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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. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
  Fifth Sunday of Easter May 9, 2004

This week's readings **
Acts 14:21-27
After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

Revelation 21:1-5a
Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away." The One who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

John 13:31-33a, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

* 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.

During the Easter season, we celebrate our baptisms in a very special way. Today we will remember our own baptisms as we celebrate the baptism of Michael Shearer. It is important to remember that when we are baptized into Jesus, it is not just to take our sins away, something that in the past we put a lot of emphasis on. Baptism is much more than that. We are called to enter into a community of disciples that is committed by the call of Jesus to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. We are asked to take up the work of Jesus, which is to make the reign of God break forth in its fullness.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, the eucharistic prayers remind us that Jesus will come again and in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness. The reign of God is that moment when God says: "I will make everything new -- a new heaven and a new earth." Then God will be living in our midst: "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst." God is in us as a community of disciples. Not just in a building, but in us. This is the reign of God.

John tells us: "God will live in our midst, pitch a tent among us, and we will be God's people. God will be with us at every moment and wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying out from pain, because that world has passed away."

The reign of God is what is promised us, and each of us is called to try to transform this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. We're called to make everyone aware that God is in our midst -- that God is here to take away sorrow, suffering and pain, to take away hatred and violence in war, to make a new heaven and a new earth where the fullness of life and joy is possible for every person.

That may seem like a dream, and, in a way, it is a dream. It is a vision of what could be. Some might say it is an impossible dream, except that Jesus shows us the way it can happen and will happen if we only listen to him and follow him. Did you hear what he said in today's Gospel? "My one commandment I leave with you is to love one another." That's all it takes. Although, if we listen carefully to Jesus, this is going to be a very difficult challenge, because he says: "Love one another as I have loved you." The kind of love he is asking of us is very different from what we may think of as love. He challenged all of his followers earlier: "Don't just love those who love you. Love your enemy." That's what's new, and that's what's different.

At the beginning of the Gospel passage today, John remarks that Judas left the upper room right after he acknowledged that he was the betrayer of Jesus. He broke that bond of love and trust that had been established between Jesus and Judas and among all of the disciples. Judas went out to betray Jesus, to show hatred for Jesus, to bring about his condemnation, his execution. It was only a few moments later that Jesus left the upper room himself. He went into the garden to pray. Coming back from that prayer, he was confronted by a crowd, a mob with swords and clubs. They were there to arrest him, to begin to torture him and kill him. And who was leading the crowd? Judas.

How did Jesus act toward Judas? He walked right up to him. He embraced him, and he called him friend: "Friend, why have you come?" Jesus is showing us a new way to love. You don't just love those who love you. You love those who hurt you. You return good for evil. That's how the reign of God will begin to happen. "Love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus also said: "There is no greater love than this, to lay down your life for others." Jesus was telling us to love like he loved. He said: "There can be no limit to your love. It must be totally unconditional. You are to love even your enemies, to the extent that you give your life for another."

And again, that can't just be for those who love us. Remember the words of Oscar Romero: "As a shepherd, I am obliged by divine mandate (that's by the command of God) to give my life for those I love - that is, for those who may be going to kill me." He understood the way Jesus loved and he loved the same way. That's what we are being asked to do.

How dramatically contrary to the way of Jesus are those images that were so prominent in the news in the last week to 10 days. Young people from our country dehumanizing, brutalizing, torturing, humiliating young people of Iraq. Yet, when you think about it, why would we think it would be any different? When we go to war, we have to teach our young people to hate in order to kill. How is torture so different from dropping a 500-pound bomb in a neighborhood where there are hundreds and thousands of people living, whose bodies are torn apart when that bomb explodes? War is a horrendous, contrary act to the commandment of Jesus - "My one commandment is love one another as I love you."

We sometimes glorify our military because we say they lay down their lives for us. But Jesus didn't say to lay down your life with a gun in your hand. He said, "Put down your sword -- drop that gun -- and love your enemies." Jesus calls us to follow a very difficult way. To "love as I have loved you" means to love without limit, to be willing to lay down your life, even for your enemy. How quickly our world could be transformed if we began to listen to what Jesus said and follow it.

Today is Mother's Day. It is important to remind ourselves of why we have Mother's Day. Some of you may know this, if you have read Bishop Untener's little white book for today.

Before the Civil War started, the territory that was to become West Virginia was part of Virginia, a Confederate state. By the time the war ended, West Virginia had become its own state and was part of the Union. Thus, the soldiers who returned home to West Virginia at the end of the war were from both sides, and there was hostility and tension, as you would expect. They had been killing each other on the battlefield, and then they returned home to the same state.

Anna Jarvis, who lost four of her children in the Civil War, organized a Mother's Friendship Day in West Virginia to bring peacefully together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs from both sides. It was a success.

Julia Ward Howe, who had written the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," learned of Mrs. Jarvis' efforts and worked to get formal recognition of a national Mother's Day for Peace. She had seen up close the results of the war her song glorified: maimed soldiers, disease, widows and orphans. She was determined that women would join together to celebrate a day dedicated to the end of all war. It would be a day that women, mothers especially, would dedicate themselves to carrying out the kind of reconciliation that Anna Jarvis promoted and made happen in West Virginia, where enemies came together, were reconciled and learned to love one another.

Those are the beginnings of the Mother's Day that we celebrate today. Its ideal was and is the carrying out of Jesus' way of love: "Love one another as I have loved you."

The reign of God may seem like a dream, something that is far off in the future, but you know what? The reign of God could begin to happen right now. In your heart. In my heart. It would spread throughout the world if every one of us really listened to Jesus and committed ourselves to follow his command to love one another as he loved us.

As the reign of God breaks forth in our hearts, as all of us who follow Jesus begin to love as he loved -- the reign of God will break forth in our world. Then we will have peace in our hearts and for all people.

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

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