As the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose
from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected
in the daily distribution. The twelve summoned the multitude of the
disciples and said, "It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of
God to serve
tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men
of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint
over this business. And we will continue steadfastly in prayer and
in the ministry of the word." These words pleased the whole multitude.
They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip,
Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch;
whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their
hands on them. The word of God increased and the number of the disciples
multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly. A great company of the priests
were obedient to the faith.
1 Peter 2:4-9
Come to him, a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by
God, precious. You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual
house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable
to God through Jesus Christ. Because it is contained in Scripture,
"Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious. He who
believes in him will not be disappointed. Therefore, its value is for you
who have faith, but for such who do not have faith, the stone which the
builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone, and a stone that will
make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall. For they
stumble at the word, being disobedient, as is their destiny. But
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for
God's own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who
called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
"Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in
me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it weren't so, I would have
told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a
place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that
where I am, you may be there also. Where I go, you know, and you know the
way." Thomas says to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going.
How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you
had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know
him, and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been
with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen
me has seen the Father. How do you say, 'Show us the Father?' Don't
you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that
I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does
his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in
me; or else believe me for the very works' sake. Most assuredly I tell
you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater
works than these will he do; because I am going to my Father.
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
|Those words “a church in crisis” - how
many times we’ve seen them as headlines on the television screen or headlines
in the press - “a church in crisis.” It’s to the point that it’s
becoming almost overwhelming and weighs down on us in many, many ways.
But if we listen to the scriptures today, we discover “a church in crisis”
right at the very beginning. And if we listen very carefully,
we’ll discover how they responded to that crisis and perhaps we’ll learn
something for ourselves about how to respond to our own crisis.
It truly was a crisis. It might not have
sounded so critical when we heard the passage read this morning.
But to understand it, you have to kind of build more of the background
into what was being spoken. Remember, this was a community that had
come together very rapidly after Pentecost when the spirit came upon the
first disciples (those hundred and twenty or so who had been gathered together
with Jesus at the last supper and then in the upper room where they stayed
there for those days after Easter). The spirit came upon them and
then Peter went out into the streets and proclaimed the word with such
Luke tells us that three thousand people were
gathered together on that first day and that they joined the community.
They were so filled with the spirit of Jesus that it became a community
that was truly extraordinary. Luke says to us, “They were faithful
to the teaching of the apostles, the common life of sharing, the breaking
of bread and the prayers. All the believers lived together and shared
all their belongings. They would sell their property and all they
had and distribute the proceeds to others according to their need.
Each day they met together in the temple area, they broke bread in their
homes, they shared their food with great joy and simplicity of heart, and
they praised God and won the peoples favor. It was a community filled
with life and spirit and joy and generous love for others.” It was
a marvelous community.
Commentators will probably say that those words
are somewhat idealizing that first community somewhat. I presume
they were because they were human beings like every one of us. Yet
there had to be something very special about them.
Then we hear today, in the passage that was
read from the Acts of the Apostles, how in this community that was so united
that they began to split apart. It was a real crisis that was built
on prejudice, discrimination, and segregation, the kind of things we know
in our own history here in the United States.
Some of those Jewish converts had been people
who had already been disbursed away from the Holy Land. They had
become Greek speaking Jews with a whole different culture and different
language, even though they shared the same religious beliefs. And
then there were the other Jewish speaking ones, some who probably thought
they were better than others and more faithful than the other group.
But they were prejudiced and so they refused to serve the poor among the
Greek speaking Jews. It would have split the whole community totally.
So it was a very severe crisis that occurred
right at the beginning of the church. And if we follow the example
of the first disciples in today’s lessons, it can guide us on how to respond
to the crisis that we face in our own church today.
First of all, the gospel lesson suggests so
clearly that we must trust in Jesus, that Jesus is present still in our
church no matter what has happened. Jesus said to that first community
he had gathered round himself at that last meal he shared with them, “Have
faith in God and have faith in me.”
Can we have that kind of faith in God, the
faith in Jesus that he was asking of his first community?
When Thomas says to Jesus, where are you going?
We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way? Jesus
says of himself, “I am the way, the way of truth and the way of life.”
Jesus reveals God to us, all the goodness and blessings. The bountiful
gifts of God are revealed in Jesus as the way of truth.
Jesus tells Philip that God is in me and I
am in God. And so we see in Jesus the one who really holds the whole
community together. God is in him and he is in God and he shares that life
of God with his disciples and with all of us.
So the first thing we need to remember - and
it would allow us to totally rid ourselves of discouragement - is that
God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God and we can have faith in Jesus and
faith in God. Trust that God is at work in our midst in Jesus.
But then also, as we listen to today’s scriptures,
we’re given further guidance on how to respond to a crisis that will crop
up in the church at various times in our history as a community of disciples
of Jesus. It was there at the beginning, it happened at other times
in history, and right now it’s very severe the crisis that we face.
But Saint Peter reminds us, “Remember who you
are, all of us who have been baptized. We’re a people of God. You
are a chosen race, a community of priestly people, a consecrated community,
a people God has made God’s own. God called you from darkness to
God’s own wonderful light. At one stage, you were no people, but
now you are God’s people.”
Peter is reminding us that the same Jesus who
can say, “God lives in me and I live in God,” is saying that through baptism
we live in God and God lives in us. We are God’s people and we should
always remember we have the dignity and the blessing, the gift of being
consecrated, and of being a priestly people; all of us, not just certain
ones among us.
And that brings us to the most important part.
In the first lesson today, notice how the disciples went about resolving
their crisis. They called the whole community together -the whole
community - because God lives in the community. Jesus is alive within
the community of the church and it’s the whole community that must respond
to the crisis.
In the beginning, that community did it so
beautifully. They selected people who would be the leaders and who
would change this discriminatory practice and eliminate it. They
even had a kind of affirmative action. The Greek speaking Jews had
been neglected, so the new ministers that they chose were all from the
Greek speaking community. They made sure that the whole community
would be served with graciousness, love and generosity. They resolved
their crisis because the community came together and saw the way to resolve
I think it’s probably very clear to all of
us that we haven’t yet, in the present crisis, really acted like a whole
community of disciples of Jesus. The cardinals have come together
and have acted, but more than half the people of the church are still disappointed.
They haven’t really gotten down to the basic issues that need to be faced.
If you read the commentaries that are being
published in all kinds of magazines, in the press, and everywhere, you’ll
discover that people are saying the problems are deeper than the situations
that were discussed in Rome for a day and a half. The whole church
has to face these problems. All of us have to take up our responsibility
of being part of the people of God. We are God’s people, we must
respond to the crisis. And so, in whatever way we can, we must make
our views known. We must respond. We must offer suggestions.
We must act.
There’s a whole large movement where the people
are saying, “We are the Church.” That’s something that every one
of us has to take hold of.
Peter put it in terms of being a living stone
- all of us built into the one temple which is God’s people. Each
of us is that living stone and part of the whole church, and each of us
must take our responsibility to resolve the crisis in the church.
So we must pray together, all of us here at
St. Leo’s, in our parish community. We must pray for guidance, enlightenment,
and understanding. We must pray for forgiveness for our church.
But we must also pray for wisdom, so that we, as a church, can turn the
corner in this crisis and come out of it with a renewed life, just like
those early Christians did after their crisis.
That will begin when each one of us takes an
even greater responsibility for what happens here at St. Leo’s. We’re
not going to affect the universal church unless we all become very active
in trying to build up our own community. Not just come and put in
our time on a Sunday morning, but being a very active member of this community.
Giving guidance on how we should develop and grow as a community; how we
can further evangelize the neighborhood around us, and how we can better
serve those who live in our midst that are so much in need. All of
us have to do this.
And if we begin to act as a real community
of disciples of Jesus, each of us taking responsibility for who we are
as the parish community of St. Leo’s, then we will have an influence on
the larger church as a parish community.
It’s very clear what God is saying to us today
in the scriptures. We are God’s people and we must respond to the
crisis in our church. And we will respond, if we become very active
as members of the parish family at St. Leo’s. Through our activity
here and through our growth as a community, we will have a major influence
on the community of the archdiocese of Detroit and beyond that, on the
whole church throughout our world.
I hope we can listen to what God says to us
today. I hope we can learn from those first Christians and how they
responded to their crisis. And I hope that we can respond in a way
that will show that we really know we are God’s people and that we can
act in God’s name and resolve the crisis that faces our church today.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.