The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Sixth Sunday of Easter||May 1, 2005|
Jesus makes a very extraordinary promise in that conversation with the disciples that we just listened to. He tells them that he is going to send to them the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit will be truly a challenge to the world. We must remember that when John speaks about "the world" in the gospel, he's not talking about the marvelous creation that God has given to us but, rather, the world as a symbol of those who oppose the reign of God -- the principalities and the powers as Paul described them -- those who are against what God is trying to bring about. So this spirit will be a challenge to the world and will transform those situations of hatred and violence, evil. That's the promise that Jesus makes.
In the first lesson today, there's an extraordinary example of how that happens. Philip went to a place where people hated the Jews. Samaria was a part of the Holy Land, but it was where people had, centuries before, intermarried with pagans and so were rejected by the Jewish people and they rejected the Jewish people. There was hatred between them. Philip goes there, preaches about Jesus, proclaims the good news, the message that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he shares that life with us, and there's a tremendous response, because the spirit is with Philip and the spirit is transforming the hardness of their hearts. The spirit is bringing God's love, God's peace, God's joy to them. In fact, the translation that we use doesn't use these words, but some translations say there was such joy there, it was at a fever pitch. The people couldn't contain themselves. So much had happened because the word had been proclaimed to them with the power of the Spirit who was speaking through Philip.
Did you ever wonder why, when we try to proclaim the word of God as we do in our everyday life, by the way we live, by when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist on a Sunday, why we don't have the same effect? Why when we preach the word don't people get all excited? Why isn't there a fever pitch of joy?
It does happen sometimes that the world is transformed, situations of hatred and violence are transformed, the word really does have the powerful effects that God intends. The difference, I think, happens because of what Jesus says in the gospel, where he tells us right at the very beginning, "If you love me you will keep my commandments and then I will ask God and God will give you the Spirit -- the Spirit that will be present in you and through you." If you keep my commandments!
Now, Jesus wasn't talking about moral precepts that we usually think of right away when we think of the commandments. No, what he was talking about is what he says a little bit further on in that conversation with his disciples, where he tells them, "This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you." Then he goes on to say, "Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life for another."
If when we carry out that commandment, when we are ready to give ourselves totally, as Jesus did; when we love others and not just those who love us, of course, as Jesus teaches us, we must love even our enemies and we must do good to those who hurt us, we must return good for evil; when we have that kind of love without limit, ready to lay down our lives -- then the Spirit will be with us and that Spirit will transform whatever situation we confront. That Spirit will challenge the world, change the world, transform it into the reign of God.
Sometimes it happens. I can give a couple of examples from this past week that I've thought about. The other night I was at Dominican High School where there was a speaker, Dr. Mary McDonald*, the superintendent of schools for the Memphis diocese. An extraordinary thing has happened in that diocese. They closed all their city schools, but the bishop thought about it and decided it was a wrong decision. So he told Dr. McDonald, "We've got to reopen those schools! That's our responsibility." Dr. McDonald told the story of how the schools reopened, and she made one point that I thought was powerful. She said, "You know most of those schools that we have now reopened, there aren't any Catholic kids in the schools." She said, "We don't have these schools because the children are Catholic. We have them because we are Catholic!" What a powerful statement! We're here to serve, to love, to give of ourselves! Not just to serve ourselves but to serve others, especially the poor and those who are neglected in our society, who don't have an opportunity for the best education. That's why we're doing it! That's love, the kind of love that Jesus is talking about where you don't think of yourself, you give yourself!
What happened in Memphis? It's a powerful story. People started to come and say, "We want to help!" She said they had teachers from all over the country contacting them, saying, "We want to teach in those schools. We want to give of ourselves." And the money has come. Huge donations. Because the Spirit of God is present when we teach that way. Through our lives, through our actions we demonstrate that we are not here to serve ourselves, we are here to serve others. When people understand that and see that in us, that will change their hearts. That will be the challenge to the world that rejects the reign of God and that will transform our world into the reign of God.
I have another example that I think is also very powerful and it reminds us, this one especially, that God's Spirit bursts forth anywhere. There is no controlling the Spirit of God. In the first lesson today, we heard that the people of Samaria had only been baptized; they had not received the Holy Spirit. So Peter and John were sent there and they laid hands on them and then they received the Spirit. After hearing that lesson, you might think that it is only when certain things happen, when ministers in the church do something special, that then the Spirit comes, that they somehow control the Spirit. But that is not so. Most of the time, that's an exception in Luke's Acts of the Apostles and his Gospel. Most of the time the Spirit will move wherever the Spirit wills without any limits placed upon it by a church or by institutional structures, or anything of the sort. God's Spirit will break forth anywhere where someone is obeying the command of Jesus: "To love as I have loved you."
This example is of a young woman whom I met a few years, a couple years ago in Afghanistan where she was doing a tremendous work of gathering information about innocent people who had been maimed, injured, killed and trying to see that they got compensated for that. Innocent people! In fact, the night I met with her, the group of us met with her, she brought some people with her and they told their stories and it was so tragic and moved you tremendously. That young woman's name is Marla Ruzicka and she kept doing that work, more recently in Iraq. A couple of weeks ago she was killed. One of those roadside explosives went off. They were trying to hit a convoy and her car was engulfed in flames and she was burned to death.
There has been lots of information about her in the paper, but one article describes her as: "heading off to the most dangerous spots on the globe determined to bring aid and comfort to the afflicted wherever she found them. This meant, of course, that her constituency was impossibly large. The world is filled with people who have nowhere to turn." The person speaking about her says:
I think going to Afghanistan and seeing the innocent victims of war had a particular impact on her. And then later she went to Iraq. We were all stunned when we saw the widows who had no way to feed their families because their husbands had been killed when a bomb fell in their neighborhood by mistake, or a little boy who picked up a cluster bomb and had his arm blown off. Nobody was helping him to get a prosthetic limb. Or people who's homes had been destroyed and were living in the cold, literally just living outside.
So she kept up this work and the article points out:
Her goal was two-fold: First to seek and secure compensation for the relatives of innocent victims who were killed and for the many thousands of noncombatants who had been wounded or displaced, and second to get the United States government to establish an office or agency, perhaps within the State Department, to collect data and report on the civilian casualties of war. For an individual with so few obvious resources, ...
She was just a young woman all by herself
... she established a tiny organization and had very little money, her reach was tremendous. She worked tirelessly over the past three years with the office of Senator Patrick Leahy in order to get millions of dollars of compensation for civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan. An aide to the senator said, "She came here as a very sort-of naive anti-war protester."
"But because she was someone who was extraordinarily effective at putting politics aside, not trying to cast blame but rather working with everyone, she was able to get people actually to help. She was out there doing something that all of us knew was really needed but that was too dangerous for most people to want to do or to be willing to do."
Well, she was killed in the chaos of Iraq and this writer says:
I interviewed many people who are grief-striken but are anxious to share memories of Ms. Ruzicka. None were as eloquent as her father Clifford, a civil engineer. When I asked if he and his wife Nancy had been surprised by their daughter's intense commitment to humanitarian causes he said, "No, she's been like that all her life. She had this calling, and she pursued it with vigor. She didn't do it for political gain or monetary gain; she did it out of love. I think her legacy will be to forever change the attitude of the United States government and the United States military on how they deal with what they call 'collateral damage.'"
Marla Ruzicka was a person who acted totally out of love, and she could attract other people because the Spirit of God was clearly with her. You sense that when you listen to her speak about her work. People in Congress and the military, they had to listen to her because the Spirit of Jesus was obviously working through her. That Spirit of love, that Spirit that challenges the world, the Spirit that transforms the world. She was an effective teacher of the Good News of Jesus, because she understood and followed that one command, "Love one another as I have loved you."
Today is a good time to ask ourselves, "How do we proclaim the good news? How do we spread the message of Jesus?" Well, we can do it with words sometimes, but that really isn't enough. Unless we're really living lives of love, we won't change anything.
We have to go deep within ourselves and try to awaken there this Spirit of love that marked the whole life and death and resurrection of Jesus. That has to become our way of life -- never using hatred or violence or anything of that kind, but always responding in any and every situation with love, the kind of love where you are willling to lay down your life for another. The kind of love that Jesus showed us. When we obey that commandment every one of us, by our very lives, will be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and we will challenge our world and begin to transform our world into the reign of God.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Editor's Note: Subscribers to NCR can read an interview with Dr. Mary McDonald in the March 25, 2005 special issue on Catholic education.
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