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|The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
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Dt 4:32-34, 39-40
Moses said to the people, "For ask now of the days that are past, which
were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and from
the one end of the sky to the other, whether there has been any such
thing as this great thing is, or has been heard like it? Did ever a
people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as
you have heard, and live? Or has God tried to go and take him a nation
from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders,
and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great
terrors, according to all that Yahweh your God did for you in Egypt before
your eyes? Know therefore this day, and lay it to your heart, that Yahweh
is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is none else. You
shall keep his statutes, and his commandments, which I command you this
day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and
that you may prolong your days in the land, which Yahweh your God gives
Brothers and sisters: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are
sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into
fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, "Abba,
Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children
of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with
Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus
had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth
has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,
I am with you always, until the end of the age."
* 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.
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
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
In our first lesson this morning from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses proclaimed: "Therefore try to be convinced that Yahweh, God, is the only God of heaven and earth and that there is no other." One God only. This was a profound insight on the part of the chosen people, and one they clung to very strongly throughout their whole history. One God, the God of heaven and earth, the God they called Yahweh.
Then in the Gospel, we hear Jesus tell his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This sounds like three Gods but is only one God, and that is the mystery that we try to reflect upon today. Our God is the God of heaven and earth, the one God, and yet a God who is three.
It is a very profound mystery and obviously one that we are never going to truly understand. We cannot grasp the nature of God with our human intellect. That is what we try to do when we talk about one God and three persons in that one God. We are trying to understand who God is.
It took 300 years for the first disciples, the communities of Jesus' disciples, to come to an awareness of how to speak about God in this way. It wasn't until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. that this doctrine was proclaimed in this way. When you study the theological insights that led to the conclusion that there are three persons in the one God and try to spell it out the way the theologians do, it can become very impersonal. Theologians talk about God having one nature, two processions, three persons and four relations.
Now if I were to give you a theological treatise I could spell out what all that means -- one nature, two processions, three persons, four relations -- but it would be very abstract. And it wouldn't really tell us much about God. What we want to do today is use our reflection on the mystery of the Holy Trinity as a way to gain a deeper awareness of who this God.
When the Jews, the chosen people, tried to understand God, they reflected on the message in Deuteronomy, our first reading today. They knew that this God, as Moses proclaims, is the only God of heaven and earth. They said: "Ask from the times past, inquire from the day when God created us on earth, ask from one end of the world to the other, has there ever been anything as extraordinary as this? Has anything like this been heard of? Has there ever been a people who remained alive after hearing, as you did, the voice of the living God from the midst of the fire?"
Moses was trying to remind them that this God -- the God of heaven and earth, the transcendent God who is beyond their comprehension -- this God has entered into their history. This God has made them a unique people in all of history. This God has made them the chosen people, the people called to bring forth the revelation of who God is. This is the God who is with them and lives among them. They know this God not as an abstraction, but as a living God.
Never had there been a God who sought out a people and separated them from other nations, strengthening them through trials and with signs and wonders. Never had there been deeds as tremendous as those God did for the Israelites, which Moses pointed out, "You saw with your own eyes." Moses wanted the Israelites to reflect on how God has been with them, active in their life as a people and active in the lives of each one of them.
The first thing we need to do as we try to understand who God is and reflect on the mystery of the Holy Trinity is simply to imitate what the chosen people did. Namely, reflect on the ways in which God has entered into our lives; think about how close God can be to us at times and how God has blessed us. God has made us God's people. We didn't deserve even to be called into life. We can't earn that. It is a gift. We don't deserve it. We can't earn being called into the life of God. Yet that is what has happened to us.
So the first thing we need to do is reflect on who God is -- this personal God who enters into our life, who connects with us in a very real way. Each of us has our own history of God's relationship with us. We can take the time to think about it, to reflect on it and to pray about it.
St. Paul takes us a step further. He reminds us that not only does God give us life, God gives us this world to live in and everything that we have. God gives us a share in the very life of God. If we take the time to think about it, the image that Paul uses is very powerful. Paul is saying here's what happened to each one of us. We were like slaves. A slave has no rights. A slave is a piece of property. A slave can be whipped, can be killed, can be bought and sold. A slave is nothing.
Then Paul says, but think what would happen, what it would be like, if the family that owned a slave adopted that slave into the family, made that slave a son or a daughter with full rights of inheritance and all the rights that go with being a son or daughter. That would be a dramatic change, profound.
We can look back into our history and see a few times that actually happened. We know what slaves are. We know how terrible it would be to be a non-person. But imagine what it would be like to change suddenly from being a non-person to being a person. St. Paul said that is what happened to us, that is what happened to me, through Jesus. God made us sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus with all that goes with that -- inheritance and life with God forever, just as Jesus shares in that life forever. This is something about God that we need to continue to reflect upon -- that this God reaches down and makes each one of us a son or daughter of God together with Jesus, the Son of God.
But we might ask: Why do we need to reflect on the mystery of the Trinity? The answer is, because it is important that we try to understand, as much as we can with our limited ability, the nature of God. If we are going to become all that we can be, we have to come closer and closer to who God is and make our lives reflect who God is.
Reflecting on the Holy Trinity, we see God as a living God, but also God as a community of persons. We talk about God as love, and that's true, because God is a community where love flows back and forth -- mutual, eternal, faithful. Furthermore, you and I are made in the image of God. Think about God as creator -- father, mother, parent -- the God who brings forth life, who creates and draws into being where there was nothing. We're made in the image of that God and so that means we, too, are called to bring forth life. Mothers and fathers do it in a very real human way but there are other ways in which we bring forth life, when we create.
A few weeks ago I mentioned Pope John Paul's talk in Spain. He was speaking especially to young people, but he was also speaking to all of us: "Be artisans of peace. Be creators of peace." That's what God is -- a creator. We must try to become like God -- to create peace. There are ways we can do that, ways within our families, our community here and the world in which we live.
End war. Create peace. If we really imitate God, that's what we do; we become artisans of peace. But creating peace does just happen on a huge scale. There are lots of ways in which we can create peace; lots of ways in which we can give life; many, many ways in which we can build up instead of tear down.
Just this week I heard a story that brings this out so clearly. I guess you would call it a fable. A group of frogs were traveling through the woods. Two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was they told the unfortunate frogs they would never get out. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump out of the pit. The other frogs kept telling them to stop -- that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and simply gave up. He fell down and died. The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and suffering and just die, but he jumped even harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs asked him why he had continued jumping. "Didn't you hear us?" they asked. The frog told them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.
See how powerful a word can be? It can give life or it can give death. So how do we become artisans of life, builders of life and peace? We have to watch even something so simple as what we say. A word can destroy. A put down can destroy.
On the other hand, we can build up and that's what God does. God is always giving love; God is always rising up, always giving life, always affirming, always giving encouragement, always loving. That is what we must try to be. On a large scale, you can be artisans of peace for the whole world, but within your family, within your parish community, in your neighborhood, wherever -- you can be an artisan of peace. You can give life by what you say, by how you interact with people.
Finally, there is just the opposite. If we don't see this image of God, the God that is a community of persons where there is love, mutuality and total sharing, if we don't heed that image and try to build up our world or the lives of those around us, we'll have a world divided.
We are made in the image of God. If we would live up to that image, we would have a world where we would share everything, because in God there is total sharing. Instead, we live in a world where we hear: "Get what you can get for yourself." We should be reaching out and sharing constantly. If we lived up to the image of people made in the image of God we couldn't hate. We couldn't kill. That destroys who we are.
I was reading an article just this morning about our troops in Iraq. The article quoted at some length a chaplain talking about how he is constantly counseling people who are trying to come to grips with the fact that they killed and that they are in Iraq to continue to kill if necessary. The point of this article was how killing affects those who do the killing. When a person destroys or kills, when a person does violence, he or she is not living up to the image God.
God is a God of love and a God of sharing; a God of mutuality, a community of persons in love. This is what we have to try to be. In the Gospel today, Jesus spoke to his first community of disciples. We hear his message repeated for us this morning. Go out into the whole world. Be disciples. Follow me, but also make disciples of all nations. Wherever you go, share this message: We are made in the image of God, and God is one God in three persons; a God who is love and who shares that love and who wants to build up our world into a community of loving people.
That's the message that you and I are called to take forth from the church this morning. In every way we can, we must try to make our world a world where everyone recognizes this God of love and tries to live up to the image of God in which we are made. Go and preach this Gospel everywhere.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.
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