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 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.)
The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2003

Thomas J. Gumbleton

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 12:1-11

In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. It was the feast of Unleavened Bread. He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf. On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, "Get up quickly." The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, "Put on your belt and your sandals." He did so. Then he said to him, "Put on your cloak and follow me." So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter recovered his sense and said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting."

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

* 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.

(Editor's Note: St. Leo's Parish, where Bishop Gumbleton is pastor, held a confirmation ceremony during the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday June 29.)

Before we go on with the ceremony of confirmation we will reflect on the scripture and how that scripture fits with the ceremony we celebrate today.

As we look at the gospel, I hope that the candidates especially but also all of us will think about what happens in this lesson. The lesson connects very closely with what the candidates did when I asked: "Do you want to be confirmed?" When I asked you that question, I was not just asking you about a ceremony that will be over in a short time and then we leave the church, go home and it's all over. I was asking about much more than that. Similarly, when you answered my question with a yes, when you said, "I want to be confirmed," you are not just saying yes to a ceremony, you are saying yes to Jesus Christ.

The same thing was happening in the gospel when Jesus asked all his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" Answering him, some said he was Elijah. Some said he was Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus challenged them and said: "Who do you say I am?" Each of us is asked that question: Who do you say Jesus is?

In the gospel, Peter speaks for everybody. He said: "You are the Christ; the son of the living God." And that makes all the difference. Once you recognize Jesus as Son of God and Son of Mary, true human but also fully divine, you say yes to Jesus. That, of course, will change your whole life.

When you understand that Jesus is the Son of God, you come to see that everything he teaches us, how he shows us to live by the way he lives, this is God being proclaimed in our midst. So, candidates, when you say yes to confirmation, you are saying yes to Jesus. Each of you is committing yourself to being his disciple just as Peter, Paul and all the other disciples did. You say, "I am ready to follow Jesus Christ, to follow his way and his teachings, ready to live according to his values."

When Peter proclaimed Jesus as "the Christ, the son of the living God," Jesus said to him: Blessed are you, Simon, son of John. Blessed are you because you don't say this for yourself. God enabled you to recognize me, to recognize that I am the Son of God.

It is a very special grace, a blessing and today Jesus is saying to each one of you, "Blessed are you because you have recognized and have come to know Jesus Christ as Son of God and you are ready to commit your life to follow him. It is a very, very important yes that you are saying at this moment.

When Jesus told Peter he was blessed, he also changed his name. He said: "You are no longer going to be called Simon. From now on, your name will be 'Rock.' " In Aramaic it was Cephas, which is translated into Greek as Petras. So that's where we get Peter. Peter means Rock. It was the rock of Peter's faith that enabled him then to follow Jesus right up to his death, a death of martyrdom. Blessed by God with this gift of faith in Jesus Christ, you too will be a rock. The rock of your faith will enable you to continue to follow Jesus as you continue to believe in Jesus.

Then Jesus said to Peter: "And it is upon this rock that I will build my Church." And the same thing is true right now. The rock of your faith, the rock of the faith of everyone in this church today, that's how we continue to be a community of disciples of Jesus. We believe in Jesus. That's the bedrock of our faith, and it's the foundation of who we are as the community of disciples that is the Church.

We get further assurance of God's blessing on those who believe in the first lesson today. People persecuted the early church to get the followers of Jesus to turn away from Jesus, to reject Jesus. James was beheaded. Peter was put in jail, but God shows how God is always with them, ready to protect them, to guide them and to care for them. God makes the same promises to you as you commit yourself to be faithful to Jesus. God promises to always be in your life, to care for you, to love you, to guide you. Every one of us who is a confirmed disciple of Jesus is blessed in the same way.

But there is also a challenge, of course. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, indicated something about that challenge. He said, "I have run the race." He compared his life to running a race. He said he was getting near the finish line; by that he meant he knew his death was near, but after death he would join God in heaven.

He said: I have run the race and I have remained faithful. I poured out my life as a libation, as a sacrifice out of love for God, out of love for others in following the way of Jesus. I have given my whole life in order to try to change the world with the Good News that Jesus brought about God's love for all of us.

Paul said he gave his whole live to this. That is the challenge presented to us -- to give our lives to spread the Good News of Jesus, to try to change our world because of his teachings.

There are many ways in which we are asked to follow Jesus. We can pick out certain specific things Jesus asks of us, for example, the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers." And so on.

So there are many ways to follow Jesus. But in trying to carry out the message of Jesus, to live it, to change our world, one thing seems to be most important today. I have mentioned it before, something that Pope John Paul II spoke about a couple of months ago when he was in Spain. Addressing almost a million young people -- young people like you -- he pleaded with them to reject violence. He deplored the spiral of violence, war, racism and exaggerated nationalism.

He told them: "Reject those things and build peace." And he urged them to be "artisans of peace. Be artisans of peace through the fascinating power of love."

An artisan of peace is a person who dreams, who has a vision, who looks for something beautiful to happen and then with creativity, determination and persistence, makes it happen. An artisan of peace. That's what Pope John Paul has asked us to be especially at this time when we live in the midst of a world that is overwhelmed with violence and killing and war. Be artisans of peace through the fascinating power of love. That might sound kind of abstract and vague so let me give you an example of what it might mean to be an artisan of peace.

This happened yesterday. A group in Detroit celebrated the 40th anniversary of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march down Woodward Avenue, a march for freedom, a march for justice, a march for peace. The march he led in 1963 was in commemoration of an event from 20 years before. In 1943, Detroit experienced the worst race riot in our history. The violence was almost unbelievable; it was black on white and white on black violence. People were killed, buildings and property set ablaze and more.

In 1963, Dr. King tried to change that with his message of non-violence and with his dream for how to make this city and this world a place where all children, he said, are safe to live in peace and harmony and love, no matter what their color, what their race, what their ethnicity. We would all live together. That was his dream, and we were repeating that yesterday.

Some thing else happened yesterday that reflects back on Dr. King's dream and exemplifies this ideal of being an artisan of Jesus, rejecting violence, bringing people together in love.

During the same time that the march was going on, there was a dedication at our parish school on 23rd and Martin Luther King Blvd. A new park has been built that also has a playground for the school. The school never had a playground before. The park is called Martin Luther King Peace Park, and it came about because of a coming together of people. People from the city of Grosse Pointe came to clear the ground and prepare it for the park. People from a company in Metamora, Michigan donated $50,000 worth of equipment. These people came together so that children would have a place to play together. It's the children's park, and it's their playground.

When Sr. Mary Leonard spoke at the ceremony dedicating the park for our school, she told the crowd about what was happening at the park already. She said people driving by in their cars will stop; little kids jump out the cars and they run through the park, playing on the swings, the slides and so on. Sometimes it's a few little white kids. Another car will come along and it's a black family; those kids get out, and they play and run through the park. They have fun, and they are playing together.

Sr. Mary Leonard continued to say (and this is so marvelous) the parents who are standing around watching will eventually sit down on the benches and begin to talk with one another, coming together in peace and in love. All those who dreamed of this park and made it happen are artisans of peace. That's the kind of thing -- if we use our imagination and use our vision and give of what we have -- that can make artisans of peace, people who make peace happen in our families, in our community, in our country and in the world.

So, that's the challenge that God is asking of us. He asks this of especially today our candidates of course, but also all of us who are confirmed disciples of Jesus. Therefore, we recommit ourselves today to be followers of Jesus in faith, built on that rock given to us by God, the gift of faith.

And, as we follow Jesus, follow especially his way of peacemaking, we become artisans of peace. We can make peace happen through the fascinating power of God's love.

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

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