National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
 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.  By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2003
This week's readings **

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

When it happened that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet, and paid homage to him. But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up! I myself am also a man."  Then Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I perceive that God doesn't show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him."  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. They of the circumcision who believed were amazed, those who accompanied Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was also poured out on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in other languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, "Can anyone forbid the water for baptizing these people, these who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?"  He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:7-10

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever doesn't love doesn't know God, for God is love. By this was God's love revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, "Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and remain in his love.  I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full.  This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, tha to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn't know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you.  You didn't choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. I command these things to you, that you may love 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.

If you ever had any doubt about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I think today's lesson would clear that up. To be a disciple of Jesus means to love one another. "My one command is love one another."

Sometimes when people hear this emphasized in church, they will say, "That's too easy. We need those hard commandments that used to be proclaimed to us. We need the threat of hell and all of that." Jesus says: "No. No to fear, no to threats, no to commandment after commandment. Love one another."

If we really listen to what this means, we will discover that it is not easy. It is radical, and it is very challenging to be a disciple of Jesus who carries out this command to love one another.

As we probe the readings a bit, we first of all discover a truth about the command of Jesus: the truth that God first loved us. We never earn God's love. We can't merit God's love. No matter how many commandments we try to keep, we do not merit the love of God. God first loved us. John describes that so clearly in the second lesson: "This is what love means, not that we love God but God first loved us." And you see that very dramatically carried out in the first lesson today.

Perhaps it is important to have a little bit of an understanding of what was happening in that story. Cornelius was a Roman soldier. Peter was going to his house, because Cornelius had invited him to come. Cornelius was a pagan — one of the people occupying the Promised Land, the land of Peter and his friends and his family. This is a person who had never followed the Jewish law, but who was, according to Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, a good person trying to live as far as his insights enabled him to live a good life.

When Peter gets there, even before he can instruct Cornelius, suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and upon the whole household. God has loved them and demonstrated love for them in a very dramatic way. God pours forth gifts upon them. Peter and his companions are astounded. "What's happened?" But it becomes very clear, as Peter says: "God shows no partiality! God loves everyone. God pours forth gifts upon all." Peter also says, "We have to baptize them. It's already clear God loves them. God has already made them sons and daughters of God."

God loves us first, and God pours forth gifts in abundance on all of us without our asking. This was a very important breakthrough for the church. Part of the lesson today is how, if we are open to where God's love is at work, our church can grow and expand and spread the Good News everywhere. You see, what was happening at the beginning, there was a whole group within the church who did not wanted to baptize people like Cornelius — the pagans, the gentiles — unless they first became Jews, undergoing the rituals of the Jewish law and fulfilling all of the Jewish commandments, the 613 laws of the Torah. Only after they had become full-fledged Jews could they become Christians, followers of Jesus.

It was a tremendous breakthrough when Peter understood that God had no favorites, that God loved all. Without this breakthrough, the community of disciples would have remained a very small sect within Judaism. It would never have spread throughout the world. The mission that Jesus gave his community, "Go and proclaim the good news in Judea, in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth," would never have happened. But because they understood that God loved Cornelius and his whole household and God poured forth gifts upon them, the church was able to expand and very quickly spread throughout the whole of the Middle East.

There is one very clear application, I think, of the truth that is manifested in this event for our own church right now. We live in a church where we discover that we have an extraordinary shortage of ordained ministers and that means that people are being deprived of the sacraments.

I was in a parish a couple of weeks ago where there are over 3,000 families and one priest. You tell me how the 10,000 to 12,000 people in that parish can avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It is impossible. That is true not only in Detroit, but it is true throughout the country. In other parts of the world, it is even more the case.

People who want to follow Jesus, people who could be enriched and nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, never have the opportunity. And yet, God's love is being poured forth upon people. Gifts of God are being poured forth upon people who could be ordained ministers: women, for sure, and married men, many of whom are already priests. Yet we have a blindness. We refuse to accept that God's love shows no partiality. God's love is poured forth without limit in abundance upon everyone. All of those gifts could be used, if only we would be open to the truth that Peter saw and accepted; the truth that changed the church. If we would do that, our church could become vibrant, alive and could really begin to spread the Good News everywhere. People would not be deprived of the sacraments that would nurture them.

I hope that we can grow in our understanding of this truth, of how God loves us first. God pours forth gifts wherever God chooses, not where people in the church decide they can happen and only there. It happens wherever God chooses. It is important to remember that this truth is about our church but also about each one of us. God has first loved me. Once I let that sink in, my own response will be an overflowing love for God.

Furthermore, the love of God is, as Jesus makes so clear in the gospel, something that God not only pours forth upon us first, but it is mutual. This is incredible, almost. Think about what Jesus said to his disciples the night before he died. This was a very intimate conversation, one that I am sure the disciples would never forget, coming as it did just before he left them and was put to death. After he had given them the command, to love one another, he said to them, "I no longer call you servants. You are friends."

Then he points out why. A friend is someone with whom you share everything. You're open, you're vulnerable, you share, you trust. And it's mutual. Jesus says: "You are my friends." No hierarchy. "You are my friends." A mutual relationship between God and Jesus and each one of us, that is the kind of love Jesus wants us to have for one another.

I read very recently about Francis of Assisi, about how amazed he was as he reflected on this conversation of Jesus and how Jesus named his disciples friends. But what affected Francis even more was that Jesus meant it not just for those who loved him, but even for those who might hate him, might be his enemy. Francis reflected on what happened at the Last Supper. Judas betrayed Jesus, violated the friendship, became someone who did violence to Jesus by breaking the bond of trust and betraying Jesus. And yet, just a short time later, when Judas is leading a whole mob of people with swords and clubs to carry out the betrayal, Jesus walks up says, "friend" and embraces Judas.

And so Jesus doesn't mean just to love those who love you. He means to love even your enemies. And that is what inspired Francis when he had absorbed this truth.

This was the time of one of the Crusades, and Christian armies were mounting an attack against the armies of Islam in the Middle East. Francis felt this should not be. So he journeyed to Egypt; unarmed he entered the camp of the enemy to confer with the sultan, the leader, to talk about how to make peace. He was astounded to be greeted respectfully and with love by this leader of the enemy. Francis had understood what Jesus had said, "You must reach out. Be the one who goes first to reconcile, to love."

So when Jesus says, "My one command is that you love one another," it is not just to those who love us. Love even your enemies, he says.

That is an extraordinary and difficult truth to carry out. It is important to realize that Jesus loves us even when we are sinners, when we are, in that sense, the enemy. Jesus makes us his friends, but he also asks us to do that with one another and even with those we might otherwise name enemies.

Imagine if we had really lived out this truth in the Middle East today. Everything could have been so different if we would have been willing to say that these people, this nation whom we think of as enemy, are really friends, and we must treat them as friends.

The way of Jesus is not easy. It is difficult. It is challenging. It is radical. But this is what God does ask of us. We are his friends, and he wants us to be friends with all others, even our enemies.

These lessons teach us one last thing about love, and something that is also challenging. John, in that first letter, wrote to tell the Christian community that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. That means God begins to live in the person who loves. And those who do not love do not know God because God is love.

This reminds us that the only way we can become full human persons is by love. God is love. Those who know God have love and begin to grow into the full image of God that God intends us to be. When we hate, when we do evil to others, we destroy that light and love of God in our own hearts.

I hope that as we reflect on today's message of God's love, we will truly come to understand and experience that God loves each of us. God loves me first. God loves me as a friend. And God asks one thing of me — "Love on another as I have loved you."

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

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