The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By 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 from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. 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.)
Fifth Sunday in Easter
April 24, 2005

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 6:1-7
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

1 Peter 2:4-9
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: "Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed." This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone," and, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for god's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…

John 14:1-12
"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father."

* 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.
He 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 Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

We're all aware that in the past couple of weeks we've been living through a very important moment in human history and in the history of our church. Whenever a pope dies and the new pope is elected, we understand that we're going through something that is very significant. For the 265th time now we have a new leader of the universal church. At such a time I think it's very appropriate, and just very normal, that we would not only think about who the new pope is and how he will act, and what he'll do, but it's also a moment when we should also remind ourselves of who the church is and what the church is, and where the pope, the successor of Peter, fits into the whole community of the church.

I think the readings today, in fact, help us to explore a bit on the question of what the church is, how the church functions, what the role of the pope is, and bishops and ministers and so on. Because when there's a new pope it's like a crisis, which means there's always a danger side, but also an opportunity side. Well in the beginning of the church, as we heard in the first lesson today, there was a crisis. You may not have caught the sense of how severe the crisis was when the passage was read because Luke doesn't go into very much detail, but it was a severe crisis. Remember earlier in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke had described how the whole community was really one. There was nobody in need in that community because everybody cared for everybody else. They were all one, gathered around their belief in Jesus and ready to follow him.

But now suddenly that community is about ready to split apart. It's becoming polarized, because it has grown and new people have come in. In fact, they're not just people from former disciples of Jesus or those who had followed him around in the Holy Land; they're people from other provinces in the Roman Empire and they're from the Greek-speaking part of that empire. They've heard about Jesus and they want to follow Jesus now. And so it's a whole different culture, a different language and it doesn't fit together very well. And it happens in a very mundane way, I guess, that what brings the crisis to a head is that there's inequality in the way that the goods in the community are being distributed. The Hebrew-speaking Christians are getting more, and the Greek-speaking Christians are getting less. There's discrimination, so the Greek-speaking Christians complain. They're upset, and again, it doesn't say in Acts, in Luke's record or writing about it, how deep the upset was, but you can imagine that it could be pretty grim because people tend to fight very quickly over material goods. Well what did they do? This is where you get a real clear understanding of what the church really is. It is the whole community that is called together. It is not just Peter saying, "Okay, I'll decide how to handle this." The whole community comes together. They wanted to develop what much later in theological terms we call the sensus fidelium -- the common understanding of all the faithful, of the believing people.

Because everyone has insights, everyone is connected with Jesus, everyone who is baptized is a member of his body, Jesus lives in every member of that community, because of this they all have a right and responsibility to be listened to. And so that's exactly what they do. They call the whole community together and they listen to various ones speak, and pretty soon there's a consensus as to what to do. The community begins to resolve the crisis and they go even further. They need -- it's also in a sense a vocation crisis -- they need some more ministers in the church. There aren't enough people reaching out and doing the actual ministry. So they decide they need more. But who chooses them? The whole community. The community chooses who will be the ministers, the leaders. Then Peter, or one of the other leaders of the whole community, lays hands on those new ministers and they are affirmed as the ministers in the community. That's how they resolved the crisis in the early church, and it was based on very sound understanding of who the church is -- the whole community of disciples. If you listen to what Peter spoke in his homily: "You are a chosen race, a community of priests, kings, a consecrated nation, a people God has made God's own to proclaim God's wonders through the whole community, share in the work of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, prophetic, priestly and royal." The whole community.

That is reinforced by the theology that has developed within the church and very recently, in the Second Vatican Council, where there was a clear understanding and a setting forth very powerfully, that everyone in the church is equal in freedom and dignity. Here are the very words of the Council: "Each of us is filled with the Holy Spirit and enlivened by God's gifts of faith, hope and love." This article mentions that after 29 sections of the document on the church, the Second Vatican Council stated, "Everything which has been said so far, concerning the people of God applies equally to the laity, religious and clergy. All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the church and all share in the three-fold office of Christ -- priestly, prophetical and royal. Among all the people of God, there is true equality. A genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation, and a personal union with Christ and his mission. In fact, each one has a proper and indispensable share in the mission of the church."

Now our hope, of course, is that our new pope understands all of this.

But I'm sure he does. He was very active at the Vatican Council. He wasn't a bishop at the time, but he was one of the theological experts helping write that very document. He was on the theological commission that wrote that document, so he knows it very well. But as always, within the church, there's a possibility that we don't live up to the ideal. That's such a beautiful picture of what the church is, and should be, but we don't live up to it sometimes and perhaps this pope will fall short in this area, but you know what? It's not just the pope who's responsible if we fall short. What we have to remember is that those words are spoken to every one of us. Every one of us has a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation, and a personal union with Christ. And so it's up to us to act as the church.

Now it's very gratifying to me that last week, or two weeks ago, when we had our Time, Talent and Treasure -- asking everyone to participate, declare where you can be part of this community in a very active way -- well, almost everybody did. So you are accepting your responsibility to be church, to carry on the mission of this parish community, to be the people of God that we're called to be, to be the ones who profess and proclaim the message of Jesus. But we have to keep on accepting that responsibility and carrying it out. And if we're really the people of God, we should be given the opportunity to speak up and to help decide the things that affect us as a church. Sometimes that means we have to confront a bit. Some very important decisions were made without us -- about the closing of our school over on 23rd Street, St. Casimir. We had no voice in that, and that's wrong. So we have to stand up and demand a voice sometimes.

This week you'll notice in the bulletin there's a notice about a meeting that will take place at Dominican High School on Wednesday evening. It's about another diocese where they had closed all the schools in the city, in Memphis, and the bishop decided that was wrong, and so he said to the superintendent of schools, "We've got to find a way to re-open those schools. The mission of the church requires it." And they did. They re-opened the schools that had been closed because they began to understand that the church has to be present where the quality of education perhaps is especially low. Or where there are poor people. The church has to be present there. We need to do something like that in the Archdiocese of Detroit, so I hope a number of people from this community will be there Wednesday night to hear how it was done. And perhaps we can promote the same sort of thing happening here.

It's not only that the leaders of the church have to allow us to speak, and allow us to be heard. Sometimes we have to assert our responsibility to speak and to be heard in order that the sensus fidelium, the thinking and common understanding of the believing people, is brought forward and is used as the basis upon which decisions are made. That isn't easy to do and so I'm sure that many of us would sort of hesitate to think that it's even right to do, but if we're really the church, if all those words that we've heard -- from Peter speaking to the first disciples and from the Vatican Council -- if they're true, well then we must make our voices heard. We are the church. We must take responsibility for what the church does. It starts here in this parish community but then it goes beyond into the archdiocese and beyond the archdiocese into the world. We have a responsibility, and as the council says, a global responsibility. We must choose to fulfill it.

But now there's another point about where the church is right now with our new Holy Father that I also think is very important besides who we are and how everyone in the church is equally treated with dignity. We also all have the responsibility of hearing what Jesus said in the Gospel, especially the part where he said, "I am in God and God is in me." And he said to Phillip, "If you want to know who God is, look at me, I am in God, God is in me." If you want to get an understanding of God, study the Gospel, listen to the words of Jesus, watch how he acts, and you will be seeing God, hearing God. But then, even more important, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Jesus chose us. You know in the Eucharistic prayer we proclaim how God sent Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news. The good news of life is that we live forever. And Jesus showed us the way to that life. The way of love. he is the way, and especially the way of love.

Now here's a place where perhaps our Holy Father is ahead of all us - in following the way of Jesus, which is the way of love. This is quite extraordinary I think, but I came across an article this week which described what Cardinal Ratzinger had said back when the United States was about to go to war, and he was asked, "Is it a just war?" And he said, "Well just look in the catechism where it teaches about just war and if you can say it is a just war, then you really don't know the catechism." And he even went beyond, he said, "There's no such thing in Catholic teaching as a preemptive war that could ever be justified." Now most people in this country supported that war. Perhaps some of us. Cardinal Ratzinger did not, and in fact, he goes further than almost any bishop I've heard in the universal church. He says, "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war." I think he's way ahead of the church in this regard, saying there is no such thing as a just war, not in the modern era, and that's the way of Jesus, the way of love. Here's an area of Catholic life where our Holy Father perhaps is really going to lead us in a way that will challenge us very profoundly to say no to war, never again war.

As we reflect on all of these things, I hope it will move us to pray to try to understand as deeply as possible who we are as church, what our responsibilities are in relationship to the Holy Father and to the bishops and to one another. And also reflect on what is our responsibility to carry on the mission of Jesus. How important it is for us to look at Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. And try to prepare ourselves to follow him. He showed us the way to the fullness of life, the way of love. Pray that we can follow Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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