In a way, I guess, all of us could be somewhat frustrated with today's Gospel. Yes it's true, really, the gift of creation is sufficient to take care of all of us. God has fashioned a world, a universe in which every one of us is loved in a very personal way by God. All the creatures of this planet, living creatures of every kind are loved by God having been brought into existence by God's love. Every one of us has been brought into existence by God's love. There's no limit to that love.
Yet, somehow it doesn't always ring true. We have a feeling that yes, in an abstract way, God must love me, but sometimes I do worry, any one of us. It must be very hard, I think, for desperately poor people to hear these words from Jesus who knows so deeply the love of God and is trying to get us to experience the same thing. For example, a couple of weeks ago when I was in Haiti, I saw the desperate poverty of those people.
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One woman, especially, whom I visited in her home, which was really nothing more than a shack — no running water, no plumbing, and she was dying of cancer. The hospital said there was nothing more anybody could do. She was living in the most desperate of situations. I wondered and am still wondering in a way, how can she be so confident that God loves her? Yet, I know that when I, and a couple of people that were with me prayed with her and over her, she expressed the spirit of joy and thanksgiving. Even in the midst of all her poverty she could understand that God loved her.
That is, of course, the most important thing for any one of us to understand: that God loves us and will take care of us. Jesus tells us in the Gospel to remember that your heavenly father knows what you need because your heavenly father loves you, will provide for you. But I invite you to reflect even more on the first lesson today if you want to experience that God's love is always present to us no matter if our situation becomes very desperate.
We don't hear this kind of an image very often, but Isaiah, trying to reassure the people in exile that God has not forgotten them, tells them when they cry out, "God has forsaken me; my God has forgotten me," Isaiah says, "Can a woman forget the baby at her breast, have no compassion on the child of her womb?" We all know the strength of a mother's love — unlimited, unconditioned. But Isaiah says, "Yet, even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you."
God's love is a mother's love that is unbreakable. So even in the midst of our struggles and our difficulties, we can be confident of God's love. Perhaps as we reflect on today's Gospel, we wonder how can it be if God does love us and has provided everything that we need for a full human life, why are there so many people suffering desperately? To answer that question, we need to look at another part of today's Gospel.
This is perhaps the most important: Set your heart first on the kingdom and justice of God and all these things will also be given to you. Perhaps that's where we missed in trying to hear the word of Jesus, the message of the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, God has made a universe that provides everything we need for a full human life, and yet as we know, people are desperately searching for that full human life. Some are deprived in cruel and almost inhuman ways of what it takes to have a full human life.
Maybe the reason for that is that you and I and others who follow Jesus have not worked hard enough to make the reign of God happen. The reign of God, you remember, is the situation of our planet, of our world, of our universe, in which everything is under the sway of God's unlimited love. Every person, every creature, everything there is in the universe is under that fullness of love of God and living according to the way of God's love. That's the reign of God.
Remember at the beginning of his public life Jesus said, "The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives." That's where the Sermon on the Mount comes in. It shows us how to change our lives so that the reign of God will happen. It's clear that, in many ways, we are failing to live up to this call of Jesus to change our lives. In the early part of last week, Pope Francis spoke at a conference in Rome on integration and development.
In his speech, the pope said millions of people are being forced to flee their homelands due to "conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty, and inhuman living conditions." They're forced to flee. These are the people that become refugees and migrants. Pope Francis remarked that "indifference fueled by populist rhetoric in today's world, fans the flames of rejection that threaten the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees. Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery, what is needed is a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors."
Yet, what do we hear and perhaps don't even think to challenge? "Keep them out!" Our president promised this week in a speech he gave, "That wall will be built, and it's ahead of schedule." Whom do we listen to? What kind of people are we? Are we to follow Jesus, work to make the reign of God happen? Or out of fear or maybe even something worse — hatred for others, we push them away. Yes, there are millions and millions of people who can't experience at this moment the promise of today's Gospel, the promise that all the goods of the world are for all, that everyone has a right to a full human life.
As followers of Jesus, if we listen carefully to his words as he's proclaimed them in the Sermon on the Mount, calling us to work for peace and justice, calling on us to reach out to those who grieve and suffer, if we listen to those words and follow them, we can help to make the reign of God break forth in our families, in our communities, in our nation, in our world. But we must listen, I think, to words like those of Pope Francis that really carry out or proclaim the message of Jesus. We must welcome those who are in desperate need.
We must understand that we, who have enough, must share more fully what we have and be ready to welcome and enrich those who are so desperately poor because of all the reasons Pope Francis outlined. We must welcome the poor, change their lives so that they, too, can share in these goods of the world that God has given for all. Through our love for them and our care for them in reaching out to them, we will experience in our own heart, so will all of them, that our God is the God of love, who loves us with the love of a mother and the love of a father, that is without limit, without condition, and that guarantees to all of us the fullness of life.
[Homily given at St. Philomena, Detroit, Mich., Feb. 26, 2017. The transcripts of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]