There's an amazing phenomenon in nature. Perhaps you've heard of it: The migration of the monarch butterflies. This is, as I said, an amazing phenomenon. These butterflies live in the Northeast part of the United States and every year they migrate to Mexico and then turn around and migrate back. It's astounding just to think about butterflies -- such tender and fragile insects, part of the animal kingdom -- that they can make that long journey.
But in fact, what's even more amazing is that none of those who start out make it back. During that migration there are at least seven generations of monarch butterflies that keep the migration going and bring it back. When you think about that, it perhaps can be a good insight into the Scripture lessons today. Each generation of those butterflies, in order for the species to endure, is dependent upon the preceding generations.
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There would be no monarch butterflies if each generation did not do its part and carry on that migration. In a way that's what the Scriptures are telling us about faith today. Think about your faith, my faith -- we believe in God, we know Jesus as the Son of God, the Holy Spirit. How did all this happen that we are enlightened to know God? As we prayed in the opening prayer, Abraham called God, "Father" or God, our "Mother." We are sons and daughters of God. How do we come to this understanding?
Of course it's been passed on to us through those who have gone before us. Our faith life depends not just on our brilliance or somehow we're very special or something; it's because others have gone before us who have believed and have passed on that faith, just as those monarch butterflies keep their species alive by passing on life from one generation to the next. Our first lesson makes that clear when the author of the Book of Wisdom is discovering that his fellow Jews are falling away from their faith life, he urges them, "Remember what happened in the past."
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He goes back to the time of the Exodus, a time of profound faith life for the Chosen people when God spoke to Moses, "I am who am," the God who is existence and gives existence to all of creation. As those Jewish people traveled through the desert from slavery to freedom, it was only because they had that profound faith, that personal relationship with God that kept them going. The author of the Book of Wisdom says, "Remember that. You've received an inheritance that's beyond price." It's invaluable -- that faith that was passed on, and so awaken faith in yourself.
In the passage from the letter to the Hebrews, again the author finding people who are struggling to continue to believe, continue to relate to God through Jesus and to keep that relationship alive and faithful. The author of that letter reminds them of Abraham and Sarah, people in their old age. They had been promised by God that their descendents would be the Chosen people and they would be greater in number than the stars in the sky and the sands on the shores of the sea.
Here they are in their old age with no children, but they believed; they continued to trust in God. The author urges the people -- persecuted and perhaps falling away from their faith -- to remember that and try to awaken within themselves. He's asking us to do the same thing: Awaken within ourselves a sense of that extraordinary faith like Abraham and Sarah's -- nothing to go on except God's word. But they accepted that and the result was the fulfillment of those promises.
In the beginning of that letter to the Hebrews the author says, "God has spoken in the past to our ancestors through the prophets, in many different ways, although never completely; but in our times God has spoken definitively to us through God's Son, Jesus. He is the one appointed heir of all things, since through him he unfolded the stages of the world." Then he goes on to explain how Jesus comes as the fulfillment of all of God's revelation.
God had been revealed through the ages from the very beginning in different ways, but now at the time of Jesus it's the definitive revelation. We are being called, as believing people, to think of all those who have gone before us in faith, and to try to draw strength from their faith going all the way back to the very beginning as the Scriptures suggest. But then especially remembering that we come in this journey of faith after Jesus, who is the fullness of God's revelation.
So our faith life has to be focused on Jesus. If we're going to continue to bring about the reign of God, which is why Jesus came, it will be because we have a deep and firm constant faith, trust in Jesus. Our Gospel lesson reminds us of that. Jesus, when he came, declared that the reign of God is at hand. The reign of God is ready to break forth, which would mean the fullness of life for everyone, the completion of all of creation. The fullness of God's reign is ready to happen.
When Jesus announces that to his disciples he says, "Change your lives." Our task in this continuation of the role of faith in human history is to begin to bring about the transformation of our world into the reign of God until it comes to its completion. We have all of those that have gone before us for eons who believed. We can depend on their faith if we try to remember it, dip into it, and make it our faith. But then we believe Jesus and Jesus shows us the way.
That's why in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, on his final journey to Jerusalem that he's making, teaches us as he goes along various things. Last week and this week, he's trying to get us to see that the fullness of our lives doesn't depend on material things. No, it depends on our coming into union with God through Jesus and following Jesus' way to change our world, to transform it gradually to be the reign of God.
So as we think about our faith asking, "How strong is my faith?" first of all, I hope we remember those who have gone before us. Probably most of us who are here are here because in our own families, faith was passed on to us. We can remember people in our families who were strong believers and faithful people. So we thank God for that, but then we also accept our role in this work of making the fullness of faith happen where the reign of God breaks forth ever more completely when we begin to change our world so that everyone has a chance for a full human life.
We don't have to look very far to see how wrong things are in our world -- the violence and the hatred and the killing and the grasping for material goods that goes on that sometimes is the root cause of a lot of that violence and killing. We can see what needs to be changed. If we listen carefully each week to Jesus instructing us, we can be guided on the ways that I need to change if I'm going to be faithful to the faith that has been passed on to me.
As we begin to change, our world around us will begin to change and the reign of God will come more closely to its fulfillment. We could begin to see the peace of God, the goodness of God, the love of God break forth in our world. But it's up to us to continue this journey of faith, to follow where Jesus leads us, to change our lives and to follow him. That's what it depends on. So today as we listen to these Scriptures, we pray that God will strengthen my faith, will help me to come to know Jesus better, to follow Jesus more faithfully, and help bring about the fullness of his reign in our world.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. 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.]