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 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.)
Second Sunday of Easter
April 27, 2003

Thomas J. Gumbleton

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 4:32-35

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

1 John 5:1-6

Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
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, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief 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.

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.

During this past week I read an article about some research that was done concerning the war that has been going on in Iraq. The research was done by the Pew Research Center which often does research on religious issues. The research showed what I think are some rather amazing results. Only 57% of the people polled had heard anything about the war in their religious services. It just had never been discussed or brought up. Only 21% had heard any kind of sermon in which the minister took any position about the war, making any comments about morality of war. 

Then what is most astonishing: only 10 percent of the people polled said that their religious beliefs had any bearing on what they thought about the war. Forty-one percent indicated that they made their judgments about the war based on the commentary they heard on television or radio or read in the press. Their faith had nothing to do with any kind of a judgment about whether we should engage in a war, in violence and killing or not. Except for 10% of the people in our country. 

To me that is really an amazing fact, especially when you try to listen to the scriptures of today where it is so clear that the resurrection of Jesus is supposed to have changed everything. It ought to enter into every judgment we make, especially judgments about killing about going to war. 

In the letter that we had as our second reading today,  John tells those first disciples: All those who believe that Jesus is born of God, and because you are born of God you overcome the world; the victory that overcomes the world is our faith. Faith that Jesus is the risen Lord overcomes the world. What John means by the world is not the physical world in which we live and which we cherish and nurture and love. No, for John the world is always the opposite of the reign of God. The world is the realm of sin of unbelief, the realm of violence and death. 

John says that through the resurrection we have overcome the world. We have overcome killing, unbelief,  violence, death. But that cannot be true if we never let our faith enter into what we chose to do or not to do.

In some ways it is even clearer in the gospel. When Jesus comes to those disciples on Easter Sunday night and theyíre a small group of people totally paralyzed by their fear. Jesus has been terribly tortured, killed, and they are afraid it may happen to them. And he comes and he stands in their midst. With great calmness he says: Peace be with you. He gives them his peace. But then even more remarkably, Jesus changes them dramatically.

He is risen from the dead now. John tells us how Jesus breathes upon them and says: Receive the Holy Spirit. It is very significant that the word John uses when he describes what Jesus does, breathes upon them, is a word that is used only one other time in the scriptures. It is used in Genesis when God is described as creating Adam. God formed Adam of dust of the earth and breathed upon his face the breath of life. God took that clay and breathed upon it and it became alive. 

In the gospel John is telling us Jesus breathed on those first disciples and they came alive with a new life, the life of Jesus Christ. They were changed; they were no longer this paralyzed group of fearful people. Now they were a community of disciples entrusted with a mission and that mission is so clear, isnít it, when you hear what Jesus says to them. Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, but whatever sins your retain, hold back they are retained. They have the power and the mission to bring reconciliation and peace into the world. They are a whole new creation,  ready to change this world to conquer it, to make it no longer the realm of death and sin and unbelief but the realm of God the realm of justice love and peace. 

And the first lesson today shows us how they began to live in a different way. They began to share their goods they wanted to make sure it was a world where everyone had a chance for a full human life. They were going to make justice happen more fully than it had ever happened before in the history of humankind. Share the goods; everyone has a chance for full life. And they began to live so differently. They began to spread the message of Jesus, the message of reconciliation love and justice. And peace. Everything was changed for them, and they acted in a totally different way because they believed in the resurrection of Jesus. They experienced his presence in their midst, and they couldnít go on as they had before. It had to be different. And it was different for them as they began to go out and spread the good news, the message of Godís love, of Jesus crucified loving us without limit, changing, transforming our world through his love. 

Clearly each of us must ask ourselves: Is the resurrection, my belief in Jesus risen from the dead, strong enough that it will cause me to act differently than I ever have before? Do I really believe that Jesus is alive and in our midst and is come to make the reign of God happen? Or do I go back to my old way of life my old way of thinking, everything is the same as before. If it is that, then we really have not understood what it means that Jesus was crucified but raised from the dead to new life and shared that new life with every one of us. 

When I reflect on what happened to those first disciples and what they understood as their mission because they knew Jesus risen, it reminded me of the very powerful and insightful Peace Day statement that Pope John Paul II published on the January 1 after September 11, 2001 when he called our attention as to how we should respond to the violence and terrorism of that day. He said our response has to built on two pillars. One of justice like those first disciples making sure that all the goods of the earth are shared by all, and the other the pillar of love but he says that special kind of love we call forgiveness. Isnít that what happened? Jesus came and he said take reconciliation, spread that spirit, there will be peace. To the first disciples he said share your gifts, make justice happen then there will be peace. 

I hope that each of us is concerned enough about our call to be a follower of the risen Jesus that we will look into our hearts and ask ourselves: Does it really make a difference in my life?  Does it really make a difference in how I act toward others? In how I respond to violence? In how I make a judgment about something like war? Does it really make a difference in my life? 

One commenter on these scriptures, the gospel lesson for today, suggests there is a test you can use. He calls it the Thomas Test. The other disciples when they wanted to find out if this was really Jesus, Jesus said well touch me and see I am real or another occasion they gave him something to eat. They watched him eat it. Heís real. Those tests were not good enough for Thomas. He wanted to touch the wounds. Show me, show me your wounds. Your hands your feet your side and then I will believe. That was a test, was this really Jesus. 

The test for a disciple, if you really are a follower of Jesus, show me your hands, your feet, show me your side. Are their any marks there to show me that you have become one with the poor and the oppressed? Are there any marks there to show that you have suffered, perhaps in a small way, persecution for justiceís sake? Are there any marks to show that you really are following the way of Jesus. Thatís the Thomas Test. 

And perhaps if we really live out our resurrection belief really spread this message of Jesus of reconciliation and peace, there will be times that because of our identification with the poor and the oppressed because of our work for justice that we will experience some suffering some persecution some kind of dying. That will leave its mark, but that will be the mark of the risen Christ. It will be the sign that we have passed the test, that we truly are followers of him who came to bring the message of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and love. We will be the ones carrying out his work conquering the world through our faith.

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

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