All of us are called to be witnesses

A U.N. peacekeeper stands guard as Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 30, 2015. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Before we proceed with the confirmation, it's important, of course, to reflect on the Scriptures of today's liturgy. And even though we didn't choose these Scriptures specifically for this confirmation ceremony, as we listen to them, I know for myself and I think all of us probably got a sense that these Scriptures fit very well for what we're celebrating today in the sacrament of confirmation. What's one of the most important things about being confirmed?

What do you accept when you're confirmed? It's a responsibility. A responsibility for what? As we said in the opening prayer, we asked God, "Send your Holy Spirit upon us to make us witnesses before the world to the good news proclaimed by Jesus." "Make us witnesses before the world to the good news proclaimed by Jesus." That's what we are called to do when we become confirmed disciples of Jesus Christ. We're to be like Paul and Barnabas who went out into those other lands and other areas of the world and proclaimed that good news.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:21-27
Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Revelations 21:1-5A
John 13:31-33A, 34-35
Full text of the readings

They spoke about Jesus. They witnessed to Jesus, to what he had taught, what he meant, how he lived, what he asked people to do to bring about the reign of God, the fullness of God's life and love and kingdom. Paul and Barnabas were among the first witnesses to Jesus, but all down through the centuries now, people have been witnesses to Jesus. Every part of the world now has heard the Gospel of Jesus. Today you're being asked to be witnesses also.

How do you witness? Paul and Barnabas went around and they preached. Neither one of them had known Jesus during their life, but they knew Jesus from the other disciples who told them about Jesus. They had witnessed Jesus through the resurrection, especially Paul. He had that extraordinary conversion experience where Jesus appeared to him and said, "Why are you persecuting me?" Paul said, "Who?" Jesus, because Paul had been persecuting the church, God's people, and Paul was converted.

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But then Paul became that witness, going around telling the good news about Jesus. But you know, they're so far back and there's no way to really know them except by reading about them, reading the Scriptures. But we have a witness today in our church who I think everyone recognizes is truly doing this -- witnessing to Jesus by what he says, but most of all by what he does -- Pope Francis. The whole world knows about Pope Francis.

It's amazing isn't it, because what is he doing? He's doing exactly what Jesus asked his disciples to do. He's going out to the poor. He's insisting that the church itself has to be among the poor, with the poor, even poor among the poor. The church, Francis tells us and shows us, has to go to those in prison. Notice how every time he celebrates Holy Thursday, he goes to a jail to do it because he visits prisoners. That's one of the times he leaves the Vatican to go into a jail. He goes to visit the homeless.

A couple weeks ago he went to the island of Lesbos to be with people who were fleeing violence and killing and war and poverty, leaving their own lands to find some place where they can raise their children in peace. Francis goes to be with them. He gives us the witness of what Jesus said, "When I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was in prison you visited me, when I was a stranger you took me in."

Francis is showing us this witness of Jesus. All those things that Jesus did, he asks his disciples now to do in his name, acting on his behalf. That's what you, now being confirmed, are committing yourself to be -- a witness to Jesus. Perhaps the hardest witness is what Jesus asks of us in today's Gospel. It sounds easy in a way, doesn't it? "Love one another." What could be easier than to love? Well, it really isn't very easy, especially when, as Jesus adds, "Love one another as I have loved you."

How did Jesus love us? He gave his life for us. He never held back in any way. He wanted to show us how to love, and not just to love those who love you, but to love your enemy. So even as he's being tortured, executed, he's praying for those who are doing it. Now that's an extraordinary command. But actually, it's the only way that the reign of God is going to happen, that we'll see happening what John and the Apocalypse lesson today told us -- new heavens and a new earth where there's fullness of life for everybody, where there's peace and joy.

It will only happen when we learn to love one another, and not just those who love us, but those who hate us, those who do evil against us. Isn't it extraordinary again how Pope Francis shows us that, not just in words, but in actions? About a month ago, he visited the Central African Republic, a tiny country in Africa where there's war, violence between Christians and Muslims. What does Francis do when he gets there?

He goes to visit a mosque and to engage in conversation and dialogue with the Muslims to try to bring peace between these people who say they believe in God, who is love, but who are killing each other. He advances peace to some extent in that nation. Francis is pleading with us to give up violence, give up hatred, and to love even our enemies. It's difficult; many people would say it's impossible, but Jesus did it. His first disciples did it.

They gave up war and violence and killing and really learned to love even their enemies. Francis is showing us that it's possible. He puts his life at risk showing that I'm love, rather than hate; I would rather be killed than kill. It's amazing. Now that's the kind of witness that, ultimately, Jesus is asking of us, that we at least pray that we can have that spirit of forgiveness and love, even for our enemies. That's the only way that will end the violence in our world, end the violence within our own country, give up our guns and killing one another -- only if we follow Jesus.

It can't happen all at once. We have to struggle to even commit ourselves to follow that path. But it is the path of Jesus and it is the path that we must go, we say, if we want to be disciples of Jesus, followers of him, if we want to be witnesses to what he taught, who he was, what he is. So as we celebrate this sacrament of confirmation this afternoon, I hope that all of us -- candidates, first of all -- pray that God will fill your heart with the spirit of Jesus, that spirit of love. "Love one another as I love you, without condition, without limit, even if you fail in your love for me, I will love you."

Pray that you have that spirit. But all the rest of us too -- we're confirmed disciples of Jesus. All of us are called to be witnesses, to follow what Francis is showing us, which is to follow then, the way of Jesus. As we celebrate this sacrament, I urge all of us here today to pray with great fervor that the Holy Spirit will come down upon these young people especially today, but upon all of us that as we leave the church today, we will have a deeper commitment, a deeper conviction about what it means to be a witness to Jesus and a determination to try to change our lives so that we truly act as witnesses to Jesus, to his way of love, that will finally bring peace into our hearts, into our homes, into our country, and into our world.

When all of us are this kind of disciple of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will be truly active in our world and transform it so that there will be the new heaven and the new earth where everyone will be able to live according to the way God intends, with a fullness of life and peace and joy. The Holy Spirit, through us, will bring this fullness of life to each of us and to our world.

[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for April 24, 2016

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