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Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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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.
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 Pentecost Sunday
May 19, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 2:1-11

Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.  Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under the sky.  When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because everyone heard them speaking in his own language.  They were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Behold, aren't all these who speak Galileans?  How do we hear, everyone in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians: we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!"

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," but by the Holy Spirit.  Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord.  There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all.

For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit.

John 20:19-23

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you."  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be to you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."  When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit! Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whoever's sins you retain, they have been retained."

* 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).


If we listen carefully to the scripture lessons today, we notice that there are two very different descriptions of the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, the feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today.

     In the first lesson, we hear Saint Lukeís description.  He has the story of the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost, spread out over fifty days.  And it was only on the fiftieth day, which is the feast of Pentecost for the Jewish people, that God poured forth the Spirit upon the first disciples.  

     But in Johnís gospel, you notice that itís all compressed into one day.  Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morning and then, on Easter night, Jesus appears with those disciples in the upper room, breaths on them, gives them the Holy Spirit, and says to them, ďAs God sent me, I send you, filled with the Spirit.Ē

     Iíve mentioned this before about how we canít read the scriptures literally.  There was no way that the people who wrote down these accounts of the resurrection, the ascension, and the feast of Pentecost, could ever put into words what really happened.

     The resurrection was something that just stunned everybody.  They had no clue that it was going to happen.  And suddenly, they realized Jesus is alive, heís with them.  Heís so different, but also the same.  They can recognize him and see his body, even the wounds, but he also comes and goes.  Theyíre in the upper room with the doors closed and suddenly heís there -- a mystery, of course, but a reality.  

     And thatís what the disciples and those who wrote the scriptures wanted us to understand.  First of all, that Jesus is alive, but then how Jesus sends forth the Holy Spirit. 

     Again, itís an experience that those first disciples found very difficult to put into words. They knew they were alive with the spirit of Jesus, that he was in their hearts, and that he was in their midst and guiding them and leading them and giving them strength and courage.  They knew that.  But how do you describe all of this that happened?

     And so, especially, in Lukeís account, he uses symbols to try to help us understand.  First of all, he puts the feast of Pentecost fifty days after the Passover.  That was the feast when the Jewish people celebrated the event of Sinai when they had been covenanted with God and had become Godís people.  

     Luke wanted us to understand that this feast of Pentecost makes us Godís people.  Just as the chosen people became one with God and entered into covenant with God at Sinai, so we now become Godís people and enter into a covenant with God.  

     Luke wanted us to understand the power of it, so he described the wind that shook the whole house.  He wanted us to understand how it was like a raging fire that could change the whole earth, so he describes these tongues of fire that come down upon the disciples.  

     All of these symbols help us to understand the truth behind this feast -- behind the whole event of Jesus being executed, dying, rising from the dead, returning to God, and sending forth the Spirit.

     The resurrection, the pouring forth of the Spirit, and the mission -- these are the three things that we must reflect upon as we celebrate this feast today.  

     First, the reality that Jesus is alive.  Thatís so important for us to grasp, just as those first disciples did.  Jesus is alive and here in our midst.  Jesus is in my heart and I can turn to Jesus at any moment.  He is alive in the pouring forth of the Spirit. 

     In the gospel lesson, John has Jesus breathe on the disciples there.  And that, of course, reminds anyone who is aware of the scriptures of the only other time that God is described as breathing.  Itís when God created Adam and Eve, when God created all of us. God breathed upon that lifeless form and it became alive.  

     So John wants us to realize that Jesus, by breathing upon us, makes us alive in a new way and then says:  ďAs God has sent me, I send you.Ē

     And that means each one of us.   And we really should listen to those words that Jesus said, breathing upon his disciples, ďAs God sent me, I send you.Ē  

     If we really take that seriously, what will it mean?   It will mean that we will try to do what Jesus did.  He was a light to the world.  He broke away from and helped people to break away from the darkness of ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and evil.  He became a light.  Jesus was a healer.  He always reached out in love.  As God sent Jesus, God sends us to heal. 

     And also as he did right there on that first Easter Sunday night, he forgives.  

     The first gift he brings to his disciples is forgiveness.  If we are being sent in the same way as Jesus, we too must be people who forgive.  People who care about other. 

     Remember how Jesus described himself, like a mother hen gathering her little chicks together around her to protect them, to love them, and to help to nurture them.  We have to be that kind of people, nurturing and loving and caring, forgiving, and compassionate.

     Or as Jesus also said when he preached his first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth -- the Spirit of God is upon me and God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to help everyone who is poor materially or spiritually and to know God loves me -- good news.  To heal the broken hearted, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim Godís year of favor.  Jesus said, ďThis is why God sent me.Ē  This is why God sends all of us.

     Take that seriously today.  

     That means we have to think of various ways in which we go into the world, confirmed as disciples of Jesus, being sent as he was sent, doing what we can to change the world and make it a better place. 

     You know, thereís so much in the press these days about the terrible things that have happened in the church through some of its ministers.  I was especially heartened on Friday of this week when I read in the little white book [used at Saint Leo Church] about Josephine Bakhita.  I donít know if you are reading your white book everyday, but Josephine Bakhita was a young woman from Sudan who was sold as a slave when she was nine years old and passed from one owner to another until she was purchased by the family of the Italian consul in Sudan, Augusto Michieli.  When he and his family returned to Italy, she came with them to serve as a maid and nursemaid to their child, Mimmina, whom she had to take to a private school run by the Daughters of Charity.  It was there that she discovered the gospel.  She discovered religious women that were really being a light to the world.  She discovered who Jesus is and became Christian.  But when the Michieli family was to return to Sudan, she wanted to remain in Italy.  The family tried to coax her to come back with them, but she didnít want to go.  They tried to force her to go back and went to court to demand the return of their property.   But the cardinal archbishop of Venice and the Sisters of Charity prevented that from happening and she was able to stay. 

     She was baptized January 9, 1890, and took the name of Josephine.  Six years later she took her religious vows as a sister in the community that had helped her.  The name ďBakhitaĒ means the ďthe fortunate one.Ē 

     Looking back, hereís what she would say about how that name fits her: ďIf I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, Iíd kneel down to kiss their hands.   If it had not have been for them, I would not have become a christian and religious woman.Ē

     Itís like St. Paul said, ďOnce I knew Jesus, everything else was like rubbish.Ē  And thatís what happened to Josephine.  But it happened because she began to live among people who were a light to her, who reached out in healing, in kindness and in compassion, and changed her whole life. 

     You and I have to be like that.  All the peoples whose lives could be changed, if we really took seriously that we are sent out into the world just as Jesus was -- to be a light, to be a healer, to be compassionate, to be forgiving and so on.  How different our world could be.   And so each of us has to remember, ďI am sent, as God sent Jesus.Ē

     Also, itís not just on an individual basis that we have to keep on trying to change the world.  There are larger issues too.  When Luke described Pentecost, he talked about how there were all those different people from every part of the know world at that time.  They spoke all kinds of different languages.  They were separated and divided from one another by their language, their culture, their history and so on.  Through the coming of the Spirit, all those barriers were removed.  Luke was referring to what had happened in the Old Testament, at the time of the Tower of Babel, when all the nations were dispersed and division came into the world.  Now, through the coming of the Spirit, itís reversed. Peoples are to be drawn together into one human family. 

     But just this past week, if you were watching the headlines, you must have caught how Russia and the United States rejoiced over a new arms agreement.  But if you read what they rejoiced over, you know itís wrong.  Itís what will destroy our world, keep us separated from one another.  They are going to continue to have nuclear arsenals, even add new weapons. 

     Now, in other nations in the world, of course, they are trying to do the same thing. Our world will be divided and will ultimately be destroyed unless we, who are the members of Godís family, the covenanted people of God, take seriously that we were sent into the world as Jesus was sent -- to breakdown barriers, to heal divisions, to make the nations of the world one human family, to stop arming ourselves in a way that will bring about destruction and death, and to work for the coming of the time when all the nations can live in peace without these weapons that can destroy all of us. 

     ďAs God sent me, I send you.Ē   Thatís what Jesus said to the first disciples and thatís what Jesus says to all of us today.  We pray that we will take that seriously, as God sent Jesus, God sends each one of us. 

     I hope we will leave the church today committed to being one with Jesus in trying to bring the gifts of Jesusí love and forgiveness and healing out into our world.  That as God sent Jesus, we will understand that God sends me.

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

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