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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies
given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI. Each homily is transcribed
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From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide
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NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
We are encouraged not only by the example of Thomas but also by what Jesus says to Thomas: "Thomas, you believe because you see, but blessed are all of those who have not seen and still believe." And, of course, we think of ourselves. We're among those whom Jesus says are blessed. The author of this Gospel was thinking of the people of his own day. Remember that this Gospel was not written until the year 90, and so all of those first witnesses of Jesus were gone. He was writing for people who were just like us, who believe even though we don't see Jesus with our physical eyes. Still, we have a deep faith that enables us to know Jesus is alive, Jesus is with us, Jesus is in our midst.
There are a couple of other things in this Gospel that I think are quite important. First of all, Jesus wants his disciples to know that what had happened to him and was happening to them was like a whole new creation. When Jesus was in their midst, he offered them the gift of peace, and then he breathed on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them. He said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." If you go back to the book of Genesis you discover that God, in creating the world, is described as a spirit hovering over the waters that brought forth creation. Later, God created a man in clay and breathed life into him. Breathed life! In today's reading, Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them, "You're receiving the Holy Spirit. It's a whole new way of creation. A new life."
Jesus also brought very special gifts to the disciples. The first thing was peace. Isn't that a gift we all long for? Peace within our own spirit. Peace in our own heart that we can be serene, confident and joyful. If you open yourself to his presence here in this Eucharist, that's the gift he can bring into your heart this morning. You can leave here filled with a sense of peace, joy and love.
But there is also a very special way in which that peace will continue to happen. Jesus makes the connection; right away he says to those disciples, "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you restrain, they are restrained." He's reminding us that peace comes when we begin to be at peace with our brothers and sisters. We are to remove all enmity, all hatred, all jealousy, all bad feelings of every kind from among ourselves.
Forgive just as God has forgiven you. This is a common theme of Jesus. How many times do I have to forgive? Seven times? No, 70 times seven! Jesus also told those marvelous parables about God's unlimited forgiveness. We remember the son who wastes all of his inheritance and his father still runs out to meet him. Or Jesus describing himself as a shepherd going out to find the lost sheep, leaving the main flock to bring back the one.
Forgiveness was a very important part of Jesus' preaching, and so, as we hear today, he reminds his disciples and all of us that we must forgive one another, and that means on a very personal level. Start with the relationships within your family. Sometimes those relationships break down and we need to forgive. Or in our workplace, or school, or neighborhood. We have to make sure that we are reaching out to forgive. We are to be the one who seeks reconciliation first. That's what Jesus asks of us.
When I hear those words about how you can block someone by not forgiving, I'm reminded -- and I think you'll see the connection -- of what happened to Nelson Mandela. I've mentioned this before because to me it's such a striking thing. In his autobiography, he writes about what he calls those long, lonely years in prison. Twenty-seven years. "During those long, lonely years I came to understand that I had to work as hard for the freedom of the oppressor as for the freedom of the oppressed."
In other words, he had to free his enemy, the oppressor, because (as he said) "anyone who oppresses another person is a prisoner of hatred in their heart." So Nelson Mandela came to understand, "I have to free my oppressor just as much as I must free my own people who are the oppressed." That changed everything for him. He gave up violence. He came out of prison ready to lead a revolution that was not violent. What is truly striking about this, of course, is something that we can forget. Because of how Nelson Mandela changed his approach, a tyranny that was as violent and as cruel as any tyranny in the world was overthrown.
This past week, the people of South Africa voted. President Mibeki ran for a second term. He had already served five years, which followed Mandela's five years as president. So they are entering the 11th year of their freedom. You would think that would have been widely reported in the media, but it wasn't. It has become so routine, hardly anybody noticed. But we should have noticed, because it is so significant.
Think of the contrast. We say we want to bring democracy to Iraq, so how do we do it? We go to war. But we haven't established democracy. If only we had followed the way of Jesus. Nelson Mandela showed us there's a different way to bring democracy, to overcome tyranny, to overcome dictators. You don't do it through violence and war. You do it through forgiveness and love. Free the oppressor from being a prisoner of hatred and then you can bring peace.
It happened in South Africa, and it's happened other places. India received democracy not through a violent war but through the power of nonviolence, of active love. India is still a democracy more than 50 years later. Shouldn't we have learned something from that?
The message of Jesus is so clear. We know that we have to apply it in our everyday lives, but we also have to apply it in our national life. Why is it that we, who for the most part describe ourselves as a Christian nation -- our president makes clear that he is a Christian -- why is it that we don't follow the way of Jesus? I think we can learn something from the example of Thomas in today's Gospel. Well, you know my own name is Thomas, so this may sound defensive, but I don't like it when people call him "Doubting Thomas." Look at it this way: The disciples experienced the presence of Jesus on Easter Sunday. We heard it in the Gospel. He was in their midst. He said, "Peace be with you." He breathed on them, gave them the spirit, and then he said to them, "As God sent me, I'm sending you." But none of them did anything. They just stayed right there the whole week.
So when Thomas came in and they said, "Look, Jesus was here," he said, "I don't believe it. You're all still here. If Jesus was really here you'd be out proclaiming the good news everywhere, but you're not." Jesus came again, and they understood better what he meant when he said: "I give you this new life, breathe the spirit upon you, now it's your task. Go, proclaim the good news."
Maybe too many of us, like the disciples, have been too passive. We haven't really announced the good news that the only way to bring peace is through forgiveness and love, not through violence and war. We haven't believed it enough. We haven't believed it and so we don't act on it.
Today's Gospel gives us a good example of Thomas the believer. After Thomas heard the good news and experienced the presence of Jesus, he and the other disciples did go out and begin to spread the good news everywhere. That's what you and I have to do. In the quiet of our hearts this morning, every one of us can experience the presence of Jesus and be joined with Jesus in Communion. Then deep in our hearts we can hear Jesus say to us, "Peace be with you," and we'll know that peace. But Jesus will also say, "As God sent me, I'm sending you," so we must leave here today committed to carry the good news everywhere. When we do that, then the gift of peace that Jesus gives to us will break forth in our families, in our communities and in our world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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