As we are all aware, Advent is the season of hope as we prepare to celebrate once more the coming of Jesus at the time of his birth. When something has already happened historically, it's hard to look forward to it again. However, as we know, Jesus came into our human history 2,000 years ago to bring about a transformation of our world, to bring about the reign of God as he announced at the beginning of his public life, "The reign of God is at hand."
The Peace Pulpit
As I mentioned in introducing the second reading, the first followers of Jesus struggled with how to understand Jesus. Of course they had come to know him as someone who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth; they knew his brothers, sisters, cousins and family. They saw him in every way that we see one another as human beings.
Recently I have had the experience of writing to various bishops in the United States to alert them to the fact that I was coming to do a public speech of one kind or another in their diocese. As I have received answers from those bishops, sometimes it was a very welcoming answer, and sometimes the bishop would say, "No, it's better if you do not come into my diocese because you can be controversial. You cause too much controversy."
A couple of times already this morning I reminded all of us that since we are celebrating a baptism during this liturgy, it's very important and a very good opportunity for us to remind ourselves that we, all of us, have made a commitment to follow Jesus, the commitment that we make in the name of this baby today.
[Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton delivered this homily in Austria on Sept. 23. He was part of events leading up to the beatification of Franz Jägerstätter. A report of the beatification, which happened Oct. 26, will be available in the next issue of NCR.]
This evening, I think it's very important for us to try to listen to this word of God, this inspired message that Paul speaks about as something we need to cherish, hear and listen to. We must try to listen within the context of what is happening in our lives.
In that short passage from the letter of St. Paul to Timothy, besides giving Timothy encouragement and trying to urge Timothy to be very faithful to his task as a disciple, St. Paul also makes a remark that I think is very crucial for us. He tells us, "The gospel I labor for and even wear chains for like an evildoer, but the word of God is not chained."
When we first hear the Gospel lesson today, we might not catch the full intensity of that prayer of the disciples to Jesus, "Increase our faith." It seems to me they were probably almost desperate at this point. As I mentioned before, they'd been going with Jesus on this final journey to Jerusalem and they'd been listening to what he has said.
There is one point toward the end of the life of Jesus where, in Matthew's gospel, he's described as going up on the hillside, looking over Jerusalem, and he's very sad. He begins to weep, and he says words something like, "If only you had heard and listened, then you would have peace." Jesus was very discouraged.
Now if we listen carefully to these scripture lessons today, we won't hear extraordinary truths, first about God and then about how we must relate to God. I think that some of us, those of us old enough to have studied the Baltimore Catechism -- and I am sure some of us have -- remember the second or third question in the catechism: Why did God make me? And we know the answer: God made me to know God, to love God and to serve God.