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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Acts 2:14, 22-33
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, "You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words. "You who are Israelites, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man commended to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God worked through him in the midst of you, even as you yourselves know, him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed; whom God raised up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it. For David says concerning him,
'I saw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved. Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover my flesh also will dwell in hope; because you will not leave my soul in Hades, neither will you allow your Holy One to see decay. You made known to me the ways of life. You will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
I may tell you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was
buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet,
and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of
his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on
his throne, he foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was his soul left in Hades, nor did his flesh see decay. This
Jesus God raised up, to which we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted
by the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise
of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this, which you now see and hear.
1 Peter 1:17-21
If you call on him as Father, him who without respect of persons
judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves with reverence
during the time of your sojourning,: knowing that you were redeemed, not
with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from the useless way of life
handed down from your fathers, but with precious blood, as of a faultless
and pure lamb, the blood of Christ; who was foreknown indeed before the
foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of times for your
sake, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead,
and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God.
Behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus,
which was seven miles from Jerusalem. They talked with each other about
all of these things which had happened. It happened, while they talked
and questioned together, that Jesus himself came near, and went with them.
But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. He said to them, "What
are you talking about as you walk, and are sad?" One of them, named
Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn't
know the things which have happened there in these days?" He said to them,
things?" They said to him, "The things concerning Jesus, the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people;
and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to be condemned
to death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who would
redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since
these things happened. Also, certain women of our company amazed us, having
arrived early at the tomb; and when they didn't find his body, they came
saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was
alive. Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just like the women had
said, but they didn't see him." He said to them,
"Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have
spoken! Didn't the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into
his glory?" Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained
to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. They drew
near to the village, where they were going, and he acted like he would
go further. They urged him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is almost evening,
and the day is almost over." He went in to stay with them. It happened,
that when he had sat down at the table with them, he took the bread and
gave thanks. Breaking it, he gave to them. Their eyes were opened, and
they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. They said one
to another, "Weren't our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us
along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?" They rose
up that very hour, returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered
together, and those who were with them, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed,
and has appeared to Simon!" They related the things that happened along
the way, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
* 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
|To understand todayís scriptures,
especially the gospel, we need to remind ourselves, as we have at other
times, that this gospel of Luke was written in the second generation after
Jesus (50 or more years after Jesus had been present among the community
of disciples, but then had been killed and later raised from the dead).
Luke is putting together these scripture stories in order to help the people
of his time who did not have that opportunity to see and to know Jesus
with their own eyes and to be with him in a physical way while he was present
on earth. Luke was trying to help them to understand how, at this
point, two generations later, they will be able to experience Jesus and
to know Jesus. And, of course, here we are 2000 years later and itís
very important for us to have that experience too of Jesus being alive,
being present with us in our community. We need to know that Jesus
is alive and not just as some kind of abstract knowledge, something intellectual.
We need to know it as something that we experience, that we really get
a sense that Jesus is present to us.
And so this gospel story today can help us just as it helped those first disciples so long ago.
Itís a narrative parable that is trying to show us what the church really is and where it is that we discover Jesus within the church community. The parable shows people on a journey.
This is a very typical scriptural symbol, people finding God as they journey through life, always walking or traveling toward God. You find it in the story of Abraham. Abraham is called by God to make a journey, to travel, to go from one place to another and, in the course of that travel, Abraham will find God. Another is the whole story and history of the chosen people. Much of the story is their long journey through the desert experience that continued for generations. They discovered God in their journeying and entered into a covenant with God: They were Godís people and God was their God -- they knew God.
In the gospel, and in Lukeís gospel especially, almost two thirds of the gospel recounts the last journey of the life of Jesus where Jesus is going up to Jerusalem. So much of the gospel is about his traveling there to find God, God in his power of raising Jesus from the dead and going through death to new life.
And so for us, also, God calls us to be on a journey. We are the pilgrim people of God, marching or walking along together in a community of people, moving on this journey until we discover God and experience God.
The parable in the gospel today shows us how this happens, this community of pilgrim people moving on our way toward God. Itís an opportunity that we have every time we come together. Itís in the breaking of the bread. Those words used in the scriptures are not just about the actual time of the consecration where you say the words of consecration, ďThis is my body, this is my blood,Ē and then break the bread and distribute it. Itís the whole ceremony, the word and the sacrament. That is what the scriptures mean by the breaking of the bread that those people experienced on their journey on the way to Emmaus. It was the word of God and they hadnít understood that.
Itís described in the gospel that, as theyíre walking along, Jesus himself is explaining to them those scriptural passages where the words of the scriptures speak about Jesus and what will happen to him -- who he is and what he will do. As Jesus explains to them, their hearts are burning within them because they really experience God present in that powerful word. They understand that God is present as they are listening. And then, as they celebrate the actual sacrament, they recognize Jesus, they experience him and they know heís alive and heís with them.
That is the same experience that is open to us and is available to us, if we came together as a community and we really come with our spirit of faith and a willingness to open our mind and our heart, to open our whole being, our whole person, and to be present as God becomes present to us, first of all, in the word.
And that word of God can be very powerful and can be a way in which we really discover God and experience Godís presence. Sometimes, itís just like those first two pilgrims going on their way to Emmaus, overcome with grief and pain. Someone they loved had been killed and was gone from their midst. And, sometimes, for ourselves, in a moment of grief and loss, if we turn to the word of God, we discover Godís present to us.
I can share with you something that happened to me when my mother died a number of years ago and I was trying to deal with it. Iíd gotten a call that sheíd been in the hospital and Iíd just visited her the night before. But early in the morning, I got a call that she was dying and I was really overcome. But I opened my scripture, my book of the psalms and the prayers that I say as part of the office everyday, and for that particular morning there was a passage from the book of Revelation that spoke so powerfully to me. I was experiencing the loss of my mother and, I think, in a kind of selfish way, I didnít want her to go. And what I read in the book of Revelation were these words, ďSee, I come very quickly, I have my reward for you in hand.Ē It became very clear to me that Jesus was saying he had come for my mother with a reward in his hand, which I realized she so fully deserved -- to enter into everlasting life. Itís hard for us, but for her it was a blessing.
And it really was in that word of God that I felt the presence of Jesus speaking to me just as powerfully as Jesus would speak to his first disciples when he was here on earth and saying those words that I needed to hear at that moment, ďSee, I come quickly, I bring my reward for you, I have it in hand.Ē
So I knew the presence of Jesus in that word. But that can also happen to anyone of us as we read the scriptures and reflect on them. Take our little white parish book we read each day and read that short passage thatís given to you. Then the spend three to four minutes thatís suggested in listening and trying to be in touch with God. If we do that, surely we will experience God present to us. It happens and will happen to any of us when we open ourselves to that presence of God in the scripture.
But then, also, as a whole community, when we gather here to hear the word of God, but also to celebrate the Eucharist, we experience one anotherís faith life. Weíre strengthened by each other and we know that we believe in Jesus. And in the love we share with one another, we begin to experience the presence of Jesus, the Jesus who is love and who brings love into our lives. Itís a powerful way to come to know Jesus. And thatís the experience that those first disciples had. Itís the experience that we can have as we become this pilgrim people moving on our journey toward the fullness of life.
Another way that I thought, perhaps, we need to apply this gospel today is in the midst of the turmoil that we are experiencing in our church -- a time when we need to know very powerfully that God is present to us in spite of what is happening. It seems like everyday this past week, there was another article in the press about whatís happening in other parts of the country, but also whatís happening here in Detroit.
Our church is suffering, itís in turmoil. One of the things that occurs to me, as I reflect on todayís gospel and how the church is described as this community of disciples in Jerusalem on a journey, that, perhaps, what we need to do in the church, if weíre going to experience the presence of Jesus in the midst our turmoil, is to recommit ourselves to the notion of our church as a pilgrim people. Thatís a way that the church was described at the Second Vatican Council. And immediately after the Council, we began to live much more as a church which was a community of disciples, a pilgrim people.
Yes, we are sinners at times, weíre a sinful church. Pilgrims are people who, as they travel along, get stained. Theyíre dirty at times, they need to be refreshed and renewed, and given a new spirit, a new life. But, also, a pilgrim church is a church where we really experience what the Vatican Council said about the church, ďThat weíre a community of disciples who are equal in freedom and dignity.Ē Every one of us is a full member of this body of Christ, a community of disciples, equal in freedom and dignity.
Doesnít it seem that part of our problem, right now, is that weíve moved away from that concept and weíve become a church thatís too institutionalized with people trying to be in control -- in governing the whole church? I think, explicitly, of whatís happening in the Archdiocese of Boston right now. The whole people are saying we need radical change. But one person is saying, ďNo.Ē
If we really were a pilgrim church, all of us in the church would have more of a voice as to how our church functions, how we really move on our journey together toward God, how we listen as a whole community, not to one person, but to the whole community.
God speaks to through the word, but God speaks to us as a community of disciples. And all of us have a voice and need to have a voice in trying to respond to the turmoil thatís taking part in our church.
Perhaps, if we really committed ourselves to be this community of disciples, moving together toward God on a journey in faith, and that, together, we listen to Godís word, and shared in the breaking of the bread, even in the midst of this terrible turmoil thatís going on right now that brings so much sadness to us, so much pain and hurt, that in the midst of all of that, if we were this pilgrim church, listening together to the word of God, celebrating that word of God, sharing the breaking of the bread, we would know Godís presence much more powerfully, and God would guide us.
So, just as those first disciples in hearing the word, in breaking the bread together with Jesus, went back to Jerusalem filled with new enthusiasm, new life, and new joy, were ready to proclaim that Jesus is alive, that could happen to us. If we really became this pilgrim church, listening to Godís word, sharing in the breaking of the bread, giving our strength of faith to one another, we too would get through this turmoil easily and become alive, once more, in a new way, with stronger life, with greater joy, greater enthusiasm, for the message of Jesus, and we could move beyond our turmoil, and our sadness, and our pain; our hurt and our sins. We could move forward as Godís people, proclaiming the good news, ďJesus is alive, he speaks to us in his word and he comes to us in the breaking of the bread.Ē
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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