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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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
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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.)
The feast that we celebrate today, the feast of the Holy Trinity, is very important for all of us. Why? Because it’s about the nature of God, it is important of us to try to get some understanding of who God is, because we are made in the image of God. For us to really understand ourselves -- to become the full person God wants us to be -- we have to understand more about God and how God has made us in God’s image.
I remember a hymn that we used to sing often, and we still sing once in a while now. I won’t try to sing it myself, but the words are: “Praise the Holy Trinity, undivided unity. Mighty God, immortal God.” Those words, “trinity,” “unity,” “immortality” and “mighty,” are abstract. They don’t connect with us very well. At least I don’t find it easy to connect with those kinds of words: trinity, unity, immortality, almighty power and so on.
But behind those words is the reality of who God is, and the most important thing to remember is when we say God is trinity, we’re saying God is a community of persons. John expressed this concept a different way in his letters. He wrote: “God is love. Where there is love, there is God.” God is love. You can’t have love unless you’re interacting, and so within the very essence of God we find a community.
We try to describe it in philosophical terms: father, son, spirit, three persons, one God. But the philosophical terms didn’t come until much later in the historical development of Christianity. When the first disciples were trying to understand and teach about God they didn’t talk in abstract philosophical terminology. They drew from the Hebrew scriptures. For example, the lesson that we heard today from the book of Proverbs, which was written toward the very end of the time before Jesus, shows that the people were coming to some insights about God as being a very personal God. The writer describes this companion of God. It is wisdom, which is a characteristic of God -- God is all wise, but the writer begins to have an insight that God interacts with a person who is wisdom.
Then, the writer of the fourth Gospel, John, takes that insight and develops it this way, “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through that word. So the word truly is God.”
But then the really important part is: “And the word was made flesh and had his tent pitched among us, and we have seen His glory.” There is a further insight, a very clear awareness that God is more than one. In some mysterious way God interacts. There’s the word and then from the word and from God come the spirit. Jesus spoke about this so powerfully.
This is how we begin to get the insight about the Holy Trinity. Jesus is the word of God, is God, and yet is separate from the Father. But also Jesus experiences the Spirit; “The Spirit of God is upon me. God sends me forth to proclaim good news to the poor.” Jesus experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then in today’s Gospel he told us that he will send that same spirit to us. Then in today’s second reading. Paul told us something extraordinary, that the love of God is poured into our hearts. So that God is within us loving. It isn’t our love for God that is in our hearts; it is God’s love for us. A loving God is present in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. So we begin to enter into the very life of God.
Truly extraordinary. God loving within me.
God is ready to break forth into a fullness of life and of love if I can only open myself fully to this God. As we begin to understand God not just as abstraction -- trinity, unity and so on -- but as a community of persons who is loved and who pours that love into our hearts.
Because we are made in the image of God, it is important for us to try to come to a deeper understanding of who God is and how we can become more and more like God. Jesus told us how to do this so powerfully in his long discussions with the disciples at the last supper. Remember his words to the disciples: “One command I give you, love one another.” That’s all it takes, love one another! We’ll be like God when we can truly love one another.
From reading the Acts of the Apostles, we know that the first community of disciples understood what it meant to love one another. No one in that community was in want, because they shared everything. They went out of their way to make sure that if somebody was hurting help was there. They did whatever it took. This has important implications for us today as we try to build our parish church, our parish family, our parish community, our community of disciples.
Among other things, to grow as a community we have to support one another in faith. That is why it is so important for us to come together to celebrate the Eucharist together. We give witness to one another; “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” We strengthen each other’s faith and we bond ourselves together more strongly in this community of disciples of Jesus. The spirit of God, which is love, is spread among us. As we become a stronger community of faith, we are able to reach out and share the blessings that we have. The blessings of our faith first of all, but also our material blessings.
To share. This is what it means that the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. If we open ourselves to the power of God’s love within us, we will become a stronger community of disciples, and we will be able to share far more generously and lovingly when there are needs within our parish, within our community and within our world. This is the first important implication for us as we try to understand what it means that we are made in image of God and as we, a community, try to become like that first community of disciples.
As I was reflecting on these ideas during this week, I couldn’t help but come to an understanding that part of what the trinity has to mean for us is to give up violence and hatred. This week started with Memorial Day, an extraordinary celebration throughout our country of military victories. We honor those military persons who gave their lives, but basically what we’re honoring and celebrating are wars.
Today, President Bush is over in Europe celebrating how 60 years ago we invaded the continent of Europe from the British Isles. We think of this as a marvelous thing, something to celebrate, but it meant killing and hatred. That’s not God. That can never be God.
Somehow we’ve come to think that sometimes it is OK to hate and kill. We’ve come to believe that sometimes killing is necessary, but it isn’t. And it can’t be. It cannot be.
How can we as disciples of Jesus with the love of God poured into our hearts say its OK to hate and kill? Since 1945, more than 25 million people have been killed in wars, and more than 80 percent of them are not military personnel. They’re civilians, mostly women and children. That is the tragedy that happens when we let hatred and war be glorified. And the killing and hatred goes on and on and on.
Shouldn’t we ask ourselves, “Why is it that we only celebrate military things and make those so glorious?” Why don’t we celebrate the events of August 15, 1947. That’s when the British Empire was driven out of India. They left, as Ghandi said they would, as friends because Ghandi had preached love and led a movement of love and nonviolence. What he predicted would happen, happened that day. Enemies were transformed into friends, and India has been a democracy ever since. The largest democracy in the world today.
Sadly, India too seems to be reverting from that glorious moment. They have developed nuclear weapons and are preparing to use them. What a terrible tragedy. A nation that once showed the way to peace through love is now being led to war with the worst kinds of weapons possible.
There are many other situations in which violence was transformed through love, and there could be many more yet. But it will only happen when every one of us remembers who we really are: that we are sons and daughters of God, that we share the very life of God and that the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.
When we remember that and reflect on what that means, when we take this teaching deeply into our hearts and let the image of God come to its fullness within us, then we will experience peace within ourselves. Then we will be able to commit ourselves to love God as Jesus commanded us, "Love one another." Then we will able to work towards ending violence in the world around us.
The mystery of the trinity can seem very abstract and very impersonal. Yet I challenge you to look at it and pray over it. Really take it apart. You’ll see that the mystery of trinity is the mystery of God's unlimited love poured into us.
Now we must go forth and celebrate this mystery, not just here in church but by living the love of God that has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
In the name of the Father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.
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