|[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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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