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ThePeace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary TimeSeptember 11, 2005

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.
Thisweek's readings **
Ezekiel 33:7-9
"I have appointed you a watchman

Romans 13:8-10
Owe nothing /i>

Matthew 18:15-20
"If your brother sins,

* Alongtime national and international activist in the peace movement, BishopGumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken criticof the sanctions against Iraq.
Hehas appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has publishednumerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in thiswork are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bibleand are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, theScripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in theDioceses 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 CatholicBishops (USCC).

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

Editor's Note:Bishop Gumbleton was away the weekend of Sept. 18 delivering the keynote address at an international peace conference in Trieste, Italy. Replacing his Sunday homily from St. Leo Parish, his office has offered the text of his presentation at the Peace Conference

Trieste Talk
September 2005

Good morning. I thank you for your invitation to participate in this extraordinary program: "Choices For Death - Choices for Life." It is an honor to be with all of you - men and women devoted to the pursuit of justice and peace for all members of the human family - especially for the poor and oppressed.

I congratulate you on all the good work you have done, and especially for this event. And I gladly respond to your request to reflect on the challenge of proclaiming a "Prophecy of Life from the Heart of the Empire."

Five weeks ago I had the extraordinary experience of visiting the tiny village of St. Radegund in Austria, to participate in the 62nd anniversary of the execution of an Austrian peasant, Franz Jaegerstaetter. Franz was extraordinary because he was truly one who prophesied from the heart of an empire. He was able to perceive in the Nazi ideology its complete contradiction to everything he believed in as a disciple of Jesus Christ. His unconditional NO to Hitler and his ideology was an act of prophetic courage.

In 1938 the Austrian nation voted to be joined with greater Germany. In his village he was the one person to vote no. He was known to be against the Nazis and for this he suffered ridicule and exclusion. However, he persisted. On March 1, 1943 he was called up. But at that point he declared his refusal to serve in Hitler's army.

It was immediately clear to everyone that conscientious objection would cost Franz his life. His mother tried through relatives to change her son's mind. Franziska (his wife) spoke to him too, at the start. But as everyone tried to talk him round, as the arguments went on and he was quite alone against them all, she stood by him. "If I had not stood by him, he would have had no one," she explained.

Franz discussed his plans with priest friends. They tried to save his life and talk him out of it. Yet they could not answer his biblical arguments. Franz Jaegerstaetter even asked Bishop Fleisser of Linz for advice. In 1946 he wrote of his conversation with Franz Jaegerstaetter: "I explained in vain to him the moral principles on the degree of responsibility that the private citizen has for the actions of the authorities, and reminded him of the much higher responsibility he had for those around him and particularly his family." After the war ended the bishop suppressed publication of the affair in his district.

Eventually Franz was arrested by the Gestapo and put in the local prison briefly and then was transferred to a prison in Berlin. During the time he was jailed there, his wife, Franziska, visited him a number of times and discussed with him the need to come back home and accept at least alternative service for the Nazis. She brought with her a photograph of their three children holding a banner that read, "Father, come home." But in his conscience, Franz could not support the Third Reich, the Nazi Empire, and could not serve in Hitler's army in any capacity. For this reason, on August 9, 1943 he was beheaded.

In visiting St. Radegund for the anniversary, I was greatly encouraged by the outpouring of support for Franz. For the most part, the people of that village are now strongly supportive of Franz and all that he stood for, and all that he died for. In fact, the Diocese of Linz has begun the cause for Franz Jaegerstaetter to be named a Saint in the Church.

For me, Franz Jaegerstaetter is a role model. His prophetic voice was rejected by the vast majority of his fellow citizens - most of whom professed the same Christian faith he did. Franz chose to search out and expose the radical evil of Hitler and his policies. The others chose not to know.

"Chose not to know"! Is it too harsh to make such a judgment?

After World War II the only German leader who confessed to his war crimes, Albert Speer, told in his memoirs how he was often asked: Didn't you know what was happening? Didn't you know the anti-God ideology of Hitler Naziism? Didn't you know of the horrors of the death camps? His answer - finally facing the reality of his choice: "We wanted not to know."!

Franz' choice, his prophetic witness, must be a model for us as we enter into this 21st century. And I emphasize - and pray - that especially I and my fellow citizens of the United States heed his prophetic voice -- a call that comes to us also from the Gospels - and recently the prophetic voice of John Paul II.

In March 2000 (and in fact on March 24th, the anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero), John Paul II visited the Mount of the Beatitudes, the place in Galilee where, according to Matthew's Gospel, Jesus first proclaimed the Good News at great length, in the Sermon on the Mount.

John Paul read the Gospel of the Beatitudes….." blessed are the poor; blessed are the gentle; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice; blessed are the peacemakers….." We know this gospel well. And after reading that Gospel John Paul spoke to the crowd - hundreds of thousands of people who had gathered there. He reflected on that Gospel. For him the words of Jesus represented a call to all of His followers. He proclaimed, "Jesus' call has always demanded a choice; a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts, even now on this hill." Or, we could say this morning, "….even now in this assembly hall."

Jesus' call is a call for us to "make a choice between the two voices competing for our hearts." The choice is between good and evil; the choice is between life and death.

And then, as he so often did, John Paul spoke especially to the young people, and he asked, "Which voice will the young people of the 21st century choose to follow?"

An important question. We come out of a century that was the most violent in all of human history. A new century, a new millennium is upon us, and which voice will the young people follow during this century? John Paul said: "To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem, and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem." The way of Jesus, will seem foolish, utopian, idealistic - all the words that people use about the Gospel. Which choice will I make? Which choice will you make?

I have a conviction that it is a choice between the Empire and Jesus. A choice between imperial domination based on military might, and the way of nonviolence - active love - proclaimed and lived by Jesus.

When President Bush announced the U.S. attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2002, he declared: "We are a peaceful nation." Then, a few days later at the headquarters of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) President Bush repeated the claim that we are a peaceful nation, and added: "This is our calling." But to show you how wrong this claim is, I call to your attention an article by Arundhati Roy, a world-renowned novelist from India. She pointed out that since World War II, since 1945, this "peaceful nation" has in fact, been at war against China in 1945-46, 1950-53; against Korea 1950-53; Guatemala 1954 - and for four decades we supported a cruel, low-intensity warfare there, killing 200,000 people; in Indonesia in 1958; Cuba, 1959-60; Zaire 1964; Peru 1965; Laos 1964-73; Vietnam, 1961-73; Cambodia, 1969-70; Granada 1983; Libya 1986; El Salvador during all of the 1980's; again, low intensity warfare killing tens of thousands of people; in Nicaragua throughout the 1980's; Panama 1989; Iraq, 1991 and for 12 and a half years of cruel, death dealing sanctions; the Sudan 1998; Yugoslavia 1999. And now she says, we can add Afghanistan to that list since 2002; and in Iraq once more since 2003.

This is the way of the Empire: bombing, killing, wherever and whenever we decide. As Madeline Albright, our Secretary of State, put it, "We are America. We are the indispensable nation. If we have to use force, it's because we see further than anybody else."

And it gets even worse when we begin to look at the roots of our war-making. Many people in the United States still think that our present war policy - the war in Afghanistan, the war against the al-Qaeda and the renewed war in Iraq - are the result of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

However, in an April 2, 2002 article in The New Yorker, Nicholas Lehman shows clearly that our foreign policy did not begin on September 11, or evolve out of September 11. Nine years earlier in 1992, Richard Cheney, our current Vice-President, and Paul Wolfowitz, who until recently was the Deputy Secretary of Defense (both of whom have exercised enormous power in the current administration) wrote a position paper for George Bush, Sr., charting our U.S. foreign policy after the fall of Communism - what we had to do now that the Soviet Union is gone from the scene.

And the main thrust of this new policy, according to Mr. Cheney and Mr. Wolfowitz will be (listen to these words carefully): "to maintain the United States' position as the world's only super power and to allow no other super powers to emerge."

The aim, simply put, was to establish unilateral control of the world. Such an aim would involve - and these are the kinds of words they use in the report - smashing all possible enemy threats, even before those threats become real. You may have heard we now have a pre-emptive military policy. We will attack another country whenever we decide that they are about to attack us - whether we have any proof or not. We have a pre-emptive defense policy.

It is ironic, or anomalous, to say it is a defense policy when it is pre-emptive. But that is what they say: "We will smash all possible foreign enemy threats, even before those threats become real." And they go on to suggest that we must control the world's resources, especially oil, and opt out of existing treaties that might limit U.S. supremacy.

That was written in 1992 - nine years before September 11. And yet it is exactly what is happening at this time. We have dropped out of the ABM Treaty. We have refused to ratify the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have refused to go along with the Kyoto Accords. We have said no to the World Court. We have refused to sign on to a land mines treaty. We are backing out of one treaty after another because we are the super power. We don't need the other nations any longer. And based on this idea that we are "Number One," that we are the "indispensable nation," we go on to develop the military arsenal that we feel we will need to maintain our imperial status.

One of the most threatening parts of this defense policy is contained in the Nuclear Posture Review of 2002. In an article about this new nuclear posture review, Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, who had supported for so many years our nuclear armaments, wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times in which he said, "Now the Bush Administration has moved to a new nuclear doctrine described by one commentator as 'unilateral assured destruction.'" "Unilateral assured destruction."!!

As our Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) becomes official policy, we can expect nuclear weapons to spread around the world. We will live in a far more dangerous world and the United States will be much less secure. The NPR explicitly lists seven countries we are prepared to attack with nuclear weapons: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as potential targets for US nuclear arms. This is in addition to Russia and China, which we already target.

One thing - perhaps the only thing that these five states have in common, excluding Russia and China - is that all of them are non-nuclear nations and are parties to the non-proliferation treaty. Obviously, what will happen as we target them and prepare to use our weapons against them, is that the whole non-proliferation treaty, the whole program of non-proliferation will disappear. Nation after nation will struggle to become a nuclear-armed nation. But the United States will continue to have the largest arsenal and we will maintain our commitment to use them first.

A further component of our imperial war-making policy is our current effort to develop a missile defense system. But this is not a defensive strategy. It is really part of a first-strike capability. We don't need those weapons to ward off missiles from so-called rogue nations. They would not have to fire missiles against us if they really wanted to bring about a nuclear attack. We know suitcase bombs are feasible. Nuclear weapons could be brought into our country and exploded within our country without missiles.

No. We want the nuclear missile defense system so that we can have a first-strike capability against another nation, probably China most of all. A first-strike capability means that you attack and destroy the weapons of the other side so that they are unable to fire back. But obviously, no strike is going to be perfect. And so when we attack those missiles on the other side, some will not be destroyed, and that is where our nuclear missile defense system comes into play. With it we could guarantee that none of those weapons that might still be left, would be able to be used against us. This is another part, a very important part of our imperial war-making capability.

There is one more very frightening aspect of this New World Order in which the U.S. will be the only super power.

During the presidential campaign George W. Bush called for the creation of what he calls "21st century military capability." He spoke about new weapon systems like the space-based nuclear laser. He asked Congress for eight billion dollars in 2002 for research and development to bring these systems into reality. The Space Command's planning document is called "Space Vision 2020." We are planning to have this space military capability deployed by 2020. It calls for us to have control and domination of space. It calls upon us to develop weapons that will deny other countries access to the universe around us.

The Bush Administration and its aerospace corporation allies understand that they cannot say publicly what they call for on paper - that the U.S. will control and dominate space. By selling the new star wars program as missile defense, Bush hopes to disguise U.S. intentions to move the arms race to the heavens. Isn't that the most frightening thing you can imagine, a U.S. deployment of weapons in space to try to control not only this planet, but all of space?

There you have the whole picture of the Empire and its will to dominate the world, even the planets. Using John Paul's words we can say this is the choice for evil - the choice for death.

What is the other choice that John Paul II offers us? He points to the way of Jesus, the way of love. Many years ago a highly respected Scripture scholar in the United States, John McKenzie, wrote about Jesus in a book called The New Testament Without Illusion. He said, "If Jesus did not reject violence for any reason whatsoever, we know nothing about Jesus." In other words, it is so clear when you look at the Gospels, when you listen to what Jesus says, when you see how He acts, when you follow His life. If Jesus didn't reject violence, then, John McKenzie says, you may as well say that you know nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. He rejected violence for any reason - any reason whatsoever.

And then the next sentence in that book is very challenging: "Jesus taught us how to die, not how to kill." Look anywhere in the Gospels and you will not find Jesus teaching us to kill. He taught us how to die. Look at the crucifix. Jesus died powerless. Jesus died loving and forgiving those who were putting him to death. Jesus died to reveal his overwhelming love for us.

He said, "When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to Myself." When I am lifted up on the cross with only love, I will draw all people to Myself. I will transform, change the world, change the hearts of people.

It is the only way, Jesus' way, the way of love. He spoke it clearly. We know these words so well, but we have to take them in, make them a real part of us, a part of our everyday lives.

"You have heard it said of old, 'thou shalt not kill.'" It could not be any plainer. "Thou shalt not kill." But for Jesus even that was not enough. "I say to you, do not even have anger, hatred, resentment, vengeance in your heart for a brother or a sister." Not just "don't kill."

"Change your heart. Even if you're coming to the altar and there want to offer your gift, and remember your brother or sister has something against you: leave your gift, go first and be reconciled." Nothing is more important than love, than reconciliation between brother and sister.

"You have heard it said of old, love your neighbor; hate your enemy. I say, love your enemy. Do good to the one who hurts you. Return good for evil."

"You have heard it said of old, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I say to you, if someone strikes you on the one cheek, turn and offer the other; if someone wants you to go one mile, go two; if someone wants to take your coat, give them your cloak as well."

We are challenged to love without limit. We are to respond to whatever is done against us, with love. That is the way of Jesus and that is what we are called to do - even if it seems strange and not very sensible. And it will seem strange and even foolish!

And in our Church, if we look at what is happening, taking us back to the original tradition, how the very first Christians understood the message of Jesus and lived it for about 300 years, we find that we are moving back to the radical teachings of Jesus. Many of us in the Church seem to ignore this.

Go back to 1963. Recall Pope John XXIII making one of the most extraordinary statements about non-violence and the rejection of war that can be found anywhere in Catholic teaching. Forty-two years ago he wrote in the encyclical "Pacem in Terris": "In our atomic era it is irrational any longer to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights."

Today in our era of total war which includes nuclear weapons, it is irrational, immoral, against humanity and against God even to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights. The just war theory disappears with that one sentence. We need to listen to that.

Pope Paul VI's Peace Day Statement of 1976 deplored what had happened at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. For the first time a clear statement about the horrific evil of that event. He called it "a butchery of untold magnitude," and he went on to say, "Who is the model for our times, this time in which we live? When the reality is so grim, who is the model?" The poor, weak man, Gandhi! The Hindu who understood better than most of us Christians what Jesus really taught - he is the model for our times.

In 1980 John Paul II's Peace Day Statement was urgent: "I invite all Christians to bring to the common task of building peace, the specific contribution of the Gospel, the specific contribution of Jesus." And in light of that Gospel he says, "I now repeat: violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Do not believe in violence. Do not support violence. It is not the Christian way. It is not the way of the Catholic Church. Believe in peace, forgiveness and love. For only these are of Christ."

It is hard to be any clearer that our tradition is reaching back to where we started - to where Jesus started - and each of us must make that tradition our own once more.

Again, Pope John Paul II in 1991 condemned war in the clearest words possible. He wrote, "I, myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic gulf war in the Persian Gulf repeat the cry, 'Never again war. No! Never again war!'"

He gives reasons why the just war theology, any theology that justifies violence, is wrong: because it destroys innocent lives. Every war does. It teaches how to kill, depriving those who kill of their humanness by learning to hate. It throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing. And always, it leaves behind a trail of hatred and resentment, making it all the more difficult to find a just solution to the very problems that provoked the war in the first place. Our tradition is calling us always to reject war. Jesus says no to violence, no to war, no to killing, for any reason whatsoever.

More and more Christians are realizing the call of Jesus to this way of love.

In November of 2001 just before the U.S. Bishops' meeting when we were going to discuss our response to 9/11, I received a letter from a young woman in New York whose brother had been killed in the World Trade Center. It was a powerful letter. She said: "I'm writing to you today to offer support and encouragement for what I hope will be an ongoing discussion among the bishops. My brother, William Kelly, was killed on September 11th at the World Trade Center. There is no scale on which my family can begin to measure our loss. Nor are there any words adequate to express our sorrow. My family is quite clear, however, that we would never want another family - whether Afghani or American - to feel the way we do now." Further on she writes, "I adamantly oppose the bombing of Afghanistan. I have no other argument than it is not Christ-like. I do not know what Jesus would do in current times, but I am certain He would not advocate the bombing of anyone. The deepest, truest part of our collective heart knows this truth. You and I and my family live in a very human world, however, so how can we reach true peace?" She continues: "One stumbling block seems to be the lack of choices given the American public concerning our response to September 11th. Our country seems to see no other way because we have been presented with no other way. So this is my urgent request of the bishops: Can you begin the discussion of the "other" way - Christ's way? Can you help provide moral guidance to a majority that is voicing support for a bombing campaign?"

On her behalf I made that plea to the bishops that November. It was rejected. We, the bishops, did not present another way. We supported the bombing. The Catholic bishops of the United States supported the bombing, supported the war. I am very sorry to say that this support continues today.

I was utterly appalled on January 29, 2002 when President Bush was giving his State of the Union Address outlining our plans to attack the "axis of evil" and to continue to glorify our violent response to September 11. As the President vowed to continue this violence two Catholic cardinals sitting in the audience, rose up to clap with everyone else. After September 11 another cardinal wrote a letter to President Bush, congratulating him on how well he had responded in this "just" use of violence.

Just recently another cardinal was present with President Bush when some protesters were in the audience and were booed down. The President repeated his cry to use violence. Everyone in that audience (except those few protesters) applauded. The cardinal sat there. I don't know if he applauded or not, but certainly he was endorsing what the President was saying.

I tell you all of this only because it becomes very clear to me that Colleen Kelly's request is not going to happen soon. The U.S. bishops are not going to show us the alternative way. It's going to be up to you and anyone in our Church who really understands the way of Jesus, the way of love. We must be the ones who will begin to show the new way. And so, at this point, I ask you:

Will you reject the claims of the Empire, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem?

Will you believe what Jesus says and follow Him, no matter how strange it may seem?

Then we have a job before us. Each of us must begin to open our hearts to hear the call of Jesus, to make the choice to follow Him. It is the only way to bring peace to the world. As this happens, as we are deeply converted, God will work through us in ways we can never anticipate.

At the beginning of this presentation, I spoke about Franz Jaegerstaetter. He is a model for us of rejecting the Empire and following the way of Jesus. He also gives us encouragement. Extraordinary things happened because of the choice he made, even though he was never aware of them. When he made his choice and went to prison, very, very few people in the world knew about it. The Village of St. Radegund at that time had about 500 people. The rest of the German people did not know about Franz Jaegerstaetter. No one outside of that area knew about Franz Jaegerstaetter. But after World War II, a U.S. sociologist, Gordon Zahn was doing research in Germany, trying to discover how it could happen that a nation, professedly a large majority Christian, could follow a pagan ideology. Gordon Zahn wrote a book based on his research called "German Catholics And Hitler's Wars," a very important and very powerful book. However, in the course of his research he came across some items in the archives he was searching, that mentioned this peasant from Austria. Doctor Zahn decided he wanted to pursue this. He found out as much as he could about Franz Jaegerstatter. He visited the Village, met Franziska and the children. Finally he wrote a book, "In Solitary Witness." It's not a well-known book. It never became a best seller. Probably those who read it number only in the thousands. However, one person read the book, for whom it made a profound difference. That person was Daniel Ellsberg. You may recognize that name.

In 1971 Ellsberg had been working for the U.S. Defense Department in a high-level job. He was privy to secret documents regarding the war in Vietnam. He came to realize, as many others in the Department did, that this war was wrong. It was not winnable; it was not just. It was destroying the Nation of Vietnam, its land and its people. Ellsberg determined that he had to oppose the War. One of the ways he could do that was to publish this extensive study that came to be known as "The Pentagon Papers." He made copies of the documents and forwarded them to the New York Times. The New York Times published them. For the first time the people in the United States had a clear understanding of how wrong the war was, how seriously it was destroying Vietnam and its people, and how we were not winning that war. Because of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, of course, was fired. He lost his career; he was threatened with jail. But he felt he had to do civil disobedience to stop the war. It was not long until momentum began building in the United States to end the war. By January 1973 the United States withdrew from Vietnam.

One of the things that had influenced Daniel Ellsberg, that had given him courage to do the disobedience, to end his career, to risk jail, was the book "In Solitary Witness." Because of Franz Jaegerstaetter, Daniel Ellsberg became a prophetic voice against war and for peace.

None of us will ever know what can happen when we too, begin to live out the message of Jesus, when we're willing to risk our careers, our good standing in our community, risk even going to jail in order to reject war and to follow the way of Jesus. But just as Franz Jaegerstaetter was able to do it, as Daniel Ellsberg was able to do it, so can we. And when enough of us begin to follow this way of Jesus, surely there will come a profound change within our Church, within our countries, ultimately within the world. Then we can hope that all people will be willing to heed the cry of John Paul II, "War never again. No. Never again war." We will reject the way of Empire. We will follow the prophetic way of Jesus, the way of love, the way of non-violence, the only way to peace. Thank you.

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
September, 2005

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