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|The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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.
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Isaiah 25:6, 7-9
* 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.
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.
We might have a special reason to mourn today because of what happened in Iraq this morning. You may have heard, a helicopter was shot down. Sixteen of our troops were killed, 20 injured. They were on their way home for 15 days of relief from the war. You can imagine the sense of sadness and loss that their families experience now. As we think about them, we must also think about all of the people of Iraq who, for over 20 years now, have been experiencing the horror of war -- killing and death all around them.
"In the eyes of the unwise, they appear to be dead, their going as a disaster. It seems they lose everything by departing from us. But we who are wise and who are believers know, they are in peace." So it is consoling to think about our loved ones. Even those soldiers who were killed this morning, we know that they are at peace.
When we turn to the gospel lesson today, we find a message that is not only consoling, but that instructs us profoundly in a number of different ways. The lesson is consoling because it shows in such a powerful way how Jesus is the son of God and the son of Mary. Jesus is divine, fully God, but he is also fully human. Thus he can be truly a brother, truly a friend, just as he was to Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This friend, Jesus, son of God, is human, so he, too, experiences sorrow and the terrible sense of grief and loss that comes when someone close to you dies.
It is so powerful to hear John say very simply, after he describes how Jesus was disturbed in the depths of his being, "He wept." He cried like any one of us would. So we know we have a God who understands our grief and our loss, and because God understands, we can experience consolation and comfort.
This lesson also teaches us about prayer. Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus: "Look, your friend is sick. He's dying. Come right away! Help!" They were praying for God to heal Lazarus. But Jesus did not respond; at least, he didn't respond in the way that they were hoping for. What this teaches us is that sometimes God, who always hears our prayer, has a broader vision, more profound blessings for us than the ones we ask for. Martha and Mary had no idea that God would go far beyond simply healing Lazarus. God would work though Jesus to raise Lazarus to life again. God's vision, God's blessings for us truly far exceed even what we ask for. But we have to be like Martha when she was challenged. Jesus asked her if she believed in the resurrection. She said, "Yes, I believe."
We, too, have to be believing people. Then we can be confident that God hears our prayers and responds in ways that go beyond what we can ask or hope for, because God's love is so all-embracing, so complete. God sees far beyond what we see. God knows how God's blessing can come into our lives in ways that will astound us, if only we believe. This God who loves us, loves us in a way that is more than we can imagine. So that teaches us something very important about prayer. Yes, we ask for what we think we need, but we always ask with the confidence that God will hear our prayer and bless us in ways that will astound us as we experience God's love ever more deeply in our lives.
When Martha asked Jesus about what would happen to her brother, Jesus said, "Your brother will rise again." Martha replied, "I know he will rise in the Resurrection at the last day." She thought it would only be at the end of time. But then Jesus said words that are very important for us to hear: "I am the Resurrection. Those who believe in me, though they die, shall live. Whoever is alive by believing in me will never die."
What Jesus is telling us is made clear in our second lesson today, when we hear how Paul wrote to the church in Rome and reminded them of what happens at baptism. We are buried with Christ so that, just as he was dead and buried and rose to new life, we, too, begin to live new life -- the life of Jesus. It isn't at the end of time. It is now that we begin to be alive with everlasting life.
Martha was quick to say, "Yes, Lord. I do believe that you are the Christ, the son of God." She knew that what Jesus said was true, and it was a new awareness for her. It isn't just at the end of time. It is now that Jesus is alive, and we share in that very life of Jesus. If we can absorb this teaching - that, since we were baptized and plunged into the death of Jesus, we have risen to new life with him to begin to live everlasting life -- if we really absorb this teaching, it can change our lives dramatically. First of all, we can come to have a very profound peace, a peace that nothing will ever take away from us, not even the thought of death. We will reach the kind of awareness that Martin Luther King, Jr. reached on the night before he was shot. That was when he made that extraordinary, joyful proclamation about himself: "I've been to the mountaintop. I've seen over. Honestly, I don't want to die but I am not afraid any longer, because I know God is waiting for me. I've seen over into the promised land, so I am at peace." He could declare this awareness even though he was almost certain he was going to be killed soon -- and it happened very soon -- but he was at peace.
That could happen to any one of us. A few years ago, when my older brother was dying from cancer and I was at his bedside, he said to me with great peace, "I am not afraid. I am ready to die." He had come to understand that he was already living with the life of Jesus, and that the life of Jesus is forever. Any one of us can have that same realization, that same understanding. Jesus said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." You don't have to wait, Jesus said. "Live in me now and you can have profound peace." Once we absorb that truth deeply, we will have joy that nothing will ever take away.
But, that truth is also challenging, because if we are alive with Jesus, it means we have entered into the reign of God. We have already, in a sense, stepped over. We no longer live just in this world. We are living in the reign of God, and the way we live should reflect that.
The readings for All Saints' Day include the gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount, which describes the reign of God. The sermon starts off with those beautiful sayings that we call the Beatitudes. They are so paradoxical because they seem to contradict what we think of as common sense: Blessed are the poor; those who live simply are the ones blessed. Blessed are the gentle, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the peacemakers, those who are always reconciling and forgiving. You live in the reign of God with those values.
In the sermon, Jesus goes on to tell us about giving up violence, hatred and killing -- always loving, even our enemies, doing good to the ones who hurt us. If we are alive in the life of Jesus, we must live according to the reign of God. Blessed are the poor, the gentle, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the peacemakers, those who love even their enemies. That is how we live in the reign of God.
As we reflect today on those who have gone before us into everlasting life and the communion of saints, we rejoice with all of those who lived the fullness of life with God. But we also understand that we, too, have begun to live that life. So we are filled with a sense of joy and peace but also with the determination and the courage to live now the way of the reign of God, to make sure we live out what we believe. Jesus said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life, those who believe in me will never die." We will live, beginning now, in the reign of God, and it will go on forever. Our faith consoles us and challenges us and prompts us to move forward into the reign of God until we enter that reign of God forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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