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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.
|Pentecost Sunday||May 30, 2004|
Editor's Note: May 30 was confirmation Sunday for St. Leo's Parish.
Sandra: As I call your name, will you please stand: Chariese Gibson, Demetrius Chapman and Marishia Gipson.
Bishop: Sandra, I thank you very much for presenting these candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation today. I am very happy that we are able to celebrate this sacrament. As you know, because you have been so involved in teaching about the sacraments, whenever we receive a sacrament it is very important that we be well prepared for that sacrament.
So, before these three young people from our parish receive the sacrament of Confirmation, I need some assurance from you, as the one who is overseeing their preparation, that they have taken the time to make themselves ready and that, in your judgment and in the judgment of those who helped you in preparing them, all three of our candidates are truly prepared for this sacrament today.
Sandra: Our candidates have worked long and hard -- and I mean, really hard -- and they are well prepared.
Bishop: Thank you, Sandra. And now Demetrius, Marishia and Chariese, Ms. Hill has assured me that you have taken the time to prepare, and she is confident that you are ready. I know that you have worked hard and so I share that confidence.
But because this is such a special moment in your life, a moment when God really touches you deep in your own spirit with the Spirit of Jesus, I also would like some assurance from you that you feel you are ready and, what's even more important, that you want to be confirmed.
Confirmandi: We do.
Bishop: OK, now you may be seated.
During this past week, as I seem to do often these days, I was giving some talks about the Iraq war. At one of the talks, during the discussion period, I reflected on a film that I have talked about here before, the documentary "The Fog of War" about Robert McNamara and his seven years as Secretary of Defense in the early 1960s.
It's a documentary where he shares his experiences from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, right up until the current wars we are engaged in. And he tells about what he learned from those experiences -- the horrors of war, the terrible sufferings of war. He offers 11 things that he learned. The last thing he said he learned came up for discussion during one of my talks. I found it very discouraging to think about. McNamara says: "I learned you can't change human nature."
The suggestion is that, in spite of all the viewer has just seen in this film, all the terrible things that happen in war -- and the film is very dramatic and very clear that war is something evil, terrible -- as McNamara says, it is always going to be that way. If we can't change human nature, this is what we're faced with. He said we came "this close" to a nuclear war in 1962 and two times later. If you can't change human nature, that means nuclear war is going to happen. I felt deeply discouraged as I thought about that.
But then, as I was looking for readings about Pentecost, trying to find things to help me reflect on the scripture lessons that we just listened to, I found this passage from Archbishop Oscar Romero, words that he spoke on Pentecost Sunday in 1978. He said:
It will always be Pentecost in the church provided the church lets the beauty of the Holy Spirit shine forth from her countenance. The church will be fair to see, perennially young, attractive to every age as long as she is faithful to the Spirit that floods her, and she reflects that Spirit through her communities, through her pastors, through her very life.
Now that's hopeful. What a difference that can make. I thought: Here's a man who was living in the midst of a very violent and terrible period in his nation. One of his closest collaborators had recently been assassinated, together with some of the people from the parish. And yet, Archbishop Romero could proclaim on that Pentecost Sunday hope for the church, hope that Pentecost can come again, again and again. It can always be Pentecost in the church.
We are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost today, and what does that mean? Why does it give us hope? It seems to me as I listen to these scriptures that the very first thing to hear is what Jesus said to those first disciples who were fearful, who thought they were living with a very dangerous situation, who were hiding, who were ashamed because they had run away at the crucifixion. Jesus came and said: "Peace be with you. Peace be with you."
Let those words sink in. Hear Jesus saying very quietly: "Peace be with you." The words can settle down into your mind, your heart, your spirit, and you know you are at peace. Jesus shares his own deep peace with you. It is a gift that's available to every one of us. He sends the Spirit upon us -- it is always Pentecost in the church. The Spirit comes again and again and again and first of all brings peace, a marvelous and precious gift. I hope that each of us will let the peace of Jesus given through the Spirit settle down deeply into our spirits.
If Pentecost is always happening, then that means things can change. People can change. And look what happened to those first disciples on that first Pentecost. Whether it was on Easter Sunday night or 50 days later, they were living in fear. They were afraid to go out into the streets. They had failed to be faithful followers of Jesus. But now that would all change. The Holy Spirit set their hearts on fire with love. They become changed people. They couldn't stay inside that building any longer. They burst out into the streets. They begin to proclaim the good news, and it spread; it spread everywhere. Everywhere!
Luke mentions all the places that people had come from to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. One of the places was Mesopotamia. That is now the country of Iraq. It's easy to imagine that among those first disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem were some from Iraq, and they felt the Holy Spirit coming upon them. They returned to Iraq, filled with the Spirit; the Christian church has been present in that area ever since.
The Holy Spirit changes things. The message of Jesus gets carried forth out into the world. Individuals change. Look how the disciples became a real community. Before, you remember from reading the Gospels, they were always competing with one another. Who's going to be the first? Who's going to have the most power? I presume they were also thinking about who was going to have the most wealth.
After the Spirit came upon them, they were changed. They lived in a community where everyone shared whatever they had. No one was in need. They were changed people through the Holy Spirit, through Pentecost.
Pentecost is still happening in the church. Right now, the Holy Spirit comes upon us and can change us so that we, too, become more sharing, more giving, more ready to serve one another. We could become the same kind of beautiful community those first disciples formed. No one would be in need. Everyone would look out for one another. The gift of the Holy Spirit can change us, too.
Perhaps the most important change is what Jesus suggested when he gave them the Holy Spirit. He breathed upon them and said, "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you restrain, they are restrained." This is his commandment of love, because you forgive those who have hurt you. You love those who have injured you. You return good for evil. And the first disciples were able to do that. They began to preach love of the enemy. They gave up any idea that they would ever use violence or force to impose themselves on anyone else. They were committed only to active love. They were able to change. And it can still happen.
Let me give you an example. I have used this before, but it is such a powerful example that I feel it is important to bring it up again today. Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. He was committed to violence and had been killing people, but then he spent 27 years in jail. Near the end of that time, he wrote in his autobiography: "In those long and lonely years I learned that I had to work as hard for the freedom of the oppressor as for the freedom of the oppressed. I had to work for the freedom of those who were killing me and my people because anyone who oppresses another is a prisoner of hatred in their heart."
He was ready to forgive and he came out of that jail ready to work for peace and for the overthrow of the Apartheid regime without violence. And it happened. Nelson Mandela was a very changed person. He brought into the situation the very thing that Jesus brought to his disciples at Pentecost, the gift of forgiveness: "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven." If you try to force change on them nothing happens. The barrier of hostility and hatred remains. When you forgive, the barriers are gone. They can be replaced with love. Peace can come.
Nelson Mandela was able to change, so human nature can be transformed. We can become more like Jesus. Now I will tell you a more recent example. Recently I met Camillo Meija, a young man who had been committed to violence, to killing and to war. He had served in Iraq for a number of months and had been involved in some terrible incidents. He came to the conclusion that he could not kill any longer. So he refused to go back. A few months ago, on the day that he was turning himself in to the military authorities, I celebrated with him and his family a Mass of Reconciliation and Love.
About 10 days ago, he had his trial. It is ironic that his trial was at the same time as the person who pleaded guilty of abusing prisoners in Iraq was also on trial. They both received the same sentence: a year in jail and a dishonorable discharge from the military.
But when Camillo Meija stood up in court after his trial was over and he had been convicted and was ready to go to jail, he was able to say: "I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, even though I will be behind bars, I will be a free man. I laid down my arms and even risked execution. I followed my conscience. I am free."
To me, that's another beautiful example of how someone can change. He had been taught to hate and to kill but he knew he could do it no longer. They could have executed him. He was willing to accept that rather than to kill.
We can change. The Holy Spirit can change us profoundly. The Holy Spirit can change the whole situation in our world. You know how it is going to happen? It is going to happen when we listen to what Jesus said to those first disciples: "As God sent me, I send you."
See, it's up to each and every one of us. God changes us through the Holy Spirit. God wants us to go out into the world and spread the message of Jesus. God gives us those gifts of the Spirit to make it possible for us to go and change what is happening in the world: "As God sent me, I send you." Carry that message of forgiveness and love and peace. Take the goodness and love of Jesus wherever you go.
Today we pray in a very special way for Marishia, Demetrius and Chariese, that God will pour forth the Spirit of Jesus in a powerful way on each of them. I also ask all of us to pray for our whole community. You know, there are more than two billion followers of Jesus in this world. Imagine what would happen if each and every one was touched by a new Pentecost. The world would be transformed. Peace could come everywhere. The love of God would be bursting forth. Today, at least, we can start with each of us and especially with our newly confirmed.
Pray that God will send forth the Spirit of Jesus upon them and upon all of us, so that when we leave the church today, we know that we go back into a world that needs to be changed. But we will know that with the power of the Spirit of Jesus and the love that he gives, we can make that change happen. We do not have to give up and say human nature can never change. It can change, and you and I can help make that happen right now as we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit as we celebrate this sacrament of Confirmation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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