The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|The Epiphany of the Lord||January 8, 2006|
During the past few weeks, articles have begun to appear, even in the secular press, about limbo. Many of you, perhaps, never even heard of limbo, but it used to be part of what we learned from our catechism when we were being instructed in our Catholic faith. It was an attempt on the part of theologians to deal with a question that bothered many people: What happens to all of those who have never been baptized -- little children dying before baptism or people going through their whole life without ever being baptized, and theyre good people? What about all those good people of the Old Testament? Are they in hell? Can they get into heaven if theyre not baptized? Well, what happens? Theologians tried to devise a way to deal with those questions, and so they projected an idea that perhaps could give some comfort to people: Well, they cant get to heaven but at least theyre not suffering. Theyre experiencing a kind of a natural happiness, not sharing the very life of God and the full joy and the fullness of life of heaven.
Well, the reason limbo has been in the news recently is because Pope Benedict has asked his theological commission to look at this question. Limbo hasnt even been talked about for the last 40 years, since the Vatican Council. In fact, in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church published by Pope John Paul II, theres no mention of limbo. The reason is that weve begun to, use insights -- insights that we could have used so many years ago -- that come from todays scriptures.
When you read the scriptures of today carefully and reflect on them, you discover that people who have not known God through the Jewish faith or through the Christian faith have nevertheless had God revealed to them. God is worshiped by them. God is loved by them and God loves them. Its so clear in that passage from Isaiah when he talks about how when the Jewish people go back and rebuild their temple, rebuild their city, they will be restored. All nations, Isaiah says, are going to come and rejoice with them. Nations will come to your light. Rulers to the brightness of your dawn. He suggests, Lift up your eyes round about and see. They are all gathered and come to you, your sons from afar, your daughters tenderly carried. Those from Sheba will come bringing gold and incense, all singing in the praise of God. These are people who come from everywhere who already know God, already worship God, already are loved by God.
I think its strange how the ancient Jewish tradition tried to restrict Gods salvation to a few, and even early Christian traditions to some extent restricted Gods saving love to a few select people. But Isaiah makes it clear that God loves all people, all people in some way understand and know God and can love God and worship God.
St. Paul puts it very plainly when he writes to the church at Ephesus that we heard in our second reading, Now all the nations share the inheritance in Christ. Non-Jews are incorporated, all nations are to enjoy the promise. All people. Paul says, This is the good news of which I have become I have become minister by a gift of God. Its good news! All people are loved by God!
How could we ever have restricted Gods infinite love? Well, we did try to do it in our tradition. Many religions do it. But God is the God of all not just of a few.
In the Gospel lesson today, also, makes that so clear. Its very clear in a sense thats embarrassing, I suppose, for those Jewish priests and leaders, scholars in their sacred scripture to have people come from the East. They would have been coming from Persia which is the country of Iran now or perhaps of Iraq. Thats where they were coming from and they were not only people who were not Jewish, not part of the chosen people, they were even people who were astrologers or stargazers and that was condemned in the Jewish religion. And yet from nature they had come to know God and to worship God. And they had come to discover God in Jesus because God had brought them and they followed where God had led them.
And so its very clear from these scriptures today that God is the God of all not the God of a few. All people for all times are Gods people -- filled with Gods life, able to love God and respond to God.
But then, perhaps, we are challenged by the question, Well, then, what about Jesus? Why do some people today receive the sacrament of confirmation? Why have we been baptized and confirmed? If God is the God of all does Jesus really make a difference? Well, the answer, of course, is yes. In one place thats spelled out for us in the scriptures, and we heard this lesson on Christmas. God has spoken in the past to our ancestors, through the prophets, in many different ways although never completely, but in our time God has spoken definitively to us through Jesus. He is the radiance of Gods glory and bears the stamp of hidden being.
In other words what were being told by the letter to the Hebrews is that yes, God has been revealed and is revealed in many different ways to all people of all times. But the fullness of Gods revolution -- if we really want to see what God is like, to know God as fully as we can with our human minds and our human spirit and heart then God is fully revealed through Jesus: a God of compassion, a God of mercy, a God of unlimited love, a God who is raising up the poor and the oppressed, a God who is willing in his humanness to give his very life for all people of all time to demonstrate how Gods love is an unlimited, forgiving, totally generous love foreveryone. When we say we want to be part of the community of disciples of Jesus through baptism and through confirmation were saying yes, we know that we can discover God as fully as possible in Jesus.
But then we also say that we want to follow Jesus, we want to be like Jesus. And that is a very real challenge, to try to live according to the way of Jesus in order that, like Jesus, we will be a life to the world around us. People will be able to discover God more fully, because they will see God in the way that we are quick to forgive, are quick to be merciful, are quick to have compassion, to reach out, are quick to work for justice and peace. God came into the world in Jesus because God wants our whole world to be transformed into Gods reign where justice and peace will prevail. And so as those who understand and know Jesus we are ones that commit ourselves to be joined in his work of transforming our world into the reign of God. This is a tremendous challenge and perhaps weve lived as Christians, many years perhaps, without fully understanding and accepting and committing ourselves to be those who work to transform our world into the reign of God, without fully committing ourselves to be the light that demonstrates what God is like.
And so today as some members of our family receive the sacrament of confirmation in public, we make that commitment to follow Jesus faithfully, every one of us and renew our own commitment to follow Jesus.
Let your imaginations be free for a moment. Imagine what our world could be like if every one of us, a disciple of Jesus, if all the disciples of Jesus throughout the whole world, about a third of the worlds people, what if all of us really lived the way of Jesus? How quickly our world would be transformed. But each of us can begin and in the very confines of our own, everyday life can make that happen and perhaps it will spread as the light in a few moments will spread throughout this church as each of us holds a candle symbolizing the light of Jesus that spreads. And it will spread as we live fully the commitment that we make through our baptism and our confirmation. We can be the light to the world. We can be the means to transform our world into the reign of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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