the mushroom cloud as the sign of the destructive power of nuclear weapons that could destroy the whole planet.  But again, as we heard in today's lesson, God's love continues to change that chaos into peace, into tranquility, brings order back as God draws people back.

     That first lesson reminds us of what happened so long ago.  But as we all know, sin continues in our world.  Human creatures, all of us, continue to rebel against God.  God's love draws us into being.  God's love watches over us and as God promised when God established that covenant with Noah, and all of his descendants, that love would always be present.  God makes a covenant that is unbreakable because God's love is so constant.  

     "See, I am making a Covenant with you and with your descendants after you, with every living animal, birds, cattle.  That is, with every living creature of the earth, I establish my covenant with you. Never again will all of life be cut off by the waters of a flood.  Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.  And then God gives us that sign of the covenant -– the rainbow set in the clouds -- to indicate to us that the Love of God is unbreakable. No matter what we do, God is always calling us back.

     And we live in a time when that symbol of the total destruction of the world must be present in the consciousness of all of us.  We are on the brink of a war and a war for which our leaders say every option is on the table.  That is their way of saying we will use nuclear weapons if we choose.  The mushroom cloud threatens us because chaos, evil, sin, greed, is still present in your heart, in my heart, in this world.  

     God's covenant is unbreakable but we can continue to rebel.  We can continue to act against God.  That is why it is so important that we enter into this season of Lent with open hearts, with sincere desire to do what St. Mark says in the Gospel, or what Jesus says:  "Change your lives! Change your lives. The reign of God is at hand.”

     It could all be different.  That peace and tranquility and order and beauty that God intends for all of creation can happen.  Jesus says that the reign of God is right now.  It could happen.  But you and I must change our lives, be faithful to the Gospel.

     What that could mean for us we might discover if we remember what happened to Jesus when he went off into the desert for those 40 days and 40 nights.  In Mark's Gospel, he does not describe the struggle Jesus had with evil.  In Matthew's Gospel, it is spelled out in greater detail.  

     Two parts of that struggle of Jesus are especially important to us.  The first, where, you remember, the devil wants Jesus to change stones into bread, to use miraculous powers to have all that he wants.  It is a temptation to use material things in excess.  And how does Jesus respond?  He says, "Remember, you do not live by bread alone but by every word from God.”

     In Lent, we try to fast and abstain and do penance to remind ourselves that it isn't the material things of the world in excess that give us life.  It is having enough but not consuming beyond what we need.  And it is being open, then, to growing in our spirit lives when we are beginning to put order and discipline into our lives.  

     Try to remember that we do not live by bread alone -- that we do not need to constantly accumulate more material goods but we live by the Word of God and we grow into a fullness of life.  During this season of Lent, we can try to do that. Open ourselves to God's Word, and we'd be better prepared to do that as we discipline our appetites and our desire to constantly have more than we need.  

     The other temptation that is especially, perhaps most of all, pertinent to our current situation, is the third temptation when the devil took Jesus and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth.  He said, "If you fall down and worship me, I will give you all of these kingdoms.”  In other words, it's a temptation to power, to violence, to domination.  That is what the devil is offering to Jesus -- total power over all the earth -- a human creature would have that kind of power.  

     And Jesus says, "No! Be gone Satan!"  Jesus rejects that.  It is the first indication in the Gospels that Jesus rejects violence, rejects killing, rejects that kind of violent power that would give someone domination and control over others or give one nation domination and control over other nations.

     Clearly, we need to hear and reflect carefully on how Jesus reacts to that temptation.  It seems very clear in so many ways that we are living in a nation that is trying to get power and domination over other nations over the earth.  We threaten with nuclear weapons.  We say that we are the only superpower and we will do anything necessary to remain the only superpower.  

     Change your lives.  We must take that seriously, each of us, and try to bring the Spirit of the Gospel of Jesus into the spirit of the world in which we live.  But it has to start with each one of us.  I must change my life.  I must be ready to follow the way of Jesus. 

     “Believe the Gospel,” Jesus says. "Believe the Good News, the way of love.”  It is the only way to bring that order and tranquility and peace into our own lives and into the world in which we live.

     In a few moments we will come forward to be signed with ashes.  These ashes are a sign of dying.  We die to our sinfulness.  We say “no” to sin and “yes” to the Gospel.  I hope that each of us, as we come forward, forms deeply within our hearts a commitment to turn away from sin and to believe and to follow the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. 

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

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