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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
As the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose
from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected
in the daily distribution. The twelve summoned the multitude of the
disciples and said, "It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of
God to serve
1 Peter 2:4-9
Come to him, a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by
God, precious. You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual
house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable
to God through Jesus Christ. Because it is contained in Scripture,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious. He who
believes in him will not be disappointed. Therefore, its value is for you
who have faith, but for such who do not have faith, the stone which the
builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone, and a stone that will
make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall. For they
stumble at the word, being disobedient, as is their destiny. But
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for
God's own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who
called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
"Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in
me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it weren't so, I would have
told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a
place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that
where I am, you may be there also. Where I go, you know, and you know the
way." Thomas says to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going.
How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one comes to the Father, except 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 that will be enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been
with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen
me has seen the Father. How do you say, 'Show us the Father?' Don't
you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that
I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does
his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in
me; or else believe me for the very works' sake. Most assuredly I tell
you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater
works than these will he do; because I am going to my 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.
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
|Those words “a church in crisis”
- how many times we’ve seen them as headlines on the television screen
or headlines in the press - “a church in crisis.” It’s to the point
that it’s becoming almost overwhelming and weighs down on us in many, many
ways. But if we listen to the scriptures today, we discover “a church
in crisis” right at the very beginning. And if we listen very
carefully, we’ll discover how they responded to that crisis and perhaps
we’ll learn something for ourselves about how to respond to our own crisis.
It truly was a crisis. It might not have sounded so critical when we heard the passage read this morning. But to understand it, you have to kind of build more of the background into what was being spoken. Remember, this was a community that had come together very rapidly after Pentecost when the spirit came upon the first disciples (those hundred and twenty or so who had been gathered together with Jesus at the last supper and then in the upper room where they stayed there for those days after Easter). The spirit came upon them and then Peter went out into the streets and proclaimed the word with such power.
Luke tells us that three thousand people were gathered together on that first day and that they joined the community. They were so filled with the spirit of Jesus that it became a community that was truly extraordinary. Luke says to us, “They were faithful to the teaching of the apostles, the common life of sharing, the breaking of bread and the prayers. All the believers lived together and shared all their belongings. They would sell their property and all they had and distribute the proceeds to others according to their need. Each day they met together in the temple area, they broke bread in their homes, they shared their food with great joy and simplicity of heart, and they praised God and won the peoples favor. It was a community filled with life and spirit and joy and generous love for others.” It was a marvelous community.
Commentators will probably say that those words are somewhat idealizing that first community somewhat. I presume they were because they were human beings like every one of us. Yet there had to be something very special about them.
Then we hear today, in the passage that was read from the Acts of the Apostles, how in this community that was so united that they began to split apart. It was a real crisis that was built on prejudice, discrimination, and segregation, the kind of things we know in our own history here in the United States.
Some of those Jewish converts had been people who had already been disbursed away from the Holy Land. They had become Greek speaking Jews with a whole different culture and different language, even though they shared the same religious beliefs. And then there were the other Jewish speaking ones, some who probably thought they were better than others and more faithful than the other group. But they were prejudiced and so they refused to serve the poor among the Greek speaking Jews. It would have split the whole community totally.
So it was a very severe crisis that occurred right at the beginning of the church. And if we follow the example of the first disciples in today’s lessons, it can guide us on how to respond to the crisis that we face in our own church today.
First of all, the gospel lesson suggests so clearly that we must trust in Jesus, that Jesus is present still in our church no matter what has happened. Jesus said to that first community he had gathered round himself at that last meal he shared with them, “Have faith in God and have faith in me.”
Can we have that kind of faith in God, the faith in Jesus that he was asking of his first community?
When Thomas says to Jesus, where are you going? We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way? Jesus says of himself, “I am the way, the way of truth and the way of life.” Jesus reveals God to us, all the goodness and blessings. The bountiful gifts of God are revealed in Jesus as the way of truth.
Jesus tells Philip that God is in me and I am in God. And so we see in Jesus the one who really holds the whole community together. God is in him and he is in God and he shares that life of God with his disciples and with all of us.
So the first thing we need to remember - and it would allow us to totally rid ourselves of discouragement - is that God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God and we can have faith in Jesus and faith in God. Trust that God is at work in our midst in Jesus.
But then also, as we listen to today’s scriptures, we’re given further guidance on how to respond to a crisis that will crop up in the church at various times in our history as a community of disciples of Jesus. It was there at the beginning, it happened at other times in history, and right now it’s very severe the crisis that we face.
But Saint Peter reminds us, “Remember who you are, all of us who have been baptized. We’re a people of God. You are a chosen race, a community of priestly people, a consecrated community, a people God has made God’s own. God called you from darkness to God’s own wonderful light. At one stage, you were no people, but now you are God’s people.”
Peter is reminding us that the same Jesus who can say, “God lives in me and I live in God,” is saying that through baptism we live in God and God lives in us. We are God’s people and we should always remember we have the dignity and the blessing, the gift of being consecrated, and of being a priestly people; all of us, not just certain ones among us.
And that brings us to the most important part. In the first lesson today, notice how the disciples went about resolving their crisis. They called the whole community together -the whole community - because God lives in the community. Jesus is alive within the community of the church and it’s the whole community that must respond to the crisis.
In the beginning, that community did it so beautifully. They selected people who would be the leaders and who would change this discriminatory practice and eliminate it. They even had a kind of affirmative action. The Greek speaking Jews had been neglected, so the new ministers that they chose were all from the Greek speaking community. They made sure that the whole community would be served with graciousness, love and generosity. They resolved their crisis because the community came together and saw the way to resolve it.
I think it’s probably very clear to all of us that we haven’t yet, in the present crisis, really acted like a whole community of disciples of Jesus. The cardinals have come together and have acted, but more than half the people of the church are still disappointed. They haven’t really gotten down to the basic issues that need to be faced.
If you read the commentaries that are being published in all kinds of magazines, in the press, and everywhere, you’ll discover that people are saying the problems are deeper than the situations that were discussed in Rome for a day and a half. The whole church has to face these problems. All of us have to take up our responsibility of being part of the people of God. We are God’s people, we must respond to the crisis. And so, in whatever way we can, we must make our views known. We must respond. We must offer suggestions. We must act.
There’s a whole large movement where the people are saying, “We are the Church.” That’s something that every one of us has to take hold of.
Peter put it in terms of being a living stone - all of us built into the one temple which is God’s people. Each of us is that living stone and part of the whole church, and each of us must take our responsibility to resolve the crisis in the church.
So we must pray together, all of us here at St. Leo’s, in our parish community. We must pray for guidance, enlightenment, and understanding. We must pray for forgiveness for our church. But we must also pray for wisdom, so that we, as a church, can turn the corner in this crisis and come out of it with a renewed life, just like those early Christians did after their crisis.
That will begin when each one of us takes an even greater responsibility for what happens here at St. Leo’s. We’re not going to affect the universal church unless we all become very active in trying to build up our own community. Not just come and put in our time on a Sunday morning, but being a very active member of this community. Giving guidance on how we should develop and grow as a community; how we can further evangelize the neighborhood around us, and how we can better serve those who live in our midst that are so much in need. All of us have to do this.
And if we begin to act as a real community of disciples of Jesus, each of us taking responsibility for who we are as the parish community of St. Leo’s, then we will have an influence on the larger church as a parish community.
It’s very clear what God is saying to us today in the scriptures. We are God’s people and we must respond to the crisis in our church. And we will respond, if we become very active as members of the parish family at St. Leo’s. Through our activity here and through our growth as a community, we will have a major influence on the community of the archdiocese of Detroit and beyond that, on the whole church throughout our world.
I hope we can listen to what God says to us today. I hope we can learn from those first Christians and how they responded to their crisis. And I hope that we can respond in a way that will show that we really know we are God’s people and that we can act in God’s name and resolve the crisis that faces our church today.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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