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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two stone tablets. The Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed his name, "Lord." Thus the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth."
Moses hurried and bowed his head toward the earth in worship. Then
he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own."
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice. Be perfected, be comforted,
be of the same mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will
be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet
you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion
of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that
whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that
the world should be saved through him. He who believes in him is
not judged. He who doesn't believe has been judged already, because he
has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
* 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
|In the paper this morning, thereís
a very long story. It takes up three or four complete pages and is
called 102Minutes: Last Words at the Trade Center. Just a
few excerpts from the story will make the setting for our reflection on
the Holy Trinity.
They began as calls for help, information, and guidance that quickly turned into soundings of desperation, anger and love. Now, they are the remembered voices of the men and women who were trapped on the high floors of the Twin Towers. From their last words, a haunting chronicle of the final 102 minutes that the World Trade Center has emerged. Built on scores of phone conversations and e-mail and voice messages, these accounts, along with the testimony of the handful of people who escaped, provide the first sweeping views from the floors directly hit by the airplanes and above.
Rescue workers did not get near them. Photographers could not record their faces. If they were seen at all, it was with glimpses at windows nearly a quarter mile high. Yet, like messages in an electronic bottle from people marooned in some distant sky, their last words narrate a world that was coming undone.
A man sends an e-mail message asking, ďAny news from the outside?Ē before perching on a window ledge.
A husband calmly reminds his wife about their insurance policy, then says that the floor is groaning beneath him and tells her that she and their children meant the world to him.
No single call can describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible velocities in many places. The words from the upper floors offer, not only a broad and chilling view of the devastated zones, but also the only window onto acts of bravery, decency, grace and love at a brutal time.
It becomes very clear, as you read this account of that last 102 minutes, how people at that moment came to realize whatís really important -- what is really important in our lives. And, of course, itís our relationships, those we love, our family, our friends, our neighbors.
Iíve shared this before, but again itís something that I have found very inspiring, some words that my brother had written down as he was dying a couple of years ago and kept alongside of his bed. He says, ďYouíll never be happy if you canít figure out that loving people is all there is and that itís more important to love than to be loved -- because thatís when you feel love, by loving somebody. Iíve learned that you get the rewards of love by giving love.Ē
Again, it becomes so clear when we put our whole life in perspective to our death -- what is so important, loving other people and being loved, nothing else.
And that really is a good thing to remind ourselves of as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, because we are made in the image of God. Thatís what weíve learned from our earliest years, that you and I, every one of us, is made in Godís image. And thatís why itís so important to love and to be loved. Thereís nothing else that can bring us into a fullness of our life, to be the whole person that we can be, and to be all that God wants us to be. Nothing is more important. And itís because we are made in Godís image.
As we celebrate today, God isnít just some abstract power, the source, or some combination of super people, God is a community of persons. We learn from the mystery of the Trinity that God loves and is loved; that thereís mutuality, reciprocity, a communion of life. Thatís the very essence of God. And God has made us in that same image. Yet, unless we learn to love and be loved, we can never grow into the fullness of the image of God that weíre called to achieve.
Todayís lessons bring this out so clearly, who God is, what kind of god it is that we worship.
In the first lesson, God is proclaiming Godís own name, ďYahweh.Ē Yahweh which means I am who am, the one who is, the one who is the source of everything, the one who is the ground of all being. I am who am. I am who gives being to all others. God had revealed that name to Moses sometime before. And in the Jewish tradition, when you reveal your name to somebody, youíre making yourself open to that person, youíre becoming vulnerable, youíre entering into a relationship.
And so in the book of Exodus, we learn how God opened Gods whole being to us. The God who is -- I am who am -- enters into relationship with all of us.
And, then, in the lesson that we hear today, God is a God of forgiveness, of compassion, of mercy, of love. Even though the people had been totally unfaithful, had denied their relationship with God, God could not stop loving them. Thatís the kind of God we worship and celebrate today in this Feast of the Holy Trinity.
In the Gospel, John puts it so plainly and so powerfully in his reflection. These are words from John 3:16 that you see quoted in many places because they really sum up the whole message. We pray in the Eucharistic prayer how Jesus came to bring the good news of life to be lived with God forever in heaven. And Jesus shows us the way to that life; the only way, the way of love. We proclaim that in our Eucharist because of what John says here: ďGod so loved the world that God gave Jesus.Ē
And the depth of that gift can be brought out for us if we reflect on how Paul recounts the same thing in his letter to the church in Philippi where he says, ďJesus, though he was God, did not think his divinity something to be clung to, but emptied himself, emptied himself and became fully human.Ē
He became one of us. Thatís how much God loved us; that Godís son, Jesus, emptied himself, became fully human, and entered into our history, related to every one of us, even to the point of death and the horrible ignominious death of execution on the cross. Thatís how much God loves us.
There is no limit to the love that God has for us. God so loved us that God sent Jesus to be one of us, to allow us to share the life of God, to enter into communion with God, and to enter into the depths of the mystery of that community of persons that is God.
And it becomes very clear then, that if we really enter into who God is, how we must interact with one another.
We canít grow in our union with God, unless we grow in love. And we canít grow in love, unless we reach out to one another and begin to share in the same way that God shares within that mystery of the Trinity; reciprocity, mutuality, communion of life. We must be people who love and who are loved in order to be all that God wants us to be.
Something that is really quite extraordinary about that passage from John is the fact that God offers us this love, but doesnít force it upon us. Itís there if we want to enter into a relationship with God and deepen that relationship by loving one another.
But we have to make the choice. Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned. But those who do not believe are already condemned because they have not believed in the name of Godís only son, Jesus.
And sadly enough, we sometimes make that choice, donít we? We choose not to love. Weíll carry hatred, resentment in our hearts, sometimes within our own family. What could be more hurtful than that?
But sometimes in our relationships with our neighbors, or work, or school, wherever we are, we choose not to love. We choose to hate or to carry resentment and anger. What does it do? It doesnít diminish God in any way, but we are condemned. It diminishes us, destroys us. And that can be on an individual level.
Obviously, every one of us has relationships that we need to nurture and to build up, if we really want to grow in our ability to love. But it has to go beyond our individual relationships.
Something else that happened this past week, reported in all the papers, was the meeting that took place in Russia. Most of the articles you read were celebratory. What a great thing they signed; this treaty to get rid of a few thousand nuclear weapons. But if you really look at what happened, they signed a treaty confirming the fact that we will continue to have thousands of nuclear weapons. We will continue to have a policy of using them first; continue to have a policy of using them even against nations that do not have nuclear weapons.
In other words, we continue a policy that calls us to hate, to destroy not only people, but to destroy the whole planet as well. We are acting against the very creative love of God, the God who is love and who invites us to enter into communion with God.
We make a determination that we will destroy whatever God has made, if we choose.
How wrong that is. It goes against everything that God is. Whoever chooses not to believe is already condemned. If we think that there is a way that you can bring goodness and peace into the world through violence and hatred and killing, weíre already condemned.
So we must take very seriously what we learn from this mystery of the Holy Trinity about who God really is and what God is calling us to be.
A couple of years ago, Pope John Paul II was in the Holy Land and he preached a very powerful sermon at the place called the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus had first proclaimed those powerful words about blessed are the poor and so on, and donít love just those who love you, love your enemy, do good to the one who hurt you. And John Paul preached about that. He said that Jesusí call demands from everyone a choice between good and evil, between life and death. Thatís what we are being presented with today, a choice between good and evil, life and death, love or hate.
But then John Paul, at that particular sermon, for some reason, began to think about the young people in our world and he said, ďWhat choice will the young people of the 21st century make?Ē And I have a sense that he was very concerned about the young people, because this is a new century. We have to make some new choices and the ones who are the most important in making those new choices are the young people of the 21st century.
John Paul was reflecting on the fact that the last century, the 20th century, was the most violent century in all of human history. 174 million people killed in genocide or massacres connected with war; the most violent bloody century in all of human history.
What choice will the people of the 21st century make? The choice to love, to enter into communion with a God who is love, or the choice of death and destruction.
Each of us, here today, is being offered that same choice.
As we celebrate this feast, I hope we will try to grasp more clearly who God really is in the kind of God that we worship; a God who is three persons in one, a community, a God who is loved and being loved at every moment. But then, also, remember that weíre made in the image of that God.
We must, I hope, choose life, not death, love, not hate. We must choose the way of Jesus. Then, we will bring goodness and peace and joy into our lives, but also help to bring peace and goodness and joy and love into our world.
As Saint Paul said in closing his letter to the church in Corinth, I say to you this morning and I hope we will say this to one another, to everyone, ďThe grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you and with all of those whom you love and who love you.Ē
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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