This Easter season, bring the joy of the Gospel where there is no love

by Thomas Gumbleton

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It was just too good to be true. Peter and John get to the tomb, and Mary Magdalene had got there first, and they had no expectation that the tomb would be empty. As John remarked at the end of the Gospel, "Jesus had told them, but they had never understood what he meant," so they're shocked. They don't know what to do.

The Resurrection of the Lord
The Mass of Easter Day

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9
Full text of the readings

And if we let the reality of what happened that Sunday morning sink into our own awareness, we, too, I think, will be shocked. Could it really happen? Is death overcome? Did Jesus bring victory over sin and evil? And the answer, of course, is yes. And if we take a few moments now to reflect a bit on the Scriptures and on this whole incident, we not only will perhaps come to a deeper awareness and conviction that Jesus is alive, but we'll also understand in some ways how that should change the way you and I live.

You may be aware that Pope Francis has written a beautiful -- well, what he calls an exhortation to the whole church. It's called "The Joy of the Gospel." And when you read it, it's almost like --  I was thinking of this because of the basketball game yesterday, and the coaches giving them pep talks to their teams and so on. It's like Pope Francis is giving us a pep talk, "How to be a Christian," and what the real message of the Gospel is, and why it should bring great joy to us.

The joy of the Gospel, and what Francis points out, the core of the Gospel message, you can sum it all up in this: God loves us. God loves us, and that's a love without condition, it's a love without limit, it's a love that's always there. God, ready to draw us back in if we stray in some way. The love of God is always there because of what happened to Jesus.

See, and Francis makes it so powerful, so clear, not only in what he says about how God loves us, but also how he acts. People all over the world are amazed, I think, at Francis because he does show joy. And he not only proclaims that God loves us, he also shows us how God loves us because he goes out, as he says, to the peripheries. He goes where people are in the greatest need.

On Holy Thursday, [Francis] went to the prison -- people that most of us, most others, would reject and [say], "Well, they got what they deserved." He goes and he respects them; he serves them by washing their feet. He's trying to show them [that] God loves us. That's what Jesus did for his disciples. He got down and, like a slave, he washed their feet because he loves us.

And in his homily on Thursday, he, from St. John's Gospel where at the Last Supper John tells us, "Jesus loved his disciples to the very end." That is without limit; he kept loving them. And he kept repeating that to those prisoners: "God loves you. You're worth something; you have dignity. You're good even though you're in jail. You're a creature of God, made in the image and likeness of God, and God loves you. God will never stop loving you." See, that's an extraordinary message.

And not only does Pope Francis go to the jail, but this past week, or maybe 10 days ago, he, and maybe you heard about this, he invited 150 people from the streets, homeless people. "Come over to the Vatican, into the museum," and they had a private tour of the museum. He joined them, walked through the museums and into the Sistine Chapel. He was showing them, "God loves you. You're poor and you're homeless, and many people walk by you and pay no attention, like you don't count, but God loves you." That's what Francis is telling them, not only by his words, but by his actions.

See, and that's the heart of the Gospel. God loves you, and that's shown in the life of Jesus. Jesus is one of us in every way, except sin. He's just a human like us. "God so loved the world," John tells us in the Gospel, "that God sent God's son to be one of us. And the son so loved us that he showed us how to live and die so that we enter into everlasting life." He showed us the way not only to "save our souls," but also to transform our world.

By being put to death, being tortured, being executed, being humiliated, spit upon, scourged, stripped of his garments, treated like a criminal -- and yet all that time, Jesus is reaching out in love, even love for those who are doing it to him. He's showing us the way, how to change our world. It's through love -- the love that God pours forth upon us that never ends, that's never conditioned, and then how we, absorbing that love, reach out in love to one another. See, we share this risen life of Jesus that we celebrate today, every one of us, but I'm not so sure we all share that deep conviction of how God loves us.

And so as we reflect on what happened to Jesus during this past week, especially on Friday, and now what has happened, where God has vindicated everything Jesus said and did by raising Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus did all of that to show us how to respond to people, how to respond to suffering, how to respond even to death, knowing that God will raise us up, so we too, I hope, will begin to feel the joy of this Gospel message, the message of Jesus, and especially the joy that comes with knowing that Jesus has gone through death to new life.

Jesus had shown us the way to transform our world into the reign of God. And as we experience the love God pours forth and the joy that that brings, I hope that every one of us will do like Pope Francis: Go where there is not love. Go where people need to be encouraged and given hope, and bring that joy of the Gospel into our everyday life -- in our homes and our neighborhood, in our cities, our country, and in the world. Bring the joy of the Gospel that we experience because Jesus loves us and gave his very life for us.

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

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