St. Paul gives us a very difficult challenge today: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” First of all, he’s very bold in kind of saying how he himself had begun to imitate Christ, but then he challenges us to imitate him as he imitates Christ, even though, I’m sure at the time, Paul didn’t think he had perfectly imitated Jesus, but he was trying and that’s what he’s asking of us -- to do the best we can in trying to imitate Jesus. If we listen carefully to the lessons today, I think we’ll discover what a challenge it is to be like Jesus.
The Peace Pulpit
If we take some time this morning to probe these scriptures a bit, two things can happen. First, we will come to know, I think, in a deeper way, that Jesus is truly human, truly our brother, one like us in every way except sin. It's important for us to know this because that's how we can relate to Jesus as someone like us, one who can become our friend. Otherwise, if we think of Jesus only as God, we must be in awe and trembling before the God who is a total mystery to us, the God who is the maker of all things, the God who is infinite, the God who is all-powerful and the God who is without beginning or end, the God who is beyond us totally.
As we reflect on the gospel lesson today, it's important, I think, for us to remember the context within which this event in that synagogue in Capernaum happens. The context, of course, is from our first lesson today, where Moses told the people, as Moses was about to die, "Yahweh said to me, 'I shall raise up a prophet from their midst, one of their own brothers who will be like you. I will put words into his mouth and he will tell them all that I command.' " Of course, we are to understand that this prophet that God promised, that now begins his public life, is Jesus. He's the one who's to come after Moses who is greater than Moses, greater than all the former teachers of the Law.
As we reflect on these scripture lessons today, there are two very amazing truths that are being proclaimed, and I hope as we quietly enter into this word of God, we do experience amazement. One of them is very consoling and the other, very challenging. The consoling truth comes in the first reading, where at the end of the passage, the author of this story about Jonah says 'When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, God repented and had compassion and did not carry out the destruction God had threatened upon them."
|Jonah 3:1-5, 10|
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Full text of the readings
This is amazing. Don't you remember learning, as I know I did, as s child, that God is perfect, God is complete? You can't add or subtract anything from God. We hear those terms, God is "all-knowing," God is "omnipotent," "all-powerful," God is "infinite," "without limit." God is "the one who is." All of those philosophical descriptions of God are deeply embedded in our awareness and we tend then, to think of God as impersonal; "Source," some people say, or the "unmoved mover." None of these things really, though, show us as deeply as this short verse from the Jonah does, who God really is.
I thought it might be appropriate today to begin our reflection on the scriptures by sharing with you a brief anecdote. It's a very brief scene from a famous play, written by George Bernard Shaw about St. Joan of Arc.
In this play, when Joan is before the king on trial, one of the officers asks, "How do you mean, voices?"
[Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton preached this homily at the confirmation ceremony at St. Timothy Church, Trenton, Mich., Jan 11, 2009.]
Maybe the first thing I should say as we begin to reflect on our scripture lessons today is how important it is for you to say yes to that question. When I say, "Do you wish to be confirmed?" and you say yes, what are you saying yes to? This is what's really important. You could think of it as, "Well, I'm saying yes to a ceremony. I'm going to be anointed with oil and people will pray over me. So I say yes to that ceremony and it'll be all over in 45 minutes or an hour and then we go, and everything is the same as before."
You may remember on Christmas day and the second Mass of Christmas, the Gospel of Luke told us, after the shepherds had come to tell Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard and then were leaving, "Mary treasured all these messages and continually pondered them in her heart."
We’re grateful to the children and their leaders for providing us with a visual presentation of what we heard in the gospel lesson this evening. It takes much effort through pageants like that and even more through our reflection -- careful, prayerful reflection -- to try to get a grasp of the mystery that we celebrate tonight.
As Sr. Marie mentioned at the beginning, we will be celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation at the end of this liturgy of the word, and I think if we listen very carefully and deeply to the message that we've heard from these three readings, it will help to prepare us very well for this sacrament.
Editor's Note: If you are looking for Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés' column for December 18, please follow this link: Blessed Mother: Appears To Us Daily. Bishop Gumbleton's homily begins below: