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The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time January 29, 2006

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 here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
This week's readings **

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.'

1 Corinthians 7:32-35
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

Mark 1:21-28
They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are--the Holy One of God!" And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.

* 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).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

Last Sunday as we left church I hope it was with those words of Jesus ringing in our ears, “Follow me.” That’s what he is asking of every one of us, the same thing he asked of his first disciples: “Follow me.” And today as we continue the Gospel we begin to learn what it means to follow Jesus. I suggested last Sunday that if we really want to follow Jesus we have to begin to listen to what he says, to try to understand his values, to see how he lived, how he acted, what he did and then we have to begin to shape our lives according to the way he lived, how he acted, what he said.

In this first incident that Mark records, we discover that Jesus is first of all the fulfillment of what we heard in the first lesson today, where God promised through Moses that there would be the one called “the prophet” who at some point would come and be God’s spokesperson far beyond all the other prophets of all the Old Testament or the Jewish history. This would be “the prophet,” the one speaking for God.

In Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” You may remember some of the responses that the disciples gave: “Some say you are ‘the prophet’.” And they were talking about this person that Moses was foretelling in the first lesson today. Jesus is the prophet, the one who speaks preeminently on behalf of God.

Obviously if we’re going to follow Jesus then one of the things we have to begin to do is to be prophetic. Our church needs to be prophetic. Each of us is called to be prophetic, to speak God’s truth, to witness to God and all that God is and all that God does. And that is what Jesus begins to do in this incident. He preaches, proclaiming and acting for God.

There are two things in this Gospel incident today that I think are especially important for us to reflect on as we discover how we, too, must try to be prophetic. The first is how the people reacted. They said, “He speaks with authority.” He speaks with authority. Now, you have to understand that this is so surprising because Jesus doesn’t have any title. He’s not a rabbi. He doesn’t have any office. He’s a lay person in the community. He doesn’t have any particular status. He doesn’t have any great prestige or wealth -- things that ordinarily we think give people authority, give them power. I think it’s important to remember that Mark wrote these words many years after Jesus had gone. When this actually happened, it is possible that the people didn’t respond so powerfully, accepting Jesus as an authority. It came over a period of time.

Toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus himself speaks about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, who occupy the very seat of Moses, and he tells his followers: “Listen and do all they say but do not imitate what they do for they themselves do no practice what they teach. They prepare heavy burdens that are very difficult to carry, lay them on the shoulders of the people but they do not even raise a finger to move them. They do everything in order to be seen by people and they wear very wide bands of the law around their foreheads and robes and large tassels. They like to occupy the first place at feasts and reserve seats in the synagogue.” They had all the externals but they weren’t authentic. They didn’t practice what they taught and so people saw through them.

It was just the opposite with Jesus. He had none of those external trappings of authority, of power, of prestige. None of that, but he was authentic. He lived what he taught. He said, “I came not to be served but to serve,” and he was a servant for all. He didn’t want the first places. He didn’t expect to have people falling all over him, glorifying him. No, he was very authentic and so his message was spoken with clarity, with power. His integrity was very obvious.

So if we’re going to be prophetic, follow Jesus, we have to make sure that our lives are as authentic as possible. Surely we’re not going to be perfect, but we can’t pretend to be something we’re not. We have to be authentic. We have to have integrity and honesty when we speak, when we act. And so that’s the first thing I think we learn as we begin to discover how to follow Jesus, that we must be prophetic but we speak with an integrity. The authenticity that commands will draw people to follow. That’s how Jesus did it, not with office, not with power, not with titles, not with wealth. None of that.

The truth of who he is is what gives him power. And that’s how each of us has to be, as authentic as possible.

The second thing that becomes clear in this incident in the synagogue at Capernaum is what Jesus is about, what his prophetic message is. The truth that he proclaims is a confrontation with evil and that’s why Mark personifies evil through the spirit who has possessed the person. Jesus confronts that evil, stands up to it, rejects it and struggles against it. And this is only the beginning of his public life. Throughout his life Jesus is confronting evil, and it gets to the point were it almost seems like he’s defeated by the forces of evil because he’s executed as a criminal. It seems as though evil got the upper hand over Jesus, but we know it didn’t because Jesus is raised from the dead through the power of God and through his love which was without limits, which contained forgiveness for all of those who did evil against him, transformed the world and evil elements in the world, transformed all of us so that we could become loving servants of God. Jesus confronted evil from the very beginning of his public life and throughout his public life, transforming hatred and violence through love.

If you think about what is happening in our world right now where we might have to be prophetic, with authenticity, with integrity, or with power against evil, there are a number of places where it seems we can turn to look or where evil is present and we have to speak out against it.

One of them is our friend, a person that I’ve talked about many times, Fr. Gerry Jean-Juste down in Haiti who is imprisoned there though he’s committed no crime whatsoever and he’s actually dying in prison.* Here’s a report I just saw yesterday from a doctor who went down there to visit him, from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Jennifer Furin. She’s writing to one of the human rights lawyers that represent Fr. Gerard. She says:

“I am writing because I am deeply concerned about the health of Fr. Gerard Jean- Juste. I am currently in Port-au-Prince ...” this was three days ago [Jan. 26] “… where I have just examined Fr. Jean- Juste and am alarmed at the marked deterioration of his condition since I saw him two weeks ago. As you know Fr. Jean- Juste was diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks ago. This diagnosis was confirmed by Haitian physician two weeks ago. Since that time his health has steadily deteriorated. Over the last four days he’s had a fever and cough and was diagnosed with pneumonia. His blood cell count has dropped markedly due to the leukemia and he appears extremely pale, fatigued, and with visible skin bruises due to his rapidly advancing disease. While he’s received some antibiotics in prison for the pneumonia, Fr. Jean- Juste requires immediate hospital level care for his deteriorating condition. Further, given his precipitously low blood cell count, significantly worse than two weeks ago, it is imperative that he receive immediate treatment for his leukemia. Without this treatment he will die in prison. There is no time to waste.”

That is evil that a person who is literally dying from leukemia and perhaps now from pneumonia is kept in prison but refused the medical care that he needs. We need to confront that kind of evil and where do we confront it? Well, as this document suggests, first of all we write to the Haitian ambassador who is in New York City. We write to our own State Department because our government controls so much of what happens in Haiti. If we wanted him out of that prison he would be out. But we let the evil go on.

Our government, the Haitian government, you and I -- if we’re going to be prophetic and confront evil where it’s present -- need to try to do something about it. We who have a twin parish in Haiti, who have developed a relationship with the people of Haiti and who know Fr. Gerard Jean- Juste from previous comments about him, we perhaps especially as friends of the Haitian people and of Fr. Gerry, we need to act in a prophetic way to end this evil, to confront it.

The other area I think of, because it’s such an important part of my life right now because of what happened in the last couple of weeks, is the evil that’s in our church. I say this with sadness, but I have discovered over the past two weeks that there are hundreds, there must be thousands of people, members of our church, who have been, first of all as youngsters, abused by priests in the church. That was a devastating experience, and officials, leaders of the church, let it go on and -- as you know from what you’ve read -- even cooperated in moving perpetrators from one place to another knowing that this is a tragic, horrendous evil. Over the past two weeks, ever since I testified in Columbus and spoke about what happened to me, I’ve received letters and e-mails and phone calls from people all over this country who tell me what has happened to them. And they’ve been given no healing. This is what is especially tragic.

I spoke to a couple the other day, parents, both of their sons who were abused by the same priest. This is here in Michigan, not in the archdiocese, but nearby. One of those sons got into drugs, which happens so often to abused kids. He’s in jail now. The other son was killed at the age of 18 in an automobile accident. Tragically they’ve lost both of their sons. Not one priest, not one bishop, has ever gone to speak to them to try to console them, to help them to reconcile. No one.

See, we try to bury this problem, and it’s an evil that’s within our church. If we don’t bring it forth and allow people who have been abused and their families to be healed this evil will become deeper and deeper and destroy the very fabric of our Catholic Christian community. We must be willing to confront it, to deal with it, to bring it into the open. And those who are responsible have to be held accountable. People have to understand that those who did it are being held accountable.

In the area where I visited this family the other day, there is a perpetrator is living in the very neighborhood. He’s not functioning as a priest, but he has access to children. He could do it again because no one is really doing anything about it. Our church leaders have backed away from this and are not being held accountable. You know that. I think most of us do, and so we have to speak out against it. I don’t like doing that and I’m sure none of us does, but if we’re going to follow the way of Jesus, we have to.

Remember, he said, “Follow me,” and he spoke against the religious leaders of his day. He had to because there was evil there. He confronted it. He denounced it. He condemned it, and he helped to bring about reconciliation. This is what we must do, it seems to me, if we’re going to follow the prophetic way of Jesus. We must discover evil, we must confront it, but we must do it in a compassionate and loving way, aware of our own weaknesses and failings. Not as someone arrogant and above others. Jesus never acted that way. He always was understanding and loving and knew or reached out to those who were hurt and reconciled them without ever being arrogant or without ever looking down upon those who failed. He forgave them. So we have to have that same spirit. We must begin, I think, to follow Jesus as faithfully as possible and in our own lives. We have to be as authentic as we can be and then like Jesus our words can have power and have force because they are the words of truth and they will overcome the evil that’s in our midst and wherever we discover it, wherever we confront it.

This morning, then, as we continue on our path of trying to follow Jesus, we think about and pray about the prophetic role and we try to embrace this role in a way that would be completely authentic, in a way that would be totally committed to work against evil wherever we discover it. As we try to enter into the work of Jesus, of transforming our world into the very reign of God, we hear Jesus saying to us, “Follow me.” And, again, this morning as we leave the church we will be committing ourselves to follow him, to confront evil, to change our world to transform it into the reign of God.

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

*Editor’s Note: As Bishop Gumbleton was preaching, Fr. Jean-Juste was being released from prison and flown to Miami, Fla., where he is undergoing medical treatment. Read about it in the Feb. 10 issue of NCR.

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