As we look about us this morning, we notice, of course, the differences in the decorations that we have in church this morning, because we are beginning a new year in the church. We're beginning this season of Advent, the time of special preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. So we have different colors, purple vestments, the blue and white that show joy, the advent candle, and readings that remind us of the coming of God into our midst.
The Peace Pulpit
[Bishop Gumbleton delivered this homily to the Confirmation class at St. Mel Parish, Dearborn Heights, Mich., Nov. 17]
Your teachers and pastor have given me very powerful testimony that you have prepared for Confirmation and they're confident that you're ready to be confirmed, so I have no doubt that you are well prepared and ready for this sacrament tonight. However, because it is such an important moment in your life (and I want you to be thinking about this), it's a moment when Jesus, through his spirit, enters into your spirit, deep in your heart and touches you in a very deep way, something that can change your whole life, so it's a very important moment for you.
I don't know if this ever happens on any other Sunday or feast day, but there's something very strange about the scriptures today because they seem to indicate that we really ought not to be celebrating the feast of the dedication of a church building, which is what we're doing in this liturgy commemorating the dedication of a huge building located in Rome that has now been designated as the pope's official cathedral church, built in about the fourth century, after Constantine had converted and Christians were free to celebrate in churches.
This week we have another video for Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, courtsey of Essential Dissent (see essentialdissent.blogspot.com). Bishop Gumbleton will return to his regular homily schedule with audio and transcripts posted to NCR Cafe next week.
We don't have a homily from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton this week. But we do have a video of a talk Bishop Gumbleton gave to a confirmation students at St. James Parish, Johnson City, N.Y. on March 9, 2008.
As always when we reflect on the scriptures during our liturgy, we must today reflect on these scriptures in the light of what will be happening during this liturgy. As we mentioned at the beginning, today we will baptize the newest member of our community, this tiny infant, Alexander Golden. And then also at the end of the liturgy, members of our Pax Christi group will be renewing their vow of nonviolence, a commitment to follow Jesus, the peacemaker, who rejected all violence. It's within the context of these events that we listen to the lessons today.
We should remember that Jesus has confronted the Jewish leaders because he had come to Jerusalem, came into the temple and drove out the money changers and so on, and they demanded to know by what authority he did these things. So last Sunday and this Sunday, we hear Jesus entering into kind of a confrontation with these chosen leaders. At this point, he's telling them a parable. When we try to listen to today's scripture lessons, I think we'll find that there are two very clear directions in which the lessons take us.
I must confess that when I was reflecting on the gospel lesson and the other scriptures, but especially the gospel lesson, I had to smile because I've had the experience rather recently of being invited to a Diocese where I was to give a retreat at a retreat house for a weekend. The bishop called me and said, "I don't want you to come." His reason was, "You know, Tom, you're controversial and there'll be media there." That's when I smiled or even laughed to myself. First of all, I've never had the experience, in the dozens of times that I've given retreats at retreat houses, that the media are the least bit interested in covering such an event.
I think all of us have become accustomed to speaking about the Gospel, which we listen to each week, and read ourselves during the week, as the “good news.” It’s news -- something new and important -- but good news. Then we come to a parable like the one today and we wonder, “How can it be such good news?” Because instinctively, I think every one of us feels something is violated. Here these people worked one hour; others had worked the whole day. They mentioned the burden of the work and the heat, they put up with all of that and they get the same thing. I think most of us feel there’s something wrong there.
The passage we hear today from John’s Gospel is part of a conversation Jesus was having with one of the leading Pharisees, Nicodemus. Many of the Pharisees, you’ll remember, were opposed to Jesus, but Nicodemus came in the middle of the night because he had begun to be attracted to Jesus, so Jesus engages in this conversation.