Would you like to donate to NCR?

The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

  Pentecost Sunday May 15, 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 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."

1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

John 20:19-23
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."

* 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.

We do not have to listen to the scriptures very carefully to realize that the first Pentecost had a tremendous effect on those first disciples. But if we do take the time to listen to the scriptures carefully and try to probe these scriptures, perhaps the same thing will happen to us. The spirit will enter into our hearts in a powerful way and transform and change us just as those first disciples were. So we must try to open ourselves to hear this word of God and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If you were listening carefully, you realize there are two versions of Pentecost, if you want to think of it that way. Luke tells us Pentecost was 50 days after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, but in John's Gospel it was Easter Sunday night when Jesus came into the midst of those disciples who were trembling with fear and hiding because they thought what happened to Jesus might happen to them. Jesus was suddenly there and he brought peace to them, and forgiveness because they had failed him so dramatically. Betrayed him, denied him, ran away and hiding. But there, then he gives them the Holy Spirit.

The reason there would be two versions of this is simply the fact that St. Luke, more than St. John, was trying to get us to understand the full impact of the coming of the Holy Spirit. So Luke arranges a very special framework within which this all happens. The first thing to notice is that Luke's story takes place on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which was a very important feast for the Jewish people because it recalled the moment in their history when they really became God's people -- when God established a covenant with them. It was at Sinai. They had this powerful experience of God being present among them, God forming them into a people, making a covenant with them: "I will be your God and you will be my people." So they became the people of God at that powerful moment of God's presence in their midst.

Well, Luke is trying to tell us, "Look, this is what's happening now. God's new people, the community of the disciples of Jesus, the spirit comes upon them and they now become the people of the covenant, the new covenant through Jesus, through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Luke wants us to get a sense of the dramatic change that happened to those first disciples, and so he describes that sound as a powerful wind calling us to think about how their lives were changed dramatically by the power of the spirit. Then came the tongues of fire, a way of symbolizing love, a burning love, a burning zeal that would change them and make them really become the community of disciples Jesus wanted them to be. Then Luke talks about how all the nations of the world were represented there in Jerusalem at that moment. People from the four corners of the world.

It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize what Luke is telling us. Thousands of years before, in the Hebrew scriptures in the book of Genesis is the story of Babel. It tells of a time when people were defying God, and then they were dispersed through a confusion of languages. They could not understand one another and so the human family was split apart. Luke is telling us that now through the gift of the spirit at Pentecost, the human family is made one once more. This gives us great hope that we all can consider ourselves brothers and sisters in the human family through this gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel, John also shows us a meaning of Pentecost that we might let slip by if we don't listen carefully. John says that Jesus breathed on the disciples. Someone who is mindful of the scriptures would immediately think of the only other time in the scriptures where God breathed upon something. It's the story of creation. God breathed upon Adam and Adam became a living being. The Spirit gives life, but now not just physical life but spirit life. That is what happens through the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. It is a tremendous feast in our church, and it should be a very important feast in the life of each one of us, a time when we renew our commitment to being filled with the Spirit of Jesus, becoming the community of Jesus' disciples, helping to make the whole human family one family through Jesus.

The scriptures today remind us of what has to happen if we're really gifted with the spirit. The first thing I think that might come to mind is what Jesus said to his disciples: "As God sent me I now send you." I thought of this, when Jesus came back to them, you know, they were overwhelmed with his presence. You'd think they might want to just stay there and be with him, you know, kind of like we do adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but he doesn't let them. He says, "As God sent me I am now sending you. You have to go out into the world. You have to change everything by carrying on my work."

Think about the scriptures and what the work of Jesus is. He gave us one example right there on that Easter Sunday night -- the gift of forgiveness. Jesus brought it to his disciples and then, he asked them to forgive one another. That is something that has to happen in our everyday life, our personal family life, in our interactions with our fellow workers, say, or at school if we're students, or in our parish family. The gift of forgiveness.

Jesus came into this world to bring forgiveness, and that is so healing. Forgiveness heals the one who is forgiven, but also heals the one who has been hurt and forgives.

That is a tremendous gift that Jesus gives, and it is part of his mission -- to bring that spirit of reconciliation, of forgiveness, into the world, into our church, into our family everywhere. But the mission of Jesus, of course, also is to reach out to others, to heal.

Jesus spent much of his time taking care of those who were in need of physical healing, and spiritual healing. He consoled people, brought joy into the lives even of those who were grieving some terrible sorrow or tragedy in their lives. Jesus was always there spreading his goodness and his love. That was his mission, to transform the world, to bring the gift of peace. "Peace be with you."

We must carry peace in our hearts and share it always with others if we're going to carry out the mission of Jesus.

Any one of us could continue to go through the scriptures and see how and what Jesus did throughout his earthly life and that is our work now, to do what Jesus did.

St. Paul, in the second lesson today, told us one thing that, perhaps in the times in which we live, is most important. We might not advert to this at first. When Paul told the church at Corinth what happens when one receives the Holy Spirit, he said, "One who receives the spirit can now proclaim Jesus as Lord." Paul said you can not do that without the spirit.

What does that mean? Well, first of all it means that Jesus is God. We're proclaiming that. It's a religious statement of faith. "Lord" was the word that the Jewish people used only for God. So if we can proclaim Jesus as Lord, we're making a religious profession of faith. "Jesus is God." But also, in the context in which Paul was living and writing, it was a political proclamation. It was saying, "I choose to follow Jesus not the emperor." The early Christians understood that. "I choose to follow Jesus. Jesus is my Lord, the one I will follow, not the Emperor."

This past week May 12 was the feast of a couple of saints we've probably never heard of: St. Nereus and St. Achilleus. They were martyrs in the 200s. Both had belonged to the Roman army. Then they were baptized. They decided they would follow Jesus and not the emperor. They left the army and then were put to death. They paid a terrible price for choosing to follow Jesus, his way of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace, giving up violence.

We live in a society that tries to make us very nationalistic, a culture that wants us to be very committed to our nation. I'm not talking against loving our country, but I am suggesting that we must not be nationalistic in the sense of "Our country right or wrong." No, sometimes our country is wrong, and I must choose Jesus rather than the emperor or the government. Or we'll pay a terrible price.

Recently we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero. It was precisely for the reason that he chose to follow Jesus that he was shot to death. The day before he was shot to death, you remember, he told the soldiers: "Drop your arms. Give them up. Stop killing in the name of the government. It's wrong!" And they killed him for it.

Recently I've mentioned it to you the young man that I've come to know quite well, Camilo Mejia. He, like Nereus and Achilleus, came to the conclusion that his service in the military waging war in Iraq was wrong. He gave it up because he knew Jesus was the one he was to follow, not the emperor. He spent over a year in jail because he chose to follow Jesus.

This is the challenge then, I guess, presented to all of us: Open ourselves to the Holy Spirit in this great feast of Pentecost, especially in a few moments when we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. We pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Ed Williams, but upon all of us so that we really can be open to the spirit of Jesus, that we can accept his call to carry out his mission, "As God sends me I send you." And that we can do that especially by choosing to follow Jesus as faithfully as we can in the midst of a world that so often tries to take us away from the way of Jesus.

I'm confident that when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us today, it will happen. If our hearts are open, the spirit of Jesus will change us, and we will go forth from this church ready more than ever to be true disciples of Jesus, to choose Jesus over everything and everyone else, and to follow his way, and to carry out his work in our world.

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

Copyright © 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111  TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280