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 The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles 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.
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Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2003
This week's readings **

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

Peter said to the people, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up, and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had determined to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses. "Now, brothers, I know that you did this in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out."

1 John 2:1-5a

My children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. One who says, "I know him," and doesn't keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn't in him. But whoever keeps his word, God's love has most assuredly been perfected in him.

Luke 24:35-48

The two disciples related the things that happened along the way, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. As they said these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace be to you." But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

He said to them, "Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is truly me. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn't have flesh and bones, as you see that I have. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

While they still didn't believe for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. He took them, and ate in front of them. He said to them, "This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures.

He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things..

 * 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.

I hope we notice as we reflect on today's Scriptures and other passages that we have used during this Easter season, how these appearances of Jesus are like the first community of disciples coming together to celebrate a Eucharist, just as we are doing this morning. We can see the structure there. 

There is the story about the two disciples on the way to Emmaus that preceded our Gospel passage today. As they are going along, Jesus is opening up the word of God for them. It's a liturgy of the word and Jesus himself is instructing them. Then they come around the table and Jesus breaks bread with them -- what he did at the Last Supper, the very last meal he had with them. Then they recognize he is in our midst, he is present to us, and he is here right now. 

In today's passage it's much like that, too. Again you have a liturgy of the word. You have Jesus explaining to the disciples the scriptures, opening up to them all those passages that they have read so many times or have heard so many times but now they begin to understand them better than they ever have before. And Jesus breaks bread with them again and they recognize him. It's Jesus, really Jesus! 

Each time as they celebrate those Eucharists with Jesus, what's the gift that he gives to them? "Peace be with you," he says. "Not as the world gives peace, but my peace." And in John's Gospel that we read on Easter Sunday, he gives them forgiveness and then tells them, "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you restrain, they are held back." He gives them the gift of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace. 

Then, in today's gospel, he also tells them: "Now repentance and forgiveness in my name will be proclaimed to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. And you shall be my witnesses." They have the task now, the responsibility, the mission to take this peace of Jesus -- forgiveness, reconciliation, love -- those gifts that he brings into our midst and that we need so desperately in the world in which we live. Jesus shares it with them at those Eucharists that he celebrates and then, as he does in today's Gospel, he says: "It is your task. You be my witnesses. You take the peace, reconciliation, love to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem." Start here but it has to go everywhere. 

As we celebrate this Eucharist today, I hope that we will understand that the same thing is happening. We have our Liturgy of the Word. We try to listen. With the help of God's Spirit we listen deeply in our own spirit. The word of God begins to be open for us. We begin to understand. Then as we break bread together, Jesus is in our midst just as truly as he was there with those first disciples and he wanted them to know: " It is really I myself. Touch me. See! It is really I. I am in your midst right now!" And that happens for us too. 

And he brings the same gifts: peace. Peace in our own spirit to start with. We experience forgiveness. We open ourselves to his love. The healing happens. Reconciliation happens. Forgiveness, peace. 

Then also, the same mission: "You must be my witnesses." Jesus is saying that to all of us right now as he is here in our midst as we celebrate this Eucharist: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the sacrament or of the breaking of the bread. Jesus is in our midst and he is telling each of us: "You must be my witness. Bring my peace, reconciliation, forgivesness and love." It starts right here within our own community. We share with one another. If there is anything we have against one another, during this liturgy we must let go. Forgive. Be forgiven right here in our midst. 

But then, also, we have the same task as those first disciples. It was to start in Jerusalem but then to go everywhere to all the nations. This is the part that seems especially important today. We live in a world that is threatened with war and violence all the time. And it is happening, it is not just threatened; it is happening all the time. 

Just these past couple of days, I participated in a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of an extraordinary document that Pope John XXIII published in May of 1963. It was called "Pacem in Terris" -- Peace on Earth. I remember, actually being in Rome at the time, I was a student there. It was the last month of John XXIII's life. No one knew that for sure at the time but, looking back, it was the time he was dying. I can remember so clearly because it was just such an extraordinary experience how every day around noon classes were over and I would go with hundreds, even thousands of other people and gather in St. Peter's Square under the window of the pope in the Vatican Palace on the side of the square. People just gathered there in quiet. It was a very silent vigil, but it was like being at the deathbed of John XXIII, a pope who was so loved throughout the world. 

During those last couple of weeks of his life is when this encyclical was published. It was as though he was giving his last legacy to the world, a world he loved so much and that loved him so much. He wanted peace on earth and so in this document he shows us the way to peace. It is a marvelous document! 

It starts off with a part about human rights and how essential it is that the right of every person be respected. And these are not rights that are given to us by any one else. They come to us because we are individual human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Human rights have to be respected. 

Then he has a long passage about the relationship with the individual within the nation and how there has to be, on the part of the government, respect for the rights of people and the people's responsibility to their government, for ruling out tyranny and dictatorships and so on. Everyone is to be respected as a full person, equal and free with dignity. Then he has a long section on how to build a foundation for peace by making sure there is justice in the world, sharing the goods of all for everyone. 

And then there's a very visionary passage where he talks about how the community of nations must come together recognizing not just my individual good, the good of my nation, but a common good of all nations. And, there has to be, he says, universal authority that helps to promote that common universal good -- the United Nations. He gives strong support to it. International Law. 

Then finally he makes an appeal to every individual. In a very beautiful way he says: "Today every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst our brothers and sisters, and you will be this all the more perfectly the more closely you live in communion with God in the intimacy of your own soul." And so we are all called to be peacemakers building our efforts on that intimacy with God we experience deep in our own soul. 

When Pope John XXIII published that encyclical letter it was at a moment when the world really needed to hear it. It was a time of terrible tension in the world. John was very much aware, as many people were, that it had not been very long before when weapons of mass destruction -- Hiroshima, Nagasaki -- hundreds of thousands of people were killed with the explosion of one bomb. The wall in Berlin had just been built. A few months before that had been the terrible Cuban missile crisis where for 13 days the very world itself was in a balance of terror whether it would exist or not. John XXIII offered this message of Peace on Earth and how to build it. 

Just yesterday Pope John Paul II was in Spain, and he spoke there with this same message. He is truly being what Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel today. "Be my witness. Take peace, reconciliation and love into the whole world." Yesterday, when he was in Spain (and we live in another time when war threatens us and violence is all around us), he is described, in the paper today, "Still filled with a palpable sadness over the war in Iraq, Pope John Paul II told an audience of hundreds of thousands of Spaniards that what he desperately wanted for the world was peace, repeating that word so often that it became a mantra." 

Here is part of what he said: "Beloved young people, you well know how concerned I am about peace in the world." Addressing them in Spanish, the pope bemoaned what he called "a spiral of violence, terrorism and war" and he beseeched them to 

" be artisans of peace creative artisans building peace in the world. Respond to blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love -- the message of Jesus. Return love for hate -- goodness for evil -- non-violence for violence. Respond to blind violence, inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love. Keep yourselves far from every form of exaggerated nationalism, racism and intolerance. 

"I wish for everyone the peace that only God through Jesus Christ can give -- the peace that is the work of justice, truth, love, and solidarity. The peace from which people can benefit when they follow the way of God -- the peace that makes people feel like brothers and sisters."

The message is the same as Jesus told his first disciples during those first Eucharists: "Be reconciled. Forgive one another. Return good for evil, love for hate," and so on. "Be my witnesses throughout the world." We need that message so desperately today, especially if we are going to resist, as John Paul says, every form of exaggerated nationalism, racism and intolerance. 

Think of the contrast, if you would, between Pope John Paul II yesterday in Spain appealing for peace based on justice, solidarity and love and our president the day before, putting on the uniform of a military person, going to an aircraft carrier, gloating almost, in our destructive capability. That's his way of bringing peace into the world. 

But, I think, if we listen and resist exaggerated nationalism, if we listen to Jesus, there is a different way. There is a way that we must try to follow. 

I hope that as we celebrate this Eucharist today each of us is truly aware of how God is speaking to us through God's Word and that we are trying to listen deeply in our hearts. But also, aware that now Jesus comes into our midst as we break the bread and Jesus is really present to us and he is offering to us the same message: "Peace. Overcome violence through love." Or as John Paul says, "be artisans of peace. Return or respond to violence with the fascinating power of love." 

That's the message Jesus is offering us today. We must heed it and, as he told those first disciples, "You are to be my witnesses." Take this message from here into the world, into our every day life. Be those messengers of peace, the peace of Jesus, the peace that our world needs so desperately." 

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

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