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The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Second Sunday in Easter April 3, 2005

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.
This week's readings **
Acts 2:42-47
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

John 20:19-31
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." 4But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

* 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.

The first lesson today, the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, describes what was happening in the community of disciples some time after Jesus had died, risen from the dead and ascended to God. As we listen carefully to the description of this community and also build into our listening what happened Easter Sunday night, we find a way of kind of measuring how we are doing as a community of disciples, how we are really being the church, those who follow Jesus. It is really quite challenging, what these first disciples show us as they take hold of that truth that Jesus is alive, he is risen and he has given them a task: "As God sent me, I send you."

Maybe the first thing that we should measure for ourselves is how well we do on forgiveness and reconciliation. When Jesus came to the disciples, gathered together his community, the first thing he said to them was "Peace be with you." It's beautiful. In spite of all his suffering and the terrible things that happened to him, he is deeply at peace and he was sharing it with them. He wanted them to build peace within their community and beyond that community and to carry peace into the world. He gave them the gift of forgiveness. I can imagine that they would have been quite astounded, because they would have had to be aware of how they had failed as his disciples! They ran away, most of them. One of them betrayed him, another one denied him, and so on. They were not in a situation where they could have been very happy about how they had acted during those terrible hours of Jesus' passion -- his being tortured and put to death. Yet the first thing he said to them was, "Peace and forgiveness." He asked them to carry that spirit wherever they went, within their community, first of all. "Forgive one another."

Of course within any community, even within a family, there are times when you hurt one another, and so it is so important to reach out and forgive. And beyond our community. Remember Pope John Paul II in his Peace Day statement of 2002 said, "One of the pillars of building peace in the world is bringing to our enemies that special kind of love we call forgiveness." You will never have peace without forgiveness. And so it's our task to carry that. During Lent as we made the stations of the cross, at the 11th station there was a passage that we reflected on that I thought was just so powerful, because it says such an important truth about what happens when we forgive. This reflection said, "Jesus really lived his teachings about forgiveness. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutor. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Jesus' love is so pure and generous that he seeks only to build up others no matter what they have done to him. If someone throws a lance into his heart, the blood that flows to it washes away that person's sin."

And then we're told, "Perhaps Jesus' greatest gift is this gift of forgiveness. Without it, we are locked in permanent alienation from God and from each other. With it, we are set free to be one with God, ourselves and one another."

It really is a great blessing. Jesus' forgiveness is given to us, but as then we forgive others we are set free. So the expectation if we're really going to be faithful as disciples of Jesus is that we reach out to forgive. If someone has hurt us, we don't wait for them to come back and ask for forgiveness, we go, just as Jesus went to those first disciples and forgave. How quickly that would build up our community as a real community of faith and love and joy and peace and how effective we would be in spreading that to the world around us.

So that's the first thing I believe we have to look at as we consider what was happening in the very first community of disciples. In the second lesson, St. Luke describes, how those disciples lived in the city of Jerusalem probably a few months, maybe a year or so after Jesus had gone. Luke tells us three very important things that they did as a community. First, they listened to the teachings. They took time to listen to scriptures, the Hebrew scriptures, but then as the letters of Paul and others were being circulated they read those and they listened. They came together and listened.

How important that is in the forming of our community. If we really take the time to come each Sunday and listen to what God speaks to us through the scriptures, it will form us, shape us into the disciples we are called to be. If we go beyond that -- take those little books that we have, the black books that we used during Lent and now the white books -- and each day listen six minutes, it forms us because we are all listening to the word of God and that word of God is changing us and making us the community we are called to be.

St. Luke also says, "They came together for the breaking of the bread." Again, a very powerful way to make us into one community. We share the same food and drink, the very body and blood of Jesus and it changes us. Changes us all, together. Makes us into the community of disciples that can really go into the world and change the world.

The third characteristic that Luke described is really the one that, maybe in some ways challenges us the most. St. Luke said, "No one in that community was lacking what they needed because everyone shared." It is almost unbelievable. Probably the first community didn't live up to this completely. This is kind of an ideal, but it is certainly what they were striving for. "No one in that community was lacking what they needed because everyone shared."

What a tremendous truth that we need to get hold of and make our own: what I have really isn't mine. What I have isn't really mine, it is God's because everything is God's. It isn't mine, it's God's. That means it's ours. It's for everybody. What a different world we would have, what a different church we would have, if we took this seriously. Do you think we would have a church here in Detroit where there seems to be such a clear division between the poor and the rich, the city and the suburbs? I don't think so. We wouldn't be closing schools in the city and opening schools in the suburbs if we were really one church and if we were really sharing our resources.

But that's not only for the whole church, that's for each of us. Each of us has to try to get that conviction that what I have isn't mine, it's God's and so it's for everybody and I have to learn to share, to give as generously as possible.

Again if we did that as a church, if we really were the church that these first disciples were, if we were sharing like that, how quickly that would have an effect on the world around us. We could make our whole nation become a nation more committed to sharing. There's a goal that has been set by the United Nations for trying to eliminate poverty in the world. The goal is that each nation, the wealthy nations, would give 7/10ths of one percent of their overall wealth and share it. That would be 70 cents out of ever 100 dollars of wealth that we have. Hardly a very great amount, and yet it could make a huge difference in our world! How much do we give? Well, somewhere between 1/10th and 2/10ths of one percent; 15 to 20 cents out of every 100 dollars. If we were a church who were really living according to these criteria that that first community established and lived by, how different we would be in that world around us. We would be changing this world.

One commentator that I read while reflecting on these scriptures for today offers a kind of test for us to use to discover how well we're matching what we are called to be as a community of disciples. He calls it the "Thomas test" because of what happened in today's Gospel. There's another passage where the disciples experience Jesus. He's in their midst and the, this is in Luke, he says, "For joy they didn't dare believe. They were all astonished. So Jesus said to them, "Do you have anything to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish. He took it and ate it before them." They needed something to prove that he really was alive, that he was the same Jesus who had been with them before so they watched him eat. That was a test, and they were able to see this was Jesus.

Well, Thomas had a different test. He said, "I will believe it is really Jesus if I can touch the nail marks in his hands and his feet. Put my hand in his side where that spear ripped his side open. That's the test. Then I'll know it is really Jesus, the one who was willing to accept any suffering, be tortured and put to death and still love. That's Jesus!"

The Thomas test for us, if we're really disciples of Jesus, if Jesus is alive in us and we deserve the name "Christian," if we really are followers of Jesus, then there ought to be some way in which our lives have been affected by what we have done as disciples. There ought to be some way that we have had to pay a price, because it really does cost us something if we live out the discipleship of Jesus. If we don't have any marks to show for our living out of the way of Jesus, then maybe we haven't been very faithful to Jesus.

This particular time of the year, the 10 days from March 24 to April 4 -- and I'm sure many of you understand immediately what I'm suggesting -- are marked by people who paid the price. March 24, we just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the assassination of [Salvadoran Archbishop] Oscar Romero who paid a price because he struggled for the poor. He was a champion of justice. He spoke out against those who were depriving the poor and he paid the price. He was shot to death on March 24.

Of course, April 4, 37 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death because he too had spoken out for the poor and the oppressed. He challenged our own government and the violence that it was doing. You might remember that on April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said that he had to, "speak out against the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government" in order that he could speak authentically to the kids in the ghetto who were using violence because they thought it would work. Martin Luther King said, "I can't speak to the kids in the ghetto about giving up violence when I'm supporting the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." Because he challenged our government he was persecuted, hounded by the FBI and so on. And finally shot to death. He paid the price.

I'm not suggesting that we are probably going to have to pay such a price, our very lives, but there is some price we have to pay if we're going to be people who forgive, if we're going to be the ones who reach out first, who go to the ones who hurt us and say, "I forgive and I love you"

If we're going to give the time to listen to God's word, to give the time to come together to celebrate the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread, if we're going to share our wealth and resources, it will cost us something. Sooner or later, we might have to take the Thomas test to see what price we have paid. If we haven't paid a price, if it hasn't cost us anything to be a Christian, probably we are not very faithful followers of Jesus.

During this coming week perhaps, each day as we try to listen to the word of God we can take the Thomas test and as the days pass, we will become disciples of Jesus and as a whole parish family, we will be a community of disciples who are willing to pay a price to bring the message of Jesus to our world.

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

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