National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
?Signup Here For  Weekly E-mail

 1 Archives  | 

 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.)
Pentecost Sunday
June 8, 2003

Thomas J. Gumbleton

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 2:1-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, "Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.

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

Brothers and sisters: No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;  there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

John 20:19-23

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."

John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you."

* 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.

When reflecting on the Scriptures for today, it occurred to me that they prompt us to ask a question that might seem kind of superficial and non-important at first, but that I think is very profound and very important, a question that relates very much to the feast of Pentecost.

The question is: Why do we come to church? Why do we gather here every Sunday? I am not thinking about superficial answers. Some people might come to church just so that they can be seen. Some people maybe come because it is an obligation -- I would commit a mortal sin if I didn't show up at church. This is not what I am thinking about. The reasons we must come together as a community and celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday are more profound than that. Why we come together every Sunday is brought out by reflecting on the two different versions of the feast of Pentecost that you have just heard. They really are quite different.

The one St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles happened 50 days after Easter. The other, told by St. John, is another version of the same event, but it happened Easter Sunday night. Why do these readings give us these two different expressions, descriptions of this extraordinary and important event? I think if we discover why, we can understand why we come together as a community and celebrate the Eucharist.

First of all, take John's version. What was happening? The disciples had gone back to that upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus, where he had gathered together his closest friends and spoke with them so intimately. That is what we just heard as part of the Gospel today. They had gone back there after Jesus had been executed. They were frightened to death. They were scared. They were confused. They did not know what was happening. Easter Sunday morning, they hear these reports that Jesus was alive, and they can't believe it. Then suddenly Easter Sunday night, that evening, he is right there in their midst. Again they can't believe it. John says they were overflowing with joy, "It's Jesus, and he is alive."

Then what does he say to them? "Peace be with you." That must have been a very consoling and deeply joyful message to hear. These people had betrayed Jesus, had run away, had denied him, had failed. Now he comes into their midst and the first thing he offers them is forgiveness and peace. Be consoled. Be filled with joy. That is such an important experience for any of us to have.

Jesus breathed on them, and gave them the Holy Spirit and with it the message that they are forgiven. The implied message he gave was that if you want to spread this peace, you must forgive one another. When you forgive someone their sins, they are forgiven. When you retain evil (sin), it is retained. It stops. A powerful and important gift -- forgiveness. And it can bring such great peace.

So one of the reasons we come to church, as a community, is so that we can gather together and experience God pouring forth love upon us, just as Jesus poured forth that love on those first disciples and filled their hearts with peace. It was a peace that, as he said, the world cannot give. So we come to church to be consoled and to experience peace, to be filled with joy and filled with excitement. Jesus is alive! But it can't stop there. This experience of God pouring forth love upon us can happen to us individually. We can experience it individually, but it is more powerful when we come together and experience it as a community.

When Luke describes the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, he does it in a totally different way. He uses the framework of the Old Testament to begin with. He marks it on the 50th day after Easter. At that time in the Jewish liturgical calendar, they celebrated what they called the Feast of Weeks, the seven full weeks after the Passover. The Passover is, of course, that very important event where God had freed Jews, liberated them from the slavery of Egypt. The Feast of Weeks marked the completion of that celebration. The celebration of the seven weeks evolved gradually to become a recollection and remembrance of the Sinai event when they had been formed as a people. That was when God had become their God, they had become God's people. So Luke wants us to be aware of all that.

When Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is with power -- the walls of the house are shaken, a powerful wind pours through, and tongues of fire come down. At Sinai, God had appeared in flames, so it is a remembrance of how the first people had been formed. At Pentecost a new people is being formed. The wind is a reminder of creation in the book of Genesis. The same word is used to describe God's spirit thrown across the chaos. Just as the world was formed, a people is formed. God created us. Luke is saying we are a new creation; we are becoming a new people. Luke asks us to remember how God first formed a people, how God first formed the world. He uses those images to show how the coming of the Holy Spirit brings a new creation. We are a whole new people. Furthermore, we have a task to perform, because as Jesus said to those first disciples, "I am sending you out as my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth." The Holy Spirit comes upon us to give us many gifts that we can use to carry out the work we are given to do.

The Feast of Pentecost, as Luke describes it, is a feast that is dynamic, a feast that has power. It makes us a people who are called to act in the world. That is a whole different thing, isn't it?

We can come to church to be consoled, to experience peace and joy in the quiet of our hearts; that is important. It is very much a blessing to any of us, any time we experience that. But we also come to church to be creative as God's people with a mission, a task in the world. As we proclaim in our Eucharistic Prayer, God sent Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news of God's life given to everyone. And God showed us the way to that life -- the way of love through Jesus. So we have that task -- to take the Good News.

For us to do that, to really take the Good News of Jesus, be God's people, formed into this new creation when the Holy Spirit is poured upon us, then we have to listen to the other part of John's Gospel from today.

Jesus had said to the first disciples, "Look, there are many, many things that I need to tell you. You can't bear them now, but the Spirit will come. The Spirit will be with my people forever." Today, here in the 21st century, we are God's people. We must listen to God's Spirit speaking among us and within us so that we can be faithful as God's people and carry the Good News of God's love into our world. I am reminded how important it is to listen to the Spirit speaking within us; how important it is to be sure that we are formed in God's Spirit, in God's word, and not simply in the messages that come to us from the world around us.

I am reminded of something I read a few weeks ago, I mentioned it in one of my homilies. I read about a poll that was done asking people in this country, "How did you form your conscience? How did you make your decision about whether or not to support the war in Iraq?" The great majority of people said they made that decision based on what they heard through the public media. Only a minority said it was because of what they heard in church. To me, that shows how important it is to listen to God's Spirit speaking among us and within us.

You know, Jesus was speaking 2,000 years ago. We live in a different time, a different place, a different world. We have to keep listening to the Spirit of Jesus in order to do Jesus' work. We can't hear the Word of God just in the media. It won't be there. We can't hear the Word of God from the culture in which we live. It won't be there. We have to come together as God's people formed through the Spirit, and listening to that Spirit speak to us now.

We need to listen to the Spirit speak and not only about the war. Many other issues confront us in this 21st century. We must be listening to the Spirit of Jesus in order to be God's people, to carry on God's work and to transform our world as God wants it to be changed. That is the message of the versions of Pentecost that Luke gives us. It is a reminder of how we become God's people and we do God's work.

So these two versions of Pentecost give us the two reasons we come to church every Sunday. There is no reason we can't come to church for both reasons, of course. There are many times where we come to be consoled, to be at peace, to experience joy. But every time we come, it is important that we come together to be formed as God's people, through God's Word, through the Spirit of Jesus who still lives among us and within us. Then we can leave the church and carry out what Jesus asks us to do: "Go and be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, and to the ends of the earth." Every one of us filled with the Spirit of Jesus must go forth today and every day formed as God's people to do God's work, to be witnesses to Jesus.

In the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111  TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280