Now that the candidates have committed themselves to deepen their experience of Jesus and prepare for the special coming of the Holy Spirit into their hearts at confirmation, it's important that they, and all of us, try to listen now deeply to the word of God to try to understand what this word of God means today as we celebrate this ceremony that begins the program of preparation for confirmation for these parish members.
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
And, of course, the first thing that we heard in today's Gospel, the words of Jesus: "The reign of God is at hand; change your lives." The reign of God is at hand; change your lives. That means every one of us once more begin to try to deepen the change that began in us when we were first committed ourselves to follow Jesus.
If we're going to change our lives, I think we probably need a good reason, and that comes from the promise that Jesus, or that declaration that Jesus makes when he says, "The reign of God is at hand." Do you understand what the reign of God is? We hear that term often in the Gospel, but I'm not so sure if all of us really have the deep sense of what Jesus means when he says, "the reign of God."
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See, the reign of God is a situation where all of creation, every human creature, would be living according to God's will. The reign of God means that all of us will be living fully according to God's will, and that not just us, but all people of all time would come. And from history, and all of creation, are all brought together in a way that we are fulfilling completely the will of God.
And that will of God, of course, in the reign of God would bring about what Jesus proclaimed when he, in Luke's Gospel, begins his public life. When he comes into the synagogue, when he unrolls the Scriptures and he reads from the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 61: "The spirit of God is upon me. God has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, to heal the broken-hearted, to set the downtrodden free and proclaim God's year of jubilee."
That's the reign of God. That's what will happen when we all begin to follow God's ways fully. There won't be that terrible gap between the rich and the poor that exists in our world right now. Perhaps you read the statistic this past week published by Oxfam. Right now in the world, 85 people have $1.9 trillion worth of wealth, and that's the same amount that 3.5 billion people have. There's such a gross inequality.
See, in the reign of God, that would not be true. Everyone would have a chance for a full human life, and obviously, we have to bring about some change to make that happen. See, the reign of God means good news to the poor, but it means healing the broken-hearted, setting the downtrodden free, bringing about justice. In God's year of jubilee, that's the time of fullness of life when all debts are removed, everyone is given a chance for a full human life.
The reign of God. And Jesus says that's ready to happen. It's ready to happen right now when he said those words 2,000 years ago, and it's still going to happen if we change our lives. See, if we really begin to try to live according to the way of Jesus, then each one of us participates in the work of Jesus, which is to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.
Now these young people today are beginning their confirmation preparation where they will receive a renewal of the gift of baptism, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit into their hearts and their minds, their souls, so that they can be more fully disciples of Jesus -- change their lives, enter into the work of Jesus of transforming the world.
And we see in the Gospel today an image of what they're being called to when Jesus says to, well, two people who were fishing, Simon and Andrew: "Come, follow me." And of course, they do, but ... imagine. They just leave everything and they follow Jesus. And then John and James, the sons of Zebedee: "Come, follow me." They do it. They're ready to follow Jesus, and that, of course, is what these young people are saying -- they're ready to follow Jesus. They need your example and your guidance and your encouragement.
They need that from all of us, but they're ready to prepare themselves to make that commitment to follow Jesus. And I think it's important for us, when we're thinking about following Jesus, to remember that that doesn't just mean that we have to learn a lot of new things about our religion. That will be part of their preparation. It doesn't mean that we have to obey all kinds of commandments and rules and so on. That's part of it. But what it really is is coming to know Jesus and follow Jesus.
A couple of Sundays ago, I mentioned in reflecting on the Gospel the story of the rich young man who came running up to Jesus, and this is very appropriate today. He comes up to Jesus and says, "Master, what do I have to do to gain eternal life?"
And Jesus says, "Well, keep the commandments."
"I've done that since my youth."
"OK, if you really want to be my disciple, then go sell what you have and come and follow me. Be with me, imitate me, learn to love me, be my friend and I'll be your friend."
See, that's what it's about -- coming to know Jesus and to follow Jesus. It isn't just keeping certain rules, following certain regulations. That's all absorbed into this one really important thing: following Jesus, getting to know Jesus and following him. Now, how do we get to know Jesus? Well, there are a lot of ways. First of all, we take the Gospels seriously. We prepare every Sunday to hear the Gospel, to reflect on it, to listen to it in church and together at the whole community to try to get a deeper understanding every week, but on our own, too. Read the Scriptures, study them, try to enter into them, get to know Jesus and follow him.
There's a very beautiful passage in St. Luke's Gospel. It's after the resurrection of Jesus, Chapter 24 of Luke's Gospel. It's a story about Jesus after he had risen from the dead, and one that I think is familiar to most of us. It's a very, well, encouraging story. You remember Easter Sunday night, two disciples were walking from Jerusalem toward a small town called Emmaus, and as they're walking along, they're very discouraged. They're sad because they have just been through the experience of watching Jesus be crucified.
But then as they're walking along, a stranger comes and walks with them. And they begin to talk with him, and he begins to explain the Scriptures to them. [Then] he asked them, "Well, why are you so sad?"
They said, "Don't you know what happened just these past days when Jesus of Nazareth, who we thought was going to restore Israel, was crucified? Don't you know about that?"
And Jesus says, "Oh, you of little faith. Have you read the Scriptures? All of this was proclaimed about Jesus. It had to happen."
And as they're going along then, the evening is getting late, and Jesus is going to keep going, but the two disciples say, "No, come with us into the inn." So they go into the inn, and they sit down for a meal. And then as Jesus breaks bread, they recognize him, but then he's gone. But they had that tremendous experience of walking with Jesus, recognizing him, and so they go right back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples, "Yes, it's true! Jesus is alive!"
And then they say to themselves, "Weren't our hearts burning as we were walking along and he was explaining the Scriptures to us, and we began to understand those Scriptures and understand Jesus? And then we recognized him in the breaking of the bread."
What am I describing? It's a celebration of the Eucharist that we do every week, every Sunday. Jesus opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.
That's how we get to know Jesus -- by coming and celebrating the Eucharist in a very intense way, paying attention to the words of the Scriptures that are being proclaimed, try to take them in, let them change us. And then the presence of Jesus, receiving his body and blood as our nourishment to make us stronger in faith, make us more able to follow Jesus, even when that takes courage and determination.
And so if we want to be disciples of Jesus -- and that's what these young people are proclaiming today: They want to be disciples of Jesus. So do all of us, of course -- well then, we have to come to know Jesus and know Jesus deeply. So be prepared every week as Jesus opens his Scriptures and breaks the bread, and gradually we will know Jesus more deeply. Then we'll be able to follow him more faithfully. Then we'll fulfill our call as disciples to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.
During these coming weeks now, I invite all the parish members, parish family, [to] pray especially for these young people so that they will make that commitment when they're confirmed more deeply and more firmly, that they will be faithful disciples of Jesus, committing to transform, committing themselves to transform our world into the reign of God.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]