The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2006|
Editors Note: Bishop Gumbleton was not in his usual pulpit Sunday March 5. As a substitute, we will post the homily he delivered March 1, Ash Wednesday, at St. Leos, his parish in Detroit.
I have a couple of props here with me tonight, which will become clear as we go along. But first of all I want to see everybody smiling. You heard the gospel -- you cant have a gloomy face during Lent. You have to wash your face, look cheerful, smile, have a happy day, whatever it takes, but be joyful. And thats the way we should celebrate the season of Lent.
You know Im sure most of us grew up thinking of Lent as a very somber time, probably kind of a negative thing, giving up things you like. You know how as a little kid you gave up your chocolate candy or ice cream or something during Lent. So it always had that negative connotation, but if we listen carefully, especially to the gospel lesson tonight, its all very clear.
Lent is time for positive growth for every one of us. Becoming more and more conformed to Jesus. Thats what Lent will do for us: help us to reach the end of the season, to celebrate Easter with a deep renewal of the life of Jesus within us. Each of us more closely conformed to Jesus.
And that will happen through the three things that are very connected with Lent that you hear about in the gospel. You hear one thing in the first lesson today -- Joel called the people to fast. We are called to fast, but were also called to pray. Jesus made that very clear. And our fasting isnt just giving up. Its so we can give over to others -- almsgiving. And if we do each of these three things in a very special way during the season of Lent well truly grow into the likeness of Jesus.
First of all, prayer. Jesus was very clear in the gospel tonight. He said dont pray like so many people do. And he was talking about how people in his time, and it still happens, had certain prayers, formulas, words that they would say over and over again thinking that if I just get this right, if I say the prayer exactly the way God wants, God will have to answer my prayer. Its like were trying to manipulate God. Like God is just waiting to do whatever we ask for at any moment, especially if we ask for it over and over again, and if we ask for it in just the right way, use exactly the right words, or something like that. He says No, thats not prayer. Just go into your room, be quiet. More than repeating a lot of words -- listen. Thats how we pray, by listening.
We have those little black books, and if you dont have one get one tonight, but get one. And each day spend those six minutes with what we call Lectio Divina -- divine reading, divine lesson. You read the scripture very briefly, read the commentary, but most of all just let the words of the scripture enter into your awareness. Youre listening, trying to have Gods word penetrate your spirit, your heart. And Gods word is a powerful word that will change us. Transform us. And so we must really try to listen during Lent, make that our prayer. Even when we come to celebrate the Eucharist together, and we sing together and we pray together out loud, we still want to most of all be ready to listen to the lessons. Listen to them deeply, hear God speaking in the depths of my heart. Thats the kind of prayer we need to try to do every day, but now especially during Lent.
Fasting is a very important part of the Lenten season. Usually we associate fasting with a change in our eating habits of some sort. Giving up certain kinds of food perhaps, or cutting down on the amount of food we eat. Some people even spend a whole day without eating anything. You can do different ways of fasting. Always being prudent, being careful of your health, but most of us probably do eat more than we need in any particular day, and so it wont hurt us to fast. But fasting isnt just for itself. When we fast were supposed to let ourselves be aware of people who dont have food. If we experience a feeling of hunger, you know, for a few hours say, because we skipped lunch or something, that can help remind us of the majority of the people in the world who feel hunger every day. And some who have practically no food -- theyre dying of starvation. And so our fasting is to give up something, but its so that we become aware of those who are in need. And then we move toward almsgiving, giving over what we have in excess or, if were really generous, giving out of our substance, to those who have so much less.
Today I heard on the radio a program -- Id never heard it before I cant even remember the name of it, it was on NPR this afternoon -- and it was an interview with a film maker who had made a documentary about photographer Kevin Carter. This documentary is nominated for the Academy Award for documentary so I suppose therell be excerpts of it next Sunday night, but its about the photographer who took this picture. You may not be able to see this from out there, but Im going to put it up here [on the altar], because its one of the most dramatic pictures of what is happening in our world that youll ever see. It shows a tiny little girl, this is in Sudan, and obviously she was in a line walking forward to get food, and she fell by the side. Theres a vulture behind her, waiting for her to die.
Its a powerful picture, and the documentary is about the photographer who took the picture. Because it had a tragic effect on him. He won the Pulitzer Prize for it, because its such an extraordinary picture, but he began to have terrible feelings of guilt. In fact he got a lot of hate mail because people said, Why didnt you do something instead of just taking a picture?! Why didnt you pick that little girl up and take her and give her some food?! And he began to think maybe thats what he should have done. But he was there as a photographer. He was there doing a job and the job was to try to make this kind of thing known to millions of people throughout the world who might care enough so that something really could be done.
At the moment he took this picture it was too late for this little girl, and of course there would have been thousands of other children just like her dying at the same time, so he really could not have done anything. But that guilt built up in him so much that a few months later he committed suicide. He just couldnt bear the fact that -- at least he felt this -- that he had failed. Even though he was praised among his co-workers, other photographers and so on, he won a prize for it, but he felt he was getting money for something that he had done badly in fact.
We need to be aware of the fact that in our world between 30,000 and 40,000 children like this die every day because they dont have food or access to clean water. Thats a tragic -- it should be an unbelievable -- statistic, because we have a world where there is enough for everybody. But we dont share enough.
And thats the other thing that I want us to continue to be aware of. I invite you to come up afterwards and take a look at this picture closely and see the tragedy of it, but Sunday we passed out those rice bowls and this calendar that goes with it. If you take one of these, if you havent got one already, I urge you not just to collect the money. Thatll be important -- as you go through the season of Lent the idea is you give up something every day and what you would have spent for that you put in your rice bowl and you bring it back at the end of Lent. The calendar reminds you every day of some place in the world where someone is experiencing some terrible tragedy. Its happening all over our world. And there are six particular countries that are focused upon in this piece of material that goes with the rice bowl. Heres just an example: Afghanistan -- the country which we invaded a few years ago.
The village of Rabatak:PlaceName is tucked away at the end of an unpaved track that winds for miles through the mountains of central Afghanistan. My name is Ghul Ahmad and I have lived in Rabatak all of my life. Our lives and fortunes are entwined with the small mountain stream that runs down the center of our village. Without this water, there would be no almond or apricot trees in the orchards I tend for a living, and the village would be lifeless and grey. Without this water, there would be no Rabatak.
But the water that gives life to Rabatak also has a dark side. Farm animals wade in the stream, and in summer months it becomes a muddy trickle. We have always known that drinking the dirty stream water causes illness among the people in our village, but there was no other water source and we could not afford the materials needed to protect the water.
Catholic Relief Services provided our village with cement, pipes, and tools so that we could build a protected drinking water system. The whole village worked together on the project. Every man in Rabatak dug 20 meters of trench for pipes, and we connected the pipes to the spring that is the source of the stream. We now have four public taps and get clean drinking water straight from the spring. There is enough water for everyone, and our health has improved, because we now have clean water for cooking, washing, and drinking.
Thats what can happen through this program. Not just that we give something for the moment so people have a glass of water, but that they continue to have that water by helping them to do something like this. So thats the spirit with which we should enter the season of Lent. Thinking of it as something very positive.
We pray to listen to God, we fast to remind ourselves of those who suffer because they dont have enough, and we give our alms so that we can make life better for every person on our planet. When each of us enters into the season of Lent in this way, and takes it as a very positive thing, not only will we help to make our world a better place, but clearly well be growing more and more into the likeness of Jesus whose heart always went out to the poor and the suffering.
When you come forward to receive your ashes tonight, thats a sign of your repentance for your sins, a sign that youre ready to die to your former life in order to rise to a new life in Jesus and prayer, fasting and almsgiving will make that new life happen for you during this season of Lent. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Editors Note: Here is a link the NPR story, Bishop Gumbleton spoke about: The Death of Kevin Carter.)
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