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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Awe came upon every soul, and
many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed
were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions
and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day
by day, they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area,
and breaking bread at home. They took their food with gladness and
singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.
The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according
to his great mercy became our father again to a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled
inheritance that doesn't fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who by
the power of God are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be
revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, though now for a
little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in various trials,
that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes
even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory,
and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen
him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal
of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit! Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whoever's sins you retain, they have been retained."
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn't with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace be to you." Then he said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don't be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed."
Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you
may have life in his name.
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|We are very familiar with the
gospel we have just listened to from Johnís account of Jesus. This
gospel is repeated every year on this same Sunday, the first Sunday after
Easter. I think that most of us, as we get used to this gospel,
really appreciate it. Weíre glad to hear it because itís reassuring.
One of the first disciples had a hard time believing that Jesus really
was raised from the dead, that he was alive, that he was in their midst.
And so when we have trouble believing and are challenged in our faith,
we can be reassured that, even among the first disciples, one of those
closest to Jesus struggled.
In fact, this whole account, as you may know, was written some 50 to 60 years after Jesusí death and was really being written for a community of what you might call second generation Christians; people who had never seen Jesus, never lived with him, never walked with him on the hillsides of Galilee and so on. They needed to be reassured that Jesus really is alive. Thatís why this gospel is so helpful. We need the same thing that they did and so we turn to this experience of Thomas and find it very helpful to us.
Thomas is one of the disciples who mustíve had maybe the greatest disappointment in Jesus. I suppose maybe that Judas had more, but Thomas also.
If you remember in Johnís gospel earlier, when Jesus was being asked by the sisters of Lazarus to come and heal their brother and Jesus was not going to go and then finally decided he would go, Thomas said to the other disciples who had been warning Jesus not to go because it was too dangerous, ďLetís all go and be killed with him, die with him.Ē
Thomas expected that Jesus was going to be confronted when he went back into the temple area in Jerusalem. Thomas knew that Jesus had always been very bold and confronting with those people who were putting down the poor and rejecting others because of some kind of uncleanness. Jesus had shown such great bravery in confronting them. But now Jesus was at a point where they had already threatened to kill him a couple of times and it was getting worse and they probably would kill him, unless he really stood up against them and challenged them. So Thomas said, ďLetís go with Jesus,Ē and they went.
But then, as Thomas saw how Jesus acted in the garden, he was disappointed. Jesus refused to use any kind of physical force to defend himself. When Peter used his sword to strike off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus said, ďPut it away.Ē He allowed himself to be whipped, to be crowned with thorns, to be spit upon and rejected, and to be killed. Jesus offered nothing but forgiveness and love in response. And Thomas must have been totally disheartened by that and he probably went off by himself and wasnít even with the other disciples for quite awhile. So he missed the whole thing on Easter Sunday night when Jesus came the first time and it was only a week later that he was there in their midst. Thomas had decided evidently to come back and it was there that he encountered Jesus.
What an extraordinary experience it was for Thomas, as you can tell from the gospel in the way that John has recorded it. Thomas realized that the way of Jesus, the way of love and forgiveness, was really the only way to overcome hatred and overcome violence. Thomas saw Jesus affirmed by God by being raised from the dead. His body that had been broken and treated with such contempt and the suffering that had been so terrible was gone; all of this was gone. Jesus was transformed and was alive in a whole new way. Thomas was just filled with awe and love and responded to Jesus very quickly and became one of the strongest witnesses to the way of Jesus and to Jesus himself.
All of this was written for our benefit, those who came long after Jesus and had never had the experiences of those first disciples of being able to see Jesus, to touch Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to eat with him, to laugh with him. We had none of those experiences. All of this was written for our benefit.
And we can learn much from this incident about Thomas. First of all, we learn how important it is to be part of a believing community. You see, thatís one of the things that really saved Thomas, wasnít it? He came back to his friends, his fellow disciples, and he discovered that they had experienced Jesus being alive again. Their faith was very strong because it had been supported by being able to see Jesus transformed. So Thomas came back and had the same experience. He drew faith and strength from his brothers and sisters in that community.
And isnít it true that thatís the most important way for us to deepen our own faith life - to draw strength from the community of which we are part? We come together with others who believe, who in their own hearts and experience have come to know Jesus and come to recognize Jesus as the son of God, the Christ - from one another, we draw strength in our faith.
But, we not only draw from one another, we also have a responsibility to be here for each other, to pray with them, to show support, and to show love to one another.
Last week, when we baptized all those who are listed in our bulletin, and there are quite a number as you can tell or see, and many of you were here for those baptisms, we made a commitment to them. Itís a very important commitment that I hope we will take seriously. These are new members of our community. We need to support them and show them that our faith is alive by the way we celebrate our Eucharist, by the way we pray together, and by the way we reach out to one another.
Thatís what that first community did for those disciples who came much later after Jesus. They showed one another their faith and they supported each other. We need to do that.
We need, also, to be as the community described in the Acts of the Apostles -- which was long after Thomasí own experience with Jesus. The roots of all that they had become were right there on that Easter Sunday night and a week later too. Luke describes it so well - they were a communion of people. They had broken down the barriers that so easily separate people - barriers of class or wealth or race. They had broken down all those barriers and were a communion of disciples, living together for one another.
And thatís something else that we need to do. As a community of disciples of Jesus, we need to strengthen our bonds with one another, to reach out and to draw other people in with us, and breakdown all those barriers that keep people apart.
As Luke says about that first community, ďThey broke bread together.Ē They came together to celebrate Eucharist, as we are doing now. They did so very faithfully. And we, too, have to continue to do that faithfully in order to build up the bond that draws us together and strengthens our faith life.
And if we look beyond our immediate community and to our whole church, itís very clear in these days that we need that gift that Jesus gave those first disciples when he breathed upon them and said, ďReceive the Holy Spirit.Ē He gave to the community of his disciples that gift of being able to forgive one another and to restrain evil.
We live in a church community, now, where we need much forgiveness of one another. You canít read the papers or watch the television without being aware that there are many weaknesses in our community, especially, sadly enough, in the leadership, among the bishops and the clergy.
I read a long article today about the church in Ireland. We were always able to say Catholic Ireland. They are almost synonymous terms - Catholic and Ireland. They just went together. But theyíre having tremendous problems, the same kind that we are having here. And so itís not just the United States. In other parts of the world, our church is suffering; itís a sinful church. We need that gift of forgiveness to reach out to one another, to forgive those who have been victimized, of course -- we need to reach out and strengthen them. But we also need to have that spirit of forgiveness within our community to those who perpetrated these horrible evils.
But itís also in our smaller community that we have to have that spirit of forgiveness; always being ready to forgive, to be forgiven, and to be willing to admit our need for forgiveness.
One final thing that we can draw from todayís readings, and is very important for us as a community of disciples of Jesus, is that teaching that Jesus made so powerful for Thomas: If we want to overcome violence, it will not be with more violence.
When we watch what is happening in the Middle East, it makes you weep when you see how people are escalating the violence. The killings go on with ever greater numbers, everyday. There are some people over there, and I know some of them, who are trying to draw together a whole community both within Israel and the Palestinian Authority, where people are refusing to use violence. They are trying to develop a peace commitment to challenge the violence with love and forgiveness. But that commitment has to be increased and our whole church has to come to the point where we realize that we can never support violence again. We have to become a church that really gives that message clearly, not just in words, but by the way we act, each of us and our whole church, to reject violence like Jesus did. Thatís why God raised him up, transformed him, to show that love is the only way.
So we need to recommit ourselves to this, once more, today and pray that in that most sacred of places, the Holy Land, that the spirit of Jesus will really come forth and that people will realize that his way is the way to peace.
The task we have, then, that is presented for us in todayís readings, is very important and can be very difficult - to deepen our bonds of friendship and love within our own community, to become a community that is open to those around us in our neighborhoods and in our world, to reach out and to draw in as we manifest the goodness and the love of Jesus, and to make that spread throughout our world.
As we commit ourselves to this deep in our own hearts, we will hear what Jesus said to those first disciples, ďPeace be with you.Ē We will experience that peace that is his gift. It will drive away all fear and any doubt as we come to know deep in our hearts the peace that Jesus brings on this Easter Sunday.
And so we celebrate that and pray that God will help us to continue to be a believing disciple; believing in the peace that we experience and that we can share within our world. God offers this to us and itís up to us to open ourselves to receive this gift and to share it with all our brothers and sisters.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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