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The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time February 5, 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 **

Job 7:1-4, 6-7
"Is not man forced to labor on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired man? As a slave who pants for the shade, and as a hired man who eagerly waits for his wages, so am I allotted months of vanity, and nights of trouble are appointed me. When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' but the night continues, and I am continually tossing until dawn.
"My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is but breath; my eye will not again see good."

1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Mark 1:29-39
And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them. When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.

* 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.

In today’s Gospel we’re told that very early in the morning, obviously before anyone else was up and about, Jesus went apart by himself. Mark even says, to a lonely place. Jesus wanted to be alone in quiet prayer. One commentator on the scriptures remarked that in Mark’s Gospel especially every time Jesus comes to sort of a crisis in his understanding of his call, his messianic call, why he had come into the world, when he comes to a crisis about his call, he goes apart by himself to pray, to try to rediscover and maybe to reconfirm his understanding of where God was leading him, asking what God was asking him to do.

As I thought about the Gospel, I could immediately think of a couple of times when that certainly was true. At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus first begins his public life, we’re told that he was baptized and he was driven out into the desert by the spirit. Forty days and forty nights of quiet prayer, communion with God, discovering where God was leading him -- what was his call and what was he expected to do. Another incident that comes to mind very quickly is toward the end of his public life when Jesus is on his last journey to Jerusalem and has told the disciples what was going to happen to him. Peter was telling him, “No, don’t do that. You don’t have to give yourself over to your enemies, be tortured, nailed to a cross” and so on. It was a real temptation to Jesus, so he goes apart to pray. That’s when he experiences God’s presence in a very powerful way in the transfiguration on, traditionally we say, Mount Tabor. There God affirmed Jesus but reminded him again what his role was to be, that is, to proclaim the good news, to bring the message into the world that the world can be transformed, the reign of God can happen.

The first time he came out of the desert the first words he spoke were, “The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives!” Jesus discovered in that prayer what God was asking of him, and that’s what was happening in today’s Gospel.

It might not be apparent at first but there was a real temptation here. See Jesus had drawn attention in the synagogue earlier in the day, because when he was confronted by evil he threw out that spirit of evil and everybody was in amazement. Because this was the Sabbath, everybody went home, because they were not allowed to travel or move about on the Sabbath. But then at sundown, remembering what happened, the people flocked to the home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law where the disciples and Jesus were staying, and Jesus spent hours healing, consoling and comforting. And he’s acclaimed! Everybody is clamoring to see him.

It must have been a temptation to Jesus to say, “Why not just stay right here? Do this healing kind of ministry, confront the evil that’s here. Try to change a few things, try to help a few people, and have a,” I guess you might say, “a comfortable life.” Just be there, be acclaimed, be held in admiration, be loved. But he knows that’s probably not what God was asking of him, so he goes apart to pray by himself. After his prayer, he comes back and Peter said, “Stay here. Everybody is looking for you.” But Jesus said, “No.” He was reconfirmed in his call: “I have to proclaim the good news in all the towns and villages. I have to let everybody know that God’s reign is at hand.” We can change our lives and change our world by confronting evil, by proclaiming the truth. By living God’s message of love everything can be transformed.”

Jesus said, “I have to go.” And his disciples, I suppose somewhat reluctantly, went with him. He began his public life, began journeying throughout the Holy Land and even into some of the “pagan” territories proclaiming the good news. Of course, when he does that, he takes on a lot of insecurity. First of all, he said about himself, he had no place to lay his head. He was homeless, an itinerant preacher going about proclaiming the good news. He also had to confront evil and denounce it, even at times within the religious leadership of the synagogue and the temple. He confronted evil where ever it was -- the civil authorities, the church authorities -- and tragically it lead to his being rejected.

Well, as we reflect on this don’t you begin to think, “Well, what is God asking of me?” Each one of us. We’ve said we’re ready to follow Jesus. That’s what happens when we’re baptized. “I am ready to follow Jesus, to take up his message, to proclaim the good news that the world can be transformed through love. There is no other way!” That means that we, too, sometimes are called to confront evil and violence and hatred but not by returning the same thing, by changing, transforming. And so we too probably need to go apart and pray.

I hesitate to become personal, but I thought of this in respect to, in regards to myself. I didn’t have to testify before that legislative committee in Columbus. I didn’t have to speak about what happened to me when I was a youngster, but as I prayed, I understood that it’s necessary at times to say the truth, to confront evil, otherwise we can never overcome it. I’m convinced, again, that within the church the evils that have happened can only be overcome if they’re confronted, acknowledged and forgiveness is asked and pleaded for by those who perpetrated the evils and those who enabled the perpetrators and so on. Sometimes in our lives we have to make choices that can maybe lead to some insecurity, some anger and rejection by others. But isn’t that exactly what Jesus is showing us in today’s Gospel? He goes off without knowing exactly what is going to happen to him. He just knows he has to do what God is asking of him. So he does it.

In our second lesson today I think St. Paul gives us a very good example of someone who understood this truth about Jesus. You know Paul was leading a, well I suppose I would say again, a comfortable life, a life where he was recognized and admired. He was a leader within the Jewish community but then he suddenly really met Jesus and understood Jesus and the message of Jesus so that then he says as he does in today’s second lesson, “ I am compelled,” a deep inner compulsion, “ I have to say the word.” He had been so taken over by Jesus and the message of Jesus that he says, “If I don’t speak it, I will perish. I have to speak that message.” He had really come to know Jesus and what Jesus was asked to do by God and what every follower of Jesus is asked to do. And so Paul did it and, he did it by living a life that’s insecure. He tells us in that second lesson that, “Look, yes, a preacher is deserving of wages but I reject all of that. I won’t take that. I’ll struggle along on my own, make enough by tent making to get by how ever I can.” He is not looking for a life of security, a life of comfort. No, he’s got one goal: to preach the message, to say the word of God, to confront evil, to proclaim the truth, the good news that God’s world can be transformed through love. “Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. To the Jews it’s a scandal, to the Greeks it’s madness but it’s the way to the fullness of life.” Because the crucified Christ is the Christ who has given us everything out of love, and that crucified Christ is transformed into the risen Christ who indeed Paul met. Paul really understood that message and took it to himself to live it. He said, “ I have to take it everywhere. Everywhere I can -- to the Jews and the Greeks, the rich, the poor, everyone.” And, again, that’s kind of a model for us. Paul was like Jesus and we have to try to begin to be like Paul, to come to know Jesus deeply and follow Jesus where ever that takes us.

Besides the example of St. Paul, I have another example today that I found very, very compelling. A recent article titled, “The Forgotten Wounded of Iraq” by Ron Kovic. Now, some of us will remember Ron Kovic. There’s a movie about him called, “Born on the Fourth of July.” He was a soldier at the time of Vietnam, was wounded and became paralyzed from the mid-chest through the rest of his body. Well, in this article he describes some of that. He says,

“Thirty-eight years ago, on Jan. 20, 1968, I was shot and paralyzed from my mid-chest down during my second tour of duty in Vietnam. It is a date that I can never forget, a day that was to change my life forever. Each year as the anniversary of my wounding in the war approached I would become extremely restless, experiencing terrible bouts of insomnia, depression, anxiety attacks and horrifying nightmares. I dreaded that day and what it represented, always fearing that the terrible trauma of my wounding might repeat itself all over again. It was a difficult day for me for decades, and it remained that way until finally the anxiety, the nightmares, began to subside.

As I now contemplate another Jan. 20, I cannot help but think of the young men and women who have been wounded in the war in Iraq. They have been coming home now for almost three years flooding Walter Reed, Bethesda, Brooke Army Medical Center and veteran hospitals all across the country. Paraplegics, amputees, burn victims, the blinded and maimed, shocked and stunned, the brain damaged and psychologically stressed. Over 16,000 of them. A whole new generation of severely maimed is returning from Iraq, young men and women who were not even born when I came home wounded to the Bronx Veterans Hospital in 1968.”

Then he goes on to describe what happened to him when he first came home. And then further on in the letter he says about himself and the other wounded back then,

“We are in the intensive care ward now, the place where we will be operated on and where, for me, a Catholic priest gave me the last rites.”

Then he goes on to describe what he hopes will happen for those wounded of today, but he worries because money that our government should spend on veteran’s hospitals is being cut. But finally he says this:

“The physical and psychological battles from the war in Iraq will rage on for decades deeply impacting the lives of citizens in both our countries. As this, the 38th anniversary of my wounding in Vietnam approaches, I have now discovered in many ways my injury in that war has been a blessing in disguise. I have been given the opportunity to move through that dark night of the soul to a new shore, to gain an understanding, a knowledge and an entirely different vision.”

In prayer he began to see the whole experience very differently.

“I now believe that I have suffered for a reason and in many ways I have found that reason -- in my commitment to work for peace through non-violence, through love. We who have witnessed the obscenity of war and experienced its horror and terrible consequences have an obligation to rise above our pain and suffering and turn the tragedy of our lives into triumph. I have to come to believe that there is nothing in the lives of human beings more terrifying than war and nothing more important than for those of us who’ve experienced it to share its awful truth, to condemn war. We must break this cycle of violence, begin to move in a different direction. War is not the answer. Violence is not the solution. A more peaceful world is possible, but only through love.”

The message of Jesus. Here is a person who has truly understood that message through great suffering, through the intense prayer that I’m sure he had to involve himself in over the years. He has come to know what Paul knew: “Here am I preaching a crucified Christ. To the Jews it’s scandal, to the Greeks, madness, but to those who believe the way to the fullness of life -- though our suffering, sometimes even through our death -- new life comes.” The message of Jesus.

I hope each of us will try to take that message deeply into our own spirits, into our own hearts. Each of us is a committed Christian, a follower of Jesus, and we’ve been following a path in our lives but perhaps at this time, at some time, Jesus will guide us in a direction that we prefer not to go. But if we have the confidence and trust in Jesus that Paul had, that Ron Kovic has, we’ll be able to go where ever Jesus leads us and, especially in the world in which we live, go against the trend that proclaims violence is the answer, go against the war chants and the war cries, stand up for what Jesus taught: Love and only love is the way that the reign of God will break forth in it’s fullness in our world.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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